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Rochdale Canal Towpath

Towpath resurfacing work from Littleborough to Warland, Rochdale

The Funder’s View

The South Pennines Ring of Canals is one of the largest heritage assets in the South Pennines, connecting east with west twice across the spine of the Pennine Watershed through the Rochdale Canal and the Huddersfield Narrow. The Rochdale Canal was the first trans-pennine waterway and its coming opened up this area to massive social change and industrial revolution.

It was therefore inevitable that the Leader programme would include canal related activity and this project is just one of many relating to the canal system. We see the Canals as integral parts of our community; linking us, revealing our history, giving us opportunities for studying nature or growing local produce, giving us recreational opportunities and access off-road to others towns along the route. In this project we were pleased to work with Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council to deliver towpath improvements that will not only improve access to the heritage on our doorsteps, but also to recognise the canal as a modern-day linear park for walkers, cyclists, school parties, environmentalists and tourists.

Where is the project

The length of the Rochdale Canal towpath from Littleborough up to the Upper lock at Warland.

The Project’s Story

As a cycle shop proprietor, Howard Gott served the needs of Littleborough’s cycling public for many years, these days he continues to do so, and how! As Sustainability Officer at Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council he improved the lot not only for cyclists, walkers and joggers but just about everyone has benefitted.

Howard has overseen the upgrading of the towpath along the banks of the Rochdale Canal and in doing so has revitalised an important leisure facility which is freely available to every member of the public at any time.

In his days of buying, selling and fixing bikes he was acutely aware of roads becoming busier, more cars on the road and cycling becoming perilous, “I have two sons, both keen cyclists and when they were smaller I worried about them riding on the roads. I have always encouraged people to choose the quieter routes and the canal towpath is car-free so it should have been the perfect alternative, but the derelict state of the path meant lots of puddles, lots of mud and really slippery conditions, no pleasure to ride and certainly not an option for people on their way to school or work. It was high time the potential of the towpath was realised.”

As part of their plan for a National Network for cyclists, Sustrans produced a report which identified key areas of investment for safer cycling routes in the centre of Rochdale and further afield through the countryside, eventually linking to neighbouring towns. Routes between schools, businesses and residential areas were examined and the towpath was earmarked as an ideal traffic-free pedestrian and cycling artery and as with all canals, it makes for idea cycling because of the gentle gradients.

“Sustrans, Rochdale Council and generous businesses, came up with the funding we needed to regenerate the towpath in the town centre, but they couldn’t stretch the money to cover the costs for the length of canal which leaves town and passes high over the watershed and into West Yorkshire. That is where the South Pennine Leader programme came up trumps” beams Howard, “they paid for this stretch of the canal to be refurbished. Along here it runs through some dramatic scenery, tourists love it, it is the highest point of the canal at around 600ft above sea level, a real feat of engineering, the name says it all – Summit Lock, it’s downhill all the way into Yorkshire from here.”

Nor should the narrow link between the two Counties be underplayed, when it was first built this canal heralded the dawn of the industrialisation of the country, it was one of the first breaches of the Pennines used to transport goods to and from the ports of Liverpool and Hull. It is almost exclusively pleasure craft on the canal these days, and the same on the towpath – cyclists and ramblers out for fun, but they still bring wealth to the ribbon developments along the route. The canal side cafes, B & Bs and a new bike shop in Littleborough are all testament to that.

A recent survey estimates the upgrade of the canal has lead to a five-fold increase in walkers and a doubling in the numbers of cyclists and these figures are increasing all the time with around a 10% increase year on year.

Howard says, “As word gets out more and more people come along here either for a stroll or sometimes as part of a longer journey hiking or cycling to other areas. It is an important link to the Pennine Way, the Pennine Bridleway and the Pennine Cycleway.”

The Projects’s Vital Statistics

Population benefitting
Locally there a many thousands who live within 1 mile of the route and these people are all potential users. It is also a National Cycle Route so potential for use is enormous

Businesses benefitting
A new bike shop in Littleborough with 3 employees
Many small B and Bs and cafes along the route
Health Cycle a community group promoting the health benefits of cycling

Jobs created
Difficult to quantify – Bicycle shop workers will have benefitted. Free access for all to safe commuting by bike.

Number of villages supported
Littleborough, Summit, Warland and everywhere along the Rochdale Canal

Other sources of funding
Rochdale Borough Council
Kingsway Business Partnership
The Leader grant was matched by £138,313 of spend but the total project costs for the entire Connect 2 project on the Canal was £1.8M.

The future of the canal as a leisure and tourist resource is becoming more secure as the potential for revenue is recognised. The towpath will need regular maintenance, but a volunteer working group made up from members of British Waterways, Sustrans and Environmental Volunteer groups will manage the verge and vegetation cutting. Planters for flowers and vegetables and appropriate fruit trees are planned to link in with Incredible Edible project just along the canal in Todmorden.