Skip to main content

The charity making life better by water

Angler on Macclesfield Canal with boat moored opposite

Macclesfield Canal

The Macclesfield Canal passes through mostly green and rural surroundings, with Victorian mills and warehouses along the way adding a distinctive character.

Macclesfield Canal

Length26.25 miles

Maximum boat dimensions

Length21.95m 72ft
Width2.13m 7ft
Draught1m 3ft 3"
Headroom2.08m 6ft 10"

Free guides for fun days out

Looking for a perfect place to relax and unwind? Download your free regional guide today

Local to you

Show me places within...

Explore your nearest canals and ways to enjoy them Find walks, activities and more within:


Green Flag award

Back in 2015, the Macclesfield Canal was awarded a prestigious Green Flag in Keep Britain Tidy's Award Scheme, the first canal in the country to achieve this.

Green Flag award team

As a place to visit, this puts the canal alongside the best parks and other public spaces in the country, and is a huge testament to all the hard work done by volunteers and Canal & River Trust colleagues in keeping the canal in a great way.

See our Green Flag awarded canals.

Out and about on the Macclesfield Canal

For boaters, it forms part of the Cheshire cruising ring. It is a tree-lined canal that follows the natural curves of the land, with only one lock flight on it.

For walkers, the towpath is a lovely place for a gentle stroll. If you are looking for a more ambitious hike, the Cheshire Ring Canal Walk follows the cruising ring – an impressive 97 miles in total.

Bollington Discovery Centre tells the story of the industrial history of the area.

Our fantastic family days out

We've put together some free family guides to days out and waterside walks at these must-see historic destinations.

The history

The Macclesfield Canal runs from Marple in Cheshire to Hall Green, near the northern end of Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent & Mersey Canal - a distance of 26 miles. The additional 1.5 miles of the Hall Green Branch that connects the two was built by the Trent & Mersey company, but is also now considered to be part of the Macclesfield.

The Macclesfield Canal was designed as a direct link between Manchester and the Midlands, and following its Act of 1826, the canal opened five years later. It was one of the last narrow-gauge canals (locks 7ft wide) to be built, and the audacious 'cut and fill' techniques, high embankments and ambitious cuttings are all indicative of Thomas Telford's hand. As this was a late canal, the lessons of earlier works were incorporated: locks, for example, are all grouped closely together for efficiency of operation. Consequently today's leisure users will find that a few hours' burst of energy is rewarded with miles of lock-free cruising either side of the flight.

It was hoped that the Macclesfield Canal would decrease journey times, and therefore reduce costs, between Manchester, the Potteries and the Midlands. It also served mills, quarries and mines around Macclesfield, Congleton and the Peak District. However, it was not very successful, and the canal passed into railway ownership in 1846. Although suffering the effects of competition, it was still being used for freight carriage until the 1960s. Fortunately, a local cruising club had by this time already been using the waterway for many years - and so, its leisure potential established, it remained navigable despite some of its near neighbours falling into dereliction.

It is now part of the popular 'Cheshire Ring' and is oft-remembered by holidaymakers both for its elegance, particularly the roving or turnover bridges that allow a horse to transfer from a towpath on one side of the canal to the other without the need to unhitch; its spectacular views; and its architectural follies.

photo of a location on the canals
newsletter logo

Stay connected

Sign up to our monthly newsletter and be the first to hear about campaigns, upcoming events and fundraising inspiration