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The Leeds & Liverpool Canal

At a glance
Length: 127 miles, Locks: 91, Recommended time: 2 - 4 weeks

The Leeds and Liverpool Canal is the longest canal in Britain that was built by a single company. Your narrowboat journey will take you from the historic Liverpool Docks into open countryside and the Pennines all the way to the exciting city of Leeds. On the way, you’ll experience the Northern way of life first hand, marvel at the quaint villages on the way and more than once wake up to a moody, misty morning, overlooking the canal and surroundings. There is plenty to do along the way - including lots of lock wheeling - that keep you on your toes.

A Journey from Liverpool to Leeds

From Liverpool to Wigan - fascinating citylife and open countryside

Your canal boat journey starts in Liverpool, right at the waterfront in the Albert Docks. There are very good CRT moorings here, which are free for 7 days. From here you can explore all that Liverpool has to offer, most of it is reachable on foot such as the Beatles Museum, the Tate and also the World Museum. Once you are ready to leave, there are already 2 locks waiting for you. After leaving these locks and the docks there is another flight of 4 locks to be tackled before it is smooth cruising for a few miles. The navigation follows the Liverpool Docks for around 6 miles before it takes you towards Aintree with the famous Aintree RaceCourse. Just before you reach Aintree, the first of many swing bridges awaits you. Keep your Watermate Key and Handcuff Key close, as you will need both for the first few bridges until you leave Liverpool and its outskirts. After Aintree you’ll find yourself briefly among open countryside before you enter the town of Maghull. There is another series of swing bridges before the canal enters open countryside again. There is a big amount of pubs and cafes to be found either on the canal or just a short walk away from it now, plenty of opportunities to replenish your energy levels.

Soon, you’ll cruise past the junction with the Rufford Branch that would take you all the way up to the Ribble Link and onto the Lancaster Canal. This time however, you carry on towards Wigan. The first lock flight after Liverpool awaits you just before Appley Bridge. There are only 3 locks to be tackled before you cruise through the delightful Douglas Valley, tackle 4 more locks and eventually reach the junction with the Leigh Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Carry on towards Skipton and you’ll find yourself facing the 21 Wigan Locks. You can moor up before or after the lock flight and take a walk to the famous Wigan Pier and have a stroll around the attractive town of Wigan itself.

From Wigan to Skipton - lock wheeling and breathtaking Pennines

Once you are through the last lock you’ll enter open countryside again and soon notice the difference in elevation. The canal starts to cling onto the steep hillside now, which makes for a welcome change in scenery. There is a big network of footpaths that lead away from the towpath and can be easily connected into loop walks. Haigh Hall Gardens is well worth a visit. There are pretty gardens and woodlands to be explored, a variety of nature trails and also a miniature railway. The best access is from bridge 60.

You can enjoy 9 miles of lockfree cruising now. This stretch is also called the Lancaster Pool. Just after the canal skirts the town of Chorley, Johnson’s Hill Locks are waiting for you. The 7 locks are quite close to each other, but their setting is very rural and pretty, which makes more than up for the work of working the locks. The canal leaves its rural character behind for a while now as it enters Blackburn - with the 6 Blackburn Locks - and Rishton. You are 400 ft above sea level now and the bleak Pennine hills are clearly to be seen in the distance now. There are no locks on this stretch, but a series of swing bridges awaits you. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal navigates through a series of larger towns now, with Burnley and Foulridge being only two examples. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to restock your fridge here before you’ll enter Foulridge Tunnel, which is 1640 yards long.

After emerging from the tunnel, you are once again surrounded by pleasant countryside. The section between Greenberfield Locks and Skipton is arguably the most beautiful section of the whole canal and feels quite remote at times. You’ll soon reach Gargrave and then Skipton. The whole area is simply beautiful now with its rugged moors and hills. The Yorkshire Dales National Park just about borders the Northern section of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal here.

From Skipton to Leeds

You are entering your final leg of your journey along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal now. After leaving the town of Skipton, the canal turns Southeast and carries you through the Airedale Valley. The landscape is mostly defined by a flat valley with steep hills leading away from it, which makes for a very pretty scenery. It’s truly walkers paradise here, so if you are up for it, don’t miss this opportunity to explore the countryside beyond the canal boundaries here.

You’ll continue your cruise through pleasant countryside now, every now and then you’ll enter small towns and suburban surroundings before finding yourself amongst pastures and hills again. There is a series of swing bridges along the way to break up your cruise from time to time. After this long stretch of lockfree cruising, the Bingley Five-Rise locks and Three Rise Locks plus swing bridge await you. The sweeping views of the Pennines come to an end now and you’ll descend through a few more locks, cruise through a wooded area and the town of Shipley. You’ll soon reach Apperley Bridge and descend through even more locks. From now on, the canal surroundings are mostly dominated by industry and housing as you’ll approach the outskirts of Leeds. Although the scenery is becoming more and more built up, the entrance into Leeds is probably the best one possible. The canal is mostly wooded and passes the ruin of Kirkstall Abbey before you’ll reach the city centre of Leeds and the end of your journey on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.