'I've worked on Yorkshire's canal network for more than 25 years and these are my hidden gems'

Stuart Moodie has worked on the UK’s canal network for over a quarter of a century and is manager of the Canal and River Trust’s heritage and environment team in Yorkshire. Stuart and his wife Julie live on the outskirts of Leeds.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory?

We used to come up here in the holidays when I was a youngster, and we’d discover places like Muker, and Wensleydale, and there was a lot of mucking about in the rivers and hiking, exploring freedom.

What’s your favourite part of the county?

Stuart MoodieStuart Moodie
Stuart Moodie

We live in Rawdon, and there’s a wonderful pleasure in just getting out and exploring nearby woods, towpaths and lanes, going on long circular walks. I’m a keen cyclist, and when lockdown came, and exercise was allowed, I was in my element, because before that, it had been a case of navigating traffic if you were using a main road, but with the restrictions, bikes could go just about anywhere, and they had the roads to themselves.

What’s your idea of a perfect day out in Yorkshire?

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Julie and I love getting over to Grassington, parking up the car, and just getting off on a walk, carrying our small picnic with us. Maybe we’d head over to Linton. Grassington has got just a little more busy, since fans of the new version of All Creatures come to suss the place out, but it’s still a lovely little place, going along at its own steady pace. Slightly off the beaten track, and all the better for it.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view

A view inside th Standedge Tunnel, Marsden. Picture by Simon HulmeA view inside th Standedge Tunnel, Marsden. Picture by Simon Hulme
A view inside th Standedge Tunnel, Marsden. Picture by Simon Hulme

Anywhere in or around Malham. The tarn itself, the cliffs, the nearby limestone pavements, where I can identify the mosses and lichens. It’s an area of a multitude of so many things, and the views are stunning.

Which Yorkshire sportsperson would you like to take for lunch?

The Brownlee Brothers. I do a bit of running myself, and I remember one day I was out, plodding along a towpath near us, and suddenly a cycle shot past, clearing the way so that the brothers could get past. They shot along at a speed, putting me to shame. The lads do so much great work in raising awareness of sport, fitness and health issues and the like, and I’d love to ask them if they had a few tips for me to improve what I will laughingly call my ‘performance’.

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Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, or past or present, would you like to take for dinner?

The wonderful Mr Alan Bennett. I’d sit in awe as he told stories, reflected on life in general, and relayed anecdotes. Multi-talented, multi-layered, and blessed with dry observational wit.

What’s your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’?

Standedge canal tunnel. It’s 5000 metres long, the deepest in the UK, and the highest, as well. One of the Seven Wonders of the waterways, and another being the Bingley Five Rise. It really is a testament to the genius that was Thomas Telford, one of the great engineers that ever lived. Also Rawdon Cragg Wood, a remarkable area of special scientific interest that is only miles from the centre of bustling Leeds.

If you could own one thing in Yorkshire for a single day, what would it be?

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A box at Headingley, on a glorious summer’s day, and when there’s an important match to be played. Cricket is my life-long passion, I just love the game and its pace, and I feel that my duty in life is to educate Brian, my American son-in-law, about the beauty of the game. I fear that I may have a long task ahead of me.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

The sheer size, and variety of the county. None of the cities are the same – the only thing that they have in common is that you can get out of each of them, and be in glorious countryside in about 15 minutes. The superb coastline, with beaches, single shores and towering cliffs, the majestic ruins of the abbeys, the contrast between the vibrancy and urgency of the urban areas and the tranquility of the moors.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

Julie and I rather like our walks at Malham which always seem to get completed at the Litton Arms. So many Yorkshire pubs seem to have the knack and skill to cook simple food, and to do it really well.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

We were looking at property in Otley at one point (sadly, it all fell through) and it was there that we discovered Weegman’s, the butchers, in the Market Square. Trust me, their pork pies are on a level all their own.

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How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it?

It’s a mixture of good and bad – but you can’t put the county in aspic, and not expect any change at all. The regeneration of Leeds has been wonderful, it has revitalised the city, and there is indeed some good modern architecture. We do need that tramway, and urgently – still the biggest city in Europe without one, and the traffic situation on the roads gets worse by the day. The traffic situation on the pavements and towpaths is terrible as well – so many powered bikes and electric scooters in the spaces which should belong to pedestrians.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

The poet, Simon Armitage. I never read poetry until I stumbled on Simon’s work. It promotes the county, is incredibly readable, with elements of humour and pathos, and he’s a brilliant creator of the pictures which emerge from words.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

Absolutely, canals are my world, and my love, they take the cities into the countryside, and the countryside into the urban areas. The range of wildlife, plants, mosses and lichens along them is astonishingly varied, and the Leeds – Liverpool is, in essence, a very long ribbon of a nature reserve.

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Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer.

The late artist Peter Brook, who was called “The Pennine landscape painter”, and with very good reason. He had such a wonderful knowledge of the seasons, of the light on the hills and field, and that makes his work so distinctive – he often pops himself on to the canvas, along with his dog. I only wish I had the spare cash to buy an original, instead of admiring his prints.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?

Saltaire. The mill, the canal, the river, nice cafes, a gallery devoted to the works of Hockney, and there’s stiff a sense of the innovative and pioneering work done by its original creator, Sir Titus Salt. What’s not to love.

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