Relaxed route: Lymm and Return - 29 miles, 2 locks, 11 hours total
Travel north along the Trent & Mersey Canal and under several attractive white-washed bridges. Cruise through ‘Dutton Stop Lock’ then the Preston Brook Tunnel (1239 yards) leading to Preston Brook Bridge (pub nearby). Join the lock-free Bridgewater Canal, cruising through a pleasant green corridor of countryside and woodland, towards Higher Walton, Stockton Heath and Grappenhall; passing 4 pubs en route. Stop at the pretty canalside town of Lymm, where the streets come right down to the water's edge and where there are various shops, pubs and takeaways for refreshments. Turn around a little way after Bridge 23 and return.
Relaxed route: Middlewich and Return - 27 miles, 8 locks, 13 hours total
On your first afternoon cruise south, passing through the crooked 424yd Saltersford Tunnel, then the 572yd Barnton Tunnel; both have strict timings for tunnel entry as they are only wide enough for one boat (no passing). Moor-up near the Anderton Boat Lift, an amazing feat of Victorian engineering where there is a café, children’s activity centre and nearby pub. Next day continue cruising south. There are pubs within walking distance from Bridges 193, 189 and 184, as you pass through an area known for salt mining and clay pits. These are followed by the now-derelict ICI chemical works which straddle the canal (in contrast to the surrounding countryside). So far your route has been lock free but as you arrive on the outskirts of Middlewich you encounter 4 wide locks leading into the village centre. There various are shops, pubs and food outlets within walking distance of the canal. Turn around just after King’s Lock (next to the pub) and return to Acton Bridge.
Intermediate route: Castle Quay, Manchester and Return - 54 miles, 2 locks, 18 hours total
An intermediate mid-week route or a busy weekend with longer cruising hours each day. Head north from the base, through ‘Dutton Stop Lock’ and then Preston Brook Tunnel (1239 yards) joining the lock-free Bridgewater Canal shortly afterwards. This is an attractive route with views of the Pennines. Stop at the pretty village of Lymm, where you can moor up to look around or eat out at one of seven pubs that are situated near the canal. Pass through Stockton Heath and Sale where countryside views begin to disappear and life on the canal becomes more suburban approaching central Manchester. The Bridgewater Canal then passes Manchester United football ground, Salford Quays and the Old Trafford Cricket Ground. Just after Merchants Footbridge (No. 100 B) look for suitable moorings at Castle Quay, to your right. Nearby you can sample some of the nightlife, galleries, museums, shops and many restaurants available to you. Turn around and return to Acton Bridge.
Intermediate route: Barbridge via the Anderton Boat Lift and Return - 42 miles, 16 locks, 21 hours total
Suitable for a mid-week break. Setting off south along the Trent & Mersey Canal, you’ll first reach the Anderton Lift which was built in 1875 to haul cargo boats from the River Weaver up to the much higher Trent and Mersey Canal. The 72-foot-high Anderton Boat Lift is a remarkable feat of engineering; it carries two boats at a time hydraulically, one up and one down. From here continue to Northwich, passing over the Croxton aqueduct just before the market town or Middlewich, famous for hosting the annual Folk and Boat festival, plus various Roman and Norman festivals and a host of farmer's markets. Turn onto the Middlewich arm of the Shropshire Union Canal, cruising to Barbridge Junction (with nearby pub). Turn at the junction for your return cruise. This route includes passing through 2 tunnels each way, including the 572 yard Barnton Tunnel.
Active route: Nantwich and Return - 55 miles, 16 locks, 24 hours total
Suitable for a mid-week break. Follow the Intermediate route above to Barbridge Junction, where you meet the Shropshire Union Canal main line. Heading south, you’ll soon pass Hurleston Junction, where the Llangollen Canal meets the Shropshire Union Canal. The canal crosses a stunning cast-iron aqueduct, designed by Thomas Telford in 1826, just outside the medieval town of Nantwich. Take time to moor up and explore this historic market town, a short walk to the east of the aqueduct. Nantwich was the centre of the salt mining industry until the 19th C. and has some fine Tudor buildings, antique dealers, boutique shops and traditional food shops. The town hosts various festivals during the year including the Jazz Festival, Food Festival and the International Cheese Awards. Once you have soaked up the delights of Nantwich, it’s time to turn and retrace your journey to Acton Bridge.
Intermediate route: Burscough and Return - 110 miles, 18 locks, 41 hours total
A very interesting route with changing scenery, plenty of character and lots of pubs. Cruise north through Dutton Stop Lock then Preston Brook Tunnel (1239 yards) joining the lock-free Bridgewater Canal shortly afterwards. This is an attractive waterway with views of the Pennines. Stop at the pretty village of Lymm, where you can moor up to look around or eat out at one of seven pubs that are situated nearby. Pass through Stockton Heath and Sale where countryside views begin to disappear and the canal becomes more suburban approaching Stretford and central Manchester. Stay left at Waters Meeting Junction, heading across Barton Swing Aqueduct (which takes you over Manchester Ship Canal) and on to the Leigh Branch. Cruising north-west there is a mixture of lovely countryside, traditional villages and larger industrial towns - places of interest include Worsley, Astley Green and Leigh. At Wigan Junction take a left, cruising west past Wallgate, Crooke, Appley Bridge and Parbold. Quite soon you'll arrive at Burscourgh which has plenty of shops and pubs, plus the Burscough Wharf Centre and two train stations. Turn around before Great Score Swing Bridge (No. 30) and return to Acton Bridge.
Intermediate route: Ellesmere Port via Chester and Return - 95 miles, 44 locks, 44 hours total
Take the route above to Chester and then continue through Chester towards Ellesmere Port, using the winding hole just beyond Powell's Bridge to turn - beyond this point, locks take the canal down to the Manchester Ship Canal where pleasure boats are not permitted. About half way between Chester and Ellesmere is Chester Zoo which is 1/2 mile walk south of Cauhall Bridge (No 134). Stop at the visitor moorings at the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port. The exhibits include a boat-trip on an ex-working barge, blacksmith's forge, traditional canalside cottages and working narrowboats, cafe and giftshop. Return for home.
Active route: Lymm, Marple and Return - 98 miles, 88 locks, 52 hours total
Travel north up the Bridgewater Canal stopping at Lymm, with great views of the Pennines and access to a couple of pubs, fish & chips and local stores. The scenery is ever changing as you follow the canal to Manchester, passing fields, Victorian factories and the valley of the river Bollin. Stop off at Altrincham to take a walk round the market square with black & white timber buildings. Shortly after Stretford the Bridgewater canal splits at Waters Meeting, heading north west towards Leigh and the Leeds Liverpool canal or east through Manchester towards Ashton-under-Lyne. Head through Manchester passing Manchester United football ground. After nearly 2 miles, Castleford Juntion marks the start of the Rochdale canal with 9 wide locks that take you to the junction with the Ashton canal. Head south from Ashton-under-Lyne onto the Peak Forest Canal towards the Marple Aqueduct, a stone three-arched aqueduct towering almost 100ft above the River Goyt. Turn before the locks and return, or if there is time, go through the 16 Marple Locks and continue for a few miles on the Upper Peak Forest Canal to either Bugsworth Basin or Whaley Bridge and then retrace your route.
Active route: The Cheshire Ring - 97 miles, 92 locks, 56 hours total
A very active week's route, ideal for groups of experienced boaters. The Cheshire Ring takes you past the Anderton Boat Lift, through 4 tunnels and over 2 aqueducts. Experience Manchester by boat, or take a detour to explore attractions such as Old Trafford, Legoland Discovery Centre or Dunham Massey Hall. This ring takes you through a variety of scenery, cruising the whole of the Macclesfield Canal, parts of the Trent & Mersey, Bridgewater, Rochdale, Ashton and Peak Forest Canal. It is definitely a route for those who enjoy working locks, there is a mixture of broad and narrow locks and also flights, such as Heartbreak Hill, which has 26 locks!