The Macclesfield Canal from Red Bull Junction on the Trent and Mersey to Marple Cheshire

 Researched and Written by Jeannette Briggs

The Macclesfield Canal was built to link the Trent and Mersey Canal from the Midlands to Manchester via the silk weaving town of Macclesfield.  It is a narrow beam canal and is relatively "new" in that it was not started until 1825. Thomas Telford was hired to make the initial surveys for the route of the canal, but it was an engineer called William Crosley who was actually responsible for its construction.  He did however follow Telford's method of "cut and fill", which was to build the canal rather like a railway embankment and as straight as possible over embankments and through many deep cuttings. 

 
F Above:  The Macclesfield Canal at Buglawton near Congleton - photo by Jerry Evans and reproduced by kind permission

In this respect it is like the famous Shropshire Union Canal, which was also constructed well into the 19th century.  There are locks but they are all grouped together in a flight of 12 at Bosley, Cheshire. Today the canal forms part of the famous "Cheshire Ring" of cruising waterways, and is much loved by those who venture on this part of the canal network.  I should state here and now that this canal tends to be very shallow in places and that you should take care when choosing a mooring as not everywhere is suitable - test it out with your pole first...

The canal leaves the Trent and Mersey at Hardings Wood Junction and the aqueduct just after this at Red Bull Junction, which carries the Macclesfield Canal over the Trent and Mersey!. It goes in a north-easterly direction through lovely Cheshire countryside, with the tall summit called Mow Cop on the ridge of hills just to the south of the canal. You pass the village of  Scholar Green and Kent Green just off the canal, with a canalside pub called the Bird in Hand, and Heritage Narrowboats, plus shops for your day to day supplies, before you emerge again into countryside. 

 
 

Above: The sylvan beauty of the Macclesfield Canal at Adlington - photo by Mike Smith and reproduced by kind permission.  This photo typifies the sort of scenery you can expect along the whole length of the Macclesfield Canal.

Above:  The canal at Scholar Green -
photo by Roger Kidd and reproduced
by kind permission

At Bridge 86 you can moor your canal boat and take a short detour on land to one of the most outstanding mediaeval buildings in the whole of England - Little Moreton Hall. These little opportunties to discover are essential part of a canal boat holiday. This is a timbered black and white moated manor house dating from the 15th century and is astonishingly well preserved, with all the oak furnishings and pewter tankards and platters. The Hall is in the care of the National Trust and is one of their most visited attractions. After Bridge 86 the canal continues through wonderful peaceful countryside for many miles. You will soon approach the town of Congleton.

The canal traverses the town of Congleton which has lots of handy shops and pubs, like The Wharf and the Queen's Head and is a pleasant place to stay.  For canal boat aficionados it also has a superb example of a snake bridge/winding bridge, which was used in the days of horse drawn barges or narrowboats. When the towpath transferred from one side of the canal to the other a snake bridge enabled the horse to cross the canal and to continue to tow the barge without the harness having to be unhitched, so progress was unimpaired. This is Bridge No. 76.

   

Above: The astonishing Little Moreton Hall
built in the 15th century and virtually unaltered- photo by Chris Gunns and reproduced by kind permission.  
 

Above: The snake bridge at Congleton -
photo by Jerry Evans and reproduced
by kind permission

Congleton is left behind as you now continue over a high embankment towards Bosley and the only flight of locks that you will encounter on the whole length of the Macclesfield Canal. Bosley locks are in really lovely surroundings and they lift you and your canal boat up to over 500 ft above sea level. You leave the Cheshire Plain far below you as you work your way steadily upwards. You will have to open, fill and close 12 locks in a short distance of one mile, but at the top your reward will be a magnificent view. No mean achievements for the new comer to a canal boat holiday

The high fells that make up the Pennine chain almost seem to descend right down to the canal at this point.  The canal follows the contours as it crosses Danes Moss, and the town of Macclesfield can be seen in the distance. As you approach it you will find that Macclesfield is actually below you, and the canal seems to be cut into the side of the hill. Macclesfield has - as you would expect - lots of shops for supplies and canalside pubs like The Bee Hive, The Navigation Inn at Bridge 38, and The Puss in Boots at Bridge 37. It is a  very attractive place, with cobbled streets and a medieval Market Place. You may well want to have a little break from navigating the canal (or this might be the start of your journey if you take a canal boat hire locally) in order to explore this most interesting town. Macclesfield is still the centre for silk weaving, the craft that started here more than 200 years ago. Macclesfield Canal Centre is based here and can supply pump out facilities overnight moorings etc.

 

Above: The Canal at Bollington - photo by Roger Kidd and reproduced by kind permission.

Once beyond Macclesfield you approach the village of Bollington, and you will pass some magnificent scenery as you journey along your canal boat, with views of the hills all around you. You pass over a huge embankment and two aqueducts, all of which were necessary to enable the route of the canal to be continued over this very hilly terrain.  Bollington is another canalside town and if you just started your canal boat holiday this is where you can arrange your canal boat hire. It has all necessary facilities and shops for stores.

After Bollington the canal passes through some beautiful quiet open countryside almost always travelling in a northerly direction, along the contours of the hills.  You are over 500 feet up at this point and there are few settlements or pubs along this stretch of the canal, until you reach Bridge 18  - Grimshaw's Bridge  - which has the Miner's Arms pub near the canal. Just beyond here you reach Higher Poynton.  The hamlet is pretty, with ducks and swans on the canal, and some old pubs like the Boar's Head, plus boatyards like Lyme View Marina.

From Higher Poynton the canal shortly afterwards reaches High Lane, which is a suburb of Greater Manchester.  It has shops for supplies and moorings.  Leaving High Lane it is not long until you can see the town of Marple, once a quiet village but is now swallowed by the suburbs of Greater Manchester and Stockport.  At Marple Junction the canal unites with the Peak Forest Canal and the town is a busy canal boating centre with boatyards like Top Lock Marine. You are still at 500 feet above sea level and this is actually the highest canal pound in the country. 

   

 Above: The canal at Higher Poynton
- photo by Ray Folwell

Above: The junction between the Macclesfieldand Peak Forest Canals - photo by Stephen Burton and reproduced by kind permission

It is - literally - all downhill from here! As you turn left into the Peak Forest Canal you will see the flight of Marple Locks as they descend in front of you and you are surrounded by the hills of the Pennines - a lovely setting, and one which is justifiably popular with narrow boaters whether new to a canal boat holiday or seasoned canal boaters. Because of its popularity Marple sometimes has a lack of overnight moorings (a bit like Llangollen in this respect - everyone wants to stop here) and you are advised to get here early in the day to secure a good place to moor here. You now have to choose whether to descend the huge flight at Marple Locks and continue along the Peak Forest and Ashton Canals towards Ccentral Manchester and the junction at Waters Meeting. Or you will need to turn your canal boat/bike around and retrace your journey to the Trent and Mersey Canal once again.  There is a short spur off the canal at Marple which is the Upper Peak Forest Canal, but this is short and you will have to complete a turn around at the dead end which is challenging in a canal boat. Decisions! You can of course consult the sections about each of these routes on this Guide.

I hope this brief introduction to the Macclesfield Canal will inspire you to take to canal boating this unique and very pretty route.