7 - 14 Nights
TOTAL LOCKS: 92
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 8 HOURS (53 HOURS IN TOTAL)
This scenic journey savours every slow moment. The Cheshire Ring is a gentle cruise through idyllic Cheshire countryside, clambering high and descending gracefully on a tranquil water road which conceals some of the quietest treasures of the canals, as well as one of the greatest engineering marvels Britain's canals can shout about - the world-famous Anderton Boat Lift. Sweeping Peak District views fill your route as you follow part of the historic silk trail, and briefly, in contrast, you visit the heart of Manchester through its secret backdoor.
Before setting off from Anderton Marina, it’s worth taking time to explore one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways. Anderton Boat Lift is a masterpiece of engineering and the world's oldest operational boat lift. It was built in 1875 to lift boats over the 50 foot cliff edge from the Trent & Mersey Canal to the River Weaver below. Over 110,000 visitors flock from across the world to see this canal marvel every year, and although your route does not take you via the Lift, you will want to allow enough time to explore this unforgettable experience.
After the excitement of Anderton, prepare for the entertainment of three tunnels - Barnton (572yds/523m long), Saltersford (424yds/388m long) and Preston Brook (1239yds/1133m long) - and an aqueduct, travelling high with delicious views over the valley below. Signs at the end of Preston Brook Tunnel will tell you that the canal has merged into the Bridgewater Canal now. Cruising quietly eastwards along a lock-free stretch from Preston Brook, you’ll pass Dunham Massey Hall, a 250-acre deer park with an Elizabethan mill and 30-room mansion, the perfect tea and cake stop-off. Your peaceful route soon ambles into the heart of Manchester city, giving you a chance to shop, eat, visit art galleries and museums, see the work of Lowry or take a peek at a certain famous football ground. And when you're ready to leave the sparkle of the city behind, the promise of Peak District views lies ahead.
Nine locks take the canal up through Manchester to its junction with the Rochdale and Ashton Canals. Travel along the now heavily locked Ashton Canal to Portland Basin and then head southwards along the Peak Forest Canal until you reach glorious Marple Aqueduct. As the canal quietly saunters across the River Goyt from 100 feet above, a parallel viaduct huffs past with those fast trains that once stole trade from the canals. Whatever old rivalry led to the dynamic construction of a canal and a railway hugging so closely, it's the treat of the traveller today. Marple Lock Flight is equally charming with its cluster of 16 beautiful locks built into a canalscape of local stonework. Near the top of the flight look out for the tiny cobblestone tunnel built on the towpath for horses that pulled canal boats over 200 years ago. Look harder and you'll discover a second, even tinier passage hiding by the lock side – this was for boatmen working the lock. History is alive everywhere on Britain's canals, but if you have the chance to stand for a silent moment inside these tiny passageways where working boat-folk once trod, history can seem especially intimate.
At Marple Junction you might choose a detour to continue along the Peak Forest Canal to visit Bugsworth Basin, which was once the largest and busiest inland port ever created in England's network of narrow canals. The site opened in 1796 and handled over 600 tons of limestone each day at its peak. Today it’s a tranquil basin surrounded by lungs-full of lush Peak Forest views. There is a fascinating trail to follow packed with information panels.
If you don't have time to detour along the Peak Forest Canal, continue south from Marple Junction along the Macclesfield Canal. Greenery is magnificently in charge along this canal, with steady uninterrupted calm along its first 16 lock-free miles. Look out for this canal's unique snake bridges. These bridges swirl with perfectly spiralled brickwork that once enabled boat horses to swap sides on the towpath without needing to be uncoupled from their narrowboats. As you near Bollington, don't miss Bollington Discovery Centre in the huge Clarence Mill, which was one of the finest cotton mills in Europe in the 1800s.
The next town you pass is Macclesfield, namesake of this canal. At the height of the silk industry, there were 120 mills and dye houses in Macclesfield which was the end of the amazing Silk Road. There are four fascinating Silk Museums to visit in the town if time allows.
Cruising onwards, this peaceful canal pampers you with space to relax. When you reach bridge 86, it's worth visiting Little Moreton Hall, a National Trust timber-framed manor house dating back to the 1500s. It's a stunning building riddled with history. A short way beyond bridge 86, at Hardings Wood Junction, the Cheshire Ring turns back onto the Trent & Mersey Canal.
After tackling the mighty ‘Heartbreak Hill’ (the hill lives up to its name with the workout required to wind through this heavy series of locks lifting the canal northwards) followed closely by the Wheelock Flight, the story of salt now wraps the canal. Middlewich has produced salt since Roman times and there is an interesting town trail you can follow to discover more about the saltworks settlement that dates back to 150-250 AD. Salt has always been vital for human survival, and even language has evolved from the importance of it – Roman workers' 'salary' was paid in salt, and the term 'worth one's salt' is still used today.
The next town you meet, Northwich, bears its motto 'Sal est vita' (salt is life), and the story of a town built on the site of brine springs is told in its Salt Museum. Buildings often disappeared without warning, with houses, pubs and even salt works lunging into giant craters formed by the collapse of underground salt mines! North of Northwich, Lion Salt Works is a restored industrial heritage site, the UK’s last open-pan salt making site. And just over a mile later, your journey reaches full circle as you arrive back at Anderton Marina.
Max: 5 People
Max: 5 People
Max: 7 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 6 People
Length: 66ft (63ft from Falkirk)
Max: 6 People
Max: 8 People
Max: 10 People
Max: 12 People