The Lancaster Canal

The Lancaster Canal runs for 42 lock free miles from Preston to Carnforth through pleasant pasturelands, overlooked for most of the way by the foothills of the Pennines. A round trip from Preston to Lancaster is easily possible in a week, especially without locks to work. Preston and Lancaster have good railway and road links to Scotland and the South of England.

Small boats and Pennine scenery.

Small boats and Pennine scenery.
Photos Waterway Images

In Preston the canal now begins at Ashton Basin but soon the houses spread out and the countryside opens up. Once past the junction with the Ribble Link the canal meanders through Lancashire farmland with the Pennine Hills on the right and the Fylde on the left. Garstang is an interesting market town, a useful overnight stop, with a fine stone built aqueduct. A short branch leads down six locks to the Morecambe Bay sea harbour at Glasson Docks, once a busy port, now filled with yachts and cruisers. Lancaster is a fascinating old County Town, with a castle and other old buildings, great places to eat, drink and buy local produce. Heading to Carnforth the sea shore is only a few hundred yards to the west and you can see the sands of Morecambe Bay and across to the magnificent Lake District mountains.

The Lancaster Canal was built to bring Wigan coal to Preston and North Lancashire but the southern section from Wigan to Chorley was never connected to the Preston section because of the costs of the locks or aqueduct needed to cross the deep Ribble Valley. The southern section became part of the busy Leeds & Liverpool Canal but the isolated northern section became a backwater. The canal was engineered by John Rennie, and the bridges and aqueducts are built on his usual massive classical scale.

Key Facts

Broad canal, 42 miles, 0 locks on mainline, 6 locks on Glasson Dock branch, 1 week return.
The 4 mile Ribble link gives access to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Tarleton.


The Ribble Link

When the Ribble Link Navigation was opened in 2002 it ended the canal’s isolation from the rest of the canal system by canalising 4 miles of the Savick Brook with 8 locks. The final cost was £6.5 millions, half of which came from Millennium Lottery funding.

Reaching the the rest of the network requires careful planning to get the tides right when crossing the seriously tidal and wide River Ribble and finding the difficult entrance to the narrow River Douglas to reach the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Rufford branch at Tarleton. Boaters planning to make the crossing must ensure their boats are in sound mechanical condition carrying all necessary safety equipment. Boats often travel in a convoy in case of any breakdowns and employing the services of a professional pilot. The link is only open during summer months and on days and at times when tidal conditions are suitable. Passage must be booked with CRT .

The Ribble Link

The Northern Reaches

Kendal, the northern terminus, can no longer be reached, the canal was culverted north of Carnforth near Tewittfield Locks when the M6 motorway was built across it in the 1960’s. Restoration towards Kendal is slowly progressing, but the construction of the M6 severed the Northern Reaches section of the canal in three places. The proposed restoration scheme has to tackle three motorway and four trunk road crossings and include the enhancement and conservation of 52 historically important and listed structures.

A trip boat often runs on a short length of reopened canal near Kendal.


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

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