Fascinating facts about canals and rivers

A lifeline during lockdown

Local waterways have been an escape for many during these difficult times. Our work to protect them is more urgent than ever.

Discover fascinating facts about the UK canal and river network, from the longest canal tunnel to the shortest lock.

Bingley Five Rise locks wide shot Bingley Five Rise locks wide shot

Canals and rivers

  1. The longest river in the UK is the River Severn, stretching 220 miles from Plynlimon in Wales to the Bristol Channel.
  2. The longest canal in the UK is the Grand Union Canal, stretching 137 miles from London to Birmingham. Cruising the whole length, non-stop, would take you 74 hours. The longest canal in Britain built as a single waterway is the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at 127 miles long.
  3. The shortest canal in the UK is the Wardle Lock Branch of the Trent & Mersey Canal. It consists of just one 72ft-long lock and a few yards of canal on either side.
  4. The oldest canal in the UK is the Fossdyke Navigation which was built by the Romans.
  5. The newest canal in the UK is the Ribble Link which opened in 2002.
Standedge Tunnel, Huddersfield Narrow Canal Standedge Tunnel, Huddersfield Narrow Canal

Canal tunnels

  1. The longest canal tunnel in the UK is Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. It is more than three miles long.
  2. The deepest canal tunnel in the UK is also Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.

Lock flights

  1. The longest lock flight in the UK is the Tardebigge Flight on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. The flight boasts 30 locks and raises the canal 220 feet.
  2. The deepest lock in the UK is Tuel Lane Lock on Rochdale Canal which is over 19 feet.


  1. The longest aqueduct in the UK is the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal. The aqueduct stretches over the River Dee Valley and is 1000 feet long.
  2. The first boat aqueduct in the UK was built at Barton in 1761 to carry the Duke of Bridgewater’s canal from Worsley to Manchester. It was replaced in 1893 by the Barton Swing Aqueduct.
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

And finally...

  1. Britain’s longest river is the River Severn at 220 miles. In comparison, the world's longest river is the Nile, at 4,160 miles, closely followed by the 4,000-mile Amazon.
  2. Most people know that Birmingham has more canals than Venice - but few know the exact figure. In fact, the Birmingham Canal Navigations extend to just over 100 miles, including two long tunnels, several aqueducts and even a waterway version of Spaghetti Junction.
  3. In 1912, a cow named Buttercup fell into the Leeds & Liverpool Canal by the southern portal of the Foulridge Tunnel. Rather than wade out as usual, she chose to swim the whole 1640 yards to the northern end, where she was revived with brandy by drinkers in the nearby Hole in the Wall pub. Pictures in the pub commemorate the occasion.
  4. Over 650km of fibre-optic cables are buried beneath our towpaths
  5. In England and Wales there are 1,569 locks, 53 tunnels, 3112 bridges, 370 aqueducts and 74 reservoirs.

Last date edited: 4 May 2020