A pleasant walk, along the banks of the River Aire and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, that shows the rural face of Leeds.
Distance 4 miles (6.4km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 33ft (10m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Riverside path and canal tow path, 1 stile
Landscape Surprisingly rural, considering you are so close to Leeds
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 288 Bradford & Huddersfield
Start/finish SE 223364
Dog friendliness Can be off lead on most of walk
Parking Rodley, by Leeds and Liverpool Canal, close to swing bridge
Public toilets None on route
1 Cross the canal on the swing bridge, and bear left along the broad tow path to pass beneath the bridge that carries the ring road. Walk for another 150yds (138m), and turn right after another canal swing bridge, on a paved lane between houses. Go left, almost immediately, to follow a path down steps and across the River Aire on an old stone bridge.
2 Bear right, on the far side of the river, through a gap stile, to join a riverside path. Walk under the ring road again, and continue on the path, signed as 'Riverside Path to Newlaithes Road'. When the river bends to the right, your path goes left, uphill, through a metal kissing gate. Keep straight ahead on a field path, parallel to a railway line on the left, and following a wall. Take a kissing gate, and follow a path between fences, to cross the railway line on a footbridge. You emerge into a housing estate, where you turn right, along Newlaithes Road. 100yds (91m) before a T-junction, take steps to the right and continue down a road, Newlay Lane, to a metal bridge over the River Aire.
3 Cross the river and continue up the road, passing the Abbey Inn. Go left, just before a bridge, to gain access to the tow path of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Go right, under the bridge, soon passing a boatyard and a swing bridge near a mill. By some industrial units is another swing bridge (and an access road to Rodley Nature Reserve, whose wildfowl-rich meres are accessible at weekends). Continue along the canal tow path to arrive back in Rodley.
The Leeds and Liverpool Canal starts at the canal basin in Leeds, where it links up with the Aire and Calder Navigation. From here it begins a journey of 127 miles (205km) across the Pennines. The canal was built between 1770 and 1816, with the Leeds-Skipton section being opened, to a fanfare, on 8 April, 1773. Two boatloads of coal arrived at Skipton Wharf that day, and were sold at half the normal price. That's an indication of just how important it was, for local industries, to create good transport links. Those towns through which the canal ran could look forward to a profitable future; those the canal avoided were likely to struggle.
For a few years the country was gripped by 'canal mania', and many waterways were built on a speculative basis. Only a few canals, including the Leeds and Liverpool, actually made money for their investors; many more proved to be expensive white elephants. And even the most successful canals were rendered obsolete with the coming of the railways. Though the Leeds and Liverpool Canal is no longer used for commercial traffic, it is navigable throughout its length. Canal craft today are recreational, with boating enthusiasts being able to take a leisurely route from the heart of Leeds up to Skipton and Gargrave, on the fringes of the Yorkshire Dales.
For refreshments, you have a choice of pubs. The Rodley Barge, at the beginning of the walk, has a small beer garden from which you can enjoy the comings and goings on the canal. Just beyond Newlay Bridge, an early (1819) example of cast iron bridge building, is another characterful inn: the Abbey, seemingly marooned between the river and canal.
Once it has left the centre of Leeds, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal has a surprisingly rural aspect. Smoke-blackened Kirkstall Abbey - founded in 1152 but now a romantic ruin - stands by the River Aire, with the Abbey House Museum on the opposite side of the main A65 road. Both are well worth a visit. The abbey is cared for by Leeds City Council and admission is free. It was home to a community of Cistercian monks who led a self-contained life with little contact from the nearby medieval city of Leeds. After its dissolution in 1539, the roofing, windows and much stonework was appropriated for use in local building works. The museum has reconstructions of Victorian street scenes, complete with shops, a Sunday school and even an undertaker's workshop. At the half-way point of this walk you reach the tow path of the canal. If you go right here, as the directions suggest, you walk back to Rodley. If you go left, instead, you will have the opportunity to visit the abbey and museum.