Guide to the Bridgewater Canal

The Bridgewater is famous for being England’s first canal – or perhaps more accurately, Britain’s first industrial canal.

The canal, 39 miles in length, stretches from Runcorn to Leigh in the north west of England and was built to carry coal into the heart of Manchester.

The canal is also a strategic link between the north and south canal network and features one to the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, the Barton Swing Aqueduct, which passes over the Manchester Ship Canal.

Worsely on the Bridgewater Canal

A brief history of the Bridgewater Canal

Frances Egerton, the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, first came across canals whilst on his ‘grand tour’ of Europe as a young man. On his return, at just 23 years old and in conjunction with the surveyor and engineer John Gilbert, the Duke proposed a new canal route from Worsley to Salford as a new solution to transporting coal to Manchester.

Opened on 17th July, 1761, the Bridgewater was the first canal in Britain to be built without following an existing watercourse. It halved the price of coal in Manchester, allowing the city to take a leading role in the industrial revolution and it marked the beginning of the golden canal era between 1760 and 1830.
In 1795 the Duke extended the Bridgewater to Leigh further west, to link up with the Wigan branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

As with other canals, the Bridgewater suffered at the arrival of the railways and went through many different ownerships until it was acquired by the Peel Group in 1984, who work in conjunction with the Bridgewater Canal Trust.

The Bridgewater is now a popular leisure spot for narrowboat holidays in Cheshire, walking and cycling.

Top Bridgewater Canal Facts

  • Main Line Canal Length

    39 Miles

  • Number of Locks

  • Seven Wonders of the Waterways

    The Bridgewater features one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, the well-known “Barton Swing Aqueduct” which passes over the Manchester Ship Canal.

  • Why no locks?

    Built at one level, the route of the Bridgewater followed the contours of the land to avoid the use of locks.

Route Overview

The Bridgewater Canal runs from Castlefield Junction in Manchester, in the north west of England, to its terminus in Runcorn in Cheshire, with two arms: the Leigh Arm and the Preston Brook Branch.

The Leigh Arm is 10.8 miles and runs from Waters Meeting in Stretford to where it meets the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Leigh. The Preston Brook Branch is just 0.8 miles and connects to Trent & Mersey Canal.

You can find out more about our cruise guides and waterways maps on our canal boat holiday base information pages for canal boat holidays in Cheshire.

Manchester Bridgewater Canal

Feats of Engineering on the Bridgewater

Barton Swing Aqueduct

The Barton Swing Aqueduct is an impressive moveable navigable aqueduct  that carries the Bridgewater Canal across the Manchester Ship Canal. Designed by James Brindley it was the first navigable aqueduct to be built in England and is now known as ‘one of the seven wonders of the canal age’.

Lock free

The Bridgewater Canal is one of the few canals that has no locks over its 39 miles, as it follows the contours of the relatively flat land across Cheshire and into Greater Manchester.

Did You Know?

  • Let’s do business!

    When the Bridgewater Canal opened, it immediately halved the cost of coal in Manchester.

  • Bridgewater, Brindley & Gilbert

    Three famous names in engineering in the 18th Century were involved in the design and build of the Bridgewater Canal – the Duke of Bridgewater, James Brindley and John Gilbert.

  • 3 Million Tonnes

    The Canal was constructed to transport the Duke of Bridgewater’s coal from his mine at Worsley efficiently and cheaply to the rapidly expanding towns and cities nearby. At its peak, over 3 million tonnes of traffic used the Bridgewater Canal.

  • Popular beginner narrowboating route

    The Bridgewater Canal is now popular with novice narrow boaters due to the easy cruising and no locks.

Black Prince Cruising Routes

You can cruise on the Bridgewater Canal starting from our narrowboat hire base at Acton Bridge in Cheshire. Check out our canal maps and cruise guides on our base page for more information for your canal holiday.


Black Prince Canal Guides

Below are links to a few of our other canal specific guides to help inspire you on your next canal holiday: