Chance encounters with Turner in Yorkshire

JMW Turner: The Strid, Bolton Abbey, 1809

Two days away in a wet and windswept Yorkshire, seeking out short and sheltered walks suitable for someone celebrating her 87th birthday, coincidentally and with no deliberate intent, wherever we went we happened to choose places, all of which, it turned out, had been painted by JW Turner.

Turner first visited Yorkshire aged 22,  and returned to the county throughout his life, inspired by the sublimity he perceived in its landscapes. There was another reason, too: a close friend and patron was Walter Fawkes, whose home at Farnley Hall in Wharfedale near Otley, Turner first visited in 1797.  His friendship with Fawkes and his attraction to the area around Otley meant that he returned to Farnley Hall throughout his career. He visited more than seventy places in Yorkshire, sketching and painting views from many angles – an engagement with the county’s landscape which echoes recent work by David Hockney.

Turner sought to capture the sublime, defined in 1756 by Edmund Burke as

when we witness something that instills fascination mixed with fear, or if we stand in the presence of something far larger than ourselves.

Turner’s Yorkshire paintings epitomise the picturesque, the aesthetic ideal introduced into English culture in 1782 by William Gilpin in Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, etc. Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; made in the Summer of the Year 1770, essentially a travel guide for the leisured class on how to perceive ‘the face of a country by the rules of picturesque beauty’. The idea of the picturesque was a part of the emerging Romantic sensibility of the 18th century, and still exercises an uncanny influence when we’re framing a landscape for a photo.

Many of Turner’s Yorkshire paintings were in response to commissions following the success of Gilpin’s guide.  He would make pencil sketches direct from the landscape as the basis for finished watercolours and paintings (his sketchbooks can be viewed on Tate Britain’s website).

Our first stop was Aysgarth Force, where the River Ure drops over three major falls in less than one mile. The third fall, Lower Falls, is the most vigorous, where the river drops down a fine staircase of horizontal ledges and can be an awesome sight (and sound) when the river is in spate, which it was last week.

Turner visited Aysgarth on 28 July 1816 when making illustrations for A General History of the County of York by Thomas Dunham Whitaker. Turner was impressed by the Aysgarth waterfalls, a popular tourist spot then as now. He visited in the wet summer of 1816 to sketch and paint the falls from various viewpoints. The heavy rainfall meant that the river was high and the water would have been gushing over the limestone rocks.

JMW Turner: Aysgarth Force, 1816-17

Turner developed his sketches into a finished watercolour (above) which shows the area with fewer trees than today and depicts fishermen by the river’s edge. He introduces two figures into the foreground. One has stripped off his stockings and appears to be preparing for a paddle.

The following day we visited the Strid, where the river Wharfe narrows suddenly and the water races with great force.  We walked up to the viewpoint in the woods from where you can see the river rushing into the Strid far below.  In the distance is Barden Tower, a medieval hunting lodge that is now a ruin.

JMW Turner: Distant View of BardenTower on the River Wharfe

In 1808 Turner sketched this scene during a short tour on the rivers Wharfe and Washburn.  The result was his  watercolour, Distant View of Barden Tower on the River Wharfe (above).  On the same trip Turner completed The Strid, Bolton Abbey (top of post). The watercolour shows a figure fishing, a recurring theme that reflects Turner’s enthusiasm for the pastime, as well as being a popular motif of the picturesque.  On this trip, Turner made a number of sketches of Bolton Abbey and from these he later developed a finished watercolour (below), which he eventually used for his own series Picturesque Views of England and Wales in 1827.

We drove further down the valley to the Bolton Abbey estate where the Priory ruins are indeed highly picturesque, in a beautiful setting by the Wharfe.  The east end of the building nearest the river is a ruin, but at the west end the nave survived the dissolution and continued to be used as a parish church.  In the 19th century windows by August Pugin were added.

JMW Turner: Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, on the Wharfe c.1798

Turner made several visits to the Bolton Abbey estate, and produced a series of watercolours of the ruins of the Priory and nearby sites, including The Strid and Barden Tower. His first visit – a brief one – was in 1797, when he just had the opportunity to make a quick sketch while his coach changed horses at nearby Bolton Bridge.  A watercolour, Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, on the Wharfe, resulted the following year.

Turner returned in 1808 during the tour he made of the Rivers Wharfe and Washburn that year  from the home of his Yorkshire friend and patron, Walter Fawkes at Farnley Hall near Otley.  On that occasion he made some large pencil sketches and painted two watercolours for Walter Fawkes, one of which (Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, below) is in the collection of the University of Liverpool Art Gallery.

JMW Turner: Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, 1809

There is a second, more distant, view (below), framed by trees, looking down from a hillside on meadows through which the river meanders past the ruins.  This one is in the British Museum collection.

JMW Turner: Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, 1809

Turner returned again in 1816 when making an extensive tour of Yorkshire in search of subjects to illustrate the planned General History of the County of York by Thomas Dunham Whitaker.  He made a number of sketches and from those later developed a finished picture (below), one of the finest of his series of watercolours of Bolton Abbey – now in the collection of National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside at the Lady Lever Art Gallery on the Wirral.  Whitaker died before his book was completed, so Turner later included an engraved illustration of this watercolour in his own Picturesque Views of England and Wales, published ten years later, in 1827.  There’s that fisherman again, tying his fly, his satchel and jacket lying on the river bank in the foreground.

JMW Turner: Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, c.1825

On another occasion, waiting for the rain to pass,  we drove out of our dale over the moors to Malham Tarn, where the sun made a determined effort to vanquish the rain, provoking a rainbow in the process. We stopped the car for a while and thought of a walk to the Tarn, but the land was a morass.

We drove down to Malham and walked out from the village up to the Cove.  There is something spookily awe-inspiring about  that sheer limestone cliff formed at the end of the last ice age when meltwater cut back into the cove as it fell over the edge as a waterfall.  There is no water now – instead, it finds its way through the joints and fissures of the limestone to rise south of the village as the source of the river Aire.

Turner completed this watercolour of the Cove in 1810.  He visited Malham twice – in 1808, and gain in 1816 during his extensive tour of Yorkshire.  Tate Britain’s sketchbook collection includes 18 sketches of Malham Cove and Tarn, as well as nearby Gordale Scar.  The British Museum holds this watercolour of Malham Cove, cattle grazing in foreground while  two figures approach, one mounted on an ass. Coincidentally,  Turner depicts the arc of a rainbow spanning the scene, as mist and rain appears to clear the cove.

We spent a few days in the Dales at the same time last year, and on that occasion strolled up the valley from the Green Dragon Inn at Hardraw in Wensleydale to the head of the gorge where the Hardraw Force cascades 100 feet from an overhanging ledge.  This may be the only walk which absolutely requires that you begin in the bar of a pub (where you pay an admission fee).  Perhaps Turner sat with a pint of ale here before settling himself down on the grass in front of the waterfall with his sketchbook?

Turner visited Hardraw Force on 27 July 1816, as part of his grand tour, and spent the night in the village at the Green Dragon Inn.  Hardraw Force was already a well-known attraction in Turner’s time, with fellow contemporaries such as Wordsworth also visiting.

Turner made two large sketches of the falls before making his final finished watercolour Hardraw Fall (below, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).

JMW Turner: ‘Hardraw Fall’, 1816

Turner’s watercolour, like those of Malham and Bolton Abbey, shows how Turner manipulated the scene, exaggerating scale and height, to imbue it with Burke’s sense of the sublime: that which ‘instills fascination mixed with fear’, as if we stand ‘in the presence of something far larger than ourselves’.

The final coincidence in these chance encounters with Turner is that we were staying in a caravan belonging to friends, located on a caravan park at Hawkswick, a mile or so further up Littondale from Kilnsey, famous for the distinctive form of Kilnsey Crag , a towering inland limestone cliff, around 150 feet high, which has an impressive overhang of about 40 feet.  The dramatic cliff drew Turner here, too: on his tour of Yorkshire in 1816 he spent the night of 25 July at nearby Kettlewell and devoted the following morning to sketching Kilnsey Crag.

JMW Turner: Kilnsey Crag and Conistone, Upper Wharfedale, 1816

Turner made a series of quick sketches recording views from the road to the north and south in a small pocketbook, before deciding that the best profile was that from the south and recording that in his largest sketchbook.  Turner always liked to give a wider sense of the situation of his subjects, so his final idea was to take the view from a distance at the village of Conistone, where he could take in the headland of Kilnsey jutting into the Wharfe Valley, with the river and Conistone Bridge in the foreground and the higher fells of Upper Wharfedale in the background.  He made a detailed sketch across two pages of his largest sketchbook and developed that into a highly atmospheric watercolour study, Kilnsey Crag and Conistone, Upper Wharfedale (above).

See also

  • The Turner Trails: trail guide links 70 sites in Yorkshire associated with JMW Turner

David Hockney’s new exhibition at Salt’s Mill

David Hockney’s new exhibition at Salt’s Mill

Three days in the Yorkshire Dales being blown and buffeted by the tail winds of Hurricane Katia. On our first evening, in our friends’ caravan in Littondale, there was a power cut for a couple of hours as the wind roared and shook us. Continue reading “David Hockney’s new exhibition at Salt’s Mill”

A Dales walk: clints, grykes, meadows and pubs

Our second day in the Dales, and we woke to clear blue skies.  We were set on doing the walk that a friend reckons is the best in the Dales. It began at the car park in Buckden (below), the last village in Wharfedale before the road climbs out of the valley and over to West Burton.  The parish of Buckden consists of the village itself, as well as the hamlets of Cray, Hubberholme and Yockenthwaite that we were to pass through on our walk.

From the car park (above) we followed the track that rises through Rakes Wood to join Buckden Rake. This is an old Roman road that connected the forts at Ilkley (Olicana) to the south and Bainbridge, near Hawes (Virosidum).

Route of the walk - from http://www.walkingbritain.co.uk

But the earliest evidence of human habitation in this parish dates back well before the Romans – to the Bronze Age.   Beside the river at Yockenthwaite there’s a stone circle or ring cairn, thought to be all that remains of a pre-historic burial mound.

As we gained height along the Buckden Rake bridleway, there were superb views back down the dale towards Buckden (above).  A little further, and the hamlet of Hubberholme came into view to the west (below).

The landscape we were looking across was once Langstrothdale Chase, the playing field and meat larder of the Percy family, the earls of Northumberland.  After the Norman conquest, the Percies were granted, in 1377, all forest and manorial rights in the dale – feudal rights that they held until 1534.  Hubberholme first emerged as one of the lodges of the chase. Buckden itself was established in the 12th Century as the administrative centre for the hunting forest of Langstrothdale Chase.  All this is a reminder that once the dales were covered in trees; over the centuries they have been cleared for farming.

There were also outlying lodges at Cray (below), Hubberholme, Raisgill, Yockenthwaite and Deepdale, where officials were responsible for managing the forest and collecting rents. The Chase was subject to strict regulation enforced by a court known as the Woodmote which met every 40 days. Although the villagers of the chase had some rights including collecting firewood and honey and grazing pigs, poaching and cutting down trees were severely punished.

The route took us to a point beside waterfalls just above the White Lion Inn at Cray (above).  Originally a stop off for drovers, the White Lion dates back to the 17th century, and is renowned for the quality of its beer and food.  It was too early for us to stop for lunch and we pressed on towards Hubberholme.

The next section of the walk was a real pleasure – easy going on the level, grassy pastures that form the head of Wharfedale, with superb views opening up down the dale (below).

The limestone pavement here forms a series of stepped ledges – the result of the differential erosion of limestone (laid down as layers of tiny shells and micro-skeletons in shallow seas some 300 million years ago) and the alternating layers of shales and sandstone that erode more easily, leaving the limestone like the treads of a stair (below).

These are the limestone pavements that I remember from Geography A-level at school.  Rainwater erodes the joints and bedding planes of these limestone pavements to produce grooves or depressions called grykes, with clumps of limestone in between called clints.  The sheltered grykes form miniature eco-systems that support a variety of often rare plants.  I found a clump of marjoram thriving in this gryke.

The going remained easy as we approached Scar House, a cottage above Hubberholme that became a Quaker meeting House following a visit from George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, in 1652. There is a Quaker burial ground adjacent to the cottage, which is now owned by the National Trust and operated as a holiday cottage.

After Scar House the path continues through a short section of deciduous woodland (below) before emerging to cross a number of small fields.

Along the way we passed signs of lives once led here – a ruined sheep fold, an abandoned cottage.

The midday sun was beating down as we approached Yockenthwaite (below), a remote hamlet where a bridge crosses the Wharfe before the road heads over the dale head to Hawes. Just before the bridge we turned along the Dales Way which follows the river downstream to Hubberholme.

Now we were walking through waterside meadows, several still not mown despite it being past the date when farmers are allowed to mow (farmers in Wharfedale are paid a subsidy for not cutting the meadows early to allow the wild flowers to seed). It was late in the season to see the meadows at their best, but there were still colourful displays of purple knapweed and clover, yellow hawkweed and lady’s bedstraw (its common English name deriving from its former use as stuffing for bed mattresses). At one point we came upon the blue splash of a bank of field scabious stretching down to the river bank.

Following the tea-coloured river, we were wondering whether we’d make the George Inn at Hubberholme before they stopped serving food.  Then, quite suddenly, the church tower came into view – abruptly because both church and tower are rather squat structures.

The tiny hamlet of Hubberholme (local pronunciation Ubberam) takes its name from the invading Viking chieftain Hubba the Berserker (someone to keep on the right side of, I imagine), who settled here over a 1000 years ago. The church was originally a forest chapel within the Norman hunting forest of Langstrothdale Chase and was given to the monks of Coverham Abbey by William de Percy in 1241.

The church is famous for its rood loft (above), one of only two surviving in Yorkshire, which is thought to have come from Coverham Priory in 1558. The choir stall and pews were made by Robert Thompson of Kilburn in 1934 – and several of his carved mice can be seen on the pew ends (below).

The ashes of Bradford-born author J.B.Priestley are scattered in the churchyard in view of the pub. Priestley regarded  the George Inn as his favourite watering hole and wrote of Hubberholme that it was ‘one of the smallest and most pleasant places in the world’. This memorial can be found at the back of the church.

The George was still open and serving food, so we sat outside in the sunshine and consumed our refreshments, rounding things off with a slice of excellent Yorkshire curd tart. It seemed we had been the only customers that lunchtime – the toilets across the yard had to be unlocked for us.

There’s a curious tradition associated with the pub.  Since the 18th century, on the first Monday after New Year’s Day, a ‘parliament’ has been held at the George Inn at which the grazing rights to a nearby pasture are auctioned by the vicar, with the auction finishing when the candle on the bar burns out. The highest bidder (usually a local farmer) pays the rent which is used to support the elderly of the parish.

From Hubberholme, the Dales Way at first follows the road towards Buckden. For some reason, local landowners have prevented the path from crossing the fields by the river on this short section. Soon, however, the path rejoins the river bank for the final section back to Buckden.  Along the way, I noticed this tree trunk that displayed signs that an over-active woodpecker had been at work.

Back in the car park at Buckden, several thrushes showed a keen interest in what I was up to.

On past visits to the valley we would often call in at the pub in Buckden, the Buck Inn. Now, it seems, the pub is faced with closure.  The village website records that the pub had been empty for almost a year following the departure of the previous landlords,  re-opened at the end of July but because of lack of repairs to the building, is due to close again this weekend.  Villagers point out that the Buck Inn belongs to the Wellington Pub Company and is managed by Criterion Asset Management. Both businesses belong to the Reuben Brothers who, according to the 2011 Sunday Times Rich List, are the 8th richest people in Britain.

Walking the canal: Skipton to Saltaire

From Skipton, the canal wends its way along the valley of the river Aire, and for a good part of the way the towpath is wide and metalled so I was able to make good progress and cover 16 miles to Saltaire. Now just one leg of 13 miles remains before I reach the eastern end in Leeds.

Yesterday, like much of the past 10 days, was warm and sunny and the countryside was pleasant, though as far as Farnhill and Kildwick this is a noisy stretch, with the roar of the A629 to Keighley a constant presence.

Upper Airedale is a flat, wide valley here, bounded by tall steep hills and moorlands – especially to the north, where the fells stretch off towards Ilkely Moor.  The canal hugs the hillside just above the valley floor, providing a lock-free pound that extends for the full 17 miles from Skipton to Bingley. The line of the canal was laid out along the Aire valley by James Brindley, one of the greatest of the canal builders.  The canal passes by a series of villages – Bradley, Kildwick, Silsden – each showing evidence of the impact that the canal must have had on this largely agricultural area, with old mill buildings, particularly in Silsden.

At Hamblethorpe swing bridge, just past Bradley, there is a sudden jolt that pulls you back to a tragic moment in the past – a memorial to seven Polish RAF airmen who died when a training flight crashed here in September 1943.  The men had escaped Poland in 1939 during the German invasion, and they enlisted with the RAF, which raised ten squadrons made up entirely of Polish personnel.

With each successive stage of the walk this year, the countryside has become steadily more parched, as rainfall has been scarce here, as well as in the north-west, for most of the spring and early summer. Just past midsummer, the banks and hedgerows begin to lose their colour anyway – though the flowers of the elderbery and dog roses provide splashes of colour.

At Farnhill the canal -passes through woods before emerging at the village where canalside industrial buildings have been converted to residential use.

Kildwick is the next village – all Yorkshire stone and steep streets spilling down the hillside to the canal, one of which runs under the canal.

Silsden is another, larger, stone-built industrial town.  Generally an agricultural area, industry came with the canal and the Industrial Revolution. The town hosted a number of mills, none of which now operate in their original form. There is still industry in the town, some in old mill buildings and some in a new industrial estate between the town and the river.

I stopped at the Bridge Inn at Silsden, which appeared to be a converted end-terrace house.  Certainly entering the bar was like walking into someone’s living room, with a small bar on the far wall.  The room was draped in England flags and posters – at first the landlady said she couldn’t offer me food, as she was only doing it during half-time (this was the day of the England-Slovenia World Cup match).  But she made me a fine cheese sandwich and I set outside with a pint of Black Sheep Ale from the independent brewery of the same name in Masham.

Apparently, the origins of the pub go back to the 1600s when ale was brewed at a farmhouse here. An inn developed in the early 1700s when it was first known as the Coach and Horses, and then the Boot and Shoe Inn. There is an old sign dated 1799, depicting a boot and shoe, over the original inn doorway, which can be seen now from the beer garden. It also bears the initials I S L, which refers to the Longbottom family who had a long connection with the inn. An 1822 trade directory lists John Longbottom as victualler. The canal was dug through Silsden between 1769 and 1773 and eventually, in 1826, a new road (now known as Keighley Road) was built at the other side of the inn, along with a bridge going over the canal. This meant the inn had to extend upwards and a new front door was created at the roadside.

From here the canal gains a decidedly suburban feel – the towpath is widened, level and metalled, with plenty of cyclists taking advantage of it – and the canal is fringed, along many stretches, by housing, much of it recently-developed. But this is still very attractive walking.

The canal wends its way around the outskirts of Keighley, and soon I arrive at one of the great sights of the canal – the Bingley staircase.   An 18th century engineering masterpiece, the staircase comes in two parts – the Five Rise and Three Rise locks. These five locks operate as a staircase no intermediate pounds,  in which the lower gate of one lock forms the upper gate of the next. The locks are supervised by a lock keeper and are closed at night.

The 5-rise is the steepest flight of locks in the UK, with a gradient of about 1 in 5 or a total fall of 60 feet (look at that drop in the photo above!).

The lock system was designed by John Longbotham of Halifax and built in 1774 by local Stonemasons : Barnabus Morvill, Jonathan Farrar, William Wild all of Bingley and John Sugden from Wilsden. The locks raise boats 59ft 2in over a distance of 320ft.

When the Bingley staircase opened on 12 March 1774 it was a major feat of engineering. This meant that the canal from Gargrave to Leeds was now open to traffic, and a crowd of 30,000 people turned out to celebrate.  The first boat down the Five Rise Locks took just 28 minutes. This must have been phenomenal: when I asked some people waiting to enter the staircase yesterday how long it usually took, they said ‘an hour to an hour and a half’.

It’s slow because all five locks must be ‘set’ before beginning passage. For a journey upwards, the bottom lock must be empty, with all the others full: the reverse is the case for a boat descending.

The opening of the staircase in 1774 was given full coverage in The Leeds Intelligencer:

“From Bingley to about 3 miles downwards the noblest works of the kind are exhibited viz: A five fold, a three fold and a single lock, making together a fall of 120 feet; a large aqueduct bridge of seven arches over the River Aire and an aqueduct and banking over the Shipley valley ……. This joyful and much wished for event was welcomed with the ringing of Bingley bells, a band of music, the firing of guns by the neighbouring Militia, the shouts of spectators, and all the marks of satisfaction that so important an acquisition merits”.

Adjoining the Three Rise locks is the mill owned by the Damart company – famous for manufacturing a large proportion of the thermal underwear worn in the UK.

Further along is another example of  the successful conversion of an old mill building into residential apartments overlooking the canal.

A little further along is bridge 205 – Scourer Bridge – an attractive structure that is a grade II listed building.  The citation describes it as ‘Hammer-dressed stone. Single horse-shoe elliptical arch with dressed and chamfered voussoirs. Coped parapet aligned to the slope of the hill’.

Next is Dowley Gap, with more locks and an aqueduct that carries the canal over the river Aire.

Another couple of miles and I arrived at Saltaire, named after Sir Titus Salt who built a textile mill here in 1853, along with a model village for the mill-workers.  Salt moved his entire business (five separate mills) from Bradford to this site partly to provide improved conditions for his workers compared to those in Bradford, and partly to site his large textile mill by a canal and a railway.

Titus Salt built neat stone houses for his workers, wash-houses with running water, bath-houses, a hospital, as well as an Institute for recreation and education, with a library, a reading room, a concert hall, billiard room, science laboratory and gymnasium. The village also provided a school for the children of the workers, almshouses, allotments, a park and a boathouse.

In 2001, Saltaire was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  The buildings belonging to the model village are individually listed, with the highest level of protection being given to the Congregational Church which is listed grade I. At the moment it’s undergoing renovation and is surrounded by screens and scaffolding.

Salts Mill closed in 1986, and in the following year the late Jonathan Silver bought it and began renovating it. Today it houses a mixture of business, retail and residential units, with the main attraction being the 1853 Gallery, given over to the work of David Hockney, who was born in Bradford.

Jonathan Silver

Jonathan Silver had met Hockney back in the sixties and approached him about displaying his work in the Mill.  Hockney agreed, and the Gallery now displays paintings, drawings, photomontages and stage sets by Hockney.  Currently there is a large display of opera sets created by Hockney, as well as reproductions of a recent series of water colours of Yorkshire landscapes in midsummer.

David Hockney Yorkshire midsummer: A gap in the hedgerow

Yorkshire midsummer Roadside plants and landscape

There are various shops, including a superb bookshop, plus restaurants and a cafe where I restored my energy levels with an excellent giant scone.

Finally, it was time to catch the train back to Skipton along Airedale line: comfortable, quiet and fast, and with clear travel announcements at every stop. Now only 13 miles remain before the journey ends in Leeds.

Walking the canal: East Marton to Skipton

It was hot already at ten in the morning when I set off from the little village of East Marton on the most beautiful leg of the canal walk so far.  This stretch was an amble through an outstanding landscape with fine views across rolling fields and hillocks to distant rugged hills.

East Marton comprises a picturesque cluster of buildings, with pub, restaurant and an extensive stables and livery yard where horses were being exercised and groomed. The first stretch is green and tranquil as the canal pushes through a heavily-wooded cutting.

This stretch of the towpath actually forms a section of the Pennine Way.  It must come as a relief to those walking that toughest of long-distance paths.

I was noting how, even in the two weeks since my last canal walk, the flowers have changed: though the hawthorn is still ubiquitous, now the dog-rose, yellow flag and birdsfoot trefoil are making their presence felt.

Heading towards Gargrave, the canal winds in extravagent loops through humpy hills smothered in buttercups (those drumlins again).

At Bank Newton, six locks lower the canal into Upper Airedale. This was once an  important base for canal maintenance to keep this particular length of the canal in full working order, with carpenter’s workshops and other buildings that are now converted into houses.

The first part of the Leeds-Liverpool canal to open was the lock-free section from Skipton to Bingley, in 1773. The datestone on the lock-keeper’s cottage indicates that the canal reached here 18 years later.

Close to the village of Gargrave an aqueduct carries the canal over the river Aire, flowing in from the north.  From here, the canal will follow the Aire valley down to Leeds, accompanied by the railway line from Carlisle and Settle.

At Gargrave, the Pennine Way leaves the canal to head north towards Malham.  Here the canal enters the Yorkshire dales National Park.

There is an interesting account of the impact that the canal had on this part of the world on Out of Oblivion, a website that documents change in the cultural landscape of the Yorkshire Dales:

In the 1760s, Yorkshire merchants were keen to improve the supply of limestone from the Craven Dales to the farmland and towns of the West Riding. The limestone, once burnt and turned into lime was needed to improve yields from marginal agricultural land while the mortar produced from the same source went to build taller weaving sheds and houses for mill workers. They conceived the idea of building a canal from Leeds, up the Aire valley, to Gargrave. They also saw the possibilities of extending the canal to Liverpool in order to take advantage of the trade in textiles to the growing colonial markets in Africa and America…

The effect on the southern Dales of the arrival of the canal at Gargrave can not be overestimated. Although limestone was intended to have been the canal’s major traffic it turned out to be coal instead. Up until then coal for domestic and industrial use in the Dales had come from often remote collieries such as those above Threshfield or on Tan Hill. The state of the roads and the difficulty accessing many of these collieries meant that packhorses and to a lesser extent wheeled vehicles had been the only method of transporting it. Added to that, local coal was shaley and poor quality. The Leeds-Liverpool canal offered a viable alternative by being able to transport bulk materials over distance at a low cost. Better quality coal at cheaper prices was delivered to warehouses in Gargrave and from there the coal was collected by carriers who delivered it throughout Wharfedale and beyond. The Cupola smelt mill on Grassington Moor was now assured of a regular supply of good quality fuel. Domestic users had an alternative to collecting wood or cutting and drying peat. During much of the nineteenth century over one million tons of coal a year was transported on the canal. This contrasted with around 50,000 tons of limestone per year.

The Leeds & Liverpool Canal was an efficient carrier of both bulk raw materials and merchandise such as groceries, beer and machinery. It continued to compete successfully along its length with railways until road transport began to take off after the First World War. Coal remained the main cargo, but as factories began to turn from steam power to electricity demand for it fell away until finally in 1972 the last regular commercial traffic ceased.

Approaching Skipton,in the meadows beside the canal, hay had been cut and this was attracting a great many birds.  A heron flew up just in front of me, and curlews were noisily investigating the mounds of cut grass. I was surprised to see a pair of oystercatchers so far inland. In the hot midday sun, martins swooped to catch insects over the canal’s still water.

Although the canal had been busy with barges, I had encountered hardly a soul on the towpath.  It was quite a shock, then, to arrive in Skipton which was heaving and bustling with day-trippers, a goodly proportion of whom were decidedly elderly.

Skipton is a very pleasant little town.  The area around the canal basin appears to have been constructed all of a piece around the time that the canal arrived in 1773 .  This gives the buildings, bridges and embankments a pleasing homegeneity, constructed largely from glowing yorkshire stone. The Leeds Intelligencer reported on 8 April 1773:

“On Thursday last, that part of the Grand Canal from Bingley to Skipton was opened, and two boats laden with coals arrived at the last mentioned place, which were sold at half the price they have hitherto given for that most necessary convenience of life, which is a recent instance, among other, of the great use of canals in general. On which occasion the bells were set ringing at Skipton; there were also bonfires, illuminations, and other demonstrations of joy.”

The Springs Branch is a short section that branches off from the main canal to enter a wooded ravine bounded by an escarpment surmounted by Skipton Castle.

Lord Thanet in Skipton owned both Skipton Castle and local limestone quarries. He proposed the construction of a quarter mile branch canal to connect the quarries with the new Leeds Liverpool Canal. An Act was passed in 1773 to enable construction to go ahead and the branch canal was built quickly.

Skipton has a long history, with its name deriving from the Saxon word for sheep and meaning ‘sheep town’. Settled by sheep farmers as long ago as the 7th century, the town has an entry in the Domesday Book, and Skipton Castle was built around 1090 by Robert de Romille, who came over from Normandy with William I in 1066. But it was the arrival of the Leeds-Liverpool canal that boosted the town’s fortunes and Skipton boomed during the Industrial Revolution, with cloth making becoming the major activity.

I walked up Springs Branch, past the waterfall where Eller beck cascades into the canal, to the rock face where the canal branch ends abruptly.  This is where the limestone was once quarried.

Continuing beyond the canal branch, a path takes you into Skipton Woods. I should have been here a few weeks ago: everywhere I looked, as far as the eye could see, the woodland floor was thick with wild garlic, but the recent blossoms were faded and gone.  The wood is managed by the Woodland Trust, which states on their website:

A magical land in the heart of town – that’s one way to describe Skipton Woods, a woodland haven by one of Britain’s best preserved, most popular medieval castles. The wood’s links with the castle date back at least 1,000 years.  Most of this ancient woodland is dominated by ash but the occasional sycamore, beech, Scots pine, Norway spruce and hornbeam indicate a greater variety in the past. The woods are renowned for their vivid displays of bluebells and wild garlic and sustain five species of bat. Green and greater spotted woodpeckers add their colour, while kingfisher and heron may be seen fishing the waterways.

The woods were originally used by Skipton Castle primarily for hunting and fishing, although during the 18th and 19th centuries, the woods were also used to provide timber, building stone and water. The timber and stone was moved out of the woods via Springs Canal. The water was obtained by damming Eller Beck to form Long Dam, which in turn fed a small reservoir called Round Dam, also known as Mill Dam or Mill Pond. The water was used to power the former sawmill and corn mill located by the castle. Public access to the woods was only allowed by the owners of the castle in 1971.

Someone was here at the beginning of May this year and made a video of it:

By the canal basin there’s a striking statue of the Yorkshire fast bowler, Fred Trueman, that was unveiled a few months back. It was created by Yorkshire sculptor Graham Ibbeson, from a studio in his back garden in Barnsley, with the blessing of Trueman’s widow Veronica. Trueman made his Yorkshire first-class debut in 1949 and went on to play 459 games for the county, notching up 1,745 wickets. In 67 Test matches for England he took 307 wickets, and retired in 1972 for a career in the media. He died in 2006, aged 75.  The Truemans made the Yorkshire Dales their home in the 1970s, although Fred himself was born in Stainton, a village between Rotherham and Doncaster.

I walked to the outskirts of Skipton, before turning back to catch the X80 bus that would drop me back in East Marton. I am now over 100 miles from Liverpool.

Next: Skipton to Saltaire