Narrowboat holidays—Rochdale Canal

Published: Friday, 21 January 2011

Article Index

Sowerby Bridge to Summit

MANY canal boaters regard the Rochdale Canal over the Pennines as having the most dramatic scenery of any of the country's waterways, so can be popular for holiday hire.

However, owing to its route over the hills, it is heavily locked, with broad, often difficult locks to operate that are not really suitable either for the new narrowboat holiday maker or as a get-away holiday.

1t beauty penninesLasting impression

However, for those of more experience and of a stronger disposition the waterway will leave a lasting impression as it wends it rugged way over the Pennines, for unlike the two other cross Pennine waterways, this one goes over the top, without the benefit of a tunnel.

It cannot be stressed enough that this canal is extremely hard work, with no less than 89 broad locks over its 32 miles, with very little respite, and just should not be attempted by a rookie crew, particularly as the level of some lock pounds need careful consideration if a boat is not to be grounded.

1t rochhillsWorth the effort

But as mentioned the scenery is superb, with majestic hills and open moorland, and for the competent boater or holiday maker it really is worth the effort.

After a couple of early locks comes the deepest lock in the country at 19ft 8ins, created out of two previous locks, one of which is now a road with a canal tunnel underneath.

For the first part of this waterways the locks come quite easy for the first few miles, but Hebden Bridge and Todmorden see them packed closely together up to the summit.  For those attempting this part of the waterway there are many turning points for when the going gets too tough.

todmorden wallProgress very slow

In many places there are five and six locks in a mile, so progress can be very slow, as those locks with paddle problems will slow boaters further.  With a restriction of boats into Manchester, there are very few boats about, but if at all possible it is advisable to team up with another, as this will not only later give more security but will make progress easier.

The canal has plenty of attractions in addition to the deep lock, with a guillotine lock, the 'Great Wall of Todmorden' and of course the scenery.

rochdale2Shopping is available at the two towns, but boatyards are thin on the ground and mooring has to be chosen carefully owing to the short pounds.  The summit pound is secured, with a lock keeper allowing passage.

There is no longer a lock keeper at the summit pound and being 'out in the sticks' no volunteers either.

Though arguably having the finest scenery of any other waterway, its price of course is having a multitude of locks, broad ones in the bargain.  Being so little used many of the locks are difficult, so it is not recommended for beginners to have a care-free holiday.

The waterway from Sowerby Bridge to the summit is 13 miles with 35 locks.

Ease of operation

Ease of passage ✪

Features ✪

Boat facilities ✪

Shopping ✪

Moorings ✪

The more black stars the better.


Summit to Castlefield

Leaving the Pennines on its way to Manchester the scenery  surrounding the Rochdale Canal looses  some of its grandeur, but with locks less frequent, and here is seen the new waterway, for in the  past the eastern part of the waterway was restored, at a cost of over £30 millions, but alas in many places the naturalists have taken over, with vegetation planted well into the water course.

rochCoirNot a sensible thing to do, for as can be seen in the picture passing boats and vandals have managed to destroy a great deal of it, leaving rather dangerous spikes stuck up in the watercourse.

However, the building of what in parts is a new waterway, is full of interest, with a farmers' access being taken to get the Rochdale Canal under the motorway, causing no little distress to the fella who could no longer reach some of his fields.  There are other variations from the original route, mostly in a concrete trough, but with one particularly interesting lift bridge that raises in its entirety.

However in the interim period of the waterway being disbanded and reopened, the route of the canal was heavily developed by combined council and privately owned housing, with the last few miles of the waterway into the city around Newton Heath and Miles Platting having problem estates.

rochRailingThere has been much vandalism around this part of the waterway, so the paddles are locked and should be kept locked otherwise the result would be empty pounds.

So much so that British Waterways has to provide employees to ride 'shot-gun' with boats, that are only allowed to pass through at certain times, with locks being securely fastened in the interim periods.

Canal & River Trust no longer provide people to accompany boats so it is recommended that boaters do not use this part of the waterways out of term time.  It is really too much for a single hander.

canal st fenceEventually the waterway reaches the city itself at Dulcie Street Basin,and the canal goes under the buildings and through the city, that alas is only too well known for its vandals. Since the vandals are now more concerned with social media, it is not as prevalent as in the past.

Approaching Castlefield Basin the canal runs by Canal Street that is world-wide know for its homo sexual bars and clubs, and alas has been the scene of drownings.  A fence has now been fitted to the top of the wall running along the canal-side in an attempt to cut down on the deaths.

and from here to its end at Castlefield. Mooring is recommended in the right-hand basin at Castlefield. The left-hand one has late night clubs, and is not recommended.

In Manchester itself the Rochdale Nine forms part of the Cheshire Ring, linking the Ashton and Bridgewater Canals.