I’ve been quite taken with seeing things differently over the last few weeks.
Everyday objects or scenery viewed in a different way has caught my attention and inspired me to see and do things differently. A walk from the centre of Leeds along the towpath towards Liverpool turned into a fascinating insight into the city I live in and helped me to get a handle on the way the city had developed over the centuries, in a way I’d not expected.
A rather splendid lunch at the Cross Keys was the starting point for the journey, a warm spring day was the backdrop for a mini journey of discovery. I am aware that hundreds of people make this journey all the time, day in day out and if you are on of these people, I apologise. But if, like me, you’ve never taken this journey by foot along the canal then it’s definitely worth a few hours.You won’t regret it, unless you get accosted by booze-fuelled students or track suited numpties on stolen bikes.
A walk along the canal really is a glimpse into the story of Leeds and how water was crucial to the growth and success of the city in the muscular industrial revolution. The banks of the canal are full of mills and warehouses all jostling for prime position and starting in the centre of the city, the wall of brick is testament to the importance of water in Leeds’ history. Next to the canal is the Aire of course and that tells another, earlier story.
But the canal is impressive.
Much of the original canal furniture still sits there, working. Implacably doing its job and hugely over engineered for today’s leisure users, the locks were built to last continue to do their jobs to this day, simple and effective engineering that will never wear out. Wood blocks hewn from gigantic oak trees are pushed in time-honoured fashion by the arse of a narrow boat captain whilst his wife asks him about a sofa he needs to take to the tip.
Snapshots of life on the canal. A world most of us don’t even know exists.
What impressed me the most was the journey I took underneath the main arterial routes I traverse every day in my car. Wellington Road to the Armley gyratory is a road I must have taken thousands of time in my lifetime, but underneath it is the die-straight canal heading west out to Kirkstall and beyond to the infamous Bingley five rise locks and beyond. Travelling by road you miss all the timeless scenery of the canal banks – even in the centre of the city, there is peace and beauty to be had alongside the harsh industrial landscape of the thrusting Victorian powerhouse of Leeds.
After a few miles, the journey settles and becomes quite beautiful. Fellow travellers include walkers, runners, cyclists, families, foreigners, students, eccentrics – it seems that the canal attracts them all. The remarkably direct design of the waterway soon delivers the traveller to Kirkstall and oddly there’s something quite poetic about walking alongside a canal. It’s fit for purpose and miles are soon consumed, but it’s more than a motorway designed to destroy distance. Travellers stay in touch with both the journey and the place and that’s unique to walking I think.
Perhaps all of this has a lot to do with the last book we read in book club ‘As I walked out one midsummer morning‘ by Laurie Lee. A tale of random walking from Wiltshire to Southern Spain readily inspired me to shake off the ordered world and walk, see things differently.
I know that walking along the canal from Leeds is hardly that, but it certainly felt like the first steps.