The urban grit of the Ashton was once feared by many, with (usually apocryphal) tales circulating of semi-feral teenagers boarding boats and emptying locks. Today, this essential link in the Cheshire Ring is much improved. The industrial character is still there, but it was polished up by the 2002 Commonwealth Games, which regenerated the surrounding area. Premier League football club Manchester City has since taken over the athletics arena, now renamed the Etihad Stadium. Most importantly, all of this has popularised the towpath as a walking and cycling route, banishing its reputation as a no-go zone.
Canal & River Trust staff still keep an avuncular eye on passing boaters, but it’s more to ensure that the water supply is constant than to ward off trouble. Meanwhile, those with an eye for industrial archaeology will greatly enjoy the cruise. Look out for old factories, formerly ’paired’ locks at busy spots, and the remnants of the long-lost branches to Stockport and Hollinwood. Worry-free mooring is available at both ends of the canal.