The Ashton Canal was saved from dereliction by hardworking volunteers in the 1970s. They cleared weeds and rubbish out of the canal, reopening a waterway into the heart of Manchester.
Today, the canal is a green link from the city centre to Ashton-under-Lyne, bordered by an interesting mix of modern and industrial architecture. Improvements to the towpath have made it into a pleasant route, accessible to walkers, cyclists and wheelchair users.
Portland Basin Museum gives an insight into the heritage of the canal, with a reconstruction of a 1920s street, and information about the hat-making, textiles and coal industries in the area.
The Ashton Canal was originally built in 1792 to serve the coal industry around Oldham, Ashton and Hyde and in particular to compete with the Worsley mines. It worked closely with the Peak Forest Canal and they continued working together after being taken over by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway in 1848. The canal was an important link in the cross Pennine trade between the North West's industrial heartland and the quarries in the High Peak District until the 1950s. Originally the Ashton Canal had a network of wharves and more than 11 miles of branches; sadly, they are all now closed, although it is possible to walk along some of them.
By the 1950s, commercial traffic had deserted the canal, which fell derelict in the ensuing decade. Sone local people campaigned for its closure on safety grounds, while its owners wanted to be rid of the expense of maintenance. It was threatened with abandonment and infilling in 1961, when a pioneering pleasure cruiser made a passage with great difficulty.
Attempts to save the canal were not helped by a leak in 1964 which rendered it impassable, or the somewhat unsavoury reputation it had gained from bisecting some of the less picturesque elements of a major conurbation. But volunteers had seen the canal's potential as a crucial link in the 'Cheshire Ring', a boating circuit taking in six canals through beautiful countryside, bustling Manchester, and market towns like Congleton and Macclesfield. Hundreds of enthusiasts turned up to muddy gatherings in 1968 and 1972, carting away rubbish by the lorry-load and ensuring the survival of this neglected waterway.
The Ashton Canal reopened in 1974, though its various branches - such as one to Stockport - are all derelict and built over.
For gym fans - and those who just like to stroll - the canal now has a reputation as an accessible blue/green space to enjoy a healthy slice of life, such as jogging, cycling and canoeing. In no small part due to the canalside Commonwealth Games of 2002.