Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Ups And Downs Of Canal Life

This  last week has been dominated by “Our Passage to Northwich”, which was about as far removed from “A Passage to India”, as possible, but was a passage nonetheless.
Our destination was the very attractive town of Northwich, which sits on the River Weaver. It’s one the “wich” towns of Cheshire, that include Nantwich and Middlewich. These are “salt towns”, and the chances are that the next time you follow a council gritter truck next winter, its contents will have come from this bit of Cheshire.
Taking salt out of the ground has been an industry around these parts for hundreds of years, and subsidence is a constant threat. The centre of Northwich features some very grand, mock Tudor buildings, which, in fact, are all Victorian, and have a special wooden frame that can be jacked up if they start sinking. The biggest of these is the Wetherspoon’s pub “The Penny Black”, which not surprisingly, used to be the main post office. Dead clever those Victorians, and a mile or so north is another amazing Victorian invention, but this one moves.
The Penny Black. The biggest moveable building in England, or so the legend claims

To get from The Trent & Mersey Canal to The River Weaver is a drop of 50 feet, and the Victorians solved this by building a boat lift to link the two back in the 1880s. Called the Anderton Boat Lift it fell derelict in the 1970s but was saved and re-commissioned in 2002, along with much of its original machinery.
You enter into a “caisson”, a bit like a big bath. One or two boats go in at the top and the same thing happens at the bottom. As they pass each other, the weight of one helps the other. It’s very slow, but great fun, and a huge tourist draw. It’s the only one of its type in England, though, of course, there is the newish Falkirk Wheel in Scotland that does a similar thing, albeit in a different way.
There is no charge; you just pitch up at the office, request a passage up or down, and they give you a time slot. There’s some nice mooring at the top of the lift and a half-decent pub opposite (expensive though).  It takes about 12 minutes to make the journey. We had a nice, bright day, when we went down last Saturday morning, but on our return trip on Monday I got very wet.

The Anderton Boat Lift, linking The Trent & Mersey to the River Weaver

Entering into the outer chamber, where the water is equalised

Almost in now and about to drop to the river below

The gates drop behind us 

Out on to the River Weaver and a left turn to Northwich, a mile away

I read in Wikipedia (so it must be true!) that Northwich regularly features as one of the UK’s best top ten towns to live in. There is certainly a very nice “feel” about the place. Our mooring, below the town bridge, was right opposite a new Waitrose and marina that opened just before Christmas There is a lot of building going on all around and it should be a very interesting place to return to in a year or so.  
Our mooring in Northwich, opposite this new Marina, that features a new Waitrose and retirement flats
Two boats down from us was “Bullfinch”. We had not seen Peter and Linda, who, like us, cruise through the summer months, since we were on the Kennet & Avon, two years ago and we cruised the Thames with them. We watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony in a pub in Reading together, if my memory serves me well. Good to see them again and catch up. And their boat is on the latest cover of the “Nicholson’s Boating Guide 5 to the North West”, which is a sort of boater’s bible, to those of you, who do not have webbed feet. It shows them cruising into Liverpool Docks, so they were able to give us some tips, prior to our arrival there in a couple of weeks.
Preston Brook tunnel, that sees the end of the Trent & Mersey and the start of the Bridgewater Canal, our route to Manchester and on to Liverpool

We are now on the Bridgewater Canal at Stockton Heath, on the outskirts of Warrington, very close to Manchester. I have been surprised at how rural our journey has been since we left Anderton and this bit of the Bridgewater has been a real eye-opener. That’ll all change in a couple of days, when we turn left and head towards Wigan, and from there on to the Leeds and Liverpool canal, to commence our approach to the ‘pool.

Toodaloo chums

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