Lancaster’s Lune Aqueduct undergoes £2.3million facelift

Workers on the project needed a head for heights

Workers on the project needed a head for heights - Credit: Archant

Sue Riley charts the restoration of one of Lancashire’s long neglected landmarks

Local people who were consulted about the restoration

Local people who were consulted about the restoration - Credit: Archant

One of Lancashire’s most statuesque structures has been given a £2.3million facelift to bring it into the 21st Century. Work on the leaking Lancaster Aqueduct has just been completed following a three year project which has seen the structure drained – they quite literally had to pull the plug – leaks repaired, new concrete liners installed, graffiti removed, towpaths improved and some of the missing and cracked masonry replaced.

In recent years the Grade I listed aqueduct, once painted by luminaries including JMW Turner, has sprung leaks and started to show its age. Now the Canal & River Trust hope the refurbishment will bring the aqueduct back to national prominence.

Youngsters from Ridge Community Primary School at the officially opening

Youngsters from Ridge Community Primary School at the officially opening - Credit: Archant

‘We wanted to raise the profile of the canal, it’s hidden away where it is - we think it’s just as important as the Lancaster Castle or the Ashton Memorial,’ said Trust Enterprise Manager Stephen Higham. ‘The project has been transformative really. We have taken a heritage site and improved it drastically. We have turned it into an added tourist attraction for Lancaster.

‘It was not meeting its potential, when you see pictures of the aqueduct from the 1900s we have all five arches on show, the aqueduct was dominating the landscape. Two years ago you could only see a couple of the arches,’ he said. The restoration has already won a major National Waterways Renaissance Award.

The aqueduct carries Lancaster Canal over the River Lune and the navigable waterway is one of the most popular in England - particularly since the Ribble Link opened 10 years ago providing access to the national network of canals. When the aqueduct was built in 1797 it cost £30,000 more than expected (the regal sum of £48,321) leaving no cash for a Ribble Aqueduct so the canal was effectively left isolated although it attracted people from all over the country keen to see John Rennie’s classical design and state-of-the-art building techniques.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery, the Canal & River Trust and Lancashire County and Lancaster City Councils, the restoration project started with a six-month consultation with more than 2,000 people.

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Residents particularly wanted a new access ramp for walkers and cyclists from the River Lune up to the canal and a car park. What they didn’t want were picnic areas or for the aqueduct to be floodlit – two of the original ideas. Youngsters asked for things like water slides and diving boards!

The team decided to preserve and improve on the area’s natural beauty by creating a mini nature reserve (about the size of a football pitch) on an area of wasteland once used as a dredging site at the base of the aqueduct. The reserve can be found via the picturesque riverside walk and also from a new car park on Caton Road. Students at Myerscough College cut back more than 200 trees to make the aqueduct more visible and the nature area, which will be completed this summer, features a number of ponds, dipping platforms, outdoor classroom and sculptures with meadow, grassland and sensory planting.

‘We are happy we have struck a nice balance,’ said Stephen, who has been involved with the project since the beginning and was responsible for writing the lottery funding bid.

Lune Aqueduct Project Officer David Hennessey added: ‘We wanted a heavy focus on community engagement, with schools and older people’

During the past three years more than 1,500 people have been involved in events, workshops and discussions about the project. They are now hoping to create a self sufficient group, the Friends of the Lune Aqueduct, to ensure its future success. In the meantime they are training four Explorers, adult volunteers who will lead classroom walks around the aqueduct talking about the history, heritage and natural flora and fauna.

This essential piece of Lancashire’s transport history may have been brought bang up to date but essentially the aqueduct remains as impressive as it was when it first opened; a classical design as stylish now as it was then.

Water way to celebrate

Wildlife expert Russ Hedley will be holding a range of nature walks along the canal. North Lancashire Bat Group will also be leading walks. There will be free canoe and kayaking sessions during the summer. Details will be uploaded on

This month, to coincide with Heritage Open Days, there will be free trips up the waterway on a canal barge

Between 7pm and 9pm on October 29th and 30th The Dukes theatre will hold the finale of its Wild Wonders of the Waterways mini festival at the aqueduct, based around the wildlife and environment in and around the canal. The theatre was responsible for last year’s popular Phoenix from the Ashes sound and light show.

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