Boom time for region’s waterways as weather warms up

WHEN the weather is fine then you’ll know it’s a sign – for messing about on the river.
A boat trip on the Leeds Liverpool CanalA boat trip on the Leeds Liverpool Canal
A boat trip on the Leeds Liverpool Canal

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Josh MacRae’s 1961 hit but the lyrics about nice weather and boating are as true as ever.

The summer heatwave and a renewed love affair with domestic holidays are being credited with a rise in the numbers enjoying Yorkshire’s canal network – walking, cycling or boating.

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Canal boat hire companies in Yorkshire are saying that July and August were among their best months for several years and that visitors from Australia, New Zealand, Holland and Scandinavia have helped to boost their takings.

According to the Canal & River Trust, Britain’s best summer for years led to record numbers making trips to canals and rivers.

During August a record two-week figure of 5.4 million visitors was reached, which broke the previous fortnightly figure of 5.1 million achieved in August 2009.

Simon Salem, of the Canal & River Trust, said: “The nation’s canals are great places to visit and it is fantastic to see more people using them.

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“This summer we’ve seen more people walking along their local towpath, running and cycling, taking advantage of the nice weather to ditch the car and travel canal-side instead, or just enjoying the calm and tranquillity offered by our waterside environment.”

Bernard Donoghue, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, said: “Britain has so much to offer for a good day out. It’s great to see people visiting their local canal or river.”

The Trust also measures the number of boats using its canals and rivers. While definitive figures for summer 2013 will be available in the new year, early indications are that there were more boaters out taking advantage of the sunshine compared with 2012.

The successful summer for canals was felt across Yorkshire.

At Marsden, near Huddersfield, the famous Standedge tunnel – the longest canal tunnel in the country – saw visitor numbers virtually double compared with last August. This August Standedge had 9,000 visitors with 2,500 of those taking boat trips.

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James Dean, Standedge visitor centre manager, said: “This year has been a bumper year for visitors but August in particular was really busy.

“We had a great summer and the hot weather obviously encourages more people to get out and about, but it’s clear that people remain genuinely interested in the Tunnel and their local waterways in general. We’ve got activities planned for Halloween and in the run-up to Christmas so we hope that many more people will come down and explore this important part of Yorkshire’s industrial heritage.”

In Skipton, Pennine Cruisers had a busy summer hiring canal boats to visitors from Down Under.

Company director Zoe Clarke said: “It has been a really good July and August. It’s the first time we have had a proper summer – it was actually warm and people came out!”

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However, she pointed out that the company had enjoyed greater trade before the recession.

“We have operated here since 1999 and this has been our best July and August for three or four years but it has not been our best season.

“Before the recession, July and August were very busy and we would be running at maximum capacity.

“Local visitors have gone up but it is not back to pre-recession numbers. 2004-2007 were our best years; it has declined since then.”

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The last four years have been unpredictable as people have been booking holidays at the last minute, she said.

People have been booking holidays at short notice and telling us they don’t feel secure enough in their jobs so they don’t want to book in advance.”

It is a similar story at Shire Cruisers in Sowerby Bridge. Director Nigel Stevens said: “We got people from Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and lots of Scandinavians. Colleagues in the hire boat trade have been saying it has been a good year for international visitors. It has been better than last year.”