The Peak District proper was too undulating for canal-builders, but this lovely canal strides out over an impressive aqueduct and 16 locks at Marple to reach as far as it could.
Heading east from Marple, the ’Upper’ Peak Forest hugs the hillside to give 6 miles of almost uninterrupted views over the Goyt Valley. Unusually, it splits into a Y-shape just before the end. Whaley Bridge, to the south, was once the departure point for the canal-builders’ attempt at crossing the Peak District for real. A curious railway ran from here over to the Cromford Canal, with inclined planes to haul the trains up short, concentrated inclines – just what you’d expect from engineers more used to building locks.
The other terminus is Bugsworth Basin, now fully reopened after 40 years of painstaking restoration. It, too, was a tramway interchange point where limestone was loaded – but on a quite different scale. The maze of arms, bridges, kilns and walls survives intact today, and you can moor amid it all. It’s a must-visit location for any canal enthusiast.
The ’Lower’ Peak Forest, from Ashton-under-Lyne to Marple, is less celebrated but very scenic in its own right. Part of the Cheshire Ring cruising circuit, it is wooded throughout, well hidden from the surrounding suburbs. The approach to Marple is particularly fine, crossing steep hillside roads on a series of little aqueducts.