Shire Cruises on the L&L

This trip had been delayed twice. We first booked in in 2019 for early May 2020, but the country was in a high degree of lock-down by then. We kept the booking open for the following year – Shire Cruises were very friendly and efficient at sorting this out for us. As we approached the spring next year I was offered some work which clashed with our chosen dates, but they managed to slip them later by a couple of weeks.


We had walked the canal from Gargrave to Skipton in 2019, and that had inspired us to book the holiday. It’s nearly at the summit of the canal with great views. I was working in Leeds the week before, so used my accommodation as a staging post and spent the previous night in Headingley, so it was easy to arrive at Barnoldswick by 12:30 for a prompt handover. Cambridge was a Monday Start boat, 45 foot in length, clean and glinting in the sun as we arrived. The introduction to the boat was thorough and speedy as Geoff who was showing us the ropes acknowledged we had some experience.

13:25 – Set of eastwards towards the first three locks. Geoff was waiting for us and showed us the idiosyncrasies of the Leeds and Liverpool locks. There is quite a bit of variation in the mechanisms, with the ground paddles sometimes being literally that – a hinged board that swings up via a lever to open the channel to let water in below the boat. Using them means you are in no danger of swamping the boat when going up a lock, but many of them are broken or temperamental, and when they decide to open I always got the feeling that if I didn’t let go quickly I could have ended up in the cut. All the locks are broad beam, but they are 60 foot long, so if the paddles are in good order the time to fill and empty isn’t as much as a standard wide beam lock.

We left lock 42 by 3pm and said goodbye to Geoff. We were already thinking of mooring up as we wound our way around a transmitter on a hill. We didn’t want to get stuck between locks and had booked a pub table at the Angler’s Inn, to the west of Gargrave. Stopped at 16:40 just short of bridge 164.

Having sorted out our home for the next week, we set off at 18:45 on a lovely towpath walk – 2 turnover bridges and quite a lot of free mooring space – and 50 minutes later we were at the pub. “Traditional” pub food – Cheeseburger and Pie and Mash and a pudding that consisted of cookies and toasted marshmellows. The journey back to the boat ended in the dark and seemed much longer!

The bird life is interesting up here – Curlews, Willow Warblers, lapwings and what was either a very big crow or a rook.


Set off at 9am to find lock 41 chained up. We had been told that these looks had to be passed through by 5pm, but we must have missed the bit about them not opening until 10am. A cheery CRT employee called Richard arrived at 9:50 and managed our trip down the flight of six locks, mooring below lock 30 at 1pm for lunch. More bird spotting – Curlews and Buzzards.

At 2:45 we headed for Skipton in the rain. There were 5 swing bridges to operate – one of them stopping road traffic, but easier then the manual ones to operate. We approached Skipton cautiously but there was a perfect mooring right in the centre. Skipton is a brilliant town – lots for tourists without being too touristy. We had walked around it before, so this time we headed for a back street pub called The Railway for a swft pint of local ale. The pubs and customers were still finding their way with the Covid regulations – it so easy to relax and then forget your mask when you get up to go to the loo. We ended the evening in the Woolly Sheep – a Timothy Taylor pub with Goose and Venison specials, and then a gentle stroll back to the boat, that although right in the centre of town was pretty peaceful.


The following morning I took a turn around the town while Fiona was getting ready. I bought a hat for the rain (and subsequently hardly needed it) and looked for the Pie shop that an old friend of mine had mentioned – he had almost Proustian memories of the gravy running down his forearms as he sat by the Castle and ate it. Sadly, all I could find was a closed down Pie and Mash shop on the Spring branch. The search for Pies will continue later in this blog.

Left Skipton at 10am to tackle a lot of swing bridges. Some of the manual ones were very hard work, and some of the electric ones were a bit random. After a little while we started to come across a whole bunch of hire boats coming the other way, and a brief conversation told us that they had all been bottled up behind a broken bridge. There was now some jepardy – would the bridge break again and strand us too? If this was a Discovery Channel documentary they would insert an Ad Break here. Spoiler alert -the bridge did NOT break again.

The canal here winds it way through villages and clings to hillsides as it head for Bingley. We passed a towpath-side coffee and breakfast van that we marked as somewhere to stop at on the way back, and then pulled over for lunch from 1 till 2. then headed for the top of the Five Rise locks. The last swing bridge before the locks was very odd – you had to swing the barriers yourself and the turntable seemed to take a long time to responded the the controls. I’d done a little recce of moorings and turning points a few weeks before, but the lack of dredging meant we wasted some time trying to moor in unsuitable places after having turned round. At 6pm we were safely moored and still only a short walk from the top of the flight – which we had no intention of going down!

The night in Bingley got off to a slightly rocky start. The pub I’d earmarked to eat in – The Olde White Horse – wanted us to order before 7:15 before they would let us have a table. If this was because the chef wanted to watch the Champions League Final then you lost a customer, mate. We ended up in The Potting Shed, where they were happy to serve me a burger between two Yorkshire puddings at any time before 10pm. It had to be done, obviously.

Back at the boat we had one of those special dusks where you sit and listen to the geese settling down and then watching the bats coming out to eat.


Having got to our turning point in 2 and a half days, we were in for a leisurly return, with time to investigate some of the more interesting things we had passed on the way out. It also meant less stress with the swing bridges. We walked into Bingley and then back up the 5 Rise – it’s steep enough to give you vertigo – in time for the Cafe at the top lock to be open for bacon sandwiches. There was a beautiful boat with a vintage engine moored near the top – we had seen it the night before as well – showing off it’s engine through the open side hatch, thumping away. Canal Cliches? The title of the Discovery Channel series, perhaps?

We set of at 11:20am and fell in with a floating Chaplin to share 5 swing bridges, then pulled over for lunch between 12:45 and 13.25. After 7 miles and 9 tough swing bridges we moored at Silsden by 15:30 and took a turn around the town, walking up a footpath past some impressive allotments. Noticed that the pub we had reserved a table at (for food) stopped serving food by 7, but our table was booked for 8, and none of the other pubs were serving food, so popped into the Co-op for food and other essentials. Back to the boat to stock up the fridge and then back into town. The Punch Bowl for a pint of Timoty Taylors and then the Robin Hood (just for a drink) then back to the boat to use the Galley!

There was a man in his canalside garden trying to light a match by swinging a golf club over it. The evening settled down to another peaceful one. Tonight we opened the free bubbly that came with the boat!


Today we only needed to get to Skipton, so set off a 11am. Stopped to explore Kildwick and Farnhill where the road tunnels under a canal aqueduct, and the village roads are so steep that it reminded us of a Spanish Hill Town.

Most of the swing bridges are just farm accomodation tracks now, and Fiona had a bash at one, to find she only just got it shut before an entire milking herd decided to cross it on the way to be milked.

The next stop was for Coffee and Rolls from the takeway van we had spotted on the way East. Setting off at 2:30 we got stuck behind some very slow holiday boaters just out of the boatyard so stopped for a cup of tea rather than sit behind them. We still made Skipton at 5:10pm and filled up the water next to the Bus Station. Having discussed if it was the best place to moor we went a bit futher and ended up almost exactly wher we were on Wednesday.

Friday Night in a hot Skipton at the start of the Bank Holiday weekend was buzzing. Passing the Castle Inn, a table became vacant so it seemed rude not to sit down, and then we went to The Narrowboat, one of the excellent Market Town Tavern pubs for a seat outside before returning to the boat with Fish and Chips


Explored the Skipton Market and then found the Pie shop the Chris had been talking about – bought some for lunch. It’s actually on the bridge over the Spring Branch – I’d been looking in the wrong place! Underway by 10:30 and moored at Gargrave by 13:30, we had lunch, wandered into the village for icecreams and then walked up the Pennine Way to some specatcular views. We got a bit lost – footpaths on the map didn’t seem to exist – but enjoyed the exercise. We returned to the Anchor for a pre-prandial drink and them on to the Bollywood Cottage, where we had a booking. For a little while it looked as if they didn’t have a record of it, but we got a table and enjoyed a great meal, including Drunken Duck!


Today was the big day for locks. We fell in with a couple in their own boat and soon got chatiing. There had retired early and spent a lot of time on their boat, but didn’t live aboard. They had been with a group from their boat club, one of which was the trad we had seen at the top of the Bingley flight, but now they were making ther own way west before finding somewhere to leave their boat to return home for a week or so.

Lots of good advice about owning a boat and boat clubs, and good progress. We both stopped for lunch, but lost then because a very slow boat got between us – from the same hire company, but just out for the weekend. The slow boat kept going into the bank because they weren’t concentrating, which made them slow down, which meant they didn’t have any steering, which meant they kept hitting the banks…..

Got to the bottom of the last three locks at 3:40 to see our new friends ahead, and completed the flight by 4:20. We were now looking for a mooring and to turn round, but ended up travelling all the way to the tunnel mouth at Foulridge before we found a winding hole – we had passed one that was overgrown without realising.

The practical upshot of this was that we ended up on a great pontoon mooring outside The Anchor which supplied us with a pint before the walk into Barnoldswick.

It was a long walk to Mario’s in town, but it was worth it. A classic small family run Italian with all the cliches, including the Giant Pepper Grinder, and good sized portions, which we walked off getting back to the boat.


A bright morning for the last mile back to the boatyard. We said goodbye to out companions and saw the boat we had been stuck behind going past us to the winding hole, steered by a stoney face boatyard worker. We were unloaded by 10am and on our way home!