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Leeds to Saltaire cycle route

Canal towpath between Leeds & Shipley

Canal towpath between Leeds and Shipley

This cycle route, chosen as Stage 3 of the Sustrans Slow Tour of Yorkshire, is from Leeds, along the towpath of the Leeds & Liverpool canal, to Saltaire. It's 12 miles one way, or 24 miles there and back. This is the Sustrans leaflet for the ride.

It's an enjoyable ride. The canal passes through built-up areas and countryside. The reflections in calm water are lovely. Early in the morning, there are quite a few cycle commuters, and later on, there are more people going for walks, but it's never all that busy. (Perhaps a sunny, summer, Sunday afternoon might be different).

The surface starts out tarmac leaving Leeds, but then every stretch seems to be different. The tar and chip, that was paid for by Cycle City Connect as I reported in 2015, has settled down quite well (September 2018), and most of the loose gravel has gone. Ideally, there would be one, consistent surface type - that's what you'd get in a country that provided for cycling in a serious, professional way - but it wouldn't matter too much if all the surfaces were good quality.

The incredibly disappointing part is beyond Apperley Bridge towards Shipley, where there are long sections of rough, cart-track style surface, which make for a bone-jarring ride. In 2015, the towpath was supposed to be upgraded between Kirkstall and Shipley 'where required', and decent funding was provided to the Canal & River Trust by government, through Cycle City Connect, to do the work. Well, the rotten surfaces towards Shipley do require upgrading, but they haven't been done, which is pretty shameful.

One possibility is that the Canal & River Trust want to put obstacles in the way of cycling on it, in the hope that some people will be put off. Anyway, in spite of their efforts, this is a nice ride.

Speed bump on Leeds to Saltaire cycle route

Obstacle to cycling: speed bump, and speed bump bypass routes created either side by bike riders

Leeds to Saltaire cycle route: map

The map shows the route from Leeds to Saltaire in yellow.

Leeds to Saltaire cycle route: route notes

Leeds to Kirkstall

If you start from Leeds station, you have to find your own way to the canal. (After that, it's easy because it's signposted, and anyway you just follow the canal).

Turn left out of the station on New Station Street, then right on Bishopgate Street. Veer right on Neville Street, under the railway. Take the tunnel to the right immediately after Brooks News.

Brooks News, Leeds

Brooks News, Leeds

When you're in the tunnel (which has little or no traffic), you can see the river Aire running a few metres below your feet. A left turn brings you out at the newly re-developed Granary Wharf.

Granary Wharf, Leeds

Granary Wharf, Leeds

There is no signage at Granary Wharf. I turned right out of the tunnel, and went through Granary Wharf with the restaurants (shown in the photo above) to my right, and the Double Tree Hilton Hotel to my left. Equally, you could go straight on out of the tunnel, to cross the canal, then turn right on Canal Wharf, and right again to come back across the canal - see the map.

Either way, you reach the canal near two interesting red-brick towers (and a third dull tower further left).

Campaniles, Leeds

Campaniles, Leeds

They are Italian-style bell towers, or campaniles. The thinner one was built in 1864, modelled on the Lamberti Tower in Verona; the thicker one was built in 1889, and is based on the bell tower of Florence Cathedral, but perhaps it is ever so slightly less ornate.

The canal takes you north west out of Leeds City Centre, past Armley.

Leeds & Liverpool canal near Armley

Bridge over the canal, Armley

You pass the Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills. There's a small museum sign by the steps up from the canal.

Leeds Industrial Museum

Way to Leeds Industrial Museum from the canal

Next, there are a couple of cool bridges at Aire Valley Marina.

Bridge at Aire Valley Marina

Bridge at Aire Valley Marina

Immediately after Aire Valley Marina, you're diverted off the towpath and onto a very quiet road that runs parallel with it, past an electricity sub-station. It's very nice as a cycle route - wide, smooth, and no traffic to dodge. In September 2018, there was quite a lot of rubbish which appeared to have been fly-tipped.

Redcote Lane diversion from towpath

Diversion from the towpath onto Redcote Lane after Aire Valley Marina

Next, you get limited views of Kirkstall Abbey away to your right.

Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall to Shipley

Canal at Rodley

Canal at Rodley

After Kirkstall Abbey, there are a couple of looping bends, with Bramley to your left and Horsforth to your right. You reach Rodley. To the right, over a swing bridge, is Rodley Nature Reserve - a very popular and well-managed nature reserve with habitats including some wetland by the river Aire. A little further along, there's a pub called the Rodley Barge, over to your left on the other side of the canal.

Rodley Barge pub

Rodley Barge pub

Soon after, you come to Calverley Bridge Canalside Walk, where the Tiny Tea Rooms is to your right, and has outdoor seating.

Calverley Canalside Walk

Calverley Canalside Walk

There's then a long-ish stretch which is more or less in the countryside. Calverley Wood is across the canal, to your left. You pass Apperley Bridge, then there's a little slope to go up by the Field Locks.

Field Locks, near Apperley Bridge

Field Locks, near Apperley Bridge

Head on to Esholt, with Dawson Wood and Buck Wood to your left. Past Esholt, as you near Shipley, there are places where the towpath is very narrow as it goes underneath bridges.

Canal near Shipley

Canal near Shipley

Just before the centre of Shipley, you're diverted off the towpath and onto Dockfield Road, which runs parallel to the canal, past the Saltaire Brewery. It's a very quiet road, so it's no problem.

Saltaire Brewery, Shipley

Saltaire Brewery on Dockfield Road

Shipley to Saltaire

Back on the towpath, it's not much further to Saltaire. You know you're nearly there when you see the New Mill.

New Mill, Saltaire

New Mill, Saltaire

An information board tells you about Saltaire.

Info board, canal at Saltaire

Information board by the canal at Saltaire

The canal towpath brings you past Salts Mill to a junction with Victoria Road, Saltaire. You have now arrived at your destination!

Salts Mill

Salts Mill, Saltaire

To your left, up Victoria Road, is Salts Mill, and a pub called Don't Tell Titus; a little further up is the centre of Saltaire. To your right, across a bridge over the river Aire, is Roberts Park; there's a pub called the Boathouse Inn by the river.

Roberts Park, Saltaire

Roberts Park, Saltaire

When I was in Roberts Park, a pair of kingfishers were ignoring all the people walking across the bridge, and zooming across the river, perching on the bank, and going fishing. How brilliant is that?

Kingfishers, Roberts Park

Kingfishers, Roberts Park

Return route

Return by the way you came.

All photos © Hedgehog Cycling

Leeds to Saltaire cycle route: comments and suggestions

This is a really nice route, but as I mentioned at the top of the page, parts of the towpath are in desperate need of resurfacing. I think you have to trust people to share the path considerately, which most people do most of the time, rather than deliberately trying to inconvenience certain users.

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Saltaire

United Reform Church, Saltaire

United Reform Church, Saltaire

Saltaire is a Victorian model village to the west of the centre of Shipley. It was built in 1851 by Sir Titus Salt.

The village included stone houses for Salt's mill workers, washing and bathing houses, a hospital, library, concert hall, billiard room, science lab, and gym. There were also almshouses, allotments, a park, and a school.

Saltaire is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Salts Mill

Salts Mill was the project of Sir Titus Salt, who had five woollen mills in Bradford. He wanted to move his business and workers away from the pollution there. He chose Saltaire as the location of this mill, because it was by the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and the river Aire, which would provide transport links, and because it was close to the moors to the north.

Salts Mill was completed in 1853. Sir Titus died in 1876, but the mill kept going until 1986.

Now, Salts Mill houses an art gallery, and a variety of cafés and restaurants, plus shops including All Terrain Cycles.

Roberts Park

Heron, Roberts Park

Heron, Roberts Park

Roberts Park is part of Saltaire model village. It was named by Sir James Roberts, who was part of a partnership that took Saltaire over after the death of Titus Salt Junior. Sir James named it in memorial to his second son, Bertram Foster Roberts.

The park has a bandstand, the Half Moon Pavillion, and a play area and skate park.

The Aire runs past the park, and it seems that there are plenty of fish in it, because I saw a heron by the weir, and a pair of kingfishers flying fast and low over the water. The birds here may be used to people, and more tolerant of them than in other less populated areas, so it's easier to get a good look and a photo.

Kingfisher, Roberts Park

Kingfisher, Roberts Park

Campaniles, Leeds Canal towpathHeron, Roberts Park