It is hard to make a riveting story out of a long walk along a canal unless one is Claire Balding or a waterways enthusiast. I can say without fear of contradiction that I am neither of these and, after the first six or seven miles, the effort of putting one foot in front of the other was enough to put most other considerations way down the priority ladder. Having said this I feel bound by a sense of duty to my many and very much appreciated sponsors to give some flavour of the weekend in general and the 15 mile hike from Bingley to Leeds in particular.
Saturday 19th June – Arrived at Leeds/Bradford Airport about 10am, after a pretty uneventful journey, to find the temperature around 10° and a gale blowing. This was not quite what I expected and certainly wasn’t dressed for. Rummaged in case at bus shelter and found cashemere pulli which helped a bit!
Eventually reached Leeds station and discovered that the hotel did not open their check-in until 2pm. Luckily Leeds is a pleasant city with some great architecture and I was able to pass away the time visiting the central market and a couple of the malls and watching the Yorkshire world go by from one of the innumerable coffee houses.
I eventually booked into my hotel, pottered about a bit and had just decided to have a couple of hours snooze when I had a phone call from Jim Malone, who was on the Skipton – Bingley section, asking why I hadn’t showed up. This was a strange query as I had never intended to be on the Skipton-Bingley leg. An inexplicatble feeling of guilt overcame me so I felt duty bound to catch a train to Bingley and meet them.
I walked about a mile or so along the canal, which included going up both the 3 and 5 rise locks.
It’s supposed to be flat!!! I eventually joined up with the happy band and we walked back to Bingley and thence into the Foundry Hill Bar opposite the station for a (well earned??) couple of pints. Great little pub with really pleasant staff and a great line in Saltaire Blonde Ale. Real Ale at around £2.00 a pint, “eh up” lads (and lassies)! From there back to Leeds and a wash and brush up prior to dinner which Tom (or Julian if you prefer) organised in the bistro of the Queens Hotel; he being in residence there. (That’s an almost Caesarian Gallic Wars construction). Dinner was excellent and made even more enjoyable by the waitress and waiter on duty in the restaurant. Their efficiency and sense of humour are qualities that seem to be lacking in too many staff these days. We had an extra couple of drinks in the bar to finish off the night – Well one does doesn’t one.
A not too arduous start to the day, for me at least, meant breakfast at 7.45, and then on to Leeds station to catch the 9.00 train for the short trip back to Bingley, to start the walk back to Leeds!. One could get dizzy with all this toing and froing . In the Bingley station car park we were joined by other members of the team who had been staying at various points West over night. It was here I caught up with Terry Ireland whom I had not seen since ’64: might only have been yesterday, just picked up our last conversation which had involved beer and minis!
We were blest with perfect weather, the sun was out but there was a gentle breeze which made it ideal for walking. Before too long the group split up into about three or four sections with the “professionals” out in front and the rest of us in small packets chatting away about times past, or whatever! The great thing about going in the Leeds direction is that the locks are all downhill so that the only uphill bits are where the tow path goes over a bridge. I have only admiration for those of the party who walked more than one section and am amazed at the two stalwarts, Julian and Kevin, who covered all 9 sections and 127 miles. Of course it must be said that they practiced beforehand! But as it was not a game it was not ruined (Apologies to Flanders & Swann).
After about an hour or so we came upon an Ice Cream Barge, so designated because it sold the said product rather than being made of it. Moored under a large tree it made the ideal point to take a well earned break and, we were told, there was nothing else along the path for a couple of hours at least. Then off we set again past the factories and mills of Saltaire and Shipley. My first wife was a Shipley girl but that is another story!
From here on it was a fairly uneventful walk until, about an hour and a half later we came across a canal side café.
I had acquired a raw little toe by this time so it was a relief to stop, remove my sandle and, being much the wrong shape to do it myself, get Terry to apply a plaster. During this break who should appear but Maxi Wilson, of 13 Sigs Fame back in the 70’s, who just happend to be out strolling along. More reminisences! As a hostlery this was not the the most efficient I have ever been in – It took nearly 20 minutes to get a cup of tea, by which time everybody was wanting to move on so I ended up with a scalded mouth. Took my mind of my toe though!
We moved on towards Apperley Bridge which was our designate lunch stop and en route I was met by Lynne and Mick Shepherd, ex RAPC and 9 Sigs rugby player extraordinaire, who had driven up from Nottingham to make a donation to the cause. We had not met for, probably, fifteen years so there was more catching up to do. We arrived at the George and Dragon and somehow, due to excellent real ale coupled with lively conversation, I forgot to order lunch and so it was that I left foodless for the afternoon stint. This was probably a good thing as rumour has it that it is not good to do too much exercise on a full stomach!
Terry having teamed up with the lead group I joined Andy and Kamie Beer to form a mutual support section for this session. This is one of the prettiest stretches of the canal, passing through Rodley, with its period terraces on the bank, and Calverley Bridge, where an old friend whom I met whilst on my Greek Interpreters course in Corfu in ’72, has a riverside cottage. By this time we were beginning to feel the strain and we were counting down the bridges.
The start of the industrial skyscape of the Leeds suburbs were a welcome sight and when we found that bridge 225A was followed by 225D it elicited positive euphoria. Then, there it was, 225G and the end of the line. So about fifteen minutes later, and some 7 1/2 hours after leaving Bingley, we joined the first group at Wetherspoons for more excellent real ale. It is a pity that they did not run to foot baths as well!
Unfortunately a number of the party had to disperse home and Tom succumbed to an attack of terminal tiredness so it was a small party, Kamie, Helen, Maria, Andy and me that attended a final dinner an adjacent Indian Restaurant. For the first time I can think of I cannot remember the name but I do remember the outstanding chicken liver starter and generally authentic food. It also had a good line in Red Wine.(if anybody who was there can enlighten me as to the name please do it in the comments.) It was a pleasant way to end an exceptional weekend.
I had to be up at 4.30 am to get a taxi out the the Airport for my 7 o’clock flight. Monday was definitely a day to be forgotten.
The most important part of all this is the “unofficial” final tally of sponsorship which amounts to just under £5,500. This is a really impressive total and is a credit to all those who took part, those who supported and especially to all those of you who put their hands in their pockets when asked. On a personal note I would like to give special thanks to Julian (Tom) McMahon for involving me in this enterprise.
Also thanks to Kamie and Andy Beer, Julian, Maria. Laura and Tom for their photographic contributions
SEE THE SLIDESHOW -click on the pic to go to full size