I cycled 40km to find the end of the Lancaster canal so you don’t have to
Spoiler alert: It ends in Cumbria
The canal is a major landmark in Lancaster. For us students it can be an ideal escape from the stresses of uni life, either by walking along the towpath or by visiting the pubs that are along the banks. It also acts as a green lung in the city that provides a habitat for ducks, swans and other creatures. It can be used as a way of avoiding the manic of the city centre, and for calm walks on sunny afternoons.
I have always wondered about exploring the canal outside of Lancaster, and the Northern reaches in particular seemed intriguing. The canal once ran all the way to Kendal in Southern Cumbria, but this section was closed and drained in the 1950s, and a quick glance on Wikipedia tells me that the canal is only useable by boats as far north as Tewitfield, a small village near Carnforth, but it is still filled with water beyond that point. Therefore, I set myself a challenge to find the end of the watered section in person for the sake of fulfilling my curiosity.
Setting off on a sunny afternoon, on a second-hand road bike, I easily found the canal in the city centre and set off North. Within 10 minutes I had reached the Lune Aqueduct, an impressive 225 year old structure that crosses the River Lune. It is normally the turning back point for my regular walks along the canal, and provides a great view of the Lune and the urban cityscape of Lancaster in the distance.
Outside of Lancaster
Continuing onwards, the canal skirts the northern fringes of Lancaster before entering the countryside, the tow path remains tarmacked but is less well maintained and the ride was bumpier. I passed the seaside villages of Hest Bank and Bolton-le-Sands, catching glimpses of Morecambe Bay and the Cumbrian mountains in the distance.
Eventually I reached the small town of Carnforth, which has a canal-side pub, and was a tempting place to stop off for a much needed pint. I’d recommend this as a destination for a serious bike ride, it is roughly a 16 mile round trip from Lancaster. I of course was going much further.
Into the countryside
After Carnforth the canal’s character changes again. The suburban is replaced with a truly rural one, the towpath’s tarmac ends and after this the surface is a mixture of dirt track, gravel path, mud, or just grass. It was certainly a challenge for my city bike (in hindsight, I should’ve definitely used a mountain bike), but never too much of a struggle as the canal followed the natural contour lines.
A few miles after Carnforth, the canal reaches the village of Tewitfield, where there is a large marina, and this marks the furthest point north that you can travel on a narrowboat. It appeared that I had found the end but to my delight, hidden behind a mound, the canal continued on. I soon discovered a series of disused locks that were like a series of small but impressive waterfalls. Despite being disused, the canal towpath was evidently maintained and I found signs and posters along the route from the canal trust displaying their plans to one day restore the section for boats.
Crossing into Cumbria
After looking round the abandoned locks I cycled on and crossed over the county border into Cumbria. You could definitely feel the change. I was far from the student bubble and was into true farming country, and you could smell it. I passed through the villages of Holme and Farleton which were nice in character but it seemed that the main requirement for living there was to own a Range Rover, I felt very out of place with my road bike. The waterline of the canal by this point was noticeably lower and the water was flowing like a river.
Finding the end
Finally, pushing on through difficult terrain for another four miles I found end of the watered section beneath a bridge, nothing grand or impressive, but as beyond that is an overgrown trench that gradually fades into the Westmorland countryside, I am defining this as the end of the Lancaster canal, I was just under twenty miles from where I began, but I wasn’t done yet.
The lost tunnel
Just half a mile beyond is the abandoned Hincaster tunnel. I found this ghostly structure after wading through an overgrown path. The canal once ran through here onwards to Kendal. From the entrance you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, like you are nearing the end of your degree and are glimpsing at the flickering rays of freedom.
All in all, I was glad I achieved my aim of finding the end of the canal, and glad I was able to explore some cool abandoned sights. I was definitely exhausted and in dire need of a pint. I was so far away from Lancaster that I had to cycle to the nearest train station to get home. It was a fun trip though I would recommend to anyone wanting to replicate this journey to use a mountain bike.
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