Guide to the Macclesfield Canal

This rural canal in Cheshire was one of the last narrow canals to be built before the advent of the railways. The famous canal surveyor Thomas Telford was involved in the planning of the canal and this 26 mile stretch was opened in 1832.

A brief history of the Macclesfield Canal

The canal was built to serve the mills, mines and quarries of the Marple, Poynton, Bollington, Macclesfield and Congleton areas as well as to provide a link from Manchester to the Potteries and Midlands in competition with the Trent & Mersey.

Macclesfield was famous for its production of silks, but struggled to transport them as the town was away from navigable rivers and there was high moorland to the east. Bollington became an important hub for mills, the canals for the first time being able to transport raw materials easily and quickly (at those times!) into the town and then exporting the finished goods easily to Manchester.

Construction of the canal began at Bollington on 4 December 1826, and in the main the works progressed well without major issues, despite the high embankments and aqueducts en route.

The canal was completed in 1831 and a formal opening took place in November 1831.

Bridge number 43 on the Macclesfield Canal

Top Macclesfield Canal Facts

  • Main Line Canal Length

    26.1 Miles

  • Number of Locks


  • Bosely Locks

    All of its twelve locks are concentrated in a single flight at Bosley, which alters the level by 118 feet (36 m).

  • Cost of build

    The canal was built at a cost of £320,000 (equivalent to about £36 million today).

  • Narrow Canal

    It is a narrow canal with narrow locks, designed for boats with a maximum length of 70 feet (21 m) and a width of 7 feet (2.1 m).

  • Cheshire Ring

    The Macclesfield forms part of the Cheshire Ring, a 98 mile circular ring that can be cruised over several days.

Father and son boating

Route Overview

This mainly rural route, arguably the most beautiful part of the Cheshire Ring, runs for 26.1 miles in a generally north to south direction from Marple Junction at Marple, just south west of Manchester, to Hall Green, near Kidsgrove, just north of Stoke on Trent in Staffordshire.

The route passes along the side of the most westerly Pennine hills and through the villages through High Lane, Higher Poynton, Bollington, Macclesfield and Congleton, all in Cheshire, and Kidsgrove in Staffordshire in the south.

Along this particular canal route are hints of the industrial mills from the last century. As the canal reaches Hawk Green, just to the south of Marple, you’ll see a huge mill with six storeys is situated on the east bank and likewise in Bollington, the canal passes Clarence Mill, another huge former industrial building which is now housing more modern businesses.

Before the canal enters Macclesfield, the scenery is rural as the canal crosses a number of valleys where you’ll cross aqueducts and cruise alongside steep embankments. Another famous mill to spot in Maclesfield is the Hovis Mill,  where the famous flour was originally milled.

After Macclesfield, the canal resumes its rural course towards Bosley Lock Flight.  The twelve locks of the flight drop the level of the canal by 118 feet in a short space of around one mile.

The canal turns west before turning to the south again at Buglawton and then onto Congleton where it crosses the Dane in Shaw Brook.

Below Congleton, the canal passes through open countryside in a fairly straight course, to reach Scholar Green and the hamlet of Hall Green, where a stop lock indicates the official junction with the Trent and Mersey Hall Green Branch.


Feats of Engineering on the Macclesfield Canal

Bosley Locks

Locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal were for the most part built to a size of 62 feet by 14 feet (18.8m x 4.3m), much broader than the traditional narrowboat locks which makes them a very interesting part of the canal history. These broad locks allowed broad-gauge vessels to transport goods totalling up to around 45 tons, twice that of the standard narrowboat.

‘Cut and Fill’

The canal was surveyed and planned by Thomas Telford and is an example of his ‘cut and fill’ approach to man-made waterways. It runs along the edge of a tall ridge of hills, to the west of the Pennines and follows as straight a course as possible, with many cuttings and embankments constructed to achieve this. Earlier canals tended to follow the contours of the countryside.

Built for Commerce

The Macclesfield has a shallow and tapered bottom, built originally for commercial boats which tended to moor at wharves as opposed to along the canal. This means that the canal needs to be regularly dredged and mooring on the canal can be tricky in times of low water supply. Thomas Telford clearly never saw the potential for leisure boating in the modern age!

Walking along the canal

Did You Know?

  • Snake bridges

    The Macclesfield canal has some beautiful old stone bridges – particularly the snake bridges where the towpath changes sides of the canal. These bridges were designed to allow the horse to move over without having to untie it from the boat.

  • Conservation Area

    The whole canal was designated as a Conservation Area by Macclesfield Borough Council in 1975, and a large number of its structures have been Grade II listed in recognition of their historic importance, including some of the aforementioned snake bridges.

  • Railway Ownership

    The canal was sold to a railway company in 1846 and under railway ownership, the canal fared better than many, and commercial carrying continued until 1954.

  • Leisure boating

    The North Cheshire Cruising Club, formed in 1943 and based at the High Lane arm, became the first leisure cruising club on the British inland waterways.

Driving your boat

Black Prince Cruising Routes

Black Prince Canal Guides

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