Preston Docks (also known as Riversway or Preston Docklands) is a former maritime dock on the northern bank of the River Ribble, approximately one mile west of Preston city centre.
The dock is 16 miles from the Ribble Estuary and the Irish Sea. It was once an important shipping port but closed in the 1980s. The area is now home to various residential, commercial, and recreational spaces.
Exploring Preston Docks Today
Preston Docks today blends the old and the new, where the echoes of its maritime past coexist with contemporary architecture and infrastructure.
The area has evolved into a bustling urban space that has redefined the city’s waterfront. Places of interest include the Odeon Cinema, Ribble Steam Railway, Riversway Retail Park, Mariners Way Retail Park, and Preston Marina. It is also home to a Morrisons supermarket, fast food restaurants (KFC, McDonald’s), a gym, and many car dealerships.
The Odeon is a 10-screen cinema located on Port Way on the eastern side of the dock. All theatres have Dolby Digital sound, VIP seats, and wheelchair spaces. The cinema shows the latest film releases.
Ribble Steam Railway
The Ribble Steam Railway offers heritage train rides. The railway line runs alongside the river to the Strand Road Level Crossing at the eastern end of the dock. Trains run on Saturdays between April and September.
The museum is home to vintage locomotives and exhibits showcasing Britain’s railway history.
Riversway Retail Park
Located on Mariners Way, this retail park is home to stores such as DFS, Carpetright, Bensons for Beds, Halfords, and Pets at Home.
Mariners Way Retail Park
Mariners Way Retail Park is a small shopping park on Mariners Way. Stores here are B&M and SCS.
The Ribble Pilot
The Ribble Pilot is a family-friendly pub on Mariners Way offering waterside dining. It has an outdoor play area and a menu catering to all tastes and ages.
Preston Marina is at the western end of the Albert Edward Basin. It opened in 1987 after the dock’s closure, retaining the area’s connection to boating. It offers over 100 berths. The harbour building includes a cafe and chandlery.
The marina is a cost-effective and popular base for offshore and inland boat owners. The River Ribble links it to Lytham St Annes and the Irish Sea. Cruising grounds include North Wales, the Isle of Man, and the Cumbria coast.
Furthermore, for offshore boat owners based in North West England, the marina is a convenient option for winter storage.
Beyond its appeal to offshore boat owners, it is also a desirable mooring point for those navigating the UK canal system. Using the Ribble Link, boaters can easily access the Lancaster Canal, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, and the extensive canal network beyond.
A series of lock gates connects The River Ribble to the Albert Edward Basin and the marina. Preston City Council operates them.
The area is home to numerous car dealerships selling brands like BMW, Mini, Porsche, Fiat, Jeep, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Renault, and Skoda. They are located on the eastern and western sides of the dock.
Dealerships on the eastern side include:
- Bowker Preston – BMW and Mini
- Car Supermarket – Used cars
- Porsche Centre Preston – New and approved used Porsche cars
- Preston Motor Park – Abarth, Fiat, Jeep, Alfa Romeo, Volvo
- Evans Halshaw Preston – Ford
- Arnold Clark Motorstore
Dealerships on the western side, at the end of Chain Caul Way, include:
- Marshall Mercedes-Benz
- Preston Audi
- Arnold Clark Preston – Renault
- Simpsons Skoda
JD Gyms Preston
JD Gyms is a fitness facility on the eastern side of the docks.
The gym offers flexible no-contract memberships. Affordable rates make this an ideal gym option for casual users.
The spacious gym floor has over 250 machines for cardio, strength training, and more. The large free weights area accommodates serious weightlifters. Class options range from high-intensity interval training to yoga. Personal trainers are available to create customised workout plans.
Fast Food Restaurants – McDonald’s and KFC
The area offers familiar fast food options for visitors looking for quick, convenient meals.
A 24-hour McDonald’s is situated on Pedders Way along the northern edge of the docks. It is next to the Mariners Way Retail Park. The location has a drive-through for easy access. Customers can enjoy standard McDonald’s fare, like burgers, fries, chicken nuggets, milkshakes, and more.
KFC is on the eastern side of the docks, on Port Way. It is right beside the JD Gym and near the Odeon Cinema. The famous Kentucky Fried Chicken menu offers buckets, chicken sandwiches, popcorn nuggets, sides, and drinks.
The area to the south of the dock is predominantly residential. Developments here include Victoria Mansions, Victoria Quay, Trafalgar Wharf, and Britannia Wharf.
Preston Guild Wheel
Preston’s Guild Wheel, a 21-mile walking and cycling route, offers a unique way to experience the city and the countryside, with a stretch passing along the river and through the docks. Since its opening in 2012, it has become a popular path for locals and tourists who enjoy its natural beauty and panoramic views.
Archaeological evidence indicates Preston, connected to the Irish Sea via the River Ribble, was already a trading settlement as early as the 12th century. Even then, the river was prone to silting, requiring dredging work from the 16th century onward.
But by the late 1700s, it became difficult for the town’s docks to handle all the goods, mainly due to the river’s shallowness.
In the 1800s, a group called the Preston Consortium was formed. It included members of Preston Corporation and business owners. They wanted to find ways to use the river better for trade. They created the Ribble Navigation Company, which reclaimed land and altered the original course of the River Ribble. The New Quays wharves opened in 1825.
However, the river’s shallowness was still a problem. So, in 1837, engineer Robert Stevenson was hired to make the river deeper. He made a deeper river channel, but there were still problems. 1861 the Consortium discussed moving the port from the river to deeper water. The idea was accepted in 1882, and in 1883, Parliament passed the Preston Dock Act to allow the construction of the new docks.
Work to build the new dock basin began in 1884. In July of the following year, Albert Edward, Queen Victoria’s oldest son, laid the first stone of the dock. The Albert Edward Dock was named after him. It officially opened in 1892 and, at that time, was the largest single, inland enclosed dock in Europe.
The docks thrived for much of the 20th century. During the First and Second World Wars, the port was vital in exporting munitions and supporting Britain’s war efforts. A Northern Ireland ferry service commenced in 1948.
Closure and Redevelopment
While Preston Docks had prospered for centuries as a port, changes to the shipping industry in the latter half of the twentieth century rendered it obsolete. Despite attempts to remain competitive, the port could not overcome its disadvantages. In 1981 the Preston Dock Closure Act formally closed the port of Preston.
The demise of the port was ultimately the result of several economic and infrastructural factors that made the port unviable by the late 20th century:
- Competition from larger ports – As shipping technology advanced, larger ports like Liverpool could accommodate bigger container ships. Business was drawn away from the port.
- Silting of the Ribble – Ongoing silting issues reduced the river’s depth over time, limiting the size of ships that could access the docks. The constant dredging proved too costly.
- Tidal limitations – The docks were built on a tidal river, meaning boats could only enter and leave at high tide. Many competing ports were accessible at all times.
- Containerisation – The global shipping industry shifted to using standardised containers. The port needed more space and facilities to adapt its workflow for efficient container handling.
- High costs – With rising overhead costs but decreasing revenues, the financial viability of operating Preston Docks was lost. Closure became inevitable.
After its closure, there was a period of uncertainty regarding the future of the area. However, the site was redeveloped by Preston City Council in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. The derelict land was transformed into a modern residential, leisure, and commercial centre.
Location and Getting to Preston Docks
Preston Docks is on the northern bank of the River Ribble, about 1 mile west of Preston city centre.
The docks are accessible by various modes of transportation. Public buses run regular routes to the area, and ample parking exists for those who prefer to drive. Thanks to a network of well-maintained paths, pedestrians and cyclists can easily navigate the area.
The area offers numerous parking spaces for visitors arriving by car. Most retail and leisure facilities, including the Odeon, JD Gyms, Riversway Retail Park, and Mariners Way Retail Park, provide free customer car parks. Be mindful of parking restrictions or time limits in certain areas, particularly during busy periods.
Key destinations and their postcodes for navigation include:
- JD Gyms – Port Way PR2 2YQ
- KFC – Port Way PR2 2YQ
- Mariners Way Retail Park – Mariners Way, PR2 2YN
- McDonald’s – Pedders Way PR2 2TX
- Morrisons Supermarket – Mariners Way, PR2 2YN
- Odeon Cinema – Port Way, PR2 2YQ
- Preston Marina – Navigation Way, PR2 2YP
- Ribble Steam Railway – Chain Caul Road, PR2 2PD
- Riversway Retail Park – Mariners Way, PR2 2YN
- The Ribble Pilot – Mariners Way PR2 2YN
The roads can get busy during peak hours, particularly Port Way and Mariners Way. Plan your visit outside of these times if possible to avoid congestion.
Buses 74 and 100 go to Preston Docks.
- 74 – Preston to Fleetwood
- 100 – Preston to Larches
On reaching Preston Docks, bus 74 travels along Navigation Way on the southern side of the dock. It then crosses Preston Swing Bridge and travels along the western side of the dock, passing Preston Marina before leaving the area and heading towards Fleetwood.
On reaching Preston Docks, bus 100 travels north along Port Way. Get off here for the Odeon Preston, JD Gyms, and KFC. The bus then travels along Mariners Way on the northern side of the dock. Get off here for the Ribble Pilot, Riversway Retail Park, Morrisons, Mariners Way Retail Park, and McDonald’s. The bus then leaves the area and heads towards the Larches.
There is no train station within walking distance of the docks. The closest station is Preston, a station on the West Coast Main Line. To reach the docks from here, get a taxi or take bus 74 or 100.
The dock area is friendly to pedestrians and cyclists, with several walking paths and cycle lanes. The Guild Wheel, a 21-mile cycling and walking route, passes through the docks. It provides a scenic route for those exploring the area on foot or by bicycle.
Other Attractions in Preston, Lancashire
Other attractions within easy reach of the docks include: