The Leeds & Liverpool Canal
With a main line of 127¼ miles, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal is easily the longest canal in Britain built by one company. (The Grand Union Canal is 10 miles longer but was a later amalgamation of a number of canals.) It links the north west seaport of Liverpool with the Aire and Calder Navigation at Leeds, forming a through route between the Irish Sea and the North Sea. The Millennium Ribble Link now provides a link via the River Ribble to the Lancaster Canal. Extension of the western end past Liverpool Pier Head to join up with the main Dock system & River Mersey was completed in 2008.
The Leeds & Liverpool canal climbs away from the Lancashire plain into the Pennine hills from Wigan, up the famous 21 locks, through the once proud cotton towns of Blackburn and Burnley where Victorian mills can still be seen. The summit level goes through some fine moorland scenery over the 'backbone of England' , plunging through the mile long Foulridge tunnel. It then begins to descend amidst remote and beautiful countryside through the market town of Skipton into the Yorkshire Dales and on towards the bustling city of Leeds and the heart of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Allow at least a week to get from Liverpool to Leeds.
After Leeds, the Aire & Calder Navigation opens up a fascinating range of Yorkshire waterways, some once industrial, some very rural. The Yorkshire Ouse takes you to the ancient cities of York and Ripon. The South Yorkshire Navigation leads to the restored basin at the heart of the city of Sheffield, and to the River Trent. The recently restored Rochdale Canal and Huddersfield Narrow Canal now open up two fantastic 'Pennine Rings' for boaters with more time to spare.
The Leeds & Liverpool is a barge canal, built with locks 60 feet long and 14 feet wide, reaching a height of 487½ feet above sea level on the summit at Foulridge. The locks between Liverpool and Wigan are longer at 72 feet, as are the 2 on the branch to Leigh, where the junction with the Bridgewater Canal allows boats to reach the narrow canals of central and southern England.
The Rufford branch links the canal at Burscough, via the small port of Tarleton, with the River Douglas and the River Ribble. It now provides access to the Lancaster Canal. Crossing the tidal River Ribble requires careful planning, many boats prefer to travel in convoy employing the services of a professional pilot.
The Liverpool Canal Link involved the extension of the canal through to the South Docks passing the famous Pier Head and Liver Building. The original canal terminus in Liverpool was filled in in the 1960's. The Stanley Dock branch gave access to the northern dock system but plans were put forward in the early 2000's for the extension past the landmark Liverpool waterfront into the South Docks. This involved a mile and a half of new canal with two new locks and tunnels. The flagship project was opened in 2008 at a cost of £22m.