I left my car in the ‘dark arches’ – “didn’t this use to be an eclectic mix of craft shops ? –a unique collection of individualistic retail outlets?”
I looked at the photographs displayed on the time worn walls evoking memories of Leeds as a foggy bustling port borne out of the vision and finance of local entrepreneurs and providing hard but honest employment through the true Yorkshire grit of Leeds inhabitants.
Eerie noises –“the rumble of trains at the mainline station above us? Or the roar of the mighty River Aire nearing the end of its journey of providing a wildlife corridor from the heart of the Dales to the industrial heartland of Yorkshire.”
I blinked as I left the dark satanic caverns created by the Victorian infrastructure “the brilliant sunshine? Or the splendour of restored Granary Wharf by which no-one can be failed to be impressed ”
Merlot still sat lonely at the new moorings overlooked by the Hilton Hotel -reinforcing Leeds as a quality visitor destination and the iconic Candle House - demonstrating contemporary City Centre living.
I looked across the newly restored dry dock and saw two boats moored on the offside of the canal. The Kirkstall Flyboat offering a unique opportunity in its floating restaurant – “but surely difficult to get access?” alongside a converted ‘live aboard’ which by its name and silhouette identified it as a former British Waterways workboat – “ still bringing life to the canal”.
I looked at the dry dock and saw the sculpture of a life size electricity pylon set at a precarious angle in its centre. I was joined by Frank, now ‘retired’ but he had spent his entire working life on the canals. His cynicism shone through “half empty dry dock represents how the waterways trades are dying. The canals are being used as a dumping ground for rubbish.”
We were joined by Tom, a young City Centre finance worker – “I can’t agree -the half full dock represents how the waterways are bringing life into the City and being used as an alternative energy source.”
In unison they turned and asked “what does it mean to you?” – “It means I have a 4 day cruise to Goole docks to take the Merlot out of water for routine maintenance and bottom blacking!”
As Merlot slipped through River Lock leaving the security of the Leeds-Liverpool canal and entering the River Aire I was again reminded of how our city Forefathers had harnessed and created a waterways corridor for energy and transport positioning Leeds at the centre of the UK but connecting ports on the East and West coasts of the country.