Friday, 24 August 2012

Back in Middlewich

We’ve really enjoyed our few days on the River Weaver and would definitely recommend this to other boaters.  It has some wonderful scenery as well as some strange and peculiar industrial plants alongside the river.

On Tuesday we did not travel very far as the morning was taken up with washing towels and touching up various bits of paint on the boat.  We went down through Vale Royal and Hunts Locks to Northwich and moored in the centre of town.  We followed a walk leaflet that our friends had left us and looked at some of the fine black and white buildings in the town.

RAOB Club Building Northwich

The Old Post Office, now Wetherspoons

These buildings are not as old as they look, in fact dating from  Victorian times.  There is a great deal of subsidence in Northwich because of mining salt by pumping brine from deep down.  Many of the timber buildings are designed to be jacked up when they subside.  The swing bridges on the river are mostly floating on pontoons as this gets round the subsidence problem.

Wetherspoons in the town is the old Post Office and is called The Penny Black.  Having arrived there just as it began to rain we decided to view the inside as well as the outside of the building!

From Northwich we went down river first back to the Anderton Lift and then past some salt works before regaining open country:
Salt Works by River Weaver

Cruising the River Weaver

We descended the other two locks, Saltersford and Dutton and crossed under the Acton Swing Bridge – said to be the largest electric swing bridge in the UK.  After Dutton Lock you also pass under the Dutton Railway Viaduct.
Acton Swing Bridge - note the threatening clouds

Dutton Railway Viaduct

The weather was interesting with splendid clouds which occasionally did what clouds are good at.

 Near Weston Marsh Lock (which gives access to the Manchester Ship Canal) you begin a three mile stretch of river lined on the North bank by the huge Runcorn ICI chemical plant.  The sheer size of this is amazing.
Runcorn ICI Chemical Works

Runcorn ICI Chemical Works

The end of the navigation is a very low and impassable swing bridge marking the entrance to Weston Point Docks:
Weston Point Swing Bridge
On our way back we stopped at Marsh Lock to cross over to look at the Ship Canal.  The weather was horrible with rain and wind but we managed to see aircraft landing at John Lennon airport across the Mersey.  The airport is very close to Speke Hall where we had been two weeks previously.  The Ship Canal looked very large and windswept.
Wide Manchester Ship Canal at its confluence with the River Weaver
We spent our last night on the Weaver at Devil’s Garden moorings where we had to prune a few trees and shrubs to allow us to take the last available space:
Mooring in the Devil's Garden
On Thursday afternoon we came back up the Anderton Lift having taken time out in the morning to service the engine.  After a night near the lift we have travelled today down the Trent and Mersey to Middlewich.  Some of this stretch of canal runs through small lakes, called flashes, which have been caused by salt subsidence.  One of these made a lovely spot for a lunch stop.
Croxton Flash - views of seagulls and Canada Geese during our lunch
Before long we had to get to grips with boater operated locks (those on the Weaver are operated for you) again as we came into Middlewich with four locks up to the junction with the Shropshire Union branch and then a further one on the branch itself.  Apart from the stop lock South of Preston Brook Tunnel these were the first 'proper' locks we had met since Wigan
Middlewich Locks
David and Victoria are joining us tomorrow for a few days swiftly followed by Ian’s sister Ruth and brother-in-law Peter.  So Leo will be replete with guests and blogging will probably fall by the wayside for a bit.  Our aim is now to travel to Chester and perhaps Ellesmere Port before we return to Middlewich to continue our journey Southward.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Down and Out on the Weaver

We’ve had an interesting couple of days since we left the Bridgewater Canal which was our exit route from Manchester and we are now moored in delightful surroundings on the River Weaver in Cheshire.

By contrast with the other canals we’ve travelled, it would be fair to say that we found the Bridgewater Canal a bit boring.  40 miles with no locks, no swing bridges and a wide and mostly straight course does not provide much entertainment.  It is fine for a linking route but not, we’ve found, a place to spend much time.  There were some highlights nonetheless.  We liked the village of Lymm where we had a nice evening meal at the Spread Eagle with our friends Iain and Ann on Friday.  Coming out of Manchester we detoured up the Runcorn Branch.  This used to end in 10 locks down onto the River Mersey but these have long since fallen into disuse and been built over, so it is now a dead end.  Still we did walk down to see the splendid bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal and the Mersey, built in the 1960’s:
Runcorn to Widnes Bridge
We also spotted this wonderful way of taking a bike ride and exercising your dog:
Dog Power !!
For a little excursion we visited the church in the village where Lewis Carroll was born.  This now has a window with Carroll, Alice and characters from the books.  Look at the lower part of the window in this picture and see what you can recognise:
Lewis Carroll Window in Daresbury Church
Unfortunately there was a wedding on so this picture is taken from an information board!!

Where the Bridgewater meets the Trent and Mersey Canal is the first of three tunnels we travelled yesterday – Preston Brook is the first and nearly a mile long, the other two are shorter but more entertaining as they are crooked so you cannot see one end from the other.
North Portal of Preston Brook Tunnel
Today we’ve experienced one of the wonders of the canals – the Anderton Boat Lift.  This takes boats up and down the 50 feet between the Trent and Mersey and the River Weaver below.  The lift was built in 1875 and has been reconstructed twice, most recently in 2002.  It is powered by hydraulic rams which ordinarily lift one caisson while the other falls.  Here are some photos of our experience:
Anderton Lift - River Weaver visible below

In the lift caisson with 'Avocet'

With Avocet we are going down and you can see the trip boat going up

Down now and River Weaver ahead

Coming out of the lift at the bottom

Going up or down the lift is an experience not to be missed.

Now we are down and have been exploring the River Weaver upstream of the lift this afternoon, with our friends Andrew and Valerie who joined us for the day.  The river which was developed for coastal ships to use to collect the salt which is mined hereabouts.  Nowadays fortunately there is little or no commercial traffic and some of the sores of the mining industry have grown over.  The river is a positive delight.  Upstream of Winsford, the official navigable limit, the river becomes very narrow and then suddenly opens out into a huge lake caused by subsidence where they have pumped the salt out over many years.  Apparently some of this lake is a bit shallow so we did not go down too far, but just motored in sufficiently far to appreciate it and then turned round and beat a retreat while we were still floating.  We did have Helen with a boathook on the bow measuring the depth and she did not manage to touch the bottom, so perhaps the difficulties have been exaggerated, but be careful if you do try this just in case.
Out on Winsford Bottom Flash
Here are some other pictures of the Weaver to whet your appetite.
This is the largest commercial vessel we've seen and it doesn't look as if it's going anywhere soon

River Weaver scenery

Valerie, Andrew and Helen enjoying a sunny day on the Weaver

Salt Mine near Winsford

An idyllic mooring this evening

Tomorrow we plan to explore downstream from the Anderton Lift and we may even stay on the Weaver for a day or two more especially if the weather continues as lovely as it has been this afternoon.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Manchester Revisited

When we visited Manchester two months ago it would be fair to say that we were not impressed.  However we had risen that morning at 4.30 am to tackle the Ashton Locks and it was raining.  So it was only fair to give the city a second chance to impress us and our impressions of the city have undoubtedly improved.  We are presently moored at the bottom rather than the top of the Rochdale Nine – the flight of locks through the centre of the city.  Here there is a lovely canal basin at Castlefield with lots of other basins to investigate and within a few minutes walk of the Museum of Science and Industry and the tram and railway stations.  The basin is also surrounded by waterside pubs and restaurants.  And it hasn’t rained today either.

In getting here we came through Leigh, a town that still has many old mills.  Leigh marks the boundary between the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the Bridgewater Canal.
Mill at Leigh

Stop Plank Crane - a characteristic of the Bridgewater Canal

We also visited the Colliery Museum at Astley Green which we would recommend to anyone who likes big old machines.
Astley Pit Head - Engine House to left

Double Steam Engine to lift cage of mine

This is the cable that lifted the cage - difficult to lift just this section

Lovingly restored Steam Engine

Worsley has a canal branch which once went through tunnels direct into the coal mines where there are 40-50 miles of underground canal tunnels.
Worsley Delph - entrance to mines

Curious Lighthouse at Worsley

On the outskirts of the city we came over one of the wonders of the canal age – the Barton Swing Aqueduct.  Here the Bridgewater Canal crosses the Manchester Ship Canal.  Nothing unusual there except that the aqueduct itself swings open to allow ships to pass underneath.  You can just make out the mechanism that closes the canal trough to allow this to be swung without loss of water.  Quite amazing.  We wished we’d seen it in action.
Barton Swing Aqueduct

View from Barton Aqueduct of road swing bridge
At Water’s Meet we turned left into the city passing Pomona Lock which allows boats to pass down into the Ship Canal.  
Pomona Lock
And so to Castlefield Basin:
Castlefield Basin from Grocers' Warehouse - Leo with red roof

Having a drink by the water

Today we left Leo in the basin and took the tram to Salford Quays to visit the Lowry summer exhibition and buy odd things at the Outlet Mall.
Salford Quays
And finally for those cyclists I left behind in Woking here is a picture of a rather large bicycle:
Huge Bicycle
In the next few days we will be following the Bridgewater Canal South-westward to Runcorn and Preston Brook where we will again join the Trent and Mersey Canal.  We are planning to drop down to the River Weaver by means of the Anderton Boat Lift for a few days on our way South.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Leaving of Liverpool

After 10 days seeing the sights of Liverpool and the surrounding area, we finally left the city on Thursday with our friends William and Daphne on board with us for a few days.  As we came out we saw another huge liner, the Caribbean Princess moored at the Pier Head:
Caribbean Princess - seen from the Liverpool Canal Link

Ian, William and Daphne - new cut through docks

Once out of Liverpool, we retraced our steps and then we turned left onto the Rufford Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool.  
Rufford Branch goes left through the arched bridge
This is the branch that canal boats now use to access the Ribble Link as a means of connecting with the Lancaster Canal.  Unfortunately we have been unable to book the Ribble Link so we are saving this for a future year.  Nevertheless we enjoyed journeying down the Branch which has 7 locks down to Rufford  where we spent the night and then visited a National Trust property at Rufford Old Hall.  This is an interesting old house, originally built in 1530 but considerably altered in the 1720’s and the 1820’s.
Rufford Old Hall
After looking around the Old Hall we carried on down to the end of the Branch at Tarleton.  This is a lovely winding and narrow section among the reeds along what was an old course of the River Douglas. 
Rufford Branch
At Tarleton there were seagoing vessels and the lock out onto the tidal River Douglas which is the route to the River Ribble and the North.
Boats at Tarleton

River Douglas to the left and lock to Rufford Branch on the right

Our last night with William and Daphne we spent on a backwater by Appley Locks.  We managed a barbecue despite occasional light rain and this made a fitting end to a good few days with our friends. 
Barbecue at Appley Locks
Today we carried on through Wigan stopping for lunch at a pub called the Orwell at Wigan Pier.  After lunch we said goodbye to William and Daphne and soon turned right on new waters on the Leigh Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool.  We are moored tonight near Dover Locks where there used to be two locks.  Because of mining subsidence the scenery round here has changed dramatically.  Where there were fields there are now lakes and the two locks were moved to more secure ground at Wigan so there are no locks here any more.

Here to finish is a picture of our flowers and of a wild garden on a lock gate we passed earlier today.
Petunias, Fuschia and variegated plant we rescued from the canal

Wild Garden in a lock gate at Wigan