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The charity making life better by water

Fascinating facts about canals and rivers

From the longest canal tunnel to the shortest lock, we invite you to delve into the fascinating world of waterways.

Caen Hill Lock Flight

What are the longest canals and rivers in the UK?

Discover the remarkable features of our canals and rivers throughout the UK, showcasing 2000 miles of diversity and historical significance. Here are some intriguing facts to start off with:

  • The UK's longest river, the River Severn, stretches an impressive 220 miles from Plynlimon in Wales to the Bristol Channel.
  • Grand Union Canal: Spanning an impressive 137 miles, the Grand Union Canal holds the distinction of being the longest canal in the UK, connecting London and Birmingham. Cruising its entirety non-stop would take approximately 74 hours. Additionally, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, spanning 127 miles as a single waterway, stands as another monumental engineering feat.
  • Wardle Lock Branch: The UK's shortest canal, the Wardle Lock Branch of the Trent & Mersey Canal, features just one lock measuring 72 feet in length, accompanied by a small stretch of canal on either side.
  • Roman Legacy: Uncover the history of the Fossdyke Navigation, the oldest canal in the UK, constructed by the Romans.
  • Ribble Link: Experience the modern marvel of the Ribble Link, the newest canal in the UK, which opened in 2002.
  • We have the UK's longest linear blue and green space.
Standedge Tunnel, Huddersfield Narrow Canal

What is the longest canal tunnel in the UK?

Embark on an underground adventure and explore canal tunnels, and engineering marvels that traverse through the earth. Our charity cares for 55 tunnels but one tunnel in particular holds a couple of interesting facts:

  • The longest canal tunnel in the UK, Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, stretches over three miles beneath the Pennine hills.
  • Standedge Tunnel also holds the title of the deepest canal tunnel in the UK.

Where is the longest flight of locks?

Witness the mastery of lock flights, where waterways ascend great heights. Here are noteworthy lock flights out of the 1,589 historic locks that we maintain and protect.

  • 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.
  • The deepest lock in the UK is Tuel Lane Lock on Rochdale Canal which is over 19 feet.

What is the longest aqueduct in the UK?

Our charity owns 280 aqueducts across the UK. Marvel at the awe-inspiring aqueducts that connect canals, offering breathtaking views and architectural brilliance. Here are a couple of remarkable aqueducts in the UK:

  • Pontcysyllte Aqueduct: Stretching over the River Dee Valley for an astonishing 1000 feet, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal is the longest aqueduct in the UK.
  • Barton Swing Aqueduct: Witness the pioneering spirit of the UK's first boat aqueduct, built in 1761 in Barton, which transported the Duke of Bridgewater's canal from Worsley to Manchester. Though replaced in 1893, it stands as a testament to innovation.
drone wide shot of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

What wildlife lives in canals?

Our charity cares for 2,000 miles of canals, which create a unique natural corridor across the UK and provide homes for a variety of wonderful wildlife. From dozens of fish species swimming in the depths, to water voles burrowing into canal banks and kingfishers soaring above, you can read more about waterway wildlife in our spotter's guide.

Did you know?

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Over 650km of fibre-optic cables are buried beneath our towpaths
  • We have 71 large reservoirs – some of the oldest in the country - and among the oldest of their type in the world.
  • 8.8 million people have access to outdoor space and nature on their doorstep thanks to the canals and rivers we care for.

Find this interesting? You can learn more facts about our network by visiting our canal history pages.

Last Edited: 25 April 2024

photo of a location on the canals
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