The Yorkshire Canal network with the two great North and South Pennine Rings is one of the most popular leisure waterway networks in Britain. Whether you explore them via tow paths on foot and two wheels or on a canal boat holiday or short break, canals are a great way to explore the region's landscapes and history. The navigable river and canal network in Yorkshire winds through some of the county’s great cities including Leeds and York, and past some of Yorkshire’s most famous attractions including World Heritage Site Saltaire along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and the Royal Armouries alongside the Aire & Calder Navigation in Leeds city centre.
Canalsides are also where to head for many great festivals and events like Skipton’s annual Waterways Festival. Wonders of Britain’s canals also feature on the network like the long Standedge Tunnel cut through the Pennines at Marsden near Huddersfield and the ultimate lock challenge – the Five-Rise Locks at Bingley.
The North’s canal star is the 127 mile long Leeds & Liverpool Canal (longer if you include canal branches!). The Yorkshire section between Skipton and Bingley was the first lock free stretch to be opened in the 1770s. Today the Leeds & Liverpool is the backbone of the Pennine Rings, incredibly popular for canal boat holidays and short breaks. Top spots along the canal include Skipton on the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales with its breathtaking canal basin, site for a popular annual waterways festival and where to pick up day boat trips. Bingley and Saltaire, two locations close to each other in West Yorkshire are other highlights. At Bingley sits canal wonder, the Five-Rise Locks and at Saltaire the canal flanks World Heritage Site Salts Mill, a waterways hub hosting numerous festivals and events.
One of three Pennine canal crossings, the 33 mile long Rochdale Canal from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge is a favourite Yorkshire Canal with many offering some of the most pleasurable boat cruises and tow path walking and cycling experiences particularly around Calderdale towns Hebden Bridge and Todmorden. Striking canal features are at Todmorden where canal meets railway at the ‘Great Wall of Todmorden’. The canalside at Hebden Bridge is a picturesque scene of waterfront inns and moored canal boats.
The River Aire first became navigable to Leeds in 1700, and quickly became a commercial success story, transporting coal out from the mighty Yorkshire coalfields. The great Aire & Calder Navigation stretches from Leeds to Castleford (10 miles/5 locks) and on to Wakefield (17 ½ miles/10 locks). It connects with the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at River Lock in Leeds city centre near the station.
Today the leisure hub of the Aire & Calder is around Clarence Dock overlooked by the Royal Armouries Museum and flanked by shops, restaurants and renovated canal warehouses with luxury apartments. The canal tow path from Leeds to Mickletown is part of the Trans Pennine Trail, easily accessed from Leeds city centre near the Corn Exchange. A bridge leads across to Brewery Wharf where you'll find waterfront inns and restaurants always bustling in summer.
The success of the Aire & Calder Navigation triggered pressure for improvements around Wakefield and the broad cut Calder & Hebble, mostly a river navigation, was then built, becoming operational to Sowerby Bridge in the 1770s. The father of canal construction, James Brindley was an advisor to the project and today it is West Yorkshire’s Sowerby Bridge basin near Halifax (also a meeting point for the Rochdale Canal) which is the major hub for leisure craft and the start of many a canal boat holiday or short break. Sowerby Bridge affords easy access onto the North and South Pennine canal rings. Some of the UK’s most spectacular canal architecture and some wonderful canalside real ale inns are down here in the valley at Sowerby Bridge. Shire Cruisers on The Wharf offer canal boat hire.
The Huddersfield Narrow Canal stretches for 20 miles from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire to Ashton under Lyne, Greater Manchester. Navigable to leisure craft since 2001, this beautiful Yorkshire narrow canal passes through wild Pennine moorland. Top spots along its route include Pennine town Marsden home to the River Top Brewery, independent shops and a stunning Victorian Mechanics building all overlooked by mighty Marsden Moor.
Visit the Standedge Tunnel visitor centre with 30 minute guided boat trips through the 3 mile long tunnel under the Pennines – one of the great wonders of Britain’s canal network. The Huddersfield Broad Canal running through the centre of Huddersfield is only around 4 miles long and connects the Narrow canal to the Calder and Hebble Navigation.
A magical mix of navigable rivers and canals culminate at historic York where the River Ouse, navigable since Viking settlement, runs through the heart of the city passing pretty Rowntree Park. Upstream the Ouse flows into the River Ure, joining the Swale Navigation. One of the best ways to see York is by boat trip along the Ouse - York Boat offer daily boat trips from February to November from city centre landings at King's Staith and Lendal Bridge.
Canals proper around York include the little Ripon Canal, a 2.5 mile long broad canal. Pick up canal boat cruises at Ripon Canal Basin. The peaceful Selby Canal 12 miles south of York is a backwater of the Aire & Calder. Today it’s popular with boaters heading on up to Selby to see one of the great hidden gem abbey churches in England dating back to 1069. Look out too for work in progress on two South Yorkshire Canals - The Barnsley Dearne & Dove Canals - which link the river Calder at Wakefield to the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation at Swinton. Barnsley sits midway between these two canals.
Rural canal treasure The Pocklington Canal in East Yorkshire is 9 ½ miles long, stretching from Canal Head near Pocklington to East Cottingwith where it joins the River Derwent. Thanks to considerable restoration by The Pocklington Canal Amenity Society in recent years over half of this Yorkshire canal is now navigable and it is one of the region’s finest for wildlife. The canal’s 9 locks and 4 road bridges are all Grade II Listed.