Rochdale Canal Towpath Route


It is possible to walk alongside the Rochdale Canal all the way between Sowerby Bridge and Manchester, with the exception of a few short detours mentioned below. For most of the way the canal runs parallel to main bus routes and the railway, making it easy to use public transport to get to the start and end of a walk and offering many possible start and end points.


Cycling is permitted along the Rochdale Canal towpath. Information about cycling on towpaths can be found here. Please show courtesy to other canal users, who may not be expecting a cycle to appear. Special care should be taken going through bridges, where there may be blind corners, when passing fishermen, where there may be equipment across the towpath, and when passing moored boats, where there could be mooring pins in the ground.

Towpath route detours

When the Rochdale Canal was restored, it was necessary to create several diversions where the original line could not be used. It was not always possible to include a towpath in some places, so there are several diversions to the route that walkers and cyclists use. Details of these detours are shown below.

Sowerby Bridge
In Sowerby Bridge, a section of canal around Lock 3 was infilled and a new road built. The restoration involved a canal tunnel leading to a deep lock that replaced Locks 3 and 4. The towpath route is straightforward, following the line of the tunnel. The main A58 can be crossed at the traffic lights.

Sowerby Bridge pedestrian route
Sowerby Bridge pedestrian route.

Edinburgh Way
At Edinburgh Way in Rochdale, the A627M motorway was built over a section of the original canal route. The restored canal was diverted through a new tunnel beneath the busy road junction. The new quarter-mile section of canal has no towpath so a detour is required along roads, as shown in the map below. There is a light-controlled pedestrian crossing to allow walkers to cross Edinburgh Way safely.

Edinburgh Way to Gorrels Way pedestrian route
Edinburgh Way to Gorrels Way pedestrian route.
M62 Crossing alternative pedestrian route
M62 Crossing alternative pedestrian route.

M62 Crossing
At Trub, just south of Castleton, the M62 blocked the line of the canal. A new course was constructed through a tunnel which was originally a farm access.

A floating pontoon is usually in place enabling towpath users to pass through the tunnel.

However, if a wide-beam boat arranges to pass through, the pontoon is removed. If you find the pontoon is not in place, it will be necessary to make a detour via Manchester Road, as shown by the green line in the map on the left.

Broadway and M60 Crossing
In Chadderton, the M60 motorway cuts across the original canal line. The canal was diverted through a tunnel but this has no towpath. The towpath route leaves the canal after Broadway Bridge and climbs to a footbridge which crosses the canal, motorway, slip road and a main road. The path continues parallel to the motorway before dropping down to the canal again before Hollinwood Avenue, as shown in the map below.

Broadway and M60 Pedestrian route
Broadway and M60 pedestrian route.

Rochdale Nine, Manchester
In addition to the detours mentioned above, which resulted from the restoration, there are two parts of the "Rochdale Nine" lock flight in Manchester city centre where some description of the towpath route may be useful:

Dale Street alternative pedestrian route
Dale Street alternative pedestrian route.

1. Dale Street
When the canal reaches the junction with the Ashton Canal in Manchester, the towpath changes sides. It then changes back again at Lock 84.

The other side is reached by walking across the lock gates holding on to the hand rails.

If you would prefer not to do this, or if you are on a bicycle, you will need to aim to the right across the car park and walk through the arch leading out onto Dale Street. Turn left, cross over the canal and then turn left down a ramp that will bring you back to the canalside.

This route is shown in green on the map.

Canal Street pedestrian route
Canal Street pedestrian route.

2. Canal Street
Between Minshull Street and Princess Street in Manchester, the towpath changes to the other side once again. However, the route runs along the length of Canal Street, with no separate towpath.

This involves having to cross three busy roads.

There are a number of bars along Canal Street and tables and chairs are set out along the side of the road. Later in the day you may find the street fairly crowded.

At Princess Street there is a footbridge alongside the road bridge leading to a ramp down to the continuation of the towpath.