Leeds Liverpool Canal by bike


Cycling along the canal is one of my favourite local days out in Leeds. Back in the Spring, Oli (9) and I tested out the bike he got for Christmas by riding out to Saltaire and back and when I told him that you could go all the way to Liverpool by the canal we found ourselves planning to do just that. After all, having done Kirkstall-Saltaire as a round trip of 21 miles in 3 1/2 gentle hours, it would only involve doing another hour and a half a day over 4 days to cover the full 127 or so miles. On summer days, that would allow for long stops for lunch and drinks and snacks.

So, a few months later, starting over the August Bank Holiday weekend we found ourselves setting off to do the whole trip. We agreed it would be more fun as a holiday to start at Liverpool and work our way back so that we could have a day out in Liverpool first, as we might not fancy it at the end of the journey. The only problem with this was that that the most comprehensive guide to the Leeds Liverpool Canal is written as if nobody in their right mind would contemplate going in that direction – to the extent of even having the maps oriented with the East on the left. Of course, that’s not a huge problem when the whole nature of the canal is that it runs between Leeds and Liverpool so map reading isn’t that high a priority.


Oli rode a Frog 69 which is a hybrid MTB without suspension and was on road/track tyres – in retrospect, it might have been better to have switched to the knobbly tyres it came with in case of wet weather, but as it turned out this wasn’t a problem as we only had about an hour of rain on the third day and that came while we were on well-surfaced paths. As a birthday present I got myself a Revolution Country 1 touring bike from Edinburgh Bicycle Co-Operative in Leeds, along with a pair of 40l waterproof panniers (I thought it would be pushing our luck too much to expect Oli to carry more than our snacks and lunches in a handlebar bag). Both bikes were comfortable and well suited to the trip, although some of the sections had only rudimentary paths (particularly in the middle of the Lancashire countryside between Liverpool and Wigan, between Accrington and Burnley, and between Gargrave and Kildwick) where a bike with front suspension might have been more comfortable for me. A road bike would have struggled but pretty much anything else other than a BMX would be perfectly fine for the trip.


After breakfast and a dog walk on Sunday morning, we set off on the easy downhill journey to Leeds station for the train to Liverpool. The Transpennine Express train was quick and had good space for our bikes to be stowed in the carriage safely. We then had a little confusion trying to rely on Google Maps cycle satnav (the iPhone mount worked well) to get us to Prince’s Dock and the Malmaison where we were staying. I haven’t been to Liverpool for years and was pleasantly surprised by how vibrant and lively the waterfront is. We spent the afternoon going on various rides, listening to the bands playing at the music festival that was on and having a wander around Tate Liverpool. We finished off by going out for a Pizza at Pizza Express in the newish Liverpool One shopping centre and a game of mini-golf at Jungle Rumble, which was excellent (and I won by 9 shots over the 18 holes, go me!).

Albert Dock

Spot the Dazzle Ships, OMD fans

There’s no escaping the Beatles, even in a Malmaison

Disco Superhero

The Road to Wigan Pier

Day 1 of our cycling started on Bank Holiday Monday and involved following the canal from where it started, right by the docks where we were staying, up to Wigan. Due to the circuitous route the canal ended up with as a result of complicated local political wranglings in the C18th, this was a 36 mile journey rather than the 22 miles or so it can be done in by road. It was a really nice sunny day with a little breeze at times but otherwise perfect conditions. There wasn’t a lot to see along the canal going out of Liverpool through Bootle and Aintree, but as we were just warming up that wasn’t a problem. Once we’d left the edge of the city behind the countryside was fairly flat but pleasant. There were also, handily placed through mid-afternoon, at least half a dozen canalside pubs with beer gardens any one of which we could have happily spent the whole afternoon. After passing a couple we succumbed to the Saracen’s Head, Halsall for a drink, a snack and a rest after having already exceeded the longest distance either of us had ever ridden in a day (the 21 miles from our initial ride to Saltaire). All along this section, taking advantage of the fine weather and the Bank Holiday, were many families and groups walking or riding their bikes. There were also more bichon frises than we’d ever seen before – they’re clearly very popular in Merseyside and West Lancashire – and these made Oli miss Fluffy. Everyone was very friendly.

We then got back on our bikes and didn’t have another major stop until we reached a lovely ice cream cafe, Yours Is The Earth in Parbold, just outside Wigan. Luckily we got there just in time at 4.30 to get what turned out to be their last ice creams of the day. We felt a little bad wolfing them down on a bench outside the cafe as more than a dozen other people arriving after us were turned away even though the cafe seemed still to be serving coffee! Even though Google Maps was saying we weren’t far from Wigan, it wasn’t clear whether we would have to cycle up the 27 locks to get to the Premier Inn we were staying at so we thought a rest would be a good idea just in case (it turned out that that climb was instead what we’d be starting day 2 with). The Premier Inn staff were very helpful and not only allowed us to keep our bikes safely with us in our room but moved us to a disabled room to give more space. After a shower and a rest we finished off with an underwhelming meal at the Moon Under Water Wetherspoons in the town centre (from my perspective mainly for the George Orwell link).

Day 1: 36.4 miles, 5 hr 53, average speed 6.18mph, 1043ft climbed (a large proportion of which was in Wigan town centre!).

A lock and lunch

Well earned ice creams at Parbold, near Wigan

Not Orwell’s experience of Wigan Pier

Wigan to Burnley

Planning the route to divide into 4 manageable days of cycling was made difficult by trying to find places to stay at the end of each day. Stopping at Blackburn would have been too early and made the third day too long and Accrington didn’t appear to have anywhere at all to stay. So we had to prepare for a longer day to get to Burnley. After spending a week last summer in Dubrovnik if anyone had said I’d have my next summer holiday staying at Premier Inns in Wigan and Burnley I’d have given them a very funny look, but, here we were!

As mentioned, the day started with cycling up the 27 locks going out of Wigan. Just after we passed them we had our first fall as Oli went over in a deep rut, resulting in his new shoes and hand getting muddy but nothing more serious. We then pressed on towards Blackburn. Although we’d stocked up with sandwiches from the M&S in Wigan town centre before setting off, I’d hoped that as with the first day, we’d be able to find a nice pub or cafe by the canal. We were out of luck in the country, but surely a decent sized town like Blackburn would oblige?

No. We passed one pub by the canal on entering Blackburn from the West but it didn’t really have a garden and sitting in a car park having a bag of crisps and a coke didn’t appeal. Unfortunately, that was as good as Blackburn got. There was literally nothing there along the canal to appeal to anyone. We barely passed anyone who could be described as walking for pleasure – almost everyone we met were groups of miserable looking teenagers ambling around  – and there was nowhere to stop other than a bench which looked like it had been set up to offer a view but the only view it offered was of the back of a brewery, a factory car park and rows of houses. In the end we pressed on, Oli concluding firmly that Blackburn’s score for appeal was minus 20 out of 100 (he gives Leeds, his home town 92 and had concluded that he’d happily live in Liverpool, for comparison).

Our moods lifted as we left Blackburn and finally we managed to find a cafe by the river in Rishton. Well, although it had tables and menus it was more like someone’s back yard than a cafe, but the owners were very friendly (even offering to go upstairs and find me a charger for my phone) and it was nice to be back in a place with people who smiled and were having a nice day. We then pressed on through Accrington, which, after having visited some years ago to stand and be sleeted on during a midweek match back in Brentford’s League 2 days (we lost) I didn’t feel any need to inspect further beyond the marker post for having reached the half way point of the canal.

We then slowly ground our way in to Burnley (and I had a small crash as my pedal got stuck in the ground in a narrow rut I was going down) where Google Maps got a bit confused, took us past some Travelers who were preparing to race round some open ground on pony and traps and eventually took us to our second Premier Inn. We were both surprised by how nice the big park in the centre of Burnley was and the welcome in the Brewer’s Fayre attached to the hotel was friendly. In a final rebuff to Blackburn, Oli awarded Burnley 63 points. The breakfast was also nicer than at the Premier Inn in Wigan.

Day 2: 41.0 miles, 6 hours 36 minutes, average speed 6.20 mph, 1887ft climbed



Halfway – just outside Accrington

Burnley to Gargrave, Gargrave to Kildwick nr Skipton

Being the middle of the week the towpath had few people walking other than a few older men going for an early stroll in Burnley so we were able to crack on at a decent pace. By now we were well used to riding the towpath so even though we had a spell of fairly heavy rain it didn’t dampen our spirits. It was also interesting for Yorkshireman Oli to see us cross the border from Lancashire to Yorkshire and watch as the flags turned from Red to White Roses (we even saw a pair of semi-detached houses a little past Nelson where one had a red rose and the neighbour a white rose – potentially a premise for a sitcom). By the time we got to Barnoldswick and the highest point on the canal (yay, all downhill from here!) the sun was out again and we found a nice cafe for lunch. Unfortunately, in his eagerness to get going again after lunch we probably didn’t stop long enough to digest and Oli developed a headache a bit further along which was exacerbated by the bumpy towpath. Fortunately the nice lady at the cafe had told us that there was a bit of the national cycle path which allowed us to avoid part of the towpath on the way to Gargrave and we took that but by the time we reached the outskirts of Gargrave Oli was flagging and we ended up walking the last mile. Gargrave gave the option of taking a train home or trying to find a room to stay the night and cancel our booking further on in Kildwick, but after a good rest and another drink and a snack, Oli piped up to ask how much further we had and on hearing it was “only” 10 miles said “let’s do it” and then spent the next hour making up and singing songs, when only a little earlier he’d nearly had enough. So we then went on to make it to our final night’s destination, the White Lion in Kildwick where we had a nice large room and a very hearty meal (and some very nice ale for me).

Day 3:

Burnley to Gargrave: 20.0 miles, 3 hours 26 minutes, 5.81mph, 1005ft climbed

Gargrave to Kildwick: 10.1 miles, 1 hour 36 minutes, 6.25mph, 432ft climbed

Lock Stop Cafe, Barnoldswick – the highest point of the canal

Kildwick to Kirkstall

Although the food was great, both of us were pretty much done with full English Breakfasts by this, our fourth in a row so Oli just had cereal. Plus we had lunch at Salt’s Mill to look forward to, or so we intended, on this our final day and one which was planned to be shorter. However, the towpath all the way was well surfaced and wide so we ended up bombing along much more quickly than on the first three days, especially with the assistance of the downhill slope at Bingley and arrived in Saltaire just past 11, far too early for lunch. We decided instead to have an ice cream from the canal boat diner and then to pedal the final familiar ten miles to Kirkstall where Oli’s mum and Fluffy would be waiting to meet us and to take Oli, his bike and our luggage back home to save the slog of the steep hill up from the canal. I followed on my bike, but it felt very strange without the weight of the panniers over the back wheel, even though at times through some of the narrower gates along the previous 128 miles I’d been cursing the panniers and wondering which bits of kit I could safely dispense with for our next cycling adventure!

Day 4: 20.3 miles, 2 hours 29 minutes, 8.14mph, 1277 ft mainly downhill!

Altogether it was a great few days away and a proper holiday. Unlike many holidays where the last day can be a bit down because of the feeling of the holiday coming to an end, we found ourselves excited and at times literally racing to get to the end. If doing it again I’d probably look more closely at finding somewhere to stay around Accrington at the end of day 2, then to finish day 3 in Gargrave before going from there to Leeds at the end, or perhaps going in the opposite direction. But those are minor changes and both Oli and I agreed that it was a great adventure and I think a big achievement for a 9 year old (and not inconsiderable for a slightly out of shape 44 year old!). I wonder what would be good for our next trip. As Oli said, we could go a lot further each day on the road once he’s got more experience with roads and traffic. Any suggestions gratefully received!

Almost home

Things Can Only Get Bitter

Those few who regularly read my blogs will know I’m not a Labour supporter. So some will be surprised that I spent my Saturday evening at Momentum’s Leeds rally in support of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader. However, given the clear mismatch between his incredible ability to motivate massive numbers of people to join Labour and both the 16% poll lead the Conservatives have over Labour and the huge number of Labour MPs who oppose him, I was interested to witness at first hand what is going on. I also wanted to see, without the often complained of bias of the mainstream media lens intermediating, what the man who should be being considered as our next Prime Minister if the Opposition is at all effective, is actually like and what he is proposing.

I want in this blog to be as fair as possible to him and his supporters to try and understand things from their perspective – of course there will be (and were) things about which I’ll differ strongly from them. I can’t guarantee I’ll succeed. A surprise perhaps is that there were a lot of things where I didn’t until it came to the proposed solution or the repeated claim that Corbyn’s Labour were the only ones to care about an issue. I think it is a mistake to believe that. While it makes it easier to paint everyone else as an enemy it makes it harder to persuade them you have a better way because it involves thinking they don’t and can’t care and so don’t need to be persuaded. It irks me to be caricatured as wanting to destroy the NHS and education (etc etc etc) when I and everyone I’ve ever met regardless of political allegiance wants no such thing. I accept I’m not brilliant at it at times but at least I can see that to win you need to win round those who don’t already agree with you rather than to call them evil or idiots who’ve been tricked (by dastardly media moguls or whoever) into supporting evil. This makes it too easy for the content of the message to be, as unfortunately it often was, filled with straw men and non-sequiturs.

One thing which is undeniable is that Jeremy Corbyn is incredibly popular with his supporters. The photos I’ve taken don’t quite do justice to the long queue to get in or the numbers in the meeting hall, although as it wasn’t completely full there was a little bit of stage management in keeping a crowd claimed to be a thousand standing outside to be separately addressed by Corbyn and Richard Burgon (Shadow Justice Secretary and Leeds East MP). Other noticeable things in the crowd were how many people seemed to know each other and its lack of diversity. While two of the six on the platform were from minority ethnic backgrounds you’d have struggled to find more than maybe a couple of dozen including me in the audience of perhaps 2,000 if the organisers’ claims are reliable. In a city the size of Leeds, particularly one with large immigrant communities in areas returning massive Labour majorities it was a surprise. There were many more visibly disabled people than members of visible (or audible, at least on the basis of the people I was around or spoke to) ethnic minorities.

As I wasn’t early enough to get a seat I apologise in advance for not having a note of the half of the panel who were not MPs and so I hadn’t heard of them before. Unfortunately that half was also the half which were women- a point made a couple of times by the speakers as a sign of how Labour promoted women, apparently oblivious to the UK having its second female Tory PM or that Burgon and Corbyn weren’t even in the room while the three women speakers gave their speeches (the first a quiet and shy former sabbatical officer for Leeds Beckett Student Union, the second a councillor from Islington who had been helped to secure asylum as a teenager fleeing DR Congo by Corbyn, the third a councillor from Calderdale who had brought a group of supporters along who intermittently started up football style chants). Much longer, louder and shoutier speeches were given by the men. First, Imran Hussein MP (Bradford East), then Burgon and finally Corbyn himself.

There was a curiously “retro” feel to the main themes and policy areas discussed. Unsurprisingly, the NHS and eulogies to 1945 took up a lot of time, with the main thrust being to give it a lot more money and to remove all private interests from it. There was a reference to stopping exploitation by rapacious drugs companies as well as a plea to have the NHS not reject drugs for being too expensive. Corbyn also talked of the need to invest more in mental health and to remove the stigma it carried, apparently oblivious to the “joke” by Ken Livingston about a Labour MP being mentally ill for his criticism of Corbyn. To rapturous applause, Corbyn characterised what he was fighting against as efforts by the Tories to drive so many people into using private medicine as to leave the NHS as just the provider of last resort for those who could not afford to do so. It isn’t a characterisation which seems grounded in reality to me. Were there really a Tory conspiracy to destroy the NHS it would have been dismantled years ago as we’ve had rather a lot of years of Conservative government since 1945.

Apart from the NHS, the biggest cheers came in parts of speeches covering the Miners’ Strike (plus obligatory booing of the name, Thatcher, out of office 26 years now) and opposition to the Iraq War. There seemed to be a genuine belief that there had been a conspiracy by Blairites to try and ensure that Corbyn was not Labour leader when the Chilcot Report was published and to stop him from issuing an apology on behalf of Labour for the war. It seems to be the basis for a slightly logically shaky thesis that “Jeremy was right about Iraq so must now be right about everything, people just haven’t realised it yet”. That point could equally be used to argue for the LibDems who as a Party voted against the Iraq War but who not many people now would say were right about everything even if prior to the 2010 General Election many said “I agree with Nick”. Other cheers were raised for Tony Benn (his son, Hilary being now an unperson not even mentioned, though I hope consulted by the organisers given that the rally was being held in his constituency) and Dennis Skinner.

Boos were mainly for Thatcher and, slightly curiously, Polly Toynbee. Only derision for Corbyn’s challenger, Owen Smith, and for the 172 Labour MPs who’d voted they had no confidence in Corbyn. Another narrative here across a number of the speakers was of the People vs Politicians. I always find this mildly ironic when delivered by professional politicians but apparently Burgon didn’t have any problem with ridiculing “them” with their £75k salaries while himself being an MP and being also one of them. It made a bit more sense in the image used by the Islington councillor from Congo of the country she came from being like a hand, with the little finger ordinary people, ring finger the community, middle finger professionals, index finger business and politicians being the thumb, furthest away from and different to the fingers. I’m not sure it describes the UK so well, at least not when spoken by politicians.

The other two major policy areas orated on were housing – solution, build lots of council houses – and employment law. Banning Zero Hour Contracts , abolishing fees for employment tribunals (a good idea but unclear why free access to employment tribunals so much more important than say increasing criminal and civil legal aid), abolishing Conservative legislation on Trade Unions and extending employment law protections to the self employed (this one I find bizarre – who are the self-employed going to take action against for being exploited, themselves, their customers?). Curiously Corbyn seemed to think someone had at some point made Sir Philip Green a government Minister.

There were also mentions for nationalisation of railways and using public ownership of the banks to direct their activities. Nationalisation generally seemed to be not just about ownership but about political control. In that context, the cheer an audience member got for shouting “nationalise the media” after Corbyn complained about how the media was biased against Labour and should have a duty not just to report what it said and did but to say what Labour was trying to achieve, was worrying. For me, that is asking to give the next Labour government the power to direct the media to report political intentions and aspirations rather than just what it actually does. Yet somehow I’m sceptical that such a government would support the media having a duty to report the intentions of its opposition.

Relatively little was said on the economy more generally other than to say that we had very high unemployment, which got a cheer despite being somewhat contestable, and that John McDonnell (big cheer) was very different to Osborne and Hammond. The EU was not mentioned at all, the nearest thing being a flyer from the Socialist Equality Party about it having advocated abstention from the EU Referendum (which perhaps is what Corbyn really did by having not campaigned with either Cameron or Labour In). It seemed something of an omission given that the practicalities of Brexit, or of resisting Brexit, are likely to be major activities for the government and opposition for some years and ought, in my opinion at least, to be ones which the major Parties take an active role.


The nearest Corbyn could come to trying to pitch to anyone who didn’t loudly self-identify as working class was to say that he’d take action to improve their lives by making it so that they didn’t have to see so many people living on the streets. Stopping homelessness is certainly something everyone would like to achieve but it felt a bit odd that that was all he could think of to appeal outside the room.

It was an interesting evening and I think Corbyn will easily be re-elected as leader by Labour’s members but I saw no inclination among either him or his supporters to broaden that conversation out to persuade those who did not already believe everything they believed. Corbyn’s generally weak performances in Prime Minister’s Questions are symptomatic of this unwillingness or inability to engage with opposing views. The football chants and jeers in the rally were proof enough for me that apparent distaste for the yah-boo nature of Parliament and desire for a kinder, gentler politics is a sham. I think he’ll let down a lot of people who seemed nice and decent. Or at least as nice and decent as people who need their leader to tell them not to send abusive messages to people who disagree with them and who cheer when told they don’t look like they’re the ones lobbing bricks at people. Had I mentioned I thought Hilary Benn was a decent guy I think the auditorium would have turned into a scene from a zombie movie as all the undead point at the fresh living human.

Burger Me!

I like burgers. As a fussy-eating child they were one of the few things I ate happily and my similarly fussy son has also recently discovered a liking for them. They’re pretty simple and so pretty hard to get badly wrong – even a greasy hoof-burger from a stall at a football match is palatable enough if hot (the main problem with these come when they’re served in frozen buns which have disintegrated on defrosting).

So, before going to see Shaun the Sheep over half term, we were both quite excited to stop off at the newish Five Guys branch at the Kirkstall Leisure Complex in Leeds. Five Guys has a “back to basics” ethos – a short menu of burgers and hot dogs, self service soft drinks machines, spartan interiors with little decoration beyond immense numbers of reproduced reviews from various London and US local newspapers and little paper trays you can fill with monkey nuts to occupy yourself while waiting for your order to be cooked and called out. The posters proclaim the freshness of the produce – “these guys don’t even have freezer!”.

After some fun fiddling with the settings on the touch screen drinks dispenser (“yes, you can have peach Coke!”) we didn’t have long between grabbing napkins and ketchup and our order being ready. As for the food, it didn’t disappoint, the burgers were tasty and the meat quality good, the skin on chips were also pretty nice. The thing is, because burgers are fundamentally a simple food, they weren’t amazing. They were just very good burgers (not quite as good as Red’s True Barbecue according to OMB though, and not as good as the ones at the Busan BBQ pop up in Leeds Trinity Kitchen which I had a couple of weeks ago). Comparable to what is on offer (although rather less quickly) across the road at Rosie’s Diner. Rather more substantial and “natural” than those at the McDonald’s a hundred yards further away. But, as Giles Coren recently wrote, how fussy can you be about a burger?

And, for me, that was the real problem. While I can’t fault the food, the price just doesn’t seem worth it. OMB and I each had a “little bacon cheeseburger” (the standard size is a double burger- which was too big for either of us to fancy at the time), shared a regular portion of chips and had a fizzy drink each (free refills, but there’s a limit to how much fizzy pop even an 8 year old can put away – particularly if you want to make sure they don’t have to miss half the film they’re going to for comfort breaks). That came to £22.50. Or, nearly four times what we’d have paid had we gone to McDonald’s. At least if you go to Rosie’s, Red’s, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Byron or any one of the other “premium” burger chains that gets you table service and some sense of having gone out for a meal rather than merely refuelled somewhere more starkly utilitarian than a McDonald’s. But, as the place was pretty full in the middle of a gloomy, wet Sunday afternoon by a bowling alley and multiplex, perhaps I’m still a comparatively fussy eater.