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The Ashton Canal

From Portland Basin the Ashton Canal stretches for nearly 11 km (7 miles) to the west and ends at its junction with the Rochdale Canal at Ducie Street junction in Central Manchester.

There are 18 locks throughout its length and cruising time is estimated to be 4-5 hours.

Originally the canal had two main branches. One ran 8 km (5 miles) between Fairfield and Oldham, the other, of a similar length, ran between Clayton and Stockport.


The Ashton Canal was opened early in 1797, at a total cost of £216,000 and was originally known as the Manchester and Ashton Canal. As the Industrial Revolution demanded quicker and cheaper ways of moving goods from one area to another, canals became the much needed new form of transport. The 3rd Duke of Bridgewater is credited with having built the first modern English canal, and in the period of 'canal mania' that followed, merchants and traders in the Ashton area were quick to realise the economic advantages of a canal from Manchester to Ashton. On 11th June 1792 an Act of Parliament was passed granting its construction. calculated that the annual freight carried on the Canal was 514,241 tons. By 1804 the Ashton Canal had established links with the rest of the inland navigation system. Continual expansion took place and in 1834. the large warehouse at Ashton (now the Heritage Centre) was built. By 1838 it was calculated that the annual freight carried on the Canal was 514 241 tons.

By 1840s the canal companies were facing competition from a new form of transport - the railways. Many canals were bought by the railway companies and allowed to fall into decline. Little commercial traffic was carried on the Ashton Canal by the 1930s and in 1958 all traffic ceased. Neglect and vandalism made the Canal un-navigable.

For a time it looked like the Ashton Canal would close. However, interest in canals and canal restoration led to a campaign to restore the Cheshire Ring. On 1st April 1974 the Ashton Canal was again opened. Today it provides leisure facilities for thousands of people.


The canal is a popular walking route and the towpath is open to cyclists throughout its entire length. It passes through rural and urban landscapes enabling you to walk right into the heart of Manchester via Droylsden, Fairfield Junction, Openshaw and Clayton.

On route it is worth taking a diversion to visit the Fairfield Moravian Settlement which is immediately alongside the canal.

Established by members of the Moravian Church in 1785, the Moravian Settlement, complete with its formal Georgian layout of buildings, cobbled streets, stone paving and gardens, is a living community with an active congregation.

Also worthy of note is the start of one of the disused branches of the Canal which once passed to the right of the graceful stone footbridge, No 16, at Droylsden. This was the Hollinwood Branch which climbed through 7 locks to Hollinwood near Oldham. It was constructed in the 1790s to support local industries including textiles, iron, coal and agriculture. This branch was closed in 1932 and now many sections are managed for wildlife conservation. Visitors to the popular Daisy Nook Country Park can see remnants of the Hollinwood Branch. A further spur of 1.6 km (I mile), the Fairbottom Branch, ran part way to Park Bridge, a tramway then connecting to this fascinating early industrial community.

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