Thursday 4 August 2022

Chester by boat

 We are in fact now in Nantwich on the Shropshire Union Canal heading south but here is our experience of visiting Chester by boat. The cruise down into Chester from the junction at Barbridge, where most boats turn south towards Nantwich and Audlem is full of variety with double staircase locks at Bunbury, an iron lock and fine views over the Cheshire countryside.

This is Beeston Iron Lock. The two locks at Beeston are called the Iron and the Stone locks because of their construction. Stone built locks are fairly conventional but this one was made of iron because the sand it was built in shifted and the only way the builders could guarantee its continued use was to build the whole thing of iron and sink it into the ground. There are warning signs here to use the wide lock only one narrowboat at a time but on the way back we managed two boats together. It may be that a couple of working boats might be too tight a squeeze but leisure boats like ours at 6 foot 10 inches beam are fine.

The view to the south here is of Beeston Castle built in the 14th century on a prominent rocky eminence. On our way back we climbed up to the castle (owned by English Heritage) and admired the view from the top. You do have to pay to get the view (unless you are members) but we could see Liverpool, Manchester, Jodrell Bank, Mow Cop and the Wrekin not to mention the Welsh mountains, Moel Famau being the highest.

This prominent blue water tower is a key feature as the canal descends further locks into the city. It is on the site of waterworks which pumps water up from the River Dee.

And here is the view as we came down into Chester. Underneath the Steam Mill tower is a restaurant called Artichoke that we had recommended to us, though it was only open in the evenings.

We moored in the city for a couple of days and spent a whole day sightseeing. Here we are walking the walls which go all around the city. This part is along the River Dee where you can see the weir and the bridge. There is a canal branch which links with the River Dee but it is not presently navigable. Even if it was, the weir is a great obstruction to going upstream though there are plenty of boats above the weir. Below the weir the river is tidal.

We had a look round the Cathedral and later returned for a guided climb to the top of the tower. We admired the carvings on the choir stalls. This one shows a man whose bottom half is in the jaws of a dragon. He doesn't look too worried about this.

And this one shows a man quaffing ale while trampling a child underfoot.

Ian has a fascination for unusual gravestones. This one makes great play of the fact that the deceased had decided that his relatives had plenty of money and so gave his estate to the Cathedral. The bottom part of the inscription says "This plain monument, with the above inscription upon this cheap stone, is according to the express words of Dean Arderne's will."

Below where we were moored are triple staircase locks which are deep and forbidding. These lead down to Tower Wharf where there was a festival during our visit to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Chester Canal. Here you can see the festival boats with bunting.

This is the canal branch which leads down three locks from Tower Wharf to the River Dee. Some boats have their moorings down the first lock.

And here is the exit into the River Dee at the end of the branch. Clearly there is work to do to make this navigable even on a high tide on the river. Still it does look more navigable than it did when we were last here 7 years ago. So maybe there is hope.

Here we are in the city looking up Bridge Street. Chester has ancient shopping streets known as the Rows where you can walk along at first floor level past a higher level of shops. You can make out this higher level walkway in the picture.

Part way down the street the Grosvenor Shopping Centre opens up to the side. Lined with marble and beautifully preserved.

This is the street facade of the Grosvenor Shopping Centre.

Later in the afternoon we returned to the Cathedral for our trip to the roof of the tower. The views were excellent even on this fairly dull day. This view looking east shows the curious separate bell tower of the Cathedral. The distant hills include the 'lump' where Beeston Castle sits.

This view looks west towards Wales. The fine building is the town hall.

And here on a long zoom we could see Liverpool. The anglican Cathedral is the tall building in the middle of the photo with the Roman Catholic Cathedral between the two pylons on the far right.


In the cloister of the Cathedral we found this stained glass memorial to Mallory and Irvine who perished on Everest in 1924. It seems they were from Cheshire: we didn't know that.

After a couple of days looking round the city we continued on the canal. Much of the route is cut down through solid sandstone rock forming a gorge below the city walls.

Here we are cruising under Northgate Bridge at the northern entrance to Roman Chester.

This picture shows the gorge at its deepest and narrowest.

The Northgate Staircase falls 33 feet in three deep locks. This photo is taken as we pass through the middle lock.

Lots of little fish got caught on the cill of the lock as the water went down. They flipped and they flipped and some managed to flip into the water down below the cill.

This shot shows how the locks have been cut down through solid rock. What an amazing structure.

This photo looking back shows the boats of the festival suitably decorated in the basin below the staircase.

Just to finish this posting I've included a couple of photos from our journey back up the Northgate Staircase a couple of days later. In the meantime we had been to Ellesmere Port and visited the Boat Museum there, but that is another story. Coming back up the staircase we had paired with another narrowboat and between the middle and the top locks we passed a boat coming down. This is unusual but not impossible for a pair going one way to pass a single boat going the other way. It requires some shuffling of one boat and that job fell to us. Our paired boat is ahead of us in the picture and Ian has moved Leo across the lock to let the down boat come into the vacant space left behind. Ian then needs to move across in travelling into the next lock. And all without a bow thruster. Who needs one of those noisy cheating devices? The whole exercise is like those toys where you have to move tiles in a frame around to create a pattern.

A double staircase is easy to set  up to use - you simply have to ensure that the top lock is full and the bottom lock is empty before you start either going up or going down. But with a staircase of three locks how do you set the middle one? The answer here is that there is a level marker shown here. The middle lock has to be set in the green i.e. part filled. If its level is in the yellow then you have to let water out down into the bottom lock. If its level is in the red band (below the water level in the photo) then you need to add more water from the top lock. Clever but simple.

Well that is about it for our trip to Chester. We would certainly recommend a trip to the city as part of a boating journey. As I said at the start of this posting we are now in Nantwich heading south with a myriad of other boats probably because most of the other northern canals are short of water and closed. However the arm to Chester and Ellesmere Port was very quiet by comparison.

Friday 8 July 2022

Passage into Liverpool

 We are now in the docks in Liverpool and have been since we came down the Liverpool Canal Link on Monday. We're here for a few days enjoying the sights but I thought it might be useful to show the approach into Liverpool Docks for those that haven't made this journey. The Liverpool Canal Link was opened in 2009 as part of an initiative to revitalise the docks in Liverpool to encourage more visitors. It is now possible to take a narrowboat down from the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to moor in Salthouse Dock (next to the famous Albert Dock).

So this is the story of our trip down here:

We arrived on Sunday evening at Litherland. This is not a part of Liverpool where one would normally choose to moor overnight. However there is a CRT services block (toilet, rubbish etc) which is all behind locked gates (CRT key) so no-one other than fellow boaters can access. Alongside the canal is a huge Tesco so stocking up is easily done too.

On Monday morning we set off to cruise the four miles to the top of the Stanley Locks. No need for an early start as we aimed to be there for 1 pm. The morning contingent of boats coming up out of Liverpool had arrived at Litherland before we left. Boats are taken up from the docks first and then boats are allowed down so you are unlikely to meet a boat coming the other way. The mural in the photo is at Bootle and adds some decoration to a fairly drab part of the world.

Passing through Bootle we passed this old canal arm left over from the commercial era.

As this milepost shows we are getting close by this point. The milepost shows 2 miles to Liverpool and 125 and a quarter miles to Leeds.

Some of the route passes through industrial dereliction. An old chimney here has found a new purpose as a mobile phone mast.

And here we are passing an old covered wharf where narrowboats were once loaded and unloaded under cover of the projecting roof.

This interesting cast iron bridge is near to the top of the locks. Oddly the bridge sign says that it was re-erected by the Health Committee in 1861. Why was the Health Committee involved in bridge building? I do not know but scope for research here I think. The bridge was made at the Union Foundry in Liverpool.

Here we are coming to the right turn under the pipe bridge into the top lock of the Stanley Lock Flight of 4 locks which leads down to the docks. This was historically the way in which narrowboats and broad beam 'short boats' went down into the docks to load up from ships that had arrived via the River Mersey. You can go straight on here to Eldonian Basin a couple of hundred yards further but last time we went it was pretty horrible - full of weed and litter. We have read that it has been cleaned up but we don't know that for sure. I'd certainly be reluctant to spend the night there.

There were so many volunteer lock keepers on duty on Monday that we did not have to lift a paddle or push a lock gate as we came down the four locks with another boat. Our plan had been to have lunch at the top of the flight and wait until people turned up at the appointed time of 1 pm to let us down. However at about 11.45 we arrived to find another boat just going into the lock, so we joined them. The trip through the Link took about an hour and a half. The picture is taken from the entry to lock 3 and looks through a railway arch towards the Victoria Clock Tower and to the left of that you can see the bascule bridge between Stanley and Collingwood Docks.

Here we are in the bottom lock about to go forward into Stanley Dock. To the left is the huge Tobacco Warehouse which is still said to be the largest brick building in the world. 27 million bricks we're told but we've not counted them!

The first of the docks is Stanley Dock. The Tobacco Warehouse is to the left and is being converted into flats while on the right is the Titanic Hotel in another old warehouse.

Chaps were in the process of cleaning the windows of the Hotel by abseiling down.

As we crossed the Salisbury Dock towards the Victoria Clock Tower the strong wind was whipping up some significant waves and the left turn into 'Sid's Ditch' was a bit tricky. Beyond the Clock Tower is the River Mersey.

Looking back you can see the stupendous size of the Tobacco Warehouse.

Here we are about to make the left turn to run parallel to the Mersey, but thankfully in a separate channel and so not subject to its speedy tidal currents and choppy waters.

This is the start of Sid's Ditch. For just over half a mile the route lies outside (i.e. on the river side) of the old docks but an embankment has been made to separate the channel from the river. Keep away from the right hand side of the channel because it slopes gradually down and it might be possible to ground the boat.

By this point we did feel we were getting there with the distant view of the Liver Building ahead. Under the sloping bridge ahead we entered Prince's Dock between the modern buildings.

Here we are crossing Prince's Dock and heading towards Prince's Dock Lock. This is a modern lock which takes the boat down a couple of feet to a new channel in front of the 'Three Graces' - the splendid waterfront buildings from the beginning of the 20th century. A CRT chap who had hitched a lift on the boat in front of us, let us through the lock.

Three new concrete lined tunnels follow. The building ahead is the Museum of Liverpool (well worth a visit) while on the left is first the Cunard Building and then the Port of Liverpool Building which, together with the Liver Building, form the 'Three Graces'.

Here we are looking up as we passed the Liver Building at almost one o'clock.

After the three tunnels we passed through the final lock - Mann Island Lock which let us down just a short way to the level of Canning Dock. The tall chimney is on the Pump House, now a pub but originally for pumping hydraulic pressure to operate all the gates and paddles and cranes around the docks. From Canning Dock we passed the end of two 'graving docks' for ship repair and then turned right into Canning Half Tide Lock. At the end of this one is another gate allowing access to the Mersey.

Here we are passing the Pump House and heading for the fine brick buildings which surround the Albert Dock.

Near the river end of Canning Half Tiide Lock we followed our companions and turned left under a swing bridge into the Albert Dock. The multicoloured 'T' is beside Tate Liverpool which is on the river side of Albert Dock.

And this is Albert Dock which Michael Hesletine memorably saved from demolition and conversion into a car park! The warehouses were designed to be fireproof because they were mainly used to store cotton and tobacco which are a major fire risk. So there is no wood in the warehouse construction only steel, brick and stone. So sure was their builder that it would work he arranged to have a fire lit in one to demonstrate how resilient they were. Albert Dock is now a major tourist attraction and home to the Tate and many restaurants as well as showers for boaters!

At the far side of Albert Dock we passed under another bridge to enter Salthouse Dock, our final destination and our mooring for five nights.You can just see Leo below where it says 'John Lewis'. Salthouse Dock was where salt was loaded onto boats. On the landward side now is the Liverpool One shopping area, so handy for visiting boaters.
So there you have it - the Liverpool Canal Link - a wonderful initiative. As I type and publish this we have come almost to the end of our stay in Liverpool and tomorrow (Saturday 9th) we leave to return up the link to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.It is worth adding that there are lots of things to do in Liverpool so we have not been idle and would happily come again.