A little wander along the Manchester Ship Canal 3

For several years I’ve been saying I wanted to cycle the length of the Manchester Ship Canal, starting or ending in Port Sunlight. This year I need to stop saying it and actually do it. On Saturday I did a test ride along a bit of the canal.

For the ride proper I intend to catch a train to or from Port Sunlight so that I’m only riding one way. For Saturday’s partial ride there was to be no train intervention. I set myself a basic target- reaching a landmark I had identified on Google Maps or doing 15 miles from home base- at which point I would turn around and come back.

I had to ride out to the Trafford Centre then the Barton road bridge, where I would join the canal. One of the wonders of Google Maps is the satellite view, which let me get an idea of the lay of the land along the canal’s banks. This led me to the North shore being a better bet for access to land close to the water. I’m easily distracted, though, and stopped off in Stretford to get a couple of photos.

Unhappy boat deco frontage

Love that Deco frontage. I’ve taken a few photos over the years of the curved frontage of the bingo hall just around the corner, but only just noticed this. An architectural wander of Stretford is in order, I think.

I resisted photo ops the rest of the way to Barton, crossed the bridge, headed down side roads and gingerly made my way past a gaggle of geese and swans (swans are huge, and I still have a little bit of fear of them left over from the time one attacked me when I was about seven) and found myself on Langland Drive.

Langland Drive Short track

The GPS on my phone went a little mad on Langland Drive and put me in a lot of places other than where I actually was. There’s a lot of work going on on the wasteland west of the motorway, but no indication yet of what’s going to be there. After a while I reached a lock complex, which was closed to the public. The road curved away from the canal so I started following paths through the undergrowth and trees. This was almost too much for my tourer, a cyclocross bike might have been better suited, a mountain bike would have had no problems but would also have been overkill. Just beyond the locks, on the other side of the canal, was a loading dock of some sort.

Mystery Dock

A little further on was a spur off the canal, with a scrap yard and this precarious piece of parking on one side of it.


There are still reminders of whatever used to be here, in amongst the trees.


I could have joined the road soon after this, but I stubbornly stuck to the path through the trees until I reached Irlam Locks.

Irlam Locks Irlam Locks02

Pride comes before a flat, and my front tyre punctured a little way on from the locks. I’m surprised that I only picked up the one thorn considering the number of brambles draped across the path. For some reason, my phone’s GPS could work out where I was to within 7 metres whilst I fixed the tyre. To make things worse, the puncture had happened within sight of my target.

Ghost Train Old Railway bridge Under the bridge The other side of the bridge

(Not the locomotive- satellite view’s not that good- the bridge.)

My landmark, the first option for turning back, was thirteen and a half miles into my ride. I didn’t feel like retracing my route, so I carried on, knowing there’s a road bridge over the canal a couple of miles further on. I headed back toward the Trafford Centre on the South side of the canal where, as I’d thought, it was harder to get close to the water’s edge. However, I did find this redundant level crossing on the road to Flixton.

End of the line

The brief period when I could get close to the water did give me a different view of the mysterious dock from earlier and the locks just upstream from it.

Mystery Dock 2 Mystery Dock 3 Locks Locks 2

Then it was on to the Trafford Centre for doughnuts (to undo all the good that 30 miles of cycling had done) and a poor coffee before finishing the trip.

Next time I think I shall carry on along the canal to the end. I doubt I can make it all the way along the northern shore, and if I do I may then have to backtrack several miles until I can get across to the side with railway stations on it. I think I’ll wait until it’s a lot warmer.

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