Join us as Waterfront follows his latest adventure, a four-day walk along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.
“What I liked most about this canal walk? Mmm… That's a hard one,” ponders Paul. No wonder, after packing so much into four days and over 50 miles of towpath from Leeds city centre to the Burnley Embankment.
“I tell you what, it's the people, learning something new around every corner,” says Paul. “At Apperley Bridge for instance, the Canal & River Trust volunteer leader was telling me how the weeds have grown twice as fast this year, while the canals were quiet. Then you notice there are volunteers everywhere with hand tools, removing weeds so the locks and boats won't get clogged up. I couldn't believe how many people keep things running.
Something new around every corner
“And then up at the top, above Foulridge Tunnel, I met the guy that ‘turns the tap on and off' from the reservoir to keep water levels flowing down to Leeds. It's the little things that you don't think about, but have to appreciate. Imagine the engineering it took to work that out 250 years ago. It amazes me that mitre lock gates (angled at 45 degrees, so they're easier to open) go back even further to Leonardo da Vinci's time.
“Then there's Finsley Gate Wharf in Burnley, where the Canal & River Trust are investing over £2m in transforming what was once a vital industrial hub back into a focal point for the local community. Soon there will be boat trips and boat hire, a café, function rooms and learning areas so people know about their canal heritage. It's brilliant for Burnley.”
Picking up plastic
Paul also met a kindred spirit in Jo Mosely, who like him, escaped a stressful life through physical activity. She took to rowing and wild swimming before becoming the first woman to paddleboard coast to coast – mainly along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. She even picked up plastic pollution along the way, raising awareness of the issue.
“I got where Jo was coming from in so many respects,” says Paul. “I was in the army for 17 years, then found myself working in an office, eating biscuits, putting on weight. So, like Jo, I just decided to set myself a goal and get back out walking. It was just when Twitter and the iPhone were taking off and I shared what I saw. I climbed Kilimanjaro and got some followers. Then I took on a challenge in the Andes. I started with 10,000 followers. Three weeks later, I came back from the wild to find I had 100,000.”
Happy times in the great outdoors
Since then, Paul's following has grown so much that now baldhiker.com offers hundreds of ideas for happy times in the great outdoors. But back to the question of favourites – what was the best stretch of the trip?
“Okay, I don't like having favourites, but as a short walk, go from Skipton to the top stretch, where Yorkshire meets Lancashire. Right on the top of the Pennines. Beautiful countryside. Wonderful views. Amazing history.”
Paul Steele, the Bald Hiker.