The Leeds & Liverpool Canal, begun in 1770, climbs the valley of the Yorkshire Aire on its way to the watershed leading to Lancashire. As you walk up the towpath through Bingley you encounter one of the 91 locks, then a staircase of three, the Bingley Three Rise, and then a further staircase of five, the Bingley Five Rise.
This magnificent piece of engineering was one of the wonders of England when it opened to traffic in 1774. Thirty thousand people came to see the first boats along the canal, and the Leeds Intelligencer reported –
This joyful and much wished for event was welcomed with the ringing of Bingley bells, a band of music, the firing of guns by the neighbouring Militia, the shouts of spectators, and all the marks of satisfaction that so important an acquisition merits.
The first journey down the Five Rise, a fall of 59 feet 2 inches, took 28 minutes.
The Five Rise is a staircase, which means the bottom gate of the top lock serves as the top gate of the next lock down: once a boat starts to ascend or descend it has to keep going to the level pound at the end. Now that the traffic consists entirely of leisure cruising a professional lock-keeper supervises all transits: his name is Barry Whitelock, a man so celebrated that he was awarded an MBE for services to inland waterways in the North of England.
This is an excellent spot for the spectator sport of gongoozling: gongoozler is the boatman’s term for people who stand and stare at other people working hard. [See the completely straight-faced entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gongoozler.]
The Five Rise is also a place to contemplate the energy and pride of the eighteenth-century canal builders, hoisting the country into the industrial age. Take a look at the impeccable stonework, the robustness of the gates and paddles, and the utterly straightforward management of water under gravity. It’s not actually true to say they don’t make them like that any more: the moving parts were renewed as recently as 2006.
To see the stretch of canal before and after the Five Rise, go to http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/ll/bingleyfiverise.htm.
The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.