Last updated 1st August 2022
It's 14 miles one way, or 28 miles there and back.
It's an enjoyable ride. The canal passes through built-up areas and countryside. The reflections in calm water are lovely. Early on weekday mornings there are quite a few cycle commuters, and later on there are people going for walks, but it's never really busy.
You will come across plenty of walkers and dogs though, so it's worth making sure your bike has a bell.
Now the whole route from Leeds to Shipley has been improved; the last part of this ride, from Shipley to Saltaire, hasn't been resurfaced and is the most ramshackle.
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. As it is, those responsible for the work have taken the off-the-wall decision to mix it up and provide 3 different surfaces:
Distance: 14 miles
each way, so 28 miles there and back
Time: 2h each way, so 4h in total
The map above shows the route from Leeds to Saltaire in yellow.
This is the ride on Plotaroute; you can download a navigation file from there.
This is the Sustrans leaflet for the ride.
If you start from Leeds station, you have to find your 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. There is going to be a cycleway here.
Turn into the tunnel on your right immediately after Brooks News.
When you're in the tunnel, you can see the river Aire running a few metres below your feet. A left turn brings you out at Granary Wharf.
Turn right across Granary Wharf, with the restaurants on your right and a hotel to your left.
Join a road, Wharf Approach, which bends round to the left. Then on your right, the canal towpath starts at Office Lock.
As you ride along the towpath, there are two Italian-style bell towers, or campanili, to your left. When I first wrote this guide, they were easily visible, but now new building has obscured them; you can still get a glimpse of one of them.
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.
You pass the Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills. There's a small museum sign by the steps up from the canal.
Next, there are a couple of cool bridges 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 (possibly called Redcote Lane); it runs past an electricity sub-station. It's very nice as a cycle route - wide, smooth, and no traffic to dodge. All bike routes should be like this.
Back on the towpath, the old Kirkstall Brewery is on the opposite side of the canal. It is now student accommodation.
Next, you get limited views of Kirkstall Abbey away to your right.
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 on the other side of the canal.
Soon after, you come to Calverley Bridge Canalside Walk. The Tiny Tea Rooms are to your right, with outdoor seating.
When I first wrote this guide, there were really obstructive barriers here. Now they have been replaced with A-frames which are slightly less bad, but which will still exclude some people from the canalside walk.
There's then a long-ish stretch in the countryside. Calverley Wood is across the canal, to your left.
Pass Apperley Bridge, then Dobson Locks (where there's a little uphill slope).
Head on to Esholt, with Dawson Wood and Buck Wood to your left. After Esholt Sewage Works (which you don't see but do smell) you come to Field Locks.
As you near Shipley, there are places where the towpath is very narrow as it goes underneath bridges.
Just before the centre of Shipley, you can stay on the path or ride along Dockfield Road, which runs parallel to the canal past the Saltaire Brewery.
Back on the towpath, it's not much further to Saltaire. You know you're nearly there when you see the New Mill on the right of the canal and Salts Mill opposite it on the left.
An information board tells you about Saltaire.
The canal towpath reaches Saltaire and goes under Victoria Road. You have now arrived at your destination!
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.
When I was in Roberts Park, a pair of kingfishers were ignoring all the people on the bridge, and zooming across the river, perching on the bank, and going fishing. How brilliant is that?
Return by the way you came.
All photos © Hedgehog Cycling
This is a really nice route.
As far as I can tell it is only ever moderately busy, but as the towpath is quite narrow and you will encounter other people, a bicycle bell will come in handy.
If it were up to me, I'd pick one surface and stick to it, rather than using 3 different types. It's too late for that now though.
The Leeds to Saltaire ride is covered by the 1:50,000 OS Landranger map number 104.
Along with resurfacing work, speed bumps have been added to the canal towpath.
I guess they are a gesture towards those who complain about people riding bikes too fast on the towpath.
On a bike they are a minor irritant, and it looks as though most people bypass them.
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 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 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.
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