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Dave Spikey Commentary

Dave Spikey Commentary






Hello Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls. This is Dave Spikey, and I will be commentating during your cruise today. First of all, let’s talk a bit about safety. This is very important, so please do listen carefully as it can save lives.  

I would like to draw to your attention the Safety Regulations for passenger boats.  The emergency exits are marked throughout the boat. Should it become necessary to abandon ship, an announcement will be made on the PA system.  We will come alongside the bank of the canal, and it should be possible for you to step ashore. Although, it is reassuring to know, that the canal is only about 5ft deep at its deepest point, so neither the boat or yourselves, are in any great danger.

After about 30 minutes, we will be turning the boat around in the winding hole.  A winding hole is a wider part of the canal, where long boats, such as the one we are on today, can turn around.  There may be a very slight bump, but do not be alarmed, it’s just the skipper putting the bow onto the bank.

Whilst onboard today, you may wish to get up out of your seat.  Please do remember, that you are sitting upon a raised platform, so be aware of this as you move about.

For your own safety and comfort, passengers are advised not to lean out of the doors, windows or hatchways of the boat.  Please also refrain from sticking heads, arms or legs, out. We don’t want to leave any body parts on the swing bridges etc.

For your convenience, there is a toilet located at the rear of the cabin.  This is a normal toilet, but to flush it, there is a pedal at the side, which you press down to flush.  Any problems, then please ask one of our crew to help you.

Well, that’s the health and safety bit out of the way – on with the cruise!

So sit back, grab a drink from the bar, and enjoy!

The bar is now officially open, and for those of you who are over 18years of age, we have a wide range of wines, lagers, and Copper Dragon beer, which is from our local brewery here in Skipton.  We also serve tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and a range of cold drinks. Also at the bar, we have some picture postcards for sale, of the boat you are on today, and other views of the canal.


Skipton boomed during the Industrial Revolution, as it lies on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, between the major cities of Leeds and Liverpool.  Many mills sprung up.

In 1785, the first industrial Mill in Skipton was built. It was located at the entrance to Skipton Woods and was a cotton spinning mill, powered by water. In 1825 an annex was added with steam power.  High Mill was built by Garforth, Blackburn and Sidgwick. By all accounts, Sidgwick was very much in favour of corporal punishment being applied in his premises, whenever necessary. High Mill was abandoned when the lease came up for renewal, and could not be re-negotiated.

High Corn Mill (on Chapel Hill, near the Castle), was used to mill corn as early as 1310. Tenants within Skipton were not allowed to buy their corn from anywhere else and were forced to pay a toll. This only stopped in the 19th century.

Belle Vue Mills was built on Broughton Road in 1828 by John Dewhurst.  It was built, and opened, as a spinning and weaving mill. Two years later however, it burned down.  It was immediately rebuilt, but this time as a cotton mill. In 1852, an extension was added to allow another 385 looms to be housed. In 1870 a further extension was added. In 1882, Dewhurt’s had a floor area of 20,000 square yards spread over 5 storeys and employed over 800 workers. In 1886 electric lighting was installed.  The Belle Vue Mills did spinning, weaving, making of sewing cotton (Sylko) and dyeing. Belle Vue Mill was the home of Kingsley Cards until 2006 but has since been converted into apartments/accommodation. It is now also home to Craven District Council.

Low Mill, also known as Sackville Mill was built in 1839 by John Benson Sidgwick.  It was for weft spinning and weaving, on Sackville Street, Skipton. It became known as the Silk Mill after it’s sale in 1892, to Rickards of Airton, who used it in silk making. The mill burned down to the ground in 1908, resulting in the loss of 300 jobs in the town. A new mill called Sackville Mill was erected on the same site, and later became occupied by Yorkshire Water Authority.

In 1877, Firth Shed was built, by Samuel Farey, housing 300 looms.  In 1906, it was extended to include another 200 looms. This mill manufactured dyed cotton goods and winceys.  Farey didn’t make it through the slump of the twenties and sold up to Nutter Ltd of Nelson. Weaving stopped in 1970, and Firth Shed now houses the builder’s merchants and timber yard, Merritt & Fryers.

Victoria Mill was the International Textile Co Ltd. This is now an apartment building.

Park Shed known also as Wilkinsons Mill, was built 1889 by Thomas Wilkinson. Wilkinsons Mill is slightly unusual, in that it is the only mill in Skipton not to be built right next to the canal. It’s set back in the town and was home to Castle Acoustics, makers of hi-fi equipment.

Union Mill was a cotton weaving mill, built 1867 by Skipton Land and Building Company, run by Skipton Mill Co Ltd.  This mill housed 800 looms, manufacturing winceys, stripes and checks. It also had a steam-powered, one storey shed with an attached warehouse. There was an extension added in 1872, and a dyehouse added 1875. Union Mill is now a housing development.

Finally. there was Alexandra Mill, situated on Keighley Road, Skipton.  It was built in 1887 by George Walton. This mill had a weaving shed holding 500 looms, manufacturing dress goods, skirtings and shirtings. It was later taken over by Walton Hainsworth and Co.

And that is the history of Skipton Mills!  


And so to the tale of the canal we are travelling on.  With a main line of 127¼miles, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal is easily the longest canal in Britain. It links the north-west seaport of Liverpool with the Aire and Calder Navigation at Leeds, forming a through route between the Irish Sea and the North Sea.

The Millennium Ribble Link now provides a link via the River Ribble to the Lancaster Canal. Extension of the western end past Liverpool Pier Head to join up with the main Dock system is now completed.

The Leeds & Liverpool canal climbs away from the Lancashire plain into the Pennine hills from Wigan, up the famous 21 locks, through the once proud cotton towns of Blackburn and Burnley where Victorian mills can still be seen. The summit level goes through some fine moorland scenery over the ‘backbone of England’, plunging through the mile-long Foulridge tunnel. It then begins to descend amidst remote and beautiful countryside through the market town of Skipton into the Yorkshire Dales and on towards the bustling city of Leeds and the heart of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Allow at least a week to get from Liverpool to Leeds.

After Leeds, the Aire & Calder Navigation opens up a fascinating range of Yorkshire waterways, some once industrial, some very rural. The Yorkshire Ouse takes you to the ancient cities of York and Ripon. The South Yorkshire Navigation leads to the restored basin at the heart of the city of Sheffield. The recently restored Rochdale Canal and Huddersfield Narrow Canal now open up two fantastic ‘Pennine Rings’ for boaters with more time to spare. 

The Leeds & Liverpool is a wide barge canal, built with locks 60 feet long and 14 feet wide, reaching a height of 487½ feet above sea level on the summit at Foulridge. The locks between Liverpool and Wigan are longer at 72 feet, as are the 2 on the branch to Leigh, where the junction with the Bridgewater Canal allows boats to reach the narrow canals of central and southern England. A second branch links the canal at Burscough with the River Ribble and now the Lancaster Canal via the small port of Tarleton. The Liverpool end of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal has now been extended past the famous Pier Head and Liver Building into Liverpool Docks.

One or two facts and figures for you, on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, that we are sailing along today.

The construction of this canal was first approved of by an Act of Parliament way back in 1770. It took over 40 years to construct – partly due to the fact that they ran out of money at the halfway point. However, it was finally completed in 1816, eleven years after the Battle of Trafalgar, costing 1.2 million pounds – certainly a large sum of money in those days, although in today’s values it would probably buy you about 50 yards of motorway.

The section of the canal that we are travelling along is between the famous Five Rise Locks at Bingley and Holmebridge Locks at Gargrave and was the first section of the canal to be opened, as it’s a relatively flat 17-mile stretch with no locks at all. But, as you may have noticed already, there are many swing bridges to be opened and closed by the boats’ crews.

In the heyday of commercial operations the barges on the canal, which were known as ‘short boats’, were transporting millions of tons of cargo every year. However, with the coming of the railways and the ever-increasing competition from road transport, the carriage of freight along the waterway slowly declined, until by the late 1960’s commercial carrying finally finished.

The sole use of the waterways today is by the various pleasure boats that we see about, both privately owned craft and, of course, the larger holiday hire fleets. It is possible to travel along the canal, from Skipton, as far south as London, or indeed as far west as Bristol – as this canal links up with the Trent and Mersey Canal, and that again links with the Grand Union Canal. So it is possible to travel a long way from Skipton. In fact, there are over 2000 miles of inland waterways on which you could travel, but travelling as we do, at 3 or 4 miles per hour, it would take you quite some time to see the whole system! As a matter of interest, it would probably take you 3 or 4 weeks to travel down to London from Skipton along the canals, plus you would have to go up and down about 550 locks! Certainly not for the faint-hearted!

SKIPTON TOWN, other attractions:  

Whether a local, a regular visitor, or a tourist, you’ll discover some interesting aspect of Skipton that you didn’t know before you go on the Millennium Walk.

Most people know Skipton for its fine High Street, and in 2010, we were voted the High Street of the year!  At the top of the high street sits Skipton Castle which was built by the Normans, defended by the Royalists, and restored by Lady Anne Clifford.  It is a must for any visitor winter spring summer or fall.

The Skipton Millennium Walk pays attention to details of the High Street that may have escaped your attention. Features such as the base of the long-removed Market Cross, or the Bull Baiting Stone, or the Vicars Paving. While not entering the Castle or any of the Churches the walk takes you conveniently close so that you can explore these separately.

You’ll enjoy the Towpath of the Springs Canal as it meets The Leeds Liverpool and the colourful barges that ply holidaymakers along nearly the northernmost part of the canal which is at the nearby village of Gargrave.

The railways put paid to the canals as a transport route, and Skipton Station was replaced so that it gave best access to Mr Dewhurst’s home, at Aireville. The Gardens are now a park and the house incorporated into a school. You may be surprised that Skipton actually has an intercity service to London’s King’s Cross.  

The walk skirts the base of a drumlin that is Middletown, as it heads by Waller Beck to the Wilderness adjacent to the original location of Canon Ermysteds School, though you may find the schoolmaster’s house – now the Cross Keys – out of scale.

Returning to the High Street, along Otley Street, you will see stone carvings on quoin stones, and passing the Soroptomists Rooms you’ll also pass by a house that bears Rudyard Kipling’s name.  

The shopping of the High Street has extended to Craven Court and several of the ginnels and streets close by, creating an enjoyable experience served by Thomas’s and other independent retails along with the usual suspects.

Also in Skipton, you can visit the Craven Museum, at the Town Hall, along with the Tourist Information Centre.  Whittaker’s chocolate shop is also just next door, and again, no visit to Skipton would be right without a stop here!  Skipton is famous for its High street market, which takes place 4 days a week. Skipton also has a farmers market every first Sunday of the month, down at the canal basin on Coach St car park.

Skipton hosts many events throughout the year in town, such as the Waterways festival, Puppet festival, Sheep day, and the Yuletide festival. Many events are also held at the Auction Mart.

Nearby, there is the small market town of Settle, Grassington Village, as seen on tv, Ingleton with its famous waterfall walks, Colne, the home of Boundary Mills.  Howarth, home of the Bronte Sisters, Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Train. Bolton Abbey, with its many walks., Malham, and of course, the Yorkshire Dales. There are many places that also have tv and film locations, so be sure to check them out too!

Famous people from Skipton, and Skipton riots!

A number of notable people have been born in Skipton.  In 1838, the philosopher, Henry Sidgwick was born in.   Thomas Spencer, the co-founder of Marks & Spencer, was born in Queen’s Court, Skipton in 1858.  On the 18th March 2010, a bronze statue of Freddie Trueman was unveiled on the promenade of the canal basin.  They lived in the Craven village of Flasby, near Skipton.  If you didn’t see it before you got on the boat, have a look when you disembark.

Noted in many history books, is the biggest punch-up ever to take place in Skipton! It happened on the night of the 16th August 1842.  Over three thousand got stuck-in, and all took part, in what was later called the great ‘Annahills Fight’.

Chartists. Luddites. Plug-drawing rioters – call them what you wish.  They were all on the march and they were desperate. Meanwhile, in other areas, rioters entered Low Mills, Chapel Hill Mill, and Skipton Woods high Mills, as well as Dewhurst’s Mill on Broughton Road.  They were all pulling out the plugs from the bottom of the boilers, and letting out the water which in turn extinguished the fire that made steam to drive the power looms. With the leaders demanding money from the mill-owners, terrified house owners threw their possessions onto the thoroughfare before locking their doors.

Back in the Town Hall (now the Tourist Information Centre), a defender came up with a brilliant idea.  Whilst magistrate Wilson began to read the Riot Act in the High St, timber merchant, John Settle, would pretend to be a Chartist leader, and spread the news that carts made ready for the distribution of the loot were assembled at Anna hills.  The Rioters were to withdraw there immediately.

The ruse worked! And was all very well, but on reaching Annahills, the rioters realised they had been duped, and were hell-bent on returning to ‘smash up Skipton good an’ proper like’.

Rioters were dispersing everywhere, driven into neighbouring lanes, over hedges, across fields – the soldiers and their bayonets bringing up the rear.

It was reported that no shots were fired, and comparatively little bloodshed.

A not very bright friend of mine was arrested in the riots of London, in 2011. He was coming out of Argos, and he had nicked 200 catalogues.

Canal boat trips have been sailing from the wharf in Skipton for well over 50 years.  It started off with an inspection launch, and in the ’70s, the Cobbydale was bought. In 1997, she was lengthened and replated.  She is quite an old lady, and she has a tidy bottom. The Dalesman was built in 1994, to the design of Alan Hughes, by Colecraft.

In 2002, Nick Osborn took over the business and has introduced theme night cruises with live entertainment and a hot supper.  These go out on a Thursday Night and some Saturdays in the high season. He also introduced the 2-hour Roast Dinner Cruises, sailing on Sundays.  In the winter months, Nick introduced the Roast Christmas Dinner cruises and the ever-popular Magical Santa Trips. These are not to be missed. If you would like to have any more information about these, then please pop into the office, and they will be pleased to help you.

In 2003, Pennine Boats bought 4 electric-powered boats, imported from France. These were then sold in 2010. A steam-powered boat was introduced for a short season, in 2008.  In 2009, an inspection launch was purchased, she was built in 1880. She was a beautiful boat, but Nick wasn’t happy with the steering, so we sold her after a few months. In 2009, Alex Osborn, (who was only in his early 20’s), designed and built two 32 ft narrowboats, to be used here as Day boats.  These are named Airedale and Bedale, and moor up at the wharf by the office. These are available for day hire, and hold up to 10 people. Full instruction is given, and you can then explore the canal on a wonderful day out, with lunch onboard, as a picnic, or in one of the local waterside pubs.

BOAT HISTORY, wildlife:

And so for a little bit about the canal history, and its wildlife.  Questions will be asked at the end of this, so please, no falling asleep……!

The canal was started in 1770 and opened in stages (although it was not properly completed for over 40 years,) but it was built to an unusual gauge, considering the areas it linked together.

The locks were only built large enough to accommodate the Yorkshire ‘Keels’ of the Aire, Calder and Humber rivers and were too short for the average size Mersey ‘Flat’ or any Midland narrow boat. It is a long navigation and climbs steeply into the hillsides of Lancashire.  As water supply to the summit was always going to be difficult, it was built for vessels drawing no more than four feet. The canal barges that evolved from all these constraints were the Leeds and Liverpool ‘short boats’. About sixty feet long and fourteen feet wide, they combined styles of construction from both east and west of the Pennines.

Most short boats were carvel built wooden craft, fat but efficient with a fine graceful run aft bringing the water smoothly up to a big wooden rudder. Some were ’round sterned’ with all the planks pulled in and fixed to one vertical sternpost, but many of the horse boats, especially on the Yorkshire side, were built with a large square transom stern.

Steel short boats were being built into the 1950s and most of these survive, although scattered around the system. One is even near London after a coastal passage, but several are to be seen in or near Manchester, where the Leeds and Liverpool canal proper is joined to the Bridgewater Canal by the Leigh Branch

These Leeds & Liverpool short boats also developed an elaborate and unusual style of decorative paintwork, quite distinct from that of other canal craft.

Panels of strong colour with contrasting borders carried intricate painted scrollwork and deeply shaded lettering, and even the guard irons at bow and stern were painted with repeat patterns of stripes, triangles and little fleur-de-lis. Pictures appeared as well but not as constrained in subject matter as the ‘castle’ convention of the narrow boats.

Cottages, sailing ships, vases of flowers, horses, windmills – anything and everything that appealed to popular taste could be incorporated within the strong visual framework of the painted panelling, with each corner filled in as a quadrant. Most of all however, it was the insistent painted scrollwork that gave the short boats their special regional character, a tradition that is in grave danger of being entirely lost.

At a steady walking speed, a horse can move approximately fifty times as much weight in a boat as it could with a cart on old fashioned roads, possibly a hundred times its own body weight. The load moves with minimal friction whilst the strength of the animal is linked directly to the load with little wasted energy and it was this efficiency equation that inspired the development of the canal system in the eighteenth century. It was also this same old-fashioned horsepower that kept it going profitably for a century and a half thereafter.

Even after the widespread introduction of steam and motor boats, horse-drawn craft continued to operate and compete with them until the middle of the twentieth century. Horses are a critically important part of canal history, but a part that is in danger of being overlooked in this mechanical age. It wasn’t so much the steam engine that created the industrial revolution as the horse that brought the coal to the boiler in the first place.  Horse boating, for all its apparent slow romantic grace, was not for the fainthearted. It was very hard work requiring skilled judgement and experience interspersed with long hours of plodding drudgery and most of the boating population were pleased to move on to motor boats as they became available. Engines didn’t get tired, and you didn’t have to walk behind them all day, every day…

The decorative ropework tradition of canal boats was the combination of cultural need for some strictly practical demands with the boatman’s elaboration, coupled with the ready availability of the right material at a price the boatman could afford.   The practical need was primarily fendering, something soft and resilient between the boat and the lock wall, or something to protect the house-proud skipper’s elaborate paintwork from damage.

Big tough fenders had to be made and fitted to the bows of any boat when working locks and a big set of stern fenders was needed on a motorboat to soften the bumps of the towed butty boat running into the motor boat’s stern, in bridges or shallow places. A thick plait of rope was worked round the very top of the big wooden horse boat rudder to protect the paint, and several small plaits or ‘Turks heads’ encircle the wooden tiller to save it from damaging the cabin roof. These were practical needs being fulfilled in a logical way with waste rope, and a neat craftsman and a tidy boat captain ensured that these fenders always looked neat and tidy, all properly ‘ship shape’ in nautical parlance.

There were however many other pieces of decorative ropework on a well furnished narrow boat which, whilst probably originally invented for functional reasons, gradually became simply decorative additions. Short ropes with fancy knitted ends dangled down the cabin sides and from the watercan and the chimney, and pretty tubes of knotted ropework adorned with more turks heads plaits were strained taut down the back of the rudder. Ropes originally tied over a folded tarpaulin top cloth to stop it blowing away became permanent neat geometric designs in rope, with the spare ends coiled and tucked under the tight white ropework lines like little wheels.

The secret heart of all the arts of the narrow boat world was the tiny boat cabin. It was secret because it was such a private space, the personal home and possessions of the boating family, but it was the heart because it shaped and controlled the working lives of the boat people, and the folk art of the canal is the result of that historic lifestyle.

Canal towpaths and surrounding areas support a large variety of wildlife, some easier to see than others. Summer days bring out butterflies and dragonflies, evenings you may hear frogs and toads croaking in the rushes, foxes barking or badgers howling in the woods. You may see bats flitting through the dark, many living in old buildings near canals. (The rare pipistrelle bat in this case.) Water voles can be seen swimming across the canal, although the voracious mink has taken a heavy toll on their numbers.  Grey squirrels are common in most woods, red squirrels less so these days. You may even be lucky enough to see a stoat or weasel out hunting.  You can see swans, ducks, moorhens, coots, herons and possibly the blue flash of a kingfisher as it skims the canal ahead of the boat.

Up at Skipton Woods, (which is at the top of the High Street), regular dog walkers say a Kingfisher is seen almost daily throughout the winter months.  Swans and ducks, of course, are common sights for us here in Skipton, especially if we are throwing bread into the water!

There was an otter living on one of the small boats at the wharf, and it was seen diving into the canal, catching a fish, and bringing it back to the boat to feed.  So keep your eyes peeled, and let us know is you spot something we have mentioned or something we haven’t seen ourselves! And fish and chip cartons don’t count. Pennine Boat Trips go out a few times a year to get the litter out of the canal, but still people throw rubbish in.  You would think they would put it in the bins provided.


And so back to the good old Industrial revolution.  You may have seen at the canal basin in Skipton, the branch of water that goes up towards the top end of town.    This is known as the Springs branch. This waterway was built for the stone to be taken from Haw Bank Quarry, back to the mainline canal.  The tramway from the Haw Bank Quarry, originally ended high above the Springs Branch Canal and stone was dropped about 100 feet into boats from chutes. This was a noisy operation, and Lord Thanet, the occupant of Skipton Castle, demanded an extension of the tramway to the main canal.  However, sadly for Lord Thanet, this was refused by the canal company. In 1836, Haw Bank Quarry was producing 80,000 tons of limestone a year, so eventually, a new tramway was built.

The castle has stood in Skipton for over 900 years. It was first built as a motte and bailey castle in 1090 by Robert de Romille, a Norman baron. The wooden castle was replaced with a stone keep as it was not strong enough to withstand attacks from the Scots to the north.

For nearly a thousand years Skipton Wood provided fuel, building materials and food to the castle that it surrounds. And the waterways that run through it gave power to local wool, corn and saw mills across two centuries.

The forest was carefully managed for firewood, timber and for hunting, while the beck provided fresh water and plenty of fish. But through all this management and heavy usage, the spirit of Skipton has never changed. It’s still one of the most beautiful, serene sites in the Wild about Woods project. Spend a couple of hours following the valley of the Eller Beck on the Wild about Woods trail. Sit and admire some stunning views. Soak up the peace and the history. You’ll go home recharged!


Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, we will soon be arriving in the Caribbean….. sorry, no, our Skipper tells me we are arriving back at our wharf in Skipton.  Could you please remain in your seats. Once it is safe to do so, and the boat is securely tied up, we will let you know when you can disembark.

I would just like to remind you again, of the step down from your seats – please do be careful.

I hope you have enjoyed your cruise with us today.  Don’t forget, our theme nights, on Thursdays and Saturdays from May through to September.  Also, why not hire out a day boat and be your own Skipper? They carry up to 10 people onboard and make a great day out for all the family.  All the information and bookings are available from our wharf office, and indeed, online.

The skipper and crew wish you a lovely day and safe journey home.  We hope to see you again soon.

Before you go into town, you may wish to look at the buildings in our yard.  Full of history, there used to be stables where the row of trees are, and there are more photos in The Quay Cafe, which we encourage you to go and look at if you have time.  It’s full of canal memorabilia, model boats, and much more.

On behalf of Pennine Boat Trips, I do hope you have an enjoyable day in Skipton

If you would like further details of our dayboats, private charters, or special cruises, then please pop into the wharf office, and they will give you more information.

Thanks again, and its good-bye from me, Dave Spikey.