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This article Ripon Yarns is the copyright of Jim Shead - From Leeds to York and Ripon. First published in Canal & Riverboat Febuary 2003.


A tug pushes three fully laden coal pans into Ferry Bridge Lock on the Aire & Calder Navigation.

Ripon Yarns


Jim Shead

Having arrived at Leeds, after crossing the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, the question is where shall we go next? There are a lot of routes to choose from in the north east but one of my favourites is the trip to York and Ripon. Ripon was, until recently, the furthest point north on the connected canal system, however, with the completion of the Ribble Link it is now possible to go to Tewitfield, on the Lancaster Canal, which is nearly two miles more northerly than Ripon.

Our route takes on a mixture of rivers and canals starting with the Aire & Calder Navigation, a canalised river navigation that predates the "canal age". Here in Leeds the city makes the most of its riverfront with restaurants, bars and expensive housing vying for a place on the waterside. Next to Leeds Lock is the Royal Armouries Museum containing a stunning collection and beside it there are overnight moorings in Clarence Dock.
Cruising the River Ure at Newby Hall.
Newby Hall from the River Ure side of the house.

Leeds Lock is the smallest on the navigation main line and like the others is electrically operated and controlled by traffic lights. An amber light indicates that there is no lock keeper present and the lock can be self-operated by boaters. This is the normal practice these days except when commercial traffic is expected, and that is unusual at Leeds Lock. The larger locks that follow carry more commercial traffic so are sometimes manned when pleasure boaters arrive. If there is a green light showing a lock keeper is present and the lock is ready for you to enter. A red light indicates that the lock keeper does not want you to enter the lock. In this case it is best to moor on the lock landing as there is probably a commercial vessel expected and the lock keeper may want them in the lock first. The waterway takes some very large barges and tankers so it is best to moor well as the drag of a deeply laden craft can have a strong pull at quite slow speeds.

On our route out of Leeds there are often large barges and tankers moored before Knostrop Flood Lock, which is normally open at both ends. Knostrop Fall Lock follows and is the first of the large locks, taking craft up to 200 feet long with a beam of 20 feet. A little way past the lock is the Thwaite Mills Industrial Museum which provides a mooring for visitors. Gradually we get into more open country and pass through Fishpond and Woodlesford locks. After Fleet Bridge, about six miles from Leeds, is a new marina and the new deep Lemonroyd Lock with a fall of 13 feet 6 inches. In 1995 this new lock and about two miles of new channel below were opened, replacing the old Lemonroyd and Kippax locks.

Castleford Junction is a waterway crossroads. Straight on leads to the weir and disaster. Right is the Aire & Calder Wakefield Section, leading to the Calder & Hebble Navigation, the Rochdale Canal and the Huddersfield canals. Our route is left, continuing on the Aire & Calder Main Line, through Castleford Flood Lock. There are moorings just past the lock which give access to Castleford town centre about half a mile away. Four miles on we pass Ferrybridge power station where dumb barges, or pans, containing 170 tons of coal are lifted 40 feet above the water by a mechanical hoist and tipped, sending their load into a hopper. Tugs push three of these loaded pans at a time from Kellingley Colliery so for the next couple of miles we need to keep a good look out for these trains, especially at bridges and bends.
Cruiser on the non-tidal River Ouse below York.

We turn off of the commercial carrying main line at Bank Dole Junction where our first manually operated lock takes us down onto the River Aire Section of Aire & Calder. We follow the winding river for 6 miles through open pastures given over to sheep and cattle. At Beal there is a little village, a bridge and the only other lock on this section after Bank Dole. The meanders continue and we pass a landing stage used by water skiers. A few riverside houses signal that we are approaching West Haddlesey Flood Lock at the entrance to the Selby Canal. You may find that the gates are open at both ends and that you can go straight through the lock but this is not always the case even when there is no sign of flooding on the river.

The five miles of the Selby Canal, authorised in 1774, was the work of William Jessop, early in his career. Jessop was a pupil of John Smeaton, Britain's first professional civil engineer, unlike most of his contemporaries who learnt about canal building as assistants to Brindley. The canal runs its whole length on one level, there being just two locks, one at each end. It runs through a pleasant rural landscape but has few places to moor. About half way down the Anchor, at Burn, has a landing stage. As we come into Selby we pass the Selby Boat Centre, which in addition to providing all the usual boating services is also the base for Banks Boats narrowboat hire. An electrically operated swing bridge gives access to Selby Basin where there are visitor moorings. The market town of Selby clusters around its ancient abbey and has a good selection of shops and services, including a large supermarket.
Barges at Naburn Lock on the River Ouse.

The next leg of our journey is 13 miles of the tidal Ouse to Naburn Locks. The river can run fast, especially on spring tides, but it is a trip made by many narrowboats each year. The regular lock keepers here will give good advice to those making the trip for the first time and tell you the tide times. Going up river is easier than coming back down, when it is necessary to turn just below the lock and enter from downstream. Again, the lock keepers here are very helpful and will signal the right approach course and the point at which to turn to port and accelerate into the lock.

Selby Lock gates open and we wait for the lock keeper's signal that the river is clear before we enter the tideway. "Keep steady until the tide starts to take you round" is the final advice as we leave the lock. As we approach the centre of the channel the bows begin to turn and we can feel the tide pushing us up river. I open the throttle and complete the turn and we are soon heading towards the Railway Swing Bridge. Selby has two swing bridges, the other is for road traffic, neither of which need to be opened for cruisers or narrowboats. Once past the bridges we turn a sharp bend and weave our way through the flotsam which has been washed up the river with the tide. Soon we get through debris and are able to enjoy the journey.
The York waterfront near Skeldergate Bridge.
A cruiser enters one of the Naburn Locks to make the tidal passage down the Ouse.

Eight miles from Selby we come to the village of Cawood and the only other bridge on this tidal section of river. This too is a swing bridge with plenty of headroom for us to pass under. Looking up to the control cabin in the middle of the bridge we see the bridge keeper giving us a wave as we pass through. A mile further on the River Wharfe joins the Ouse and three miles from Naburn we pass the riverside village of Acaster Selby. In the last few miles we meet a few boats who are making the trip from Naburn down to Selby, then later we can see the white water of Naburn Weir up ahead. As we get closer the locks appear to the right of the weir with the lock gates open ready for us. With the assistance of the tide we have done the whole 13 miles in just over two hours. Getting through Naburn Lock is often a long process as boats of various types are fitted in and secured and we wait for the stragglers to arrive. If you would like to stop there are moorings above the lock, although you could continue to York, less than five miles away.

The contrast between the tidal and non-tidal river is apparent as soon as we leave the lock cut. Boats are moored on both banks, there is a boatyard and the attractive Ship Inn at the village of Acaster Malbis, which preceeds the village of Naburn on the opposite bank. We then pass Naburn Marina, which has moorings for boat facilities and chandlery on the riverbank. Large sea-going cruisers are much in evidence on this part of the river and fill much of the marina. We also pass the cruiser hire base of York Marine Services, offering holidays on the non-tidal river. At Bishopthorpe the palace of the Archbishop of York overlooks the river, then we pass under the modern York By-pass Bridge crossing high above. Many trip boats from York use the wide river here for turning.

As we come into the city we pass the entrance to the River Foss on the right. There are some places to moor just after this junction and some other moorings by the high wall before Ouse Bridge. The best place to moor is by the park above Lendal Bridge although York is a very popular destination and sometimes it is difficult to find somewhere to stop. There is so much to see and do here that I will not even attempt even to list the main attractions, it will suffice to say that you can stay a week and not see it all.
A narrowboat leaves Rhodes Field Lock near the end of the Ripon Canal.
The lock keeper signals the time to make the turn as this narrowboat enters the
Selby Canal from the tidal Ouse.
Once through Selby Lock this boat turns into a berth in the basin.

Exhausted by sightseeing we set off north, promising to see what we missed on the return trip. There are not many places to moor on the river although the countryside is good and we pass several places of interest, including the National Trust's Beningborough Hall, which is beside the river but has no landing stage. Linton Lock was, until a few years ago, run by the Linton Lock Commissioners and a separate fee was payable for using it. Now it is under the control of BW and can be used freely by licence holders although the locks to Ripon are 57 foot long so not all craft can make this trip. After Milby Lock is the little town of Boroughbridge, twenty miles from York by river. A few miles before this point the river has changed its name from Ouse to Ure. Boroughbridge has moorings before the bridge and is a good place to stop to look around or just for an overnight mooring.

Leaving the town we pass Boroughbridge Marina and after three miles come to Westwick Lock followed by the grounds of Newby Hall. A landing stage is provided for visiting boaters to the house and gardens. The house is interesting but it is the gardens that are the jewel in the crown to my mind. A mile after Newby Hall is Oxclose Lock at the entrance to the two mile Ripon Canal. This charming little canal passes Ripon Race Course and the Ripon Motor Boat Club Marina before ascending two locks to the final half mile of navigation. Much of this final section was closed for many years but it was reopened in 1997 and we can now cruise into Ripon Basin.

Ripon is the third Yorkshire city on our journey. After the metropolitan vigour of Leeds and the enormous historic wealth of York you may wonder how this small cathedral city can compete. The allure of the place rests on its imposing cathedral with a Saxon crypt, the old town centre and large market place with a soaring obelisk dating from 1781. Just three miles from the city is Fountains Abbey and Studely Royal Water Gardens, an extensive National Trust property full of interest and beauty. On this voyage we have seen a great variety of Yorkshire rivers and canals and a many places of interest along the way, industry and coal carrying, rural landscapes and country estates. We depart hoping that we will return.


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Jim Shead Waterways Photographer & Writer
Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
Home Introduction Waterways List Waterways Map Links Books DVD Articles Photo Gallery
Features Contact me Glossary Boats Events List History Local Waterways Help Photo List