Ashton-under-Lyne Canal & Peak Forest Canal

The Ashton-under-Lyne Canal is only 6 miles long and its 16 locks make a steep climb out of Manchester though urban surroundings. But it opens up some great scenic canal cruising, on the Peak Forest Canal and the Macclesfield Canal into the Peak District, and up into the Pennines on the Huddersfield Narrow canal.

The Ashton-under-Lyne Canal leaves the Rochdale Canal beneath modern apartments and converted mills and climbs out of Manchester passing housing developments and the sports facilities built for the 2002 Commonwealth games. This once was a very busy canal and as you climb out of Manchester you can see that many of the locks had been  doubled up to reduce delays, some have double top gates.

There is a surprising amount of greenery from Fairfield onwards, much enjoyed by locals. As you approach Ashton-under-Lyne the statuesque Junction Mill chimney comes into view, the long closed mill itself has now been replaced by apartments. There are good overnight moorings at either end of the canal, such as Castlefield Basin in Manchester and Portland Basin In Ashton-under-Lyne. There are not many safe recommended mooring places along the rest of the canal.


Three canals were opened in the same year (1800), the Ashton Canal, Peak Forest Canal and the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. Trade was boosted when the Cromford and High Peak Railway and the Macclesfield Canal funnelled extra trade into the Peak Forest Canal (1831).

However, the coming of the railways reduced trade, with the canals falling into dereliction by the mid 20th century. The Ashton Under Lyne Canal was an early success for the canal restoration movement, reopening in 1974.

Portland Basin has a large canal warehouse, now housing a museum, opposite which the Peak Forest Canal heads south at a sharp right turn over Dukinfield Aqueduct. Send someone ahead before making the turn to make sure there isn’t a boat coming out!

Heading straight ahead takes you onto the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the steep 32 lock climb up to the Pennine summit and the amazing Standedge Tunnel.

Entering the Peak Forest
Entering the Peak Forest Canal
Huddersfield straight on, Marple to the right
Huddersfield straight on, Marple right
Wooden boats outside Portland Basin
Wooden boats outside Portland Basin Museum
Ashton Canal heading towards Manchester
Ashton Canal heading towards Manchester

Feature Spot – Portland Basin


Key Facts

Ashton-under-Lyne Canal – Opened: 1796
Engineer: Brown, Dukinfield Junction with the Peak Forest Canal to Ducie Junction with the Rochdale Canal, 7 miles and 18 locks.

Peak Forest Canal – Opened: 1800-1964, 1974
Engineers: Brown (surveyor), Outram (engineer) Dukinfield Junction to Bugsworth Interchange 14½ miles, 16 narrow locks at Marple 3½ mile branch to Whaley Bridge Interchange.

Bugsworth Basin

The Peak Forest Canal

Pleasant countryside with aqueducts, tunnels, lift bridges and Pennine views to lift the spirits! The towpath links with hundreds of miles of footpaths up the Goyt Valley, past reservoirs into the stunning scenery of the Peak National Park and the High Peak Trail. There are interesting mills on the way to Marple where 16 locks lift the canal 200 feet into the Pennines, Kinder Scout in the distance.

Bugsworth Basin is an unique canal/tramway interchange where lime, limestone and gritstone arriving on tramways from Derbyshire quarries was transhipped to narrowboats to feed the demands of the Industrial Revolution. Closed in 1927 after a long decline losing traffic to the railways it was finally reopened after 30 years of hard volunteer labour.

Whaley Bridge has a stone built warehouse and wharf with three arches, two for rail wagons either side of a covered wharf. Close by is the first incline on the rail line to Cromford up which for over 125 years waggons were hauled on chains powered by a horse capstan at the top of the Whaley Rise.



All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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