Lemonroyd marina – plenty to see and do!

The Lemonroyd marina is somewhat of a hidden gem of the local area and that’s quite as literal description as you will find, as to find the marina requires a trip to the very narrow, bumpy end of Fleet Lane!

The more pleasant arrival would be by narrow boat or canal path, taking in the surrounding wildlife and countryside as you potter along at an enjoyable pace. If travelling by car you have to endure a narrow lane with the odd bump and pot hole, but the journey, in my opinion, is always worth it.

Lemonroyd for me is an escape from the hussle and bussle of town life and provides numerous ways to enjoy some time in the fresh air.

Whether you visit to walk the dog or take in the wildlife with a bit of bird watching or simply to endulge yourself in a stroll along the canal path, enjoying the spectacle of the numerous barges and boats it’s simply an enjoyable place to visit. For the more energetic it’s a fantastic place for cycling or running and coupled with the St Aidans nature reserve there is literally miles and miles of paths and routes to explore on bike, foot or even horseback. 

The Lemonroyd marina itself is a relatively modern site that was constructed in the late 1980’s. Cast your minds back to March 1988, the one pound note had just ceased to be legal tender, ITV’s London’s Burning was introducced to our television screens and Leeds United were under the management of the legendary Billy Bremner. Local news however was dominated by the collapse of a section of the River Aire banking into the adjacent open cast mining site.

During routine piling repairs, the corugated steel structures that help to support the banks of the river, the north bank of the river suffered a slope failure which resulted in a huge flood of river water. Investigations suggested the failure was a result of a geological fault under the river, possibly caused by old mine shafts.

Despite huge efforts, the flood could not be contained. RAF Chinook helicopters were even drafted in to carry sandbags to the area to try and seal the breached, open area of the river bank.
There was such a huge amount of river water that spilled into the mining site that an entire new lake was formed.

Eventually the decision was taken to drain the site and also suspend all mining operations in the area. After lengthy negotiations work began on the construction of a single new course to completely re-route the river. This involved excavation of the land, lining the new course and the construction of the new Lemonroyd lock which included a weir, docks, two new bridges and any relevant buildings. The original Lemonroyd lock was closed, along with the Kippax lock.

The cost of the clean up and re-build was estimated to be over 20 million pounds!

The new Lemonroyd lock was opened in 1995 with space for over 80 narrowboats and cruisers. Lemonroyd is noted to be a deep marina with a width sufficient to enable large and bulky canal traffic to pass. The banks of the re-routed river have also been constructed to withstand the worst projected flooding levels.

At the adjacent St Aidans opencast site, the suspension of all mining operations lasted for 10 years and eventually production ceased completely in 2002.

St Aidans then took on a whole new existance when work commenced to convert the site to a nature reserve. After a decade of work the transformation was complete and a staggering 400 hectre’s of once heavy industrial activity was now a haven for all types of endangered species, rare birds with almost 8 miles worth of footpaths, bridleways and cycle paths. The site also boasts a vast wetland featuring islands, reedbeds, grassland and woodland with the constant echoes of wildlife.

To add to the story, during the reclamation work, the remains of several wooden keels were found whilst draining the area. (see picture). Workers also found the remains of one of the early locks and its weir, plus stone sleepers from an old tramway close to the early cast iron bridge which carried the tramway over the river. Some of these finds are kept at the Yorkshire Waterway Museum in Goole.

The reserve is now managed by the RSPB and home to barn owls, kestrels, bitterns, black-headed gulls and of course ‘Oddball’ – the 1,200-tonne drag line excavator which is now a perfect place for nesting birds. Oddball is the iconic symbol of the site, its life as once one of the biggest pieces of machinery has morphed into being possibly the biggest nesting box which mirrors the St Aidan’s previous life and
re-incarnation completely.

We have lots of great places on our doorstep and this is certainly one of them, the fact it is relatively hidden away makes it for me even more special. So the next time you are out and about, why not take a trip to Lemonroyd followed by a stroll around St Aidans. It’s quite amazing that these places were once partners in grime, and are now one of the many jewels in the crown of LS26.