No we haven't taken Leo down the Manchester Ship Canal, although we have spoken about doing the bit between the River Weaver and Ellesmere Port sometime. No, Ian decided for his birthday treat this year that we would pay for a cruise along its length on a Mersey Ferry. This is the story of the cruise with plenty of pictures.
We left home in good time to drive to Liverpool to catch the ferry at 11.00. Having booked some time in advance for one of the last cruises of the season, it was good to see that the weather was reasonable, though not sunny. We parked the car in Liverpool One and walked to the riverside. Memories came back of our time in Liverpool two years ago on Leo.
Here is 'Royal Iris' coming across the Mersey from Seacombe to pick us up. Though we had been waiting for a while, entertainment was provided by a liner, 'Boudicca' manoeuvring in the river to come in.
And soon we were off up the Mersey cruising with the last of the flood tide on the Birkenhead side of the river. Here you can see the two Cathedrals - 'Paddy's Wigwam' to the left and the Anglican Cathedral on the right. These buildings are at either end of Hope Street which seems very appropriate. As the song says, "If you want a cathedral we've got one to spare."
Twelve miles up river (though it seemed much less) you come to the start of the Ship Canal at Eastham Locks. The first lock was fascinating in a ship, but by the last locking came to seem an unwelcome interruption to the cruise. And we couldn't get off to help in the locking!!
Here the lock has been filled and we are waiting for the gates to open.
Here is the Ship Canal running close beside the Mersey. As we went up the swing bridges magically opened before us. No getting off to heave and push them open.
Before very long from Eastham we came to the exit for the Shropshire Union Canal at Ellesmere Port. The Shroppie goes up the channel just by the lighthouse and soon turns sharp left into the basin of the National Waterways Museum. Further up crowds of museum visitors stood and watched us pass by.
Stanlow Oil refinery comes next. This is huge and the regulations say there should be no smoking on boats passing by. There were a couple of ships here waiting to load, so clearly there is still some commercial use of the Ship Canal.
The Ship Canal continued beside the river until we reached the River Weaver, which we have also cruised on Leo. The Weaver flows across the Ship Canal and here you see it coming in by the ICI chemicals plant on the outskirts of Runcorn.
You can just make out in the middle of this picture Weston Marsh Lock which provides access to the Weaver Navigation from the Ship Canal. We'd walked down to look at this lock when we came here on Leo on a cold damp windswept day when the Ship Canal looked very intimidating.
Here is the tallest part of the chemical plant which stretches for between 2 and 3 miles alongside the Weaver Navigation. The Navigation is a narrow channel between the Ship Canal and this building.
For some reason a whole line of old lock gates was stored here in the Ship Canal. The Mersey is behind them.
And lest you thought there were no boats moving, we passed this one around the bend at Runcorn. There was much tooting and waving.
This disused church is known as the Sailors' Church because it functioned 24/7 as a church for passing sailors and had no land based congregation.
This was the largest ship we saw on the Canal. A couple of them regularly travel the Canal to Runcorn.
These are the Runcorn-Widnes Bridges and this point is the narrowest on the Ship Canal, definitely one ship at a time past here. Again the Mersey is just to the left.
We were interested to find that the effect you commonly see in a narrowboat of the water level falling as the boat goes past, was visible in a more extreme form on this trip. The difference in level was close to 3 feet rather than a couple of inches. But then we were doing about 10-12 knots.
There had been a long spell without locks from Eastham at the start of the Ship Canal but the last few locks come close together. These are the Latchford Locks.
Being used to locks of 60 or 70 foot long it was an eye-opener to see this one catering for ships of more than 300 foot long.
This small weir is where the non-tidal River Mersey flows into the Ship Canal to supply it with water.
From here the Ship Canal climbs gradually into Manchester and away from the original course of the Mersey.
Here is the view behind Royal Iris as she came into Irlam Locks. Where bridges do not swing, as this one, they have to be pretty high above the water.
Another famous sight for canal folk! Either side of the brick tower are the two Barton Swing Bridges. The nearer one is the road bridge and the one behind is the Swing Aqueduct on the Bridgewater Canal. Again we had crossed the aqueduct on Leo in 2012.
This is one end of the Swing Aqueduct and you can clearly see the gate that holds the water in as it swings. In the closed position this gate lies on the bottom of the canal. The table below it has a pipe to drain away any leaking water.
And this is the end of the Bridgewater Canal with a similar gate to stop the canal draining away.
Here you can see both Barton Swing Bridges closing behind us.
There are some modern and rather fun bridges on the final few miles into Salford Quays.
This is the Centenary Bridge which lifts the whole road platform on four columns. The Centenary in question is that the bridge was opened in 1994, 100 years since the Manchester Ship Canal was opened.
Finally we reached the last lock, close by the Coronation Street studios (just to the right). This is Mode Wheel Lock, so called after 'Maud's Wheel' which was the water wheel that drove a corn mill on the River Irlam close to here before the Canal was built. This lock is one of the deepest at 13 feet and raised the ship to the level of the Salford Basin.
We had to sit in the lock until the Millenium Footbridge was swung to allow us to continue our cruise. This is a shapely bridge that links the BBC and ITV studios as well as use by the public.
Here you can see the sinuous curves of this suspension bridge as it is held in the open position to allow us to pass.
And here is the last bridge which again lifts the whole bridge deck into the air. This is the Media City Footbridge. There were thousands of rugby fans waiting to cross to Old Trafford as we came past but they were all pretty good natured. Wigan were playing St Helens.
And finally here is our good ship, Royal Iris waiting to return to Liverpool the following day. The cruise finished with a coach to take us back to Liverpool to pick up the car. A good day out for £35 each we felt.