Lancaster to Kendal Canal – the Kendal stretch

Lancaster to Kendal Canal – the Kendal stretch

Location : Kendal / Sedgwick
Ordnance Survey – SD 519926 – Canal Head
The ‘Northern Reaches’ of the Lancaster to Kendal canal stretches from Tewitfield, South of Burton in Kendal, to Canal Head in Kendal, 14 miles away. It includes 52 structures spread along the whole route of the canal, most of which are Grade II listed monuments, 14 miles of tow path walks and some surviving tunnels, aqueducts and locks.
The canal is now severed in a number of places: at Cinderbarrow, North of Tewitfield, at Holme, where it runs under the road in a small culvert, just North of Junction 36 of the M6 motorway, where again it runs under the motorway in a small culvert, and finally ending just North of Stainton, where it’s been in filled. From Stainton to Kendal, the canal has been turned into a cycle path/footpath, encompassing canal, towpaths and bridges.
The Preston to Tewitfield portion of the Canal was officially opened on 22nd of November 1797, with the Tewitfield section finally linking the Kendal section in 1819, completing the canal course to Lancaster. In its 125 year working life span, the canal brought prosperity to Kendal, as coal was imported for the various industries that were housed in and around the town, and limestone and slate from local quarries and other manufactured goods that local industries were producing at the time were exported.
As the railways began to improve the speed and efficiency of the movement of goods and raw materials, the canals eventually began to decline. The Lancaster to Kendal canal was no different, and when the railways arrived in Kendal in the 1840’s, the amount of trade conducted over the canal began to decrease. The last barge load of coal was brought to Kendal in 1944, and although small amounts of trade continued, and passenger barges still frequented the 14 mile stretch of canal, it soon became obvious that this mode of transport was needed no more.
The project to return the land the canal basin and Canal Head occupied to building land, commenced in 1947, and from that time on, the course of the canal became an ideal site for land fill. A final death blow to the canal was dealt in the 1960’s when the M6 motorway was constructed, severing the canal’s route in several places. It’s interesting to note however, that since at least early 2002, plans have been prepared to re-open the Northern Reaches to traffic again. To get further information on this epic project, visit
The path of the canal in Kendal, can still be easily traced.
Starting at the foot of Kendal Castle Hill, Canal Head was the canal terminus. Back in its heyday, the canal banks would have been populated with wharves, stores and warehouses. The rear of what is today Gilkes and Gordon’s engineering works, housed huge arches, through which the laden canal barges would have travelled to be unloaded. The area is now home to the County Council rubbish tip, and a host of business now occupying some of the old warehouses.
The Canal Manager’s house is still standing, and occupied, and stands about 50 yards to the West of Canal Head, and the Canal ticket office, with its green Kendal Civic Society plaque is still standing and has been incorporated into the buildings now occupied by Gilkes and Gordon’s.

Kendal Canal
Canal manager’s House [SD 519926]
Leaving Canal Head, and heading South, the path follows the route of the basin and the tow path, and in places the huge limestone coping stones that would have lined the edges of the tow path, can still be seen. The path, these days used as a footpath and cycle path, runs parallel with Aynam Road, and is a leafy walk with the castle to the left, and the river to the right about a hundred yards away.
Kendal Canal
Castle Bridge

The foot path continues for about another half a mile, before coming to Park Side Road. Here the canal would have passed beneath a road bridge. This has long since been demolished, and only the gentle rise of the wall on one side of the road now gives any clues to the existence of a bridge here.
Crossing Park Side road, the path continues until it comes to what used to be Lound Wharf, and the location of the last bridge in Kendal, Change Bridge. The bridge is unique in Cumbria, being the only bridge that would allow the towing horses to change the side of the canal on which they pulled the canal barges from, without being untethered. In May of 2002, Change Bridge was renovated and restored, along with the house that lies to its West. This is a Miles Thompson designed town house (of the Webster firm fame), and is of local historical interest. The bridge was designed by John Rennie, who was the overall architect of the canal from Lancaster to Kendal, and was erected in 1818/1819.
Kendal Canal
Change Bridge

Moving on from Change Bridge, the canal path travels along the rear of the Leisure centre, until it rises steeply to meet the A65. Here the canal would have gone underneath the road. There is no trace of the bridge that would have carried the road over the canal at this point. From here, the path continues out of Kendal, following the course of Natland Road.
The canal then continues its course out towards Sedgwick, where we encounter the first water filled section at Natland, and on towards the M6, where it is eventually severed by the motorway.
From Sedgwick you can walk north along the canal towpath 3.75 miles to Kendal, or south via Hincaster tunnel to Crooklands.
Hincaster Tunnel
Hincaster Tunnel

The line of the canal through Hincaster was determined by the need to serve the Wakefield Gunpowder Works at Sedgwick. The Hincaster Tunnel is 378 yards in length, and was opened for use on the 18th June 1819.
Tewitfield lock
The Lock at Tewitfield, where the navigable part of the canal now ends,
due to the A6070 embankment. Photo by Tony Richards.

Words and photos by Matthew Emmott, except where shown otherwise.

Shown below are various places, buildings and remains at Canal Head.

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