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North-West England and the Pennines

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Canal cycling
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Ashton Canal

Manchester to Ashton. An invaluable route from the city centre out to Ashton. From Manchester out to Sportcity, the towpath was improved for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The rest of the towpath on to Ashton has been upgraded more recently.

Bridgewater Canal

Manchester to Runcorn. Towpath slowly being upgraded as the ‘Bridgewater Way’. Excellent quality in much of Manchester and other urban areas. Rural areas are mostly unimproved and cycling is officially prohibited. (Run by the Manchester Ship Canal Company.)

Huddersfield Canals

West Yorkshire to Ashton/Manchester. The eastern half, from Huddersfield to Marsden, is being upgraded to cycle route standard. From there on to Ashton, it’s generally ok for cycling though not formally a cycle route. Note that the 3.5 mile Standedge Tunnel at the summit (Marsden to Diggle) has no towpath: bikes need to follow the A62 over the top instead.

Lancaster Canal

Preston to Carnforth area. The southern rural section is a grassy footpath, too bumpy and tiring for cycling. From Lancaster to Carnforth is a lovely ride, however – alternately paved, light gravel and compacted. The surface in Preston is good, too. NCN 6 on country lanes provides an alternative to the unimproved sections. The Canal & River Trust has an ambition to create a ‘Lancaster Canal Towpath Trail’ as a continuous cycle route from Preston to Kendal (the historic terminus of the canal).

Leeds & Liverpool Canal

Leeds to Wigan and Liverpool. Though popular as a 110-mile cycle challenge, the towpath is of mixed quality. Many urban sections are well-surfaced, especially in the Leeds, Bradford, Bingley and Keighley area (recently upgraded); around Accrington and Blackburn (part of NCN route 6); and through Burnley (NCN 68). Foulridge to Barnoldswick is also good quality (NCN 68). However, several rural sections are single-track and bumpy, such as either side of Skipton. Be prepared to use nearby roads as an alternative.

Macclesfield Canal

Marple to Stoke-on-Trent. Rural towpath, not generally suitable for cycling. NCN 55 runs parallel on old railway trackbeds.

Manchester Ship Canal

Manchester to Ellesmere Port. No accessible towpath. Trans-Pennine Trail runs parallel. (Run by the Manchester Ship Canal Company.)

Peak Forest Canal

Ashton to Whaley Bridge. Excellent, newly resurfaced towpath from Ashton to Hyde. From there on to Marple and New Mills it’s mostly unimproved and often very muddy. The good surface returns at New Mills for a picturesque ride on to Bugsworth Basin, the historic terminus of the canal, and a stopping point on the Pennine Cycleway (NCN 68).

Rochdale Canal

West Yorkshire to Manchester. Good quality towpath, mostly compacted, cobbled or paved. National Cycle Network route 66. Some very picturesque sections. An excellent route across the Pennines. Short unpaved sections between Rochdale and north Manchester.

River Weaver

Winsford to Runcorn. Many sections of towpath upgraded recently as part of NCN 5 and other routes. Other rural sections, however, are just grassy footpath and not easily rideable: check cycle.travel map for full details.