The Peak Forest Canal
The Ashton Canal takes you to the city. By contrast the Peak Forest Canal takes the traveller into rural Derbyshire. It extends for 23 km (14 1/2 miles) from Portland Basin to Buxworth, passing through Dukinfield, Hyde, Woodley and Marple, with a short branch at its end to Whalley Bridge and some spectacular features on route.
There is a total of 16 locks and cruising time is estimated to be 7 hours.
The Peak Forest Canal was built between the years of 1794 and 1800. Its terminus was then called Bugsworth, which is now known as Buxworth, and a short branch extended to Whalley Bridge. Whalley Bridge is effectively now the new terminus until Buxworth Basin can be restored.
At one time, due to the hilly terrain, a tram road engineered by Benjamin Outram was used to connect Bugsworth with the limestone quarries at Doveholes near Buxton. The most important shareholder in this venture was Samuel Oldknow, the mill owner and manufacturer.
In the Autumn of 1797 the upper level of the Canal - Bugsworth to Marple Basin was opened. A year later the lower level of the canal, Marple Aqueduct to Dukinfield, was opened. To reduce overall costs it was decided to use a tramway to link the lower and upper ponds at Marple instead of using locks. The demand for limestone was so great that the tramway was unable to cope with traffic. As a result a flight of 16 locks were built, opening in Autumn 1804.
The main traffic on this Canal was coal, lime and limestone. In one period of four weeks in 1824, 291 narrow boats were loaded with limestone. Like many other canals, the Peak Forest was at its busiest before the coming of the railways.
In 1846 the Peak Forest Canal was leased to the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. In 1883 the Peak Forest Canal Company was dissolved and the MSLR became responsible for the canal. Decline followed and by 1948 the Canal had fallen into dereliction.
Campaigning for the restoration of the Peak Forest began in the 1960s. Much work was carried out by volunteers and in 1972 it was reopened. It is now navigable from Whalley Bridge and joins the Ashton Canal at Portland Basin to form a part of the Cheshire Ring.
The River Tame meanders alongside the Peak Forest Canal as it leaves Portland Basin and hence you can enjoy the attractions of the Tame Valley. Despite the urban and industrial nature of the immediate area there has been much effort to create a pleasant parkland area with seats and picnic areas. The towpath is well maintained.
Passing the Lift Bridge at Dukinfield, site of a former canal wharf, the canal continues through more open land in the Tame Valley, past Jet Amber Fields and close to Newton Hall.
Diverting from the canal at Dunkirk Farm it is worth the short walk to view the exterior of Newton Hall. It is open for visits by arrangement only via the owners, George Kenyon and Son, Tel: (0161) 308 2721. The building is a fascinating 14th century cruck framed building. A glass panel on the exterior of the building enables you to see exactly how a medieval timber framed hall was constructed.
For a short way the canal now enters a more industrialised landscape again close to Hyde town centre and the M67 motorway. Worthy of note here is Hyde Bank tunnel which you can travel through by horse drawn canal boat and experience the art of the crew 'legging' the boat through the tunnel. (See entry for Canal Trips).
Perched above Hyde town centre, near the attractive village of Gee Cross, Werneth Low Country Park overlooks not only the Peak Forest Canal, but the whole of the North West, the Pennine Hills and, on a clear day, North Wales. A visitor centre at Lower Higham Farm provides local information about the surrounding area and is also the centre for events and the starting point for walks and events throughout the year.
You may wish to leave the canal to visit the Park. The industrialised area is soon passed and the canal enters an area of attractive woodland between Hyde and Denton. The River Tame is close by again and the valley is easily accessible from the canal.
Travelling on, the canal reaches Woodley, the historic Marple Aqueduct, Marple Locks and onwards through delightful countryside to Buxworth.