At 127 miles, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal is Britain’s longest, and it passes and through some of the UK’s most beautiful countryside. The canal connects two of the North’s most vibrant cities. Leeds is inland and the canal provided an important link with the west coast seaport of Liverpool. Around 200 years ago, when the canal was newly built, Leeds and the surrounding West Riding towns were the mainstays of Britain’s manufacturing industry. Liverpool was the gateway to the rest of the world, and huge cargo ships sailed from its extensive dockland to every part of the globe exporting the products of Yorkshire’s and Lancashire’s mills and factories.
As a result the Leeds and Liverpool canal was for a while one of Britain’s most important waterways – a very busy working canal with barges and narrowboats plying their trade in both directions – bringing coal and raw materials to feed the clattering mills and thundering factories and providing the first link in the chain to distribute their products to the wider world.
As other forms of transport took over the role of providing transport for bulk goods, the canal’s focus switched to leisure and it’s now a prime tourism resource, ideal for that memorable day out on holiday or for a special occasion.
One of the best ways of enjoying the delights of the canal is to hire a narrowboat for a cruise – the waterside setting really can’t be bettered for getting to know England’s natural landscape. And many would say that the best place to start such a trip is in the market town of Skipton in North Yorkshire. Skipton is known as the Gateway to the Dales, and from there the Leeds and Liverpool Canal passes through some of the country’s lushest and most stunning scenery.
As you ride aboard a narrowboat, travelling at a gentle pace, you have time to see enjoy the scenery, listen to the birds and animals that have their homes near the water. You might see waterfowl, fish and small mammals – or, if you are fortunate, the bright blue flash that is often the only glimpse you get of a kingfisher darting in the water in search of its next meal.
One of the companies which provides narrowboats for hire is Pennine Boat Trips based in Skipton. You can give your holiday something extra special by joining one of their hour-long public canal trips – with the boat’s skipper providing a commentary and letting passengers know a little of the history of the canal and what to look out for. Or you can hire a boat privately for the day (9.30 am – 4.00 pm): the Airedale is a luxury dayboat that can accommodate up to 10 people, and has lots of onboard facilities (galley, loos, stereo, heater, etc – you can even arrange for a hamper or a picnic to be prepared for you in advance). Prices start from just £100 and include car-parking, life jackets, and full instruction (30 minutes).
Pennine Boat Trips also provides a larger boat – the Dalesman, which can accommodate up to 50 people – for private charter which is ideal for birthday parties, hen nights, wedding receptions, anniversaries and corporate use. If you want your business to create waves then what better place for a product launch or to float a new company?
The Dalesman can seat 50 people at tables, and is equipped with a sound system and PA, and has a well-stocked bar. Pennine Boat Trips can provide a full catering service with a range of options from a light lunch to cream teas to a full “Captain’s Buffet” or Sunday roast dinner.
Pennine Boat Trips do a number of topical trips, including Christmas Dinner on the Dalesman – a three-hour cruise with a three-course Christmas meal for £27.50 per person. It’s for groups only and is a great way to get right into the festive spirit.
They also run Santa Trips for kids – an onboard pirate magician entertains children and their accompanying adult with tricks. On this 75-minute trip, Santa clambers on board along the way, and hands out a bag of presents to each child. The price is £12 per person and includes coffee and mince pies for adults and a children’s Monster Juice for each kid. Great fun for everyone and a very memorable way for children to meet up with Father Christmas.