CONSTRUCTION of the Selby Canal was arguably the most important development in the town since the building of abbey 600 years earlier.

Now used entirely by pleasure craft, some aspects of its trading past can still be seen and are described in one of a number of walks contained in a free guide to the history of the town.

We have followed a couple of walks from ‘Swanning Around Selby’, looking at first the centre and then the town’s transport heritage. Both were interesting and informative.

Next on the list, a walk beside Selby Canal, promised to be much the same, with the added benefit of a peaceful waterway to admire.

We set off from the Lock Basin, where the canal - which flows from West Haddlesey near Eggborough - meets the Ouse and where large signs similar to road signs, point to different destinations. The 19th century lock and lock cottages are Grade ll-listed - the lock keeper lived in one, with his neighbour operating the swing bridge a little further along the towpath.

Selby Canal opened in 1778 and provided the main outlet for the Aire and Calder Navigation., allowing merchants from West Yorkshire to import and export goods via Hull. The 18th century water was the best mode of transport, with roads being in poor condition.

Almost six miles long, with two locks, the canal at first carried agricultural products and later coal. By 1830 20,000 passengers a year used the steam packet service to Hull.

We passed new flats on the site of Connell’s shipyard. Over the centuries, Selby was home to many shipbuilding firms, Cochrane’s being the last to close, in 1993.

Not far along the towpath we came upon a swing bridge, the width of one vehicle. Alongside, stands a small brick hut with a chimney, from where the bridge keeper would operate the mechanism.

Passing industrial areas - Enterprise Rent-a-Car, ATS Tyres, SWC Conservatories, as well as Selby Fire Station with a shiny clean engine parked outside - we came across a series of moored canal boats and pleasure craft, some adorned with quirky ornaments.

Fishermen sitting beneath umbrellas looked chilled to the bone as they waited patiently for a catch. “It’s a bit nippy,” commented one.

We passed a striking sculpture known as the Arrowhead, depicting aspects of the trading history of the canal. Its base and brick paving was designed by local students. Barges and a coal hoist reflect the carriage of coal, while a cannon and bells mark the celebrations that accompanied the canal’s opening.

Here, the canal narrows, in one of many ‘knuckles’ that led to its replacement by the Aire and Calder. Underneath the knuckle are U-shaped drainage systems, which meant that the canal could not be deepened to accommodate barges carrying heavier cargoes.

Looking across the water to Selby Boat Yard, we saw a variety of craft, some appearing to be under construction or being restore.

More light industry followed - Homebase, Argos, McDonalds - before we passed under a railway bridge into semi-rural surroundings. Cyclists rang bells to warn us of their approach - the towpath is clearly popular with families, we saw a number of adults with young children out on their bikes.

The railway bridge used to carry the East Coast Main Line before it was diverted away from Selby in the 1980s. It now carries freight and passenger services between Selby and Doncaster.

The only thing that married the walk was the amount of litter beside the path, much of which appeared to have been there for ages.

In the distance we could see the spire of the Grade l-listed Church of St Wilfrid’s in the village of Brayton, whose mellow Grade-ll-listed sandstone arch bridge soon came into view. There’s a picnic area here, where walker can stop for a snack before carrying on or returning - as we did - to Selby.

*Swanning Around Selby, a guide to the history of the town, is available in Selby Abbey and in various shops within the town.