The Rochdale Canal and Calder & Hebble Navigation

The Rochdale Canal is a broad canal which pioneered the route up the valleys on each side of Blackstone Edge on to the magnificent rounded slopes of the Pennine moors. Rail and modern road followed on, all packed tightly into the available space. The canal was reopened in 2002, a wonderful journey for energetic boaters, especially as part of a ‘Pennine Ring‘.

Wool mills in 'trouser town'
Wool mills in ‘trouser town’!
Fine stone built canalside terraces
Fine stone built canalside terraces
Hireboat working a wide lock
Hireboat working a wide lock
Pennine scenery and mills
Pennine scenery and mills

Feature Spot – Hebden Bridge

The Rochdale Canal

The Rochdale Canal is heavily locked on both sides of the Pennines but goes through fabulous Pennine scenery and fascinating mill villages. Soon after the Castlefields junction with the Bridgewater Canal in central Manchester the steep climb of over 50 locks to its Pennine summit begins. The large locks can be hard work, but the scenery makes the effort well worthwhile! It’s mainly urban through once proud mill towns until after Rochdale when views open to the waiting hills. The short summit level is reached at the village of Summit (!) but after less than a mile the descent begins into Yorkshire and Sowerby Bridge. No rest for boaters and not much water reserves for the locks!


Key Facts

Rochdale Canal
Broad canal, 33 miles, 92 wide locks, 1 short tunnel, 1 week.
Opened: 1804, Reopened 2002, Engineers: Brindley, Rennie, Jessop, Crosley
Calder & Hebble Navigation.
Broad canal, 21 miles, 26 wide locks.
Opened 1770, Engineers Smeaton, Eyes, Brindley, Holt, Carr.


The Rochdale Canal now threads its way down the crowded Calder Valley through Littleborough and Todmorden, the narrow valley crammed with houses, industry, roads, river, canal and George Stephenson’s Manchester to Leeds Railway which slices through the chaos on an elegant long curving viaduct at Gauxholme. Hebden Bridge, ‘the Glastonbury of the North’, filled with artists and musicians and interesting shops must be experienced! Eventually the junction with the Calder and Hebble Navigation at Sowerby Bridge is reached through the famous Tuel Lane lock and tunnel, almost 20 foot deep which replaced the two original locks. There are interesting historic warehouses and basin.

Opened in 1804 the Rochdale canal was the first of three Pennine crossings, the others being the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. Designed to take river craft from both sides of the Pennines, payloads of up to 70 tons were carried around the urban areas on either side but very little went through all the locks ‘over the top’. Despite the railway competition the Rochdale Canal was busy until the First World War but eventually the roads took its business away, the last through cargo was in 1937 and trading ceased finally in 1958. Sections to the west of the Pennines were partially filled in and locks converted to weirs.

Full restoration in 2002 cost £23.8 million, funded by grants of £11.9 from the Millennium Commission, £10.8 million from English Partnerships and contributions from local Councils.


The Calder and Hebble Navigation

Originally an improved river navigation it is now mostly a wide canal, a mid eighteenth century extension from Wakefield along the River Calder and River Hebble to Salterhebble near Halifax and to Sowerby Bridge. The Halifax branch was abandoned in 1942. It runs from the junction with the Rochdale Canal at Sowerby Bridge down a narrow valley to Wakefield where it joins a branch of the Aire and Calder Navigation. It’s unusual short (57ft) wide locks require the use of a ‘handspike’. Sowerby Bridge Wharf is well worth a visit. A derelict 18th century transshipment hub was transformed when the Rochdale canal was reopened into a busy business and leisure centre with coffee shop, upmarket hairdressers, ladies’ gym and offices, moorings and hire boat base.


Canal Rings

There are two circular cross Pennine Canal Rings which include the Rochdale Canal and the Calder & Hebble Navigation.

The shorter South Pennine Ring forms a loop with the Aire & Calder Navigation, Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Ashton Canal. It has over 180 locks and allow at least 2 weeks.

The North Pennine Ring is longer and includes the Aire and Calder Navigation, Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the Bridgewater Canal, allow at least 3 weeks.

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

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