Canal Guide

Bridgewater Canal

Bridgewater Canal


The Bridgewater Canal from Preston Brook Cheshire to Manchester

Researched and written by Jeannette Briggs


The Bridgewater Canal was the forerunner of all  man-made canals in that it was the first canal that was dug out on an entirely new course, (i.e. not following an existing river or water course), and it was constructed in the late 18th century. The Duke of Bridgewater financed the whole enterprise, as he foresaw the benefits that he would gain from having a transport system that would enable him to move huge tonnages of coal from his coal mines at Worsley up to Manchester.  The Duke engaged James Brindley to engineer his canal, and he designed the route for canal boats to follow contours and to be lock-free.  The only complication to his route was the need to devise a method by which his canal could "cross" the valley of the River Irwell - and for this Brindley designed a stone aqueduct, one of the first on the whole canal system. The canal was very successful, and the Duke made lots of money.

Above: The Bridgewater Canal at Lymm Cheshire - photo by Peter Ward and reproduced by kind permission

The Bridgewater Canal continued to be used for the transportation of heavy goods right up until the 1970ies, despite competition from the railways. It was sold to the Manchester Ship Canal Company who constructed the huge ship canal up into the centre of Manchester.  Nowadays the Bridgewater Canal is mainly used by leisure boaters to reach the Ashton Canal, the Peak Forest Canal, the Macclesfield Canal and the Trent and Mersey canal. It thus enables the navigation of the "ring" of canals south of the River Mersey called The Cheshire Ring. See separate articles on these canals for the fuller description of the Ring.

The canal begins at Runcorn, which grew largely as a result of the traffic engendered by the canal.  Up until 1966 the canal descended through a series of locks at Runcorn and merged with the Manchester Ship Canal, but these were closed and filled in. Runcorn is an industrial town with loads of new housing estates. You will pass lots of these estates and busy trunk roads, before you turn in a southerly direction towards Preston Brook, which is at the junction with the Trent and Mersey Canal (see separate section and canal boat holidays). Preston Brook is a village that owes its existence almost entirely to the canals: it did not exist before the canal age, and it sits on the junction of two very busy canals, so shops, wharves, warehouses and pubs grew up to supply the needs of canal boat holiday users.


Above: The beginning of the Bridgewater
Canal in the basin at Runcorn - photo
by Stephen McKay and reproduced by
kind permission

Above: The portal of Preston Brook
Tunnel - photo by Johnny Essex and
reproduced by kind permission

If you choose to travel south at this point you will almost immediately have to negotiate the Preston Brook tunnel, which is 1,300 yards long.  There are boatyards here like Preston Brook Marina with canal boat hire possibilities and pubs like The Red Lion. From this point, the Bridgewater canal makes a huge turn to the north-east, and now passes through some relatively rural countryside, although you are never far from the sights of industry and the sounds of the motorway traffic and trains on the many railways close to the route of the canal.

You next see the houses of Higher Walton before you come across the mini-town of Stockton Heath (which is really a suburb of Warrington). This has a great canalside pub called The London Bridge and you can obtain the usual supplies from the shops near the canal.

Beyond Stockton Heath is the village of Grappenhall with stocks on the village green, next to the old Church and the village pub, The Parr Arms. This is only a short walk from the canal.

Leaving Grappenhall you will be all too aware of the traffic noise on the M6 motorway which is directly above you as it ascends to cross the Thelwall viaduct, which transports the M6 high above the River Mersey and the canal.


Above:  The canal at Stockton Heath -
photo by Ade Warburton and reproduced
by kind permission


Above: The canal at Grappenhall -
photo by Ian Cunliffe and reproduced
by kind permission

However, soon the views of the Pennines come into view and the canal regains peace and quiet as it approaches the pretty town of Lymm.

Lymm is hilly, and the streets come right down to the canal which travels through the centre of the town. Lymm has some quaint old pubs, like The Golden Fleece and the town welcomes those with a canal boat, with temporary moorings and necessary supplies. Canal boat hire is available from Middlewich allowing a canal boat holiday journey to Lymm and back, within a few days.


Above:  The canal from the bridge at Agden just beyond Lymm - photo by Dave Smethurst and reproduced by kind permission

Northern Marine Services, boatbuilders, are located here, between Lymm and Bollington on Warrington Lane at Agden.  Hesford Marina is also located near here and can supply gas, water, etc. 

From Lymm the canal continues in an easterly direction, passing Bollington, a very pleasant village  with a canalside pub called Ye Old No. 3, before reaching the high embankment that carries the canal alongside the River Bollin. Next along the route is the Dunham Underbridge which is new in canal terms, in that it was completed in 1973.  This was because the canal suffered a major breach here which resulted in a closure to all canal traffic that lasted over 2 years while repairs were done. The canal was drained and the huge concrete and steel trough was put in place to carry the canal over the River Bollin.

The canal now approaches the town of Sale, which is one of the many outlying suburbs of the great city of Manchester. The countryside is a distant memory as you pass loads of housing estates and derelict factories.  One canalside pub stands out, the Bridge Inn by Bridge No. 36, and you can easily obtain supplies from the nearby shops. Otherwise Sale has little to detain you....

You pass under the M63 motorway as you approach Stretford, again a suburb of Manchester. The canal reaches the aptly named Water's Meeting, which - like Gas Street in Birmingham - is the spaghetti junction of these northern waterways.


Above: The canal at Sale Manchester -
photo by Alan Halfpenney and reproduced
by kind permission

Above: The Bridgewater Canal at Waters
Meeting junction in Manchester, with the
Ashton/Rochdale Canal - photo by Graham
Horn and reproduced by kind permission.

From this point you can choose to turn left up the Leigh Branch of the Bridgewater canal and then on to the Leeds and Liverpool canal (see separate article) up over the Pennines.  Or you can turn right and enter the Ashton Canal, which passes through central Manchester and Ashton Under Lyme, and other densely packed suburbs of manchester.  This canal eventually connects with the Peak Forest Canal at Dukinfield Junction. (See separate sections.)

I hope that this brief introduction to the Bridgewater Canal arouses your interest so that you might be inspired to try its lock-free waterways or a canal boat hire and even link the Trent and Mersey Canal to the Ashton and Peak Forest Canals and the Macclesfield Canal  in the navigational circle called The Cheshire Ring.


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