Restoration tales: Peak Forest Canal – North West

Explore a once impassable treasure of the north west, now revived following decades of decline

Photo: Tim Green


Following the Second World War, many of the nation’s canals seemed doomed. Rail traffic had always been a major challenge to the network, but the improvements in roads were the final straw. The Peak Forest Canal was one of many cuts to suffer, so much so that by the early 1960s entire sections were impassable. However, as with many derelict canals, a combination of local and national forces were determined to save the channel and by 1983 much of the canal was back in use. The final victory came in 2003, when the landmark Bugsworth Basin was restored following restoration by the Canal & River Trust’s predecessor. The canal now provides 15-miles of towpath walking, taking in a nature reserve and two Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

The Peak Forest Canal was completed in 1805 to bring limestone from Derbyshire to Dukinfield Junction in Greater Manchester, where it could be used for construction and other purposes. A gravity-operated tramway – the Peak Forest Tramway – took the limestone from the deposits around Dove Holes, 300m above sea level to Bugsworth Basin, where the canal began.

Following 150 years of use, by 1957 the canal was barely in use. In fact, a mere 17 tonnes of cargo was recorded in that year. By the 1960s, the canal was semi-derelict and infrastructure such as locks, aqueducts and the basin itself were in poor condition. Formal closure seemed inevitable.

The fightback began in 1964, with the inaugural meeting of the Peak Forest Canal Society, who began campaigning with a view to reopening the 16 locks in the Marple flight which connected the higher and lower sections of the canal. The locks were reopened in 1974, and further restoration took place culminating in the reopening of Bugsworth Basin in 2003. The canal is now a popular destination for boating and walking, featuring the gorgeous Goytside Meadows and the historic Marple Aqueduct and locks, and Bugsworth Basin.

Plan your day out to the Peak Forest Canal with our online guide.

Each year, we hold a number of free Open Days for the public. We’re inviting you along to take a look behind the scenes and find out what it takes to keep our canals and rivers open to everyone. Find an Open Day near you.