Discover where canal boating first started…
Nestled in the rolling countryside of northwest England, our canal boat hire base in Cheshire is a great place for exploring one of the most famous canal routes in history. With a long history of commercial then leisure boating, the Bridgewater Canal now offers a variety of stunning countryside and city cruising.
Just a short distance from our Acton Bridge base, you can join the waterway where it all started – the Bridgewater Canal – where you can cruise lock-free to Manchester.
The Bridgewater Canal is 39 mile canal stretching from Runcorn to Leigh in the North West of England. Constructed over 250 years ago by the Duke of Bridgewater, it is considered to be the first canal in England.
Built at one level, the canal avoids the use of locks by following the contours of the land. It was constructed to transport the Duke of Bridgewater’s coal from his mine at Worsley to the rapidly expanding towns and cities nearby. At its peak, over 3 million tonnes of traffic used the Bridgewater Canal.
So what top attractions would you see on your canal boat holiday on the Bridgewater Canal?
1) Barton Swing Aqueduct
This amazing aqueduct is the only one of it’s kind in the world and known as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’.
Designed by Sir Edward Leader Williams, it was constructed in 1893, and considered an amazing feat of Victorian civil engineering.
The moveable aqueduct carries the Bridgewater Canal across the Manchester Ship Canal and the swinging action allows large vessels using the ship canal to pass underneath. The aqueduct is used by smaller craft, both narrowboats and broad-beam barges, to cross over the top.
The swinging span is 235 feet long and weighs 1,450 tons. Hydraulic rams are used to drive rubber seals into each end of the moveable tank.
You can watch a video of how this amazing swing aqueduct works here (please note that this video is not Black Prince content):
2) Museum of Science and Industry & Stephenson’s Rocket
The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester takes you on a journey through the city’s heritage with sights, sounds and even smells! Located on the site of the oldest surviving passenger railway station, you can see what it was like to work in a cotton mill during one of the textile demonstrations, venture into a Victorian sewer and also, for a limited time, see Stephenson’s famous ‘Rocket’ steam engine.
Stephenson’s Rocket has returned to Manchester for the first time in over 180 years.
The Rocket was built to run on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the world’s first inter-city passenger railway line. In 1829, Rocket won the Rainhill Trials, which was a competition to decide on the best mode of transport for the railway. Rocket was the only locomotive to successfully complete the trials, averaging 12 mph and achieving a top speed of 30 mph.
Designed by Robert Stephenson, Rocket’s win proved once and for all that locomotives were better at pulling trains along the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, rather than stationary winding engines.
The technology applied to the design of Rocket was soon extended across the entire railway network, paving the way for the modern rail network and shaping the course of the history.
This is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to see an iconic symbol return to the site of the world’s oldest surviving passenger railway, the terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway which is now home to the museum.
Find out more about Stephenson’s Rocket and about booking tickets here: https://www.scienceandindustrymuseum.org.uk/whats-on/stephensons-rocket
3) Worsley Delph
Worsley Delph is another attraction that was very important to the history of the Bridgewater Canal. This is the entrance to the underground canal in the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines where coal was brought out of and from here travelled along the canal to the local towns and cities.
As mentioned previously, the Bridgewater Canal was built because of the Duke of Bridgewater’s coal mines at Worsley. The Duke’s land agent, John Gilbert, saw that it was possible to connect the canal directly to the mines by way of an underground canal. This in turn could be used to help with draining the mines, providing a source of water for the canal.
The underground canal was constructed from Worsley Delph, an old sandstone quarry near Worsley Brook. At one time a million tons of coal a year passed through this tunnel.
Specially designed boats were used in the tunnels. These were only four and a half feet wide with protruding ribbed sides and so were given the nickname of “starvationers”. These were loaded with coal at the coalface, were hauled from level to level on the inclined plane and brought the coal out onto the canal.
There is currently a £1.3m restoration scheme in partnership with Salford City Council to restore Worsley Delph. The water in the canal at Worsley usually has an orange tint due to the water coming from the mines containing traces of iron ore.
4) Dunham Massey
Once you’ve had your fill of canal attractions, then head away from the canal and stretch your legs at Dunham Massey. This lovely estate in Altrincham, Cheshire, features a magnificent deer park and beautiful gardens, including Britain’s largest winter garden and a striking rose garden.
Find out more about Dunham Massey here: nationaltrust.org.uk/dunham-massey
5) Norton Priory Museum and Gardens
Norton Priory Museum and Gardens in Runcorn makes for another lovely day out if you fancy stretching your legs off your narrowboat.
Norton Priory is the most excavated monastic site in Europe and the museum tells its story from its founding in 1134 to its closure and then later history as a manor house and estate.
The stunning 18th Century Wall Garden is worth making time for a wonderful rock garden, herb garden, vegetable gardens and an orchard and the lovely Rose Walk.
Address: Tudor Road, Runcorn, Cheshire WA7 1SX. More details here: nortonpriory.org