The Leeds to Liverpool canal runs for 127 miles, linking Yorkshire and Lancashire towns to Liverpool and allowing the supply of coal, textiles and limestone. Via the Aire and Calder Navigation, the Leeds to Liverpool canal allows navigation to Hull. This was the great age of canal building, which only lasted some 50 years before being supplanted by steam railways. The canal was built by famed engineer James Brindley and John Longbottom and work started in 1770. This was no mean task: crossing the Pennines meant that 91 locks were built and, as ever, canals twist and turn to follow the contours of the land. It is hard to believe now, but this canal was a hive of purely industrial activity, and it reaches Skipton, just outside the Yorkshire Dales National Park, in order to make use of the limestone quarried nearby. Lime was the miracle ingredient of that age. Canals started furious lawsuits and arguments over streams, watercourses and even the rain that fell upon the canal: who owned what?
Now, the canal is a place of tranquility, a haven for wildlife and a softly spoken reminder of our industrial past- and a rare example of it creating true beauty, rather than destruction. Particularly beautiful is the stretch that runs from Skipton to East Marton. My dog, Beau, and I spent a lovely morning there last Autumn.
The Leeds to Liverpool Canal near St.Peters Church
The air is crisp and clean and cold. Ahead, the sun rises against a silvery blue sky, impossibly beautiful. Fields are striped by long soft shadows of towering trees. Plough and furrow marks laid bare where now sheep graze. The canal is a dark mirror, casting reflections of red, gold and green. All is so still. The ground crunches underfoot and my dog trots by in a cloud of breath. In the distance, the weak sun burns the ice into rising mist, that soon disappears and leaves only sparkling dew. All is so peaceful. A farmhouse chimney in the distance, its smoke rising vertically. A heron rising slowly as ducks fly in. As we walk along the tree lined canal, the sun flickers and flashes between the branches. On we go, along the tow path, to the bridge that crosses the water and leads across frosty fields to a church seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
A closer look, and the sad outlines of an ancient settlement in the field next to the church reveal, perhaps, some ancient tragedy as to why it is long since abandoned. Through the narrow gate and amongst the tombstones. Ancient stone memorials to those who made this place, whose beliefs and names are carved upon the cold stone in the hope of memory and, perhaps, resurrection. An implacable belief, the bones of which are in the very land itself: tied to their God by a cycle and process they knew intimately, for their very lives depended upon the seasons, the growing of crops, or the fattening of sheep, the changes of weather and the capricious ebbs and flows of what some call "fortune". Each mouthful of bread a gift from God. So far removed from now.
Cold progress came in the form of the canal: a gentle easing of the old ways, so unlike today's spreadsheet evangelism which gives and takes so much and yet which never satisfies. Those old tombstones, forgotten testimonies to forgotten lives, make it clear to me: each day is a gift, and mornings like this particularly so. A fallen leaf upon the stone. The rooks that call from the church tower. No-one places flowers upon the graves any more: there is no-one left to know. Yet, between the stones, the beeches, the church and the long shadows, there is a sense of strength here. For who, who lies beneath these stones, could have known what was to follow, to see the four seasons racing down the centuries, rain upon the grass, snow upon the silent fields, Autumn leaves falling, carefully it seems, to land upon someone's final resting place. To be sure, those people saw the coming of the canal and the upheaval of change, some for the better, no doubt. But few could have foreseen that calm and serenity would fall again upon the placid waters, that trees would once again crowd in, and, most of all, that a few centuries on, someone would gaze upon their gravestones, wonder, and feel far older than he is.
From a photographic point of view, I used my 400mm Canon lens, my 14mm Wide Angle and a Sigma 50mm Macro.
Please feel free to comment, to let me know what you think about this and other posts- and my photos.
You can find more images of the Leeds - Liverpool canal and St.Peters Church, East Marton, here: