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TOTAL LOCKS: 215
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 6 HOURS (111 HOURS IN TOTAL)
Maps & Guides for this route: N5, P9 | Click here buy maps
This big journey scrambles gloriously across the Pennines, following five canals and passing three of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways! Your cruise is a thriller for contrasting high moments.
In a challenging adventure you'll climb and fall on moors and dales, weave through cities with secret histories, tiptoe into nostalgic skylines remembering 'dark satanic mills', and amble along some of Britain's most tranquil and uncrowded waterways.
With terrific power, this landscape raves over its borders - Lancashire and Yorkshire may have once spewed blood in the Wars of the Roses, yet old rivalry has morphed into peaceful pleasures in this route today. The battle over who was going to be king lies in the heart of this route, but this holiday's highlight is to revel with wind in your hair enjoying the freedom of the water route that crosses the wild Pennines.
Your journey begins from idyllic surroundings at Reedley Marina. Heading south, you soon bump into one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways. Burnley Embankment carries the Leeds & Liverpool Canal over the rooftops of Burnley. It's known as the 'straight mile' and, at 60ft high, the view over row after row of terraced houses is spectacular. You’re treading in the footsteps of the Industrial Revolution in this region called the Weavers' Triangle. Burnley was once the weaving capital of the world, and if you listen hard enough you can imagine the sound of a staggering 79,000 looms going clickety-clack in the 19th century. If time allows, go to the visitor centre housed in the former toll house and discover more about Burnley's weaving heritage.
Continuing southwards through a mix of glorious views and industrial development, you eventually reach the Wigan Flight of 21 locks – a great challenge for a willing crew! Exhausted and exhilarated, the canal skips onwards towards Manchester.
It’s worth taking time to explore Worsley and the Delph where underground mines led to the development of canals. This stretch of the Bridgewater Canal was an early pioneering route used by the Duke of Bridgewater to carry coal by boat from his mines to the city. The era known as 'Canal Mania' followed the Duke's success.
Soon another of the Seven Wonders adds to the excitement. Barton Swing Aqueduct carries the Bridgewater Canal over the Manchester Ship Canal. The aqueduct swings at ludicrous right angles over the Ship Canal to allow water traffic to pass. Shortly even this great feat of canal engineering drifts from mind as the buzz of Manchester city nears. In the 19th century the area was named Cottonopolis due to the amount of textile factories here, but today you'll find everything a contemporary city can offer - shopping, eating out, night life, museums and art galleries, including the Lowry arts complex. There's also the attraction of a certain football ground and the fascination of the Museum of Science and Industry.
Your route heads northwards along the heavily locked Rochdale Canal, passing through the town of Rochdale, with old mills and weavers' cottages and the lure of Pennine views ahead. As you approach Todmorden there’s a distinct change in the air as the scenery bursts with Yorkshire charisma. The snarling old boundary between Yorkshire and Lancashire once stabbed through Todmorden, and though many folk still muse over where 'Toddy' belongs today, it’s now firmly declared a Yorkshire town.
The bloody Wars of the Roses, with seething battles over who should be king, and the great lurch into the Tudor dynasty, have been silenced by the years and soothed by the region's uplifting vistas. The journey sings through delicious landscape, soon reaching the friendly town of Hebden Bridge. Once famous for producing corduroy and moleskin, Hebden Bridge is now much-loved for its free-range hempy image.
Just beyond Hebden your route travels through Mytholmroyd, birthplace of Ted Hughes, the late poet laureate. Then your glorious trans-Pennine journey continues into Sowerby Bridge where the Rochdale Canal meets the Calder & Hebble Navigation. Take a deep breath for the excitement of navigating Tuel Lane Lock before you arrive at the wharf. It's the deepest lock on Britain's canals, at over 19½ feet deep (don't worry - a lock keeper will assist at this lock). In the era of Canal Mania, the wharf was frenetic with boats loading and unloading cargoes of salt, cotton, wool, coal, limestone, timber and general wares. Today it’s a welcoming hub packed with quiet charms. Don't miss the powerful and stirring sculpture, Jack O' The Locks, which stands at the entrance to the wharf.
As you cruise by Halifax it’s worth visiting the Piece Hall, which dates from 1779 and was once the place to trade cloth. It’s the only surviving cloth hall in Britain and scheduled as an Ancient Monument. It claims to be Yorkshire's most important secular building.
The Calder & Hebble Navigation passes through Brighouse and Dewsbury, then joins the Aire & Calder Navigation at Wakefield (home of the renowned Hepworth Wakefield art gallery). Passing Stanley Ferry, the celebrated place where lock gates are built, you reach Castleford where your route heads north to re-join the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Leeds. The city offers shopping, museums, opera, ballet, art galleries and the Henry Moore Institute. Leaving the dizzy fun of Leeds behind, you can look forward to a complete contrast as the Leeds & Liverpool Canal drifts towards more tranquil green countryside. With sentimental nostalgia you can imagine the fire-spitting chimneys that once choked the landscape across the north of England over 200 years ago. Working people mostly had to endure poor conditions, but Sir Titus Salt was a philanthropist who built an entire village for his mill workers. The village of Saltaire, and Salt's Mill, are immaculately preserved and open to visit today. Explore cobbled streets, tuck into tea and cake and soak up oodles of living heritage, before setting off again.
Just beyond Saltaire lies Bingley Five-Rise, the steepest lock staircase in Britain. Your crew and your boat is about to conquer a 60ft canal climb in these staircase locks. It’s another of the Severn Wonders and a thrilling ride through an engineering marvel that has remained virtually unchanged since it was built in 1774. After the drama of the climb, the route flings into some of the best open countryside in England.
Uncluttered and uncrowded, the landscape has romance in the air as Haworth (home of the Brontes) is only 4 miles from here. Then your route swims in a rollercoaster of more emotion as it approaches Keighley where steam trains pull every traveller's eye away from the canal, and tissues should be at the ready since this railway line was made famous during the filming of ‘The Railway Children’.
Skipton is Saxon for sheep, but today the canal basin in Skipton is a hub for boats and ice cream. After exploring Skipton's many interesting sights, including a castle, travel onwards through therapeutic views towards the cute cottages, tearooms, pubs and church of Gargrave. On the border of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Gargrave knows how to pull out all the stops for English charm. The Pennine Way crosses the canal at bridge 170, so cyclists and walkers reliably join boaters in the Dalesman Café.
A series of locks lead you through a windswept landscape with views across the valley, then the canal wiggles onward to Greenberfield Locks. Secretly along this stretch the canal soothes old wars, disregarding history's bloody boundary as it flows seamlessly from Yorkshire back into Lancashire.
Beyond Barnoldswick, the countryside is blissfully remote and outstandingly beautiful heading towards Foulridge where the complete darkness of Foulridge Tunnel grips your boat for 1,640 yards (1,500m). There's no towpath inside the tunnel and boats must steer patiently through the dripping dark.
The M65 crosses over the canal at Barrowford then temporarily races alongside the water as you continue south. This sleepy 'motorway' village has an itchy relationship with speed. It’s the ancestral home of Roger Bannister who ran the first 4-minute mile in 1954. Boats passing through at their unhurried 4 miles an hour today may spare a smile. Although the faint-hearted may not want to dawdle too long, since Barrowford is renowned for the Pendle Witches! You can follow a trail from Pendle Heritage Centre to explore their spooky story from 400 years ago. Pendle Hill wafts ghostly stories over the village below, but it whispers a powerful story of religious reform too. George Fox scrambled to the top of the hill in 1652, and was moved to form the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) shortly afterwards. This spot is poignant for canal travellers, since many of the early canals were built by the businesses and philanthropy of the Quaker movement. Just beyond Barrowford, your journey comes full circle as you return to Reedley Marina.
Max: 5 People
Max: 4 People
Max: 6 People