Lisa Byrne - taking a boat trip on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal

Lisa Byrne

Lisa Byrne - Credit: Archant

Our columnist goes with the flow.

Merlin, none the worse for his dip in the Leeds and Liverpool Canal

Merlin, none the worse for his dip in the Leeds and Liverpool Canal - Credit: Archant

Apparently ‘there is nothing - absolutely nothing, half so worth doing as - simply messing around in boats’, according to Ratty in that much-loved children’s book The Wind in the Willows. And to test out this theory I decided to spend a few days meandering along the Leeds-Liverpool canal. Now, being a rather spoiled freelance journalist, I normally spend holidays travelling to exotic destinations. Last year’s jaunts included a luxurious stay at an Indian palace followed by a trek around the Amalfi coast. So I was rather apprehensive about exchanging my customary decadent voyages for a few days in West Yorkshire where weather conditions are rather unpredictable to say the least.

However, the Byrne gang - husband Davey, daughter Brontë and two mischievous pooches, Merlin and Diggerley - were all excited about the prospect of exploring a part of Yorkshire we’d never visited before with visions of cruising on the canal, glass of rosé in hand, watching the splendour of the water wildlife. And our romantic notions were not in the least dented when we arrived at Apperley Bridge Marina near Shipley in blazing sunshine. It’s there we spotted our new home, a stunning red and black boat called Jessica Boo. The couple who own her name all their boats after their beloved dogs. After meeting the very affable Andy, the co-owner, we were taken on the boat to be shown the ropes. In all honesty, we thought canal boating would be simple - how wrong we were!

After investigating our new luxurious quarters, which included a shower, oven (which we never used), fridge and TV (we were too busy having huge Trivial Pursuit bust-ups to ever switch it on), we set off on our trip under Andy’s guidance.

As our inquisitive dogs stood perilously close to the deck edge of Jessica Boo, attempting to snap at fishes, we travelled from Apperley towards Saltaire. It’s impossible not to feel immediately relaxed when you’re moving at three miles per hour looking out at the beautiful West Yorkshire scenery. A delightful family of three swans and a goose trailed behind us, and kept tapping on our boat demanding that Brontë give them more food.

Canal side in Bingley by Rebecca Greenwood

Canal side in Bingley by Rebecca Greenwood - Credit: Archant

This scene of idyllic relaxation wasn’t to last long. Our peace was shattered when both dogs fell into the water. We struggled to haul them out only moments before the first lock - the famous Bingley Three Rise Lock, a terrifying treble lock staircase. With the pooches safely back on board we tackled the lock. It took an eternity to get the water level low enough for us to pass through. This was seriously hard work!

Once past the lock and slightly frazzled by how complicated canal boating can be, we decided to moor up for the night. As a treat we sought out the best curry house we could find in Bradford where we feasted on chicken khabani and lamb nihari before heading back to our new home.

Next morning, we met more tricky locks before reaching Saltaire. I spotted a few locals smirking at us as we tried to stop the boat from knocking into the front or back of the lock, but saying that, we were kept going by the chatty Yorkshire boat people who would always stop to give advice or help out.

After a few hours gliding along the canal we finally reached Saltaire, which you’ll know through reading Yorkshire Life is an UNESCO World Heritage Site - not surprising as the place is spectacular. We moored up and headed to Salts Mill, a converted textile mill built in 1853. As a history obsessive I was thrilled to learn the incredible story of how pioneer Sir Titus Salt created a utopian vision of living away from the smog-filled cities of Leeds and Bradford. He built a model village next to the mill for his workers which included a school and hospital. Today the mill is a stunning place for art, in particular works by Bradford-born international artist David Hockney. We spent hours starring at the amazing works of art and the beautiful architecture of the mill.

Salts Mill by David Ashcroft

Salts Mill by David Ashcroft - Credit: Archant

It was with a heavy heart that we headed back to Apperley Bridge, leaving our beloved Jessica Boo but feeling a million times more relaxed than if we’d been stuck in an airport queue or hugely jet lagged from travelling long-haul.

We have vowed to make canal boat trips an annual family event. You can keep your South of France and Caribbean, Ratty was right, messing on boats is a total joy.

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