Starting at Preston Brook Tunnel, it follows the Bridgewater to Castlefield and takes in the Rochdale Canal, Ashton Canal, Peak Forest Canal and Macclesfield Canal before returning via the Trent & Mersey Canal.
From Preston Brook the Bridgewater Canal carves through flat landscape for several miles runing almost parallel to the Manchester Ship Canal. Dunham Massey Hall has a 250-acre deer park and a working Elizabethan Mill; Castlefield Basin is a series of wharves for goods brought here by canal with the railways of a later era striding overhead.
A short section of Rochdale Canal lifts the route through the ‘Rochdale 9’ locks and completely refurbished surroundings that would be unrecognisable to boaters of only a generation ago, passing by Manchester’s vibrant nightlife and Chinese quarters and under the former Rodwell Tower, now renamed 111 Piccadilly.
At Ducie Street Junction the Ashton Canal passes the modernised Piccadilly Village with the prospect of a few hours energetic lockwheeling to follow before Portland Basin. This was built to allow narrowboats to make the tight turn out of the Peak Forest Canal and is known locally as Weaver’s Rest due to the large number of weavers who drowned here during hard times in their industry. The basin is home to a museum and a boat trust dedicated to saving historic wooden vessels.
The Peak Forest Canal is lock-free until Marple where the locks are distinguished by little stone bridges in front of the bottom gates. At the top of the flight the Peak Forest continues to its end at the historic Bugsworth Basin and Whaley Bridge; the fork to the right leads onto the Macclesfield Canal and increasingly rural scenery until the towns of Macclesfield and Congleton begin to encroach.
At Hardings Wood Junction the Trent & Mersey Canal drops towards the Cheshire Plain through a heavily locked section, which is perhaps unsurprisingly known as ‘Heartbreak Hill’. Many of the locks were duplicated in an effort to speed up traffic. A few hours of gentle cruising through open countryside leads to Anderton and its spectacular Boat Lift. Preston Brook Tunnel is narrow and needs caution; to its north lies the Bridgewater Canal.