The Rochdale Canal, when opened in 1804, was the first Trans-Pennine canal linking Leeds and Manchester. It travels a total distance of 33 miles from the centre of Manchester to it’s junction with the Calder and Hebble Navigation in Sowerby Bridge. There are 92 locks and the canal rises to a height of over 600 feet (180m), which meant several reservoirs had to be constructed to supply the canal.
The canal was first discussed in 1766 when group of businessmen met in The Union Flag Inn in Rochdale to propose a shorter route between Manchester and Leeds, as an alternative to the Leeds – Liverpool Canal that had been recently planned, via Rochdale. But it took until 1794 before a revised Rochdale Canal Bill was passed.
In 1799 the canal was already navigable between Sowerby Bridge and Todmorden and from Manchester to Rochdale. The original plans for a 1.6 mile tunnel between Walsden and Sladen were abandoned and were replaced by more locks. In 1804 the canal was opened fully, making it the only Trans-Pennine route for 7 years, as the Huddersfield Narrow Canal did not open until 1811 due to problems experienced constructing the Standedge Tunnel. The Leeds-Liverpool Canal, which was a much longer route did not open until 1816.
Principal cargoes being distributed via the canal were coal for homes and the mills, agricultural produce and of course raw and finished materials from the textile industy. The locks had been made large enough to accommodate broad-gauge (14ft) boats with commercial goods of up to 70 tons. The canal remained profitable for a short time but by the twentieth century the tonnage being carried was is sharp decline.
In 1937 the last boat made the through journey along the canal and by the 1950’s commercial carrying had virtually ceased. In 1952 the canal closed, one short length remained open, 9 locks in central Manchester, which formed part of the Cheshire Cruising Ring between the Bridgwater Canal and the Ashton Canal. However the Ashton Canal closed in 1962 and by 1965 the 9 locks were unusable.
With the formation of the Rochdale Canal Society small scale work began in the 1980’s to reopen stretches of the canal between Todmorden and Sowerby Bridge. In 1996 a new lock at Tuel Lane was open which connected the restored section of the Rochdale Canal to the waterways network once more. In 2000 the canal was transferred to the Waterways Trust who helped secure funding of 23 million to enable the remaining stretches to be restored. In total 24 locks were refurbished, 12 new road bridges were constructed, a new channel was cut and dredging took place along the entire canal.
In July 2002, the whole canal became navigable once again. A glorious route through some of the most rugged and beautiful scenery in the country, which appeals equally to boaters and walkers.
For more information on the Rochdale Canal click here. To find information regarding any closures or stoppages click here.