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Along the Canal at Gargrave

Following the Leeds and Liverpool Canal from Gargrave.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 114ft (35m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths and tracks, then canal tow path, 4 stiles

Landscape Farmland and canal side

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 2 Yorkshire Dales - Southern & Western

Start/finish SD 931539

Dog friendliness Dogs should be on leads, except on the canal bank

Parking Opposite church in Gargrave or in village centre

Public toilets By bridge in Gargrave

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1 Walk along the road with the church tower on your left. Just past Church Close House on your right, turn right, following the Pennine Way sign. Go over a stone stile in the wall on your left.

2 Follow the side of the wall, along the Pennine Way path, which is partly boarded and partly paved here. Go ahead across the field to a waymarked stile, then half left to another stile. Walk towards the top left-hand corner of the field to a stile that leads to Mosber Lane near a railway bridge.

3 Turn left, over a railway bridge, then follow the track through a gate and up a hill. After a cattle grid, follow the track as it veers right to cross a stile on the left into a field. Follow the track, making for the signpost on top of the hill.

4 At the post, turn right, soon to walk below the wire fence, to reach a waymarked gate in a crossing fence. Go ahead across the field to a pair of gates. Take the waymarked left-hand one and continue ahead, at first with a fence on your right. Follow the track through two gateways into a lane.

5 Follow the lane between a wall and a fence to descend to the canal by Bank Newton Locks. Cross the bridge and turn right along the tow path. The path passes through a gate and goes on to a road.

6 Go ahead along the roadside, cross the bridge over the canal then turn right down the winding path under the bridge and continue along the tow path. Pass over a small aqueduct over the river, then under a railway bridge to reach Gargrave Lock.

7 Beyond the lock, opposite the Anchor Inn, go under the road bridge and continue along the tow path to reach Bridge 170, at Higherland Lock. Go on to the road by a signpost.

8 Turn right down the road, and follow it through the village, past Gargrave Village Hall. At the main road turn right, cross the road and go left over the bridge back to the church and the parking place.

Gargrave has long been a stopping-off point for travellers from the cities of West Yorkshire on their way to the coast at Morecambe or to the Lake District. These days, most of them arrive along the A65 from Skipton, the route formerly taken by horse-drawn coaches. There is still evidence of the village's importance as a coaching centre, especially at the Old Swan Inn. Its position beside the River Aire had also proved important when 18th- and 19th-century surveyors were seeking westward routes for other methods of transport. The walk crosses the railway not long after leaving Gargrave; this is the route that, not far west, becomes the famous Settle-to-Carlisle line. And you will return to the village beside the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

Although Gargrave is today mostly a 19th-century settlement, there is evidence that the area has been in occupation much longer. The site of a Roman villa has been identified nearby, while on West Street, excavation has found the remains of a moated homestead dating from the 13th century, with a smithy and a lime pit, that was reused in the 15th century. By the 18th century there were cotton mills in Gargrave, served by the canal, and weavers were engaged in producing cloth for the clothing industry. Their expertise resulted in the establishment here of one of the village's biggest employers, Johnson & Johnson Medical, where they found workers who could undertake the fine weaving that was needed to produce their bandages.

In October 1774 the eastern arm of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, snaking its way westwards from Leeds, reached Gargrave. The route, surveyed by John Longbotham and approved by the great canal-builder James Brindley, had been agreed in 1770. Work began at both the Liverpool and the Leeds ends, but there were, inevitably, arguments between the separate committees in Yorkshire and Lancashire about both the route and the finances. It was not until 1810 that the canal had crossed the Pennines, and barges could go from Leeds to Blackburn, and only in 1816 was the full distance of 127 miles (204km) open to Liverpool. Gargrave benefited not only from the access it gave the village to the raw materials for the cotton mills and the chance to export its cloth, but also as a stopping-place for the bargees.

The walk joins the canal near the lowest of the six locks at Bank Newton, where the canal begins a serpentine course to gain height as it starts its trans-Pennine journey. Near the lock is the former canal company boatyard where boats for maintaining the canal were built. As you walk along the tow path you will cross the Priest Holme Aqueduct, where the canal passes over the River Aire.

While you're there

Explore more canal history at nearby Skipton, where the Leeds and Liverpool runs through the heart of the old town. You should also visit the fine parish church at the top of the High Street, and the nearby castle, with its splendid twin-towered gatehouse. Conduit Court, the heart of the castle, has a fine old yew tree in its centre.

Where to eat and drink

Gargrave has several restaurants, tea shops and cafés. The Dalesman Café and the Bridge Restaurant are both recommended by local people. The Anchor Inn beside the canal is a popular dining place for families, and the Old Swan Inn on the A65 has meals at lunchtimes and in the evenings.

What to look for

Its worth looking closely at the locks as you walk along the canalside. Bank Newton Locks and the others along this stretch of the canal have the usual paddles, operated by a crank-operated gear, to open the ground holes at the base of the lock gates. At Higherland Lock, however, reached just before you leave the canal, there is a much simpler method. Beside the gates there are apparently two more, rather badly-made, gates. These are the barriers which protect the ground holes, and they are simply pushed aside to let the water through. Look out along the way, too, for the iron markers that detail the distance between Liverpool and Leeds, and the elegant iron signposts. The bridge by which you regain the tow path after a short section along the road is designed to enable the towing horse to change from one side of the canal to the other.

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