The Charm of the Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals – 1 of our favourite waterways!

by 7 / 04 / 2024

A Journey Through Time: The Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals

Nestled in the heart of England’s picturesque North West, the Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals offer a tranquil escape into the region’s industrial past, flanked by the beauty of rolling landscapes and historical charm. A journey along these waterways is not just a trip; it’s an exploration of England’s rich heritage, a dive into serene natural beauty, and an adventure into the quaint villages that dot their paths. Whether you’re a seasoned boater or someone looking for a unique way to explore the countryside, the Macclesfield and Peak Forest canals promise an unforgettable experience.

A Brief History

Constructed during the zenith of the Industrial Revolution, the Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals were originally built to facilitate the transport of materials, particularly coal and limestone, critical to the industries of the time. The Macclesfield Canal, completed in 1831, stretches for 26 miles, connecting Marple to Hall Green. Its design, attributed to the famed engineer Thomas Telford, incorporates straight runs to maximize efficiency, a hallmark of Telford’s ingenuity.

The Peak Forest Canal, older by a few decades and completed in 1800, is known for its remarkable engineering feats, such as the magnificent Marple Aqueduct and the adjoining Marple Lock Flight. Together, these canals form an essential part of the Cheshire Ring and are pivotal in linking the North West’s extensive network of waterways.

Originally the Marple Locks were not built when the canal was completed and the cargo used to be “containerised” in removable

Bugsworth Basin

hoppers that would be placed on a tramway and sent down the hill to then be lifted in the hoppers onto another boat at the bottom of the hill. The empty trams where then dragged back to the top of the hill by ponies.  These trams were also used and evidence of their tracks can be seen around Bugsworth Basin at the other end of the Peak Forest Canal which is a World Heritage Site.

What to Expect

Today, the Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals are a haven for holidaymakers, especially those interested in canal boat hire adventures. The journey offers a plethora of sights and experiences, from stunning examples of Georgian engineering, serene countryside punctuated by the occasional heron or kingfisher, to the warm hospitality of canal-side pubs and eateries.

Some of our favourite pubs are:

Highlights of the Journey

One of the most breathtaking features you’ll encounter is the Marple Aqueduct. Towering over the River Goyt, it is a testament to the engineering prowess of the 18th century. The Marple Lock Flight, with its sixteen locks raising the canal over 209 feet in just a mile, offers boaters a rewarding challenge and an opportunity to engage with fellow travelers and locals alike.

Bosley Locks

Along the Macclesfield Canal, Bosley Locks presents another fascinating ascend with twelve locks set in quick succession. The encounter with this flight is more than just navigating the locks; it’s about immersing yourself in the tranquility of the surrounding countryside and the camaraderie that exists amongst canal users.

For those with a keen interest in history, the small towns and villages along these canals are replete with stories. Macclesfield, once famous for its silk production, offers a glimpse into the industrial heritage that shaped this region, with several mills converted into museums or arts spaces.

Connecting with Nature and Local Culture

One of the joys of traveling along the Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals is the ease with which one can connect with nature. The slow pace of canal boating allows for an appreciation of the English countryside in all its splendor, especially during the spring and summer months when the canal banks burst into life with flowering plants and bustling wildlife.

Equally rewarding is the opportunity to immerse oneself in the local culture. Be it through a visit to a traditional market town, a leisurely lunch at a canal-side pub that has served travelers for centuries, or a friendly chat with the locals, these experiences enrich the journey, making it truly memorable.

Planning Your Adventure

Whether you’re planning a short trip or a more extended exploration of the North West’s waterways, the Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals offer flexible options. Several companies provide canal boat hire services, catering to both experienced boaters and beginners. Many of these hire companies are based in or near the areas covered by the Four Counties and Cheshire Ring, making it easy to start your adventure.

Before setting off, it’s worth spending some time to familiarize yourself with the basics of canal boating, including navigating locks and boating etiquette. However, the real learning happens on the water, guided by the collective wisdom of the boating community and occasionally, through the serendipitous lessons that only travel can teach.

You can also download our guide to the Cheshire Ring which takes in this canal from our Downloads Page.

The Takeaway

The Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals, with their blend of historical significance, natural beauty, and cultural richness, offer a unique way to explore the North West of England. Beyond the serene landscapes and engineering marvels lies the essence of canal travel – a slower pace of life, opportunities for unexpected encounters, and a deeper connection with England’s industrial past and rural present. So why not embark on a journey that promises all this and more? The canals are calling.

As you navigate these waterways, remember that the journey itself is as rewarding as the destinations along the way. Each lock, each mile, brings a new story, a new vista, or a new friend. And in the end, you’ll find that the charm of the Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals lies not just in their picturesque settings or their historical aura, but in the myriad of personal experiences and discoveries that await around every bend.

Find dates and rates for your next canal boat holiday with Floating Holidays


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