Cheshire ring

Featuring the Bridgewater Canal, the first canal to be built in the modern waterways era, the Cheshire Ring was formulated after successful campaigns for the restoration of several key sections around the route and is one of the original cruising rings.

Boat moored near lock on Macclesfield Canal Macclesfield Canal, copyright Eddie Starck

Commencing at Preston Brook Tunnel it follows the Bridgewater to Castlefield and takes in the Rochdale, Ashton, Peak Forest and Macclesfield Canals before returning via the Trent & Mersey Canal.

From Preston Brook the Bridgewater Canal carves through notably flat landscape and for several miles runs 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. With the 2002 Commonwealth Games held in Manchester acting as a catalyst the transformation to the entire area has been dramatic; improved access and additional lighting are just some of the changes.

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.

Heartbreak Hill

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 terminus at the historic Buxworth Basin and Whaley Bridge; the fork to the right leads onto the Macclesfield Canal and increasingly rural scenery until the conurbations 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 requires caution; to its north lies the Bridgewater Canal.

Waterways in this ring

Last date edited: 17 October 2018