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Rochdale Canal

The Rochdale Canal runs from the Bridgewater Canal at Castlefield Junction in Manchester to the Calder & Hebble Navigation at Sowerby Bridge.  The Ashton Canal joins the Rochdale Canal at Ducie Street Junction in east Manchester.

Map showing the Rochdale Canal and surrounding waterways

Facts & Stats

33 miles


The length of the main line of the Rochdale Canal.

91 locks

There used to be 92 locks, but locks 3 and 4 at Sowerby Bridge were combined into a single lock during restoration.

From Manchester to the Sowerby bridge

The Rochdale Canal was the first of three canals to be built across the Pennines and was opened in 1804.  It was a busy commercial route during the nineteenth century but traffic declined during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  In 1952, the majority of the canal was closed to navigation despite stiff opposition from IWA.  However, as a result of IWA’s campaigning, a clause requiring the 9 locks in Manchester to remain open until the Aston Canal was legally abandoned was inserted.

After restoration of the Ashton and Peak Forest Canals, attention turned toward the Rochdale and Huddersfield Canals, and the Rochdale Canal Society was formed in 1974.  After many years of campaigning, the Rochdale Canal was the first major waterway restoration to receive a Millennium Lottery Fund grant and this was matched by funding from English Partnerships (the government’s then economic development division) in recognition of the social and economic benefits the restored canal would offer.  

The devolution of English Partnerships’ responsibilities to the Regional Development Agencies presented funding difficulties but The Waterways Trust took over ownership of the Rochdale Canal Company (which owned the canal) and brought funding arrangements to fruition.  British Waterways was appointed to carry out the work and operate the waterway.  Following the formation of Canal & River Trust to take over BW’s network in 2012, the Waterways Trust’s responsibilities were also transferred to Canal & River Trust.

The Rochdale Canal had two Arms – the Rochdale Branch (0.5 miles) and the Heywood Branch (1.5 miles), neither of which have been restored yet.


Waterway notes

Maximum boat sizes

  • Length: 71′ 11″ (21.92 metres) – Lock 19 (Todmorden / Library Lock)
  • Beam: 13′ 2″ (4.01 metres) – Lock 26 (Pinnel Lock, Todmorden)
  • Height: 6′ 4″ (1.93 metres) – M62 Bridge
  • Draught: 4′ 5″ (1.35 metres) – cill of Lock 26


Navigation Authority

Canal & River Trust


Useful Info

Tuel Lane lock at Sowerby Bridge is operated by a lock-keeper (restricted hours; need to book Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday in summer and at all times in winter)

Waterway underfunding

Hundreds of miles of waterways – along with their unique heritage and habitats – are currently starved of funding and rely on constant lobbying by us to safeguard their future.

Sustainable Boating

We want boating on canals and rivers to be more sustainable and – even though the current overall contribution to UK carbon emissions is very small – we want to help reduce emissions on the waterways.

Waterways Heritage at Risk

Britain’s canals and rivers are a unique, living heritage. But that heritage is at risk – from urban development, lack of protection, loss of skills and knowledge and climate change.

You can help Save Waterways Heritage.

Waterway restoration

Restoring the UK’s blue infrastructure – our inherited network of navigable canals and rivers – is good for people and places.

Local activities