The Outer Pennine Ring
AN ADVENTUROUS 21 day trip
192 miles 248 locks 130 hours starting from Sowerby Bridge
175 miles 220 locks 115 hours starting from Barnoldswick
Three week Trip
The third and most demanding way to cross the Pennines twice, by the Huddersfield Narrow and the Leeds & Liverpool. A journey for real enthusiasts, with an extraordinary variety of sights along the way. Our customers are thrilled by the scenery and the atmosphere.
The route from Barnoldswick is as described below, omitting the leg between Sowerby Bridge and Cooper Bridge (at the bottom of the Huddersfield Broad Canal), but obviously with a different start point.
Sowerby Bridge to Marsden
Sail down the Calder & Hebble Navigation past Brighouse, with a short river section to Cooper Bridge, where you take the right turn into the bottom lock of the Huddersfield Broad. This leads you up through the outskirts of Huddersfield right into the City centre. Go through the University, a weird but satisfying juxtaposition of sixties high-rise and nineties mill conversion, then dive under another mill (this one real) into a new tunnel which leads directly into a new lock, followed closely by another new lock next to another new college. As you emerge, a steel-truss railway viaduct frames the start of your journey up the Colne valley into the hills. At Slaithwaite the canal has been put back on its original track. You will enjoy exploring the village. Then go on towards the summit, past Marsden, whose Mechanics Institute is the home of Mikron Theatre (though they will be away touring). So at last you come to the summit, 644' 9" above sea level, where a very short pool makes the entrance into Standedge Tunnel all the more dramatic by its understatement.
Marsden to Manchester
The Standedge Visitor Centre gives an unforgettable insight into the lives of the tunnellers who blasted their way under the Pennines, the packhorse teams who preceded them over the top, and the leggers who took the boats through 3 ¼ miles of pitch dark. Now you drive your own boat through, accompanied by a Canal & River Trust expert, who gives a fascinating commentary as you go, on the work of the original miners and of their modern successors. After the tunnel, the canal descends quickly through the Diggle flight, then into the Saddleworth villages, with weavers' cottages, and genuine charm as well as craft shops. The centre of Stalybridge has been transformed by the construction of a new canal. At the bottom of the HNC, you join the Ashton Canal, reopened in 1974 and since transformed by investment for the Commonwealth Games (now the home of Manchester City and the British cycling team) and some very funky new flats. The latest thing is the tramway. At Piccadilly Village, the Ashton joins the Rochdale and you plunge beneath a skyscraper, and right through the city centre with lively canalside bars, before emerging at Castlefield. Here you join the Bridgewater Canal.
Manchester to Foulridge
Pass the Trafford Centre and turn onto the Leigh Branch. Go to Worsley, and stop to see the birthplace of the canals. Transfer seamlessly to the other Leigh Branch (you will have to look this up!). This takes you through to Wigan, where you join the L&L just above the bottom of the famous flight. Pause to explore the covered market and bustling town. Set out up the flight, with splendid views back over the town. Then you are back in the country, with locks at Johnson's Hill, where the Lancaster Canal never got joined to the L&L. And so through countryside, with views of the Calder Valley (that's the Lancashire Calder), interspersed with old mill towns like Blackburn, you get to Burnley, and cross the embankment above the rooftops of the town. By now you're getting the message: the builders of the L&L were astonishingly bold, so you aren't too surprised, having climbed the deep locks at Barrowford, to see the long, wide and deep Foulridge Tunnel ahead of you.
Foulridge to Leeds
You emerge into a pastoral scene, with your first
views of the Yorkshire Dales. After dropping through
three locks, you meander round the hillside on one of
the most isolated stretches of canal anywhere, an
extraordinary step out of modern life. Keep going
through Bank Newton and Gargrave flights, to arrive at
Skipton, Gateway to the Dales. Pause to explore the
A long stretch along the hillside with smashing views and lots of swing bridges - much easier these days - takes you to the top of Bingley Five Rise. Now you get more activity, with several staircase locks taking you down into Leeds, green nearly all the way into the city centre. Huge investment is transforming Leeds: you can visit the Royal Armouries, Harvey Nicholls and many places to eat and drink.
Leeds to Sowerby Bridge
Now you are on the Aire and Calder, a big navigation with electric locks: you may see some commercial traffic. This takes you round to Wakefield, where you join the Calder & Hebble Navigation. This gradually leads you up the valley, the locks getting shorter and the lock houses smaller as you go. Your route passes in and out of the river, and has a charm of its own. Finally the Pennines come into view again, and you know you are nearly back in Sowerby Bridge.
This trip is a real adventure for very active, experienced and organised crews only. This trip needs three weeks, however good the crew. You can make this journey in either direction, depending on your start day.
Passage through Standedge is available for a limited number of boats, as follows:
Monday: afternoon Diggle to Marsden
Wednesday: morning Marsden to Diggle, afternoon Diggle to Marsden
Friday: morning Marsden to Diggle.
Passage through the Marsden flight (Locks 32E to 42E) and Diggle flight (Locks 24W to 32W) is only permitted for boats booked through the tunnel. CRT staff and volunteers will allow boats into these flights by arrangement. Some assistance or supervision may be provided.
Dogs are allowed through the tunnel. Tunnel passages must be booked through us, once the boat is booked and the preferred tunnel direction and dates agreed. Passage may need to be altered subject to availability.
We will give further details in your Information Pack. You must tell us at the time of booking that you intend to do the Outer Pennine Ring. We will advise on direction of travel and tunnel booking. You require an active crew; the route has many locks. At least one of the crew must have adequate experience (you need to know how to pace yourselves).
All our boats can do this route as our longest ones are 56’. You need to allocate three weeks to this trip - experience on other canals may lead you to think you could do this ring more quickly, but it's essential to plan for unexpected delays on these fragile, heavily-locked canals with poor water supply.
It is physically quite demanding so needs enough crew - teenagers are good; smaller children will be able to help with the locks but not take responsibility. The boats able to do this trip are in the groups of 'out and back Sowerby Bridge boats' and 'Leeds & Liverpool boats'. We generally suggest travelling clockwise. Standedge Tunnel passages have been reduced for 2022 in order for the Trust better to manage water while certain reservoirs are held down pending repair. We will advise when you book, and then you should be prepared for any necessary change of plan. We give you more details once you’ve booked and it’s good to work up both directions whichever start day you choose. People who swap crews may have a preference as to direction of travel, but this may not be possible.
Distances and times shown (for guidance) are for the complete ring. Information we provide about specific waterways or suggested routes is for general reference only. Please see more about route availability.