4 July 2007

5: The Route

The Leeds to Liverpool canal is a great work of engineering, at 127 and a half miles it is the longest canal in the UK. It links these two major cities by weaving it's way, serpant like, through the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire. A towpath runs alongside the canal all the way except in two places where tunnels had to be built through the hillsides. The tunnels are Gannow Tunnell in Burnley and Foulridge Tunnel at Foulridge. At both these places there is no towpath so you must leave the canal and follow the signposted route until you can join the canal again.

For many years the canal fell into disrepair leaving the water often full of rubbish and the towpath a puddle filled, muddy mess. In recent years all this has changed and the canal has had millions of pounds invested in it to bring it back to it's former glory. Many canalside buildings and houses have been redeveloped and wildlife has been allowed to fluorish along it's route. Many new developments have sprung up, mainly waterside apartments and new offices, and now the whole route has become a source of leisuretime activity. Boating, walking, running, fishing...and cycling are all popular pastimes on the canal and it's towpath today.

It is easily possible to cycle the canal from end to end, and the towpath is good for most of the way. With the exception of a few small stretches the Lancashire end of the path is very good for cycling, non of these stretches are bad enough to make the rider dismount (even during or after heavy rain) and for the most part the surface is smooth crushed gravel...and even tarmac. This makes it easy for the cyclist. In certain stretches the surface is grass or a thin track, these can be quite energy sapping in wet weather but again at no point should you need to dismount.

When you do have to leave the path at Burnley and Foulridge cycle routes are reasonably well signposted, the one at Burnley is quite tricky so watch it...but you can always ask for directions and it's not really a problem. The Foulridge cycle path is easy to follow and was not the problem we anticipated.

The worst part of the route is after Foulridge, this is from Marton to Gargrave, not a great distance but it's hard going on a rough track, very bumpy, and it twists and turns through the valleys until you seem to be going nowhere. We found this to be the hardest part of the ride as fatigue was setting in.

After you leave Gargrave village the path turns to just grass, this continues almost all the way to Skipton and was tough to ride in the wet...it's easier when dry. The path is good through Skipton but once you get to Snaygill it deteriorates into bumpy track (often very muddy) all the way to Kildwick. From here, once again, the path is very bumpy, muddy, and at times a single narrow track....this is around Silsden. Having said all that it's still very easily rideable, you just need to take a little extra care and it's hard on the legs and wrists.

Once the path gets to Utley it's plain sailing all the way to Leeds, the towpath has been relaid and is excellent for cycling and once again there is much redevelopment taking place.

All in all we found the towpath to be in much better condition than we thought, you may struggle slightly on the gnarley stretches but the miles of smooth surface more than compensate for that.


MICK said...

thank you for this post, myself and some work colleagues are cycling this route for charity next month and need all the info we can get.

Bluecoat Boys said...

Very informative. Myself and some buddies are cycling this route and I have found this Blog to be most informative.