Stepping down onto a steep curved road from the busy Skipton Main Street, I dodge the other pedestrians and step over a couple of leashed dogs. In front of me, I can already see a line of brightly painted barges – the sought-after sight of the Skipton Canal boats, some of which are decades older than me. The little market town of Skipton is a renowned spot for Northern British culture, and best known as a launchpad for the Yorkshire Dales National Park (just 20 minutes away by car). But for those in the know, taking one of the Skipton Canal trips is one of the most memorable things to do in Skipton.
Introducing Skipton Canal: Skipton Canal’s Story
Skipton Canal is as historic as the market town’s 600 year old castle. The canal was opened back in 1816. However, it had a seriously lengthy construction process – taking over 46 years to complete. The Skipton Canal is part of the Leeds to Liverpool Canal and was an absolute backbone for the local economy during the 19th century industrial revolution. Everything from stone to cotton and grain was shuttled up and down Skipton Canal. And the Skipton Canal boats were originally drawn by large barge horses.
The Skipton Canal snakes through the centre of Skipton, joining with a small river that passes through the Skipton Castle grounds. Its waterway passes disused and repurposed mill houses, and past typical Yorkshire agricultural scenery. Skipton Canal is far from a quiet waterway, and its pedestrian walkways are dotted with fishermen on upturned buckets, joggers and their little cockapoos, and farmers working their fields. On a lucky day, you can even spot otters diving to snag a catch of fish. Skipton Canal trips are a chance to submerse yourself in people watching, wildlife watching, and culture. You’ll see an entirely different side through Skipton Canal boat trips than you would on land at Skipton Market. It is one of the most immersive things to do in Skipton by far.
Which of the Skipton Canal Boat Trips to Choose
- 30-minute tour
The 30-minute Skipton Canal tour whisks you on a short but sweet trip down the canal. It is perfect for those on a budget or time limit and provides you with snippets of insight into the area and its history. As of 2023, the cost is just £4 per person – which really is a complete steal. The affordability of this Skipton Canal cruise is one of the most wholesome aspects. The tours run everyday from 10:30 am in peak season and 11:30 am in low season. You don’t have to book and just queue before paying the skipper onboard.
- 1 hour tour
The 1-hour tour is my personal favourite. It is the ideal amount of time to venture past all the disused and re-purposed mills and get a bit of agricultural scenery. These Skipton canal boats also offer a bar, where you can grab a vino, beer, or soft drink. Or boost yourself with a coffee or (Yorkshire) tea. There are snacks too, including crisps and a bar snack-style menu. With the 1-hour tour, nothing felt rushed, and you could really relax into the experience. Whereas, with the 30-minute tour, you get more of a whistle-stop introduction to the canal in Skipton.
The 1-hour Skipton Canal cruise is perfect for those wanting a more immersive, informative, and relaxing experience. Technically you don’t have to book, but I’d strongly recommend it. You can easily book online beforehand.
- 3-hour Sunday Roast Cruise
A Sunday roast cruise is one of the most classic things to do in Skipton. We all know how much Britain loves a Sunday roast, and this way you can treat yourself to a hearty weekend meal while sightseeing this sought-after canal in Skipton. This is one of the longest canal trips Skipton offers, which allows for you to enjoy your meal really leisurely. You also get some commentary and introduction to Skipton Canal’s history.
- 2-hour Fish and Chip Cruise
This Skipton Canal cruise combines history and Britain’s true love, fish and chips. If you’ve yet to sample fish and chips in England (or Yorkshire) then this is one of the best things to do in Skipton. The boat company partners with Bizzie Lizzie’s, a famous, award-winning local chippy, and combines a boat trip with an iconic dining experience.
- 2-hour Afternoon Tea Cruise
Afternoon tea is the most British thing you can possibly think of, so why not treat yourself? Lady Bedford is credited with the concept, and she used to mastermind delicious afternoon teas for Queen Victoria. The idea caught on, and in 1865 the hotel The Langham introduced afternoon tea as a formal meal service. It has been like wildlife ever since. And on this special Skipton Canal cruise, you can indulge in this British luxury while sightseeing one of the prettiest canals in Yorkshire.
What To Expect From the 1-hour Skipton Canal Boat Trips
The 1 hour Skipton Canal boat trips are one of the most leisurely options. You collect your tickets from the booking office along the canal bank and are given little boarding cards. Approximately 5 minutes before departure time, a wooden board is set to bridge the gap between the bank and boat, and you are ushered onboard to find your designated seat. The long wooden benches offer a traditional seating environment. And there is brief (rather comedic) safety briefing as your skipper pushes the boat away from the bank and the canal begins trundling along.
Onboard there is a bar with snacks, hot drinks, and alcoholic beverages. The 1-hour Skipton Canal boat trip is the ideal option if you want to have ample time to treat yourself to little bites to eat without committing to a meal – like on the afternoon tea Skipton Canal boa trips. You can head up and grab something as the guide begins an informative commentary. The commentary runs for approximately 75%, covering the Skipton Canal history, history of the Skipton Canal boats, and some fun facts about the region. There are some interesting anecdotes too, in true Yorkshire style, including that of a cow which ended up in a local pub as a celebration of it being pulled out from the canal after falling in.
The experience is low intensity and just informative enough without being overwhelming with dense facts and figures. You turn around at a passing point near some green fields, heading back to Skipton past disused mills and other moored boats.
What To Expect from Skipton Canal Boat Hire
Of course, you do have an alternative option to the Skipton Canal boat trips. You could hire your own boat and take to the waters in style. Skipton Canal boat hire is one of the best Skipton Canal trips you can take if you want independent exploration.
The 17-miles of canal that connects Skipton to Bingley is completely lock-free – meaning it is a complete breeze to navigate, even for total beginners. As of 2023, Skipton Canal boat hire costs £175 per day in the week and £200 per day at the weekend. Once you’ve paid, you get the boat for 6.5 hours (between 10 am and 4:30 pm). And you get a complimentary training session which covers how to drive the boat and general safety procedures and regulations.
Skipton Canal boats in the day hire fleet come with flushing toilets, speakers, luxury seating, and a kettle and basic cooking facilities. You can bring up to 10 people onboard too, so it is the ideal solution for a group wanting to experience Skipton together.
Steering a boat is quite the experience if you’ve never done it before. Be prepared for a bit of a giggle as you scramble to learn the ropes, but because you are sailing independently with no locks to navigate, there’s no pressure at all. It is a really fun activity and one of the best things to do in Skipton if you are feeling brave and up for a laugh.
Planning a Skipton Canal Walk
A Skipton Canal walk is a brilliant way to spend a few hours. The canal is a bit of a pedestrian motorway. In daylight hours, Skipton Canal has a constant stream of walkers flapping printed maps, joggers with fluffy dogs, and fishermen lugging buckets and drooping rods. Because of this activity, a Skipton Canal walk is a really safe thing to do in Skipton. It is always busy enough to see at least one person, and the steady schedule of passing boats provides an extra sense of security as well.
In terms of walking routes, you have a few different options. You can pick up a Skipton Canal map from any of the offices and visitor centres along Belmont Wharf – providing you with a bit more information. However, these are our top recommendations:
· Skipton to Saltaire Canal Walk
Length: 16 miles one way
Time: 5 hours one way
The Skipton to Saltaire route is easily one of the best Skipton Canal walks. Why? Because you combine cultural attractions with the Bingley Five-Rise Locks and loads of beautiful scenery. Plus, you can complete it as a one-way hike and then just hop on the train in Saltaire to get back to Skipton. You pass through Bradley, Silsden, and Bingley, entering the section of Skipton Canal with locks, where you can watch barges navigate these (utterly confusing looking) contraptions. The Bingley Five-Rise Locks are particularly famous because they are the steepest flight of locks in the UK.
Once you’ve passed Bingley though, you reach the star attraction – Saltaire. Saltaire is an industrial town that was massively influenced by the local mill owner Sir Titus Salts. Sir Titus constructed much of the town to house his mill workers and the area is now a designated World Heritage Site. You can stop by Salts Mill, a massive arts centre with shopping outlets and the revered Hockey 1853 Gallery.
· Skipton to Bradley Canal Walk
Length: 6.2 miles
Time: 2.5 hours
Skipton to Bradley is one of the most popular Skipton Canal walks. The 6.2-mile walk takes approximately 2.5 hours there and back, and it is a really easy route to complete. The Skipton to Bradley route is ideal for families with older children and you can actually start the walk at Skipton Castle, which is a nice touch. Once you reach the Bradley Swing Bridge, cross over and enter the town – perhaps stopping to grab food at the Slaters Arms before heading back to Skipton.
· Skipton to Gargrave Canal Walk
Length: 10 miles
Time: 5-6 hours
Gargrave is a beautiful village just 5 miles along the canal from Skipton. You can hike to Gargrave one-way or complete a full 10-mile hike by treating it as an out-and-back trail. This section of Skipton Canal is particularly scenic, with aqueducts, bridges, and locks to pass by. You’ll also pass long lines of moored barges, where residents rent their spots on local land. It is lovely to experience the community side of Skipton’s Canal. And once you reach Gargrave, you have a massive selection of pubs and cafes to choose from for lunch. Make sure to check out the Gargrave Stepping Stones too.
· Skipton to Leeds Canal Walk
Length: 29.2 miles one way
Time: 7-9 hours
Of course, the Skipton to Leeds Canal walk is the beast of all canal walks (unless you want to complete the entire Leeds to Liverpool section). This walk is a full-day hike. And unless you are ridiculously fit or slightly delirious, you’ll have to complete this as a one-way day hike. You can walk to Leeds and then just catch the train back to Skipton.
You’ll pass dozens of locks, bridges, and aqueducts. The entirety of the Leeds to Skipton Canal walk is lined with beautiful scenery – be it the cultural scenes of industrial mills or raw beauty of Yorkshire’s empty fields. You can also incorporate attractions en route if you plan it well enough, like the restored manor house East Riddlesden Hall or the Hockney 1853 Gallery in Salts Mill, Saltaire. Kirkstall Abbey is a nice stop-off too.
Skipton Canal Trips: FAQs
Now that we’ve covered everything you need to know about Skipton Canal trips, what about some common FAQs? Skipton Canal is full of interesting history and makes one of the best things to do in Skipton, so it makes sense that you still have questions. Whether you want to hear more about what makes Skipton Canal special (hint: stories of cows in pubs have a lot to do with it) or where you can walk to along the canal, this section is for you.
Are Skipton Canal trips still running?
Yes, Skipton Canal trips are still running. There was a brief pause during the pandemic but, as of 2023, the Skipton Canal boat trips are running and thriving.
Can I get from Marsden to Skipton by canal?
Yes, you can get from Marsden to Skipton by canal if you sail via Leeds. You’ll switch from the Huddersfield Canals to the Calder & Hebble Navigation, Air & Calder Navigation, and then join the Leeds & Liverpool Canal – which Skipton Canal sits on.
Can I get from Skipton to Earby on canal?
You can’t get directly from Skipton to Earby by canal, but you can get from Skipton to Barnoldswick by canal. From Barnoldswick you can easily take a scenic walk to Earby.
Has the Leeds Liverpool Canal ever flooded in Skipton?
Yes, the worst canal floods in Skipton were in 2000 and 2008. However, it regularly gets very high in wet months, and there’s ongoing regulations to safeguard and monitor flooding.
How close to Skipton does the Leeds Liverpool Canal run?
The Leeds Liverpool Canal runs directly through the middle of Skipton – so very close.
Is the Skipton Canal worth visiting?
The Skipton Canal is definitely a good place to spend a few hours. You can take one of the Skipton Canal boat trips or hike along the canal bank. The Skipton Canal is very scenic, with a mixture of historic mill buildings and fresh, green pastures.
What is special about the Skipton Canal?
The culture is the most special thing about Skipton Canal. The canal dates back to the industrial revolution and epitomizes that northern, Yorkshire culture. You can learn more about Skipton’s canal on one of the boat tours.
To Conclude: Skipton Canal Boat Trips
A personal take on Skipton Canal trips? I think that a Skipton Canal cruise is a wholesome way to immerse yourself in Yorkshire countryside and culture. The commentary is loveably rough-around-the-edges, with slapstick humour and tons of personable historic details – not just a dry rendition of a local history book. And with all the dining and themed canal trips available, you can really turn a visit to Skipton into a memorable experience.
Once you’ve visited Skipton Canal (and perhaps indulged in one of the Skipton Canal trips or boat hires), I’d definitely recommend dedicating time to take a day trip into the Yorkshire Dales National Park. As I mentioned, Skipton sits just on the outskirts of the national park. You technically enter the park boundaries in less than a 5 minute drive, although Grassington is the nearest major destination in the park, which is approximately 20 minutes from Skipton. The Yorkshire Dales National Park has tons of waterfalls, hiking trails, and tourist attractions. And, if you are travelling with a dog, you can check out one of these top dog-friendly pubs in the Yorkshire Dales. Have a wonderful time.