Good weather always helps when you’re having a holiday afloat, and you want to be lounging outside on the top deck – all the more so when you’re on a canal in the North of England, rather than meandering around the Med.
Thankfully, the gods were on our side when we sailed aboard the 5* hotel boat Lady Teal on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, journeying between Skipton and Leeds and rejoicing in the scenery you just wouldn’t even begin to appreciate if you were travelling by road.
After completing more than half of our eye-opening trip across a prime piece of Yorkshire, we had moored up for the night just beyond Baildon, and set off after breakfast to tackle the Field 3 Locks and then meander alongside the River Aire as the early morning mist dispersed.
All was peace and calm, with little sign of built-up areas you know are not too far away, for while the railway cuts through a beautifully-wooded 500ft hill called The Nosegay in a couple of mile-long tunnels, the canal goes round it and continues to stick close by the Aire – so villages, towns and industries are largely out of sight and out of mind.
Few towpath walkers, too, until we get to the Dobson 2 Locks, dating back to 1777 like the Field 3, and with a fair old drop which makes it a popular spectator spot for families out for a walk, and well worth getting off the boat to watch in action.
It’s also another chance to take a walk with the vital third member of our crew – Lady the bichon frise, mistress of all she surveys from the deck and well able to see off, or even welcome, other canalside canines.
From there, it’s a short distance to Apperley Bridge, with a swing bridge that carries a B-road and where there was once a full-blown maintenance yard. Workmen also made coffins for company workers, explained skipper Nick, earning two days off for the funeral, and when the coffin was carried on the canal it had priority over all other traffic.
I won’t make you jealous by dwelling over another lunch from Gina in the galley (it was delicious, by the way) but we dined while moored up on a quiet, wooded stretch of Airdale, then enjoyed a leisurely afternoon heading towards our chosen mooring just short of the village of Rodley, site of a once-famous crane works, as well as a long-gone textiles complex.
A stroll to the village and back in time for the sunset and to get ready for dinner, making use of the Lady Teals’s top-notch, 5* facilities. Each comfortable guest cabin – there are two double/twins and one single – has all the mod cons you could wish for thanks to the generous space available on a wide-beam boat.
We had opted for two comfortable (wide-beam!) bunks, with loads of storage underneath for luggage, plus we also had ample space for indoor and outdoor clothes, with a wardrobe, drawers and shelves; along with all the ‘hotel’ bits you might need, like a kettle, tea and teapot, ground coffee and cafetiere, hairdryer etc. Knowing how owners Nick and Gina had the Lady Teal designed to meet their exacting standards, the walk-in, en-suite shower room should have come as no surprise, but it did, because it was configured as a rather snazzy wet/dry room – with a loo which worked aircraft-style and space for make-up bags etc at the ‘dry’ end, a wash basin in the middle, and a hot-as-you like power shower at the ‘wet’ end.
Ideal, in fact, for a pre-dinner spruce-up, which was just as well, because Nick had a surprise for our next-to-last night on board – Skipper’s Cocktails – before another memorable dinner from Gina. An appalling pun, I know, but the alimentary canal took precedence over the Leeds and Liverpool Canal quite a lot on this trip.
Resplendent in tuxedo T-shirt, Nick duly maitre’d-ed a splendid six-course treat and I make no apologies for again sharing a taste of the menu, which included a carrot and cucumber amuse bouche and salmon en papillotte, before sitting back to chat and relax as night fell.
Sad to be on our final day cruising, but what a great way to approach Leeds, with the prospect of 13 locks and four swing bridges before we reached the city centre basin.
Things get more built up as you near the city, but the canal stays aloof from much of this as it continues through the wooded landscape, allowing glimpses of the ruined Kirkstall Abbey, built between 1152 and 1182 and one of the most complete examples of a medieval Cistercian abbey left in Britain.
Then it’s past the historic Kirkstall Brewery, built in 1871 and once producing up to 250,000 barrels a year, much of it for export via the canal system, but now converted, maybe fittingly, into student accommodation.
The city approach is just awash with canal-linked interest, including the site of the old Kirkstall Power Station, with its private canal ‘layby’ where dozens of barges used to deliver fuel every week, and Grade II* listed Armley Mill, once the world’s largest, not far from Botany Bay Yard, which earned its name by being the first place in England where wool from Botany Bay in Australia was landed.
On into the heart of Leeds, with mostly-sympathetic development and warehouse conversions on all sides, and a brief foray onto the Aire via a river lock before returning to the central basin for our final night – and our final, splendid dinner of a memorable trip – surrounded by trendy restaurants, bars and an up-scale hotel, underlining how much the canal is still very much part of the fabric of a vibrant city.
Cracking breakfast, then another facet of 5-star care – an inclusive, comfortable ride back to our car at the Rendezvous Hotel in Skipton via A L Chauffeur Solutions with owner Alan Lewis, an ex-policeman with a safe pair of hands, who expertly avoided traffic to give us a scenic sign-off to a great journey through the White Rose county.
And the Rendezvous? Aptly named as a great meeting place which backs onto the canal, the family-owned and run hotel was purpose-built in warm stone to be in keeping with the converted mills and warehouses in the area, yet without any of the inevitable compromises, with 80 spacious and airy en-suite rooms, as well as a full-blown leisure centre with a gym, swimming pool, sauna and whirlpool spa.
It has dedicated parking for the Lady Teal, and it’s an ideal place to stay and prepare for a canal trip, or to end one, like we did, with a leisurely wind-down and – inevitably, perhaps – a substantial dinner in the restaurant overlooking the canal.
Owners Malcolm and Karen Weaving and their kitchen team strive to source as much as possible from local suppliers and farms, and it’s fair to say they serve a wide and varied menu in what we know in our part of the world as ‘farmers’ helpings’ – there’s just no way that you’re going to go away hungry.
There was no way, either, that we could face the gym the following morning to work off the dinner, so we again bowed to the inevitable and tucked into a farmers’ breakfast, with everything you could think of to choose from, before heading home.
It was a relatively quick drive back, and we were also quick to book a slow-motion action replay on the water.