Exploring the Aire Valley

17 July 2017

Guest blogger Lee Senior, author of the popular walking book Walking in the Aire, shares his love of exploring the Aire Valley by rail.

By Lee Senior

I've travelled the Airedale railway line from Leeds to Skipton literally hundreds of times in my life. It is a highly underrated journey with excellent scenery and speeds of up to 90mph in some stretches. Don't try doing that in your car! Not many commuter trains in the north reach those kind of speeds.

The journey time from the thriving West Yorkshire capital of Leeds, to the North Yorkshire town of Skipton (the self-styled the gateway to the Dales), is just 43 minutes. There is an average of seven stops over the 27 mile journey and it shares its route with the Bentham Line which continues on to Morecambe and Lancaster. Express services to Settle and Carlisle use the line too; and their class 158 Diesel Multiple Units (DMU) cover the distance in a mere 35 minutes, with less stops. However class 333 Electric Multiple Units (EMU) are the mainstay of the line, providing quick acceleration and a comfortable ride. These units are surely the best the line has ever had.

Just several minutes after departure from platform 4b, we are quickly into our stride, speeding along the remarkably green Aire valley. The railway flirts with both the River Aire and Leeds –Liverpool canal here, the longest single water way canal in England. We soon pass the impressive ruins of Kirkstall Abbey only a mile or so walk away from the relatively new station at Kirkstall Forge, which opened during 2016. Very soon after whizzing through Kirkstall Forge, the same is true of Apperley Bridge another delightfully leafy suburb of Leeds.

The first stop for most daytime Skipton services is Shipley, 12 minutes travelling time from Leeds. Shipley is a fascinating triangle shaped station, with five operational platforms. Trains stop here, for Bradford Forster Square and Ilkley too, making this a useful railway hub.

It is literally a two minute hop to our next station Saltaire, a World Heritage site and strong contender for being one of highlights of the line. Saltaire is famed by the textile mills belonging to Sir Titus Salt and has something for everyone; including a restored mill, riverside walks and a nearby tramway to name just a few of the attractions. Roberts Park has had a revamp too.

Walking in the Aire. Baildon Hill along a walk from Saltaire Railway Station.
Baildon Hill. Walk 12 in 'Walking in the Aire' from Saltaire Railway Station.

We speed along to Bingley now, a town most people will have heard of, with a former building society taking part of its name. Bingley is even more famous for its market charter, given by King John in 1212, one of the first towns in England to gain such status. Another feature of the area is the impressive Five Rise Locks on the aforementioned canal. The Locks are the steepest staircase locks in the country no less.

Skipton bound train arrives at Keighley Station along the Bentham Line.
There two short walks that start at Keighley station, in my walking book entitled "Walking in the Aire".

Three minutes later and we are half way through our journey at Crossflatts. The next four minutes are then largely spent racing and beating the adjacent traffic on the A650 trunk road. Keighley the capital of Airedale is next.

The town is perhaps best known as home of the delightful Keighley & Worth Valley steam railway. Other gems include, the revamped Cliffe Castle. The town also has a fine array of independent shops and a beautifully maintained Town Hall Square.

Our train effortlessly accelerates away from Keighley, soon passing the flood plains close to Airedale hospital as we inexorably make our way to Steeton & Silsden. This is the last station on the route within West Yorkshire. Though the station has a double-barrelled name, the old mill town of Silsden is around a mile away.
Our final intermediate station on the line and also the first in North Yorkshire is the delightful village of Cononley. The scenery here is just sumptuous and one can sense we are now almost within touching distance of the Yorkshire dales. The views are even more rural, the hills are more frequent and higher and this really is a green and pleasant land. We are just over five minutes away from our final destination.

Upon arrival at Skipton, the first thing we notice is the station itself. It is a joy. The attractive platform canopies are nicely complimented by flowers, making this a rather welcoming place indeed.

Skipton Railway Station with picturesque countryside in the background.
Skipton Railway Station

The town itself is a few minutes' walk away and is a perfect destination for a day trip or perhaps even longer. The market is one of the busiest around. Meanwhile the canal offers boat trips or delightful strolls along the towpath. Throw in a castle, numerous high quality real ale establishments and some fine independent shops and you'll begin to see why Skipton is a busy tourist town.

A further walk featured in "Walking in the Aire" starts here; offering a fine way to spend an afternoon or summer evening away from the hustle and bustle of the High Street.

Thinking about exploring further? Continue your journey along the Bentham Line, providing easy access to the Forest of Bowland AONB, the seaside town of Morecambe and the historic city of Lancaster.

For anyone wanting to travel on the famous Settle to Carlisle railway (and why wouldn't you) there are options to do this directly from Leeds or indeed by changing trains at Skipton.

Walking in the Aire, 14 short walks in Airedale by Lee Senior.
Walking in the Aire by Lee Senior

Find out more...

The popular walking book "Walking in the Aire" is written by keen walker and rail enthusiast Lee Senior.

The book contains 14 short walks in Airedale up to 8 miles in length. Seven of the walks start and finish at a railway station and all walks are within reach of places to eat and drink.

This 84 page, full colour book is packed full of useful information. Each walk has public transport information, snippets of history, an outline map and a detailed route description.

To get your hands on a copy of the book (£7.99 including postage and packing) click on the link below: www.facebook.com/walkingintheaire

For book enquiries please email: [email protected]

The text and photographs are © copyright of Lee Senior and must not be reproduced without permission.

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