Up the creek without a paddle

Oh no, little did we know what was to befall us. After the excitement and novelty of using the Anderton Boat lift, we moored for the night on the floating pontoons at Barons Quay, Northwich. The town on one side and the tranquillity of Furey Woods on the offside. The next morning we set off downstream towards Winsford, end of the Weaver navigation for narrowboaters. Having painstakingly set up our VHF radio so we could call ahead to alert the lockies, like we’d done for previous manned river locks, we realised it wouldn’t be necessary on the Weaver as CRT has decreed that due to Covid, the locks will only be operated on alternate days at fixed times, on a first come first served basis. With a pair of lockies driving between locks. We’re not impressed by this, but it is what it is, at least we were cruising. So with the paraphernalia stowed away, but still wearing our life jackets off we set. Hunts lock is only 10 minutes cruise from Northwich We were the only boat waiting to go up but there were already 8 waiting to come back down. We didn’t rush because we knew had plenty of time to get to to the next lock at Vale Royal, before the lockies arrived.

Leaving Hunts lock to enjoy a peaceful days cruise downstream

With generator running to charge our batteries, we set off enjoying the wide water and spotting fishermen nestled amongst the wooded bank. We’d enjoyed our Sunday morning cooked breakfast and the aroma of bacon still lingered in the galley. All was well with the world…. when a look of concern flickered across Eric’s face, “what’s that smell, something’s burning….” As I reported the cooker was switched of, the concern turned to panic as Eric realised it was an electrical burning that he could smell, it had to be the generator, thrusting the tiller into my hand he leapt into action to turn it off at the fuel shut off point.
Being on an unfamiliar tree lined river meant that we couldn’t just moor up on the bank to investigate, but at least we still had power to cruise. And after a moments quick thinking we decided to turn around and head straight back through Hunts lock, catching the lockies still working the 8 boats down that we had left behind. That caused a bit of amusement, to them, not us, we’d only cruised for 10 minutes and we were still bewildered and shocked at what could potentially have been very dangerous if Eric hadn’t caught it in time before it caught fire. Back in Northwich I was able to phone the marina and negotiate an overnight mooring with the safety of shore power.
We knew it was serious when nothing Eric did could spark life back into it. “It” being a good quality, reliable, reasonably new, low use 11kw generator. Most boaters don’t have need for such a large built in geni such as ours but being an electric boat we run the geni about 5 to 7 hours per week to charge our batteries, the batteries that power everything on Firecrest. For us the generator isn’t a luxury, it’s an essential. Everyone popped in with words of advice and encouragement but alas this was a job for the dedicated manufacturers team.

Watching the precarious lift out

I am not going to go into the details of the repair saga, suffice to say that I’ve had time to get to know Northwich quite well, we have made friends, and been on the receiving end of a lot of kindness. And that we have learnt several valuable lessons.

Keep your emergency shut off switches easily accessible at all times, that includes not storing spare ropes and other boat clutter infront of them.
Don’t build your boat around things that might need replacing, having to dismantle the engine bay to get the generator out is difficult, frustrating and annoying.
You can’t cruise a boat when you’ve taken 280kg of generator out. Unbalanced boats don’t draw the water underneath effectively, and you can’t steer straight.
Don’t make too make too many plans when youre a narrowboater, ok we already knew this.
Northwich Quay Marina has been brilliant, Heather the manager has been so helpful with local knowledge and support, but Marina life isn’t for us. We can’t wait to get cruising again, hope it won’t be long now.

Northwich Quay Marina

The Anderton Boat Lift, going down

When we are so close, it would have been wrong not to take this opportunity to enjoy another one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, the Anderton Boat lift. And then spend a few days exploring the River Weaver. But thanks to Covid, everything is running at reduced hours to allow for social distancing, so we enjoyed an extra unplanned night on the 48 hour Anderton Nature Park mooring before we could go down.

The Anderton Nature Park visitor mooring

It was a bit of a grey day when we set off but we’d donned our life jackets and set up the VHF radio so were all set to experience this magnificent Victorian Structure and river life. We paid our fee of £5 and arrived at holding mooring on time. We were greeted by the team, who explained the sequence before being allowed under the bridge and into the first caisson.

Leaving the canal

Under the guillotine closure, that dripped goodness knows what onto us, and onto the iron aqueduct protruding over the River.

This felt a bit like walking the plank only we were still in our boat

Each caisson can accommodate two narrowboats, but this time we were travelling solo. We passed under the machinery housing and tied up as instructed.

Scarily high

80 feet above the River Weaver meant the views were impressive

That’s the river Weaver down there

But looking up, it was really the structure and mechanics above us that we were over awed by.

The overhead pully system remains for show

Surrounded by ironwork we were given a final safety briefing and a short history lesson before our descent.

The lift was built in 1875 to facilitate easier transport of goods, particularly for the potteries of Stoke on Trent and salt from the Cheshire Salt pan. It had been costly, time consuming and dangerous transferring goods between the river and the canal so the two companies from the river, and the railway, (who ran the canal) cooperated, and the lift was born. Essentially it consists of two water filled caissons (iron troughs), as a boat enters a caisson, water is displaced so the weight stays the equal in each side. The caissons are then sealed. A small amount of water is released from the lower caisson causing the upper one to descend. Only a small amount of additional power is required to complete the full cycle. Over it’s lifetime there have been various improvements from the original hydrolic ram system and counterbalancing weights. A lot of the original mechanics have been retained as artifacts on site. There is an interesting summary on wiki https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anderton_Boat_Lift that is worth reading the detail.

We waved to our ascendants as they travelled upwards and we travelled down,

It’s the first time our narrowboat has been counterbalanced by a little cruiser

And after about 10 minutes we reached river level

Our guillotine was raised and we cruised out onto the river Weaver

And onto the River

It is really from this position that you can really begin to appreciate the ginormity of the structure and understand why it has the nickname “the catherdral of the canals”

It’s huge

By the 1970s commercial traffic had dried up and the lift was being used mainly for recreational craft. In 1983 corrosion was severe enough to declare it unsafe for use. It was uneconomic to repair so permenantly closed down. Thankfully a group of enthusiastic volunteers formed a trust and various partnerships raised sufficient funds for it to be restored and reopened in 2002. CRT now run an award winning visitor centre and viewing area on site.

From the viewing area

Although I think it is more for gongoozler and family picnics than for boaters, I liked seeing the coming together of 3 centuries hard work. The Victorian boat lift from the 19th century, the ICI factory on the south bank, that arose as an off shoot of the salt works in the 20th century, and now the 21st century priority, leisure.

Something for everyone

The cost of maintenance will always be high, so the on going future of the lift will always be a balancing act, can we as a country afford to maintain this engineering masterpiece. I hope so, but I would urge boaters to use it as soon as possible, it’s not an experience to be missed. We’ll be back soon.

Have you ever noticed…

How each canal has it’s own style, or perhaps it’s a county thing. Maybe one day I’ll be able to enter one of those “where am I?” competitions and get it right.
As we waved goodbye to the Bridgewater, with its distinctive crane and stop plank system -which seems eminently sensible to have the lifting mechanism right next to the heavy beams used to create a temporary dam across the canal.

Stop plank cranes on the Bridgewater canal

We found ourselves in rural Cheshire, with tunnels to provided transit across the rolling hillside.

3 big tunnels in 5 miles

Tunnels are always a bit scary, what happens if …. well we don’t go there, but these tunnels are long enough and narrow enough to warrant a timed one way system. We are only allowed to enter during the permitted time slot, in this case, between half past and twenty to the hour. And outside the Preston Brook tunnel you can see the stop planks ready to be deployed once the suitable crane has arrived.

Low tech traffic lights

There are 3 tunnels at the start of the Trent and Mersey canal, and as we meandered along, enjoying second breakfast,

That’s mums homemade marmalade

we couldn’t help but notice nearly all the tunnels and bridges are painted white.

We can only think of two reasons, for the tunnels it certainly aids visibility, against a woody hillside,

Or perhaps it’s just aesthetically pleasing, either way we found ourselves really enjoying the relaxation of this area.

Looking towards Saltisford lock on the river weaver.

And if you look carefully you can see a white bridge in the middle of this photo, it’s crossing the river Weaver which is our current destination.

The Run to Runcorn

It was our last permitted day of 7 on the Bridgewater canal, and although we could have continued straight on, onto the Trent and Mersey, we decided to turn right, under a rather unassuming bridge and follow the 5 mile route to Runcorn.

Turning towards Runcorn

You could be forgiven for thinking this was a side arm, but in fact it is the proximity to the Mersey that made Runcorn the significant and profitable end destination to this canal. We suspect very few boaters bother to explore this section if they are traversing north to south, it was very quiet and predominantly rural. We didn’t meet a single boat moving in either direction it’s entire length and back.

Pleasant passage on the bridgewater

Although the quality of the Towpath and the occassional village school meant we didn’t feel cut off from the world.

Merry mural on the school

It took less than 2 hours to reach the official visitor moorings outside the Brindley Theatre, from where we set off to explore this industrial town. Although Ethelfleda established a settlement here in 915 AD, to guard against marauding Vikings, it wasn’t until the industrial revolution that Runcorn established itself as place of commercial value. And in 1964 it was designated a “new town” and it doubled in size. It’s not the prettiest of places by any means, but our focus was to see the Mersey crossings and the Manchester ship canal. We walked thought the concrete shopping centre and came across the beach.

Manchester Ship Canal

But this isn’t the sea, it’s actually the ship canal, with the Silver Jubilee bridge in the background. There’s an info board highlighting what can be seen from this view point.

You are here

So of course we wanted to get as close as possible to this awesome structure. For those of you that like facts and figures. Copied from wiki Construction began in 1956, The main arch is 361 yards (330 m) long and each side arch measures 83 yards (76 m). During its construction 720,000 rivets were used. Its height over the river bed is 285 feet (87 m) and the headroom over the ship canal is 80 feet (24 m). During its construction 5,900 tons of steel were used and 7,500 tons of concrete. The bridge requires constant repainting, with each coat using 6,000 imperial gallons (27,300 l) of paint. On the Runcorn side the approach viaducts are 359 yards (328 m) in length, and on the Widnes side 166 yards (152 m). The cost of constructing the bridge was £2,433,000.[18] At the time of its construction it had the third longest steel arch span in the world. It had the longest vehicular span in the country, but this record was held for only a few weeks until the Tamar Bridge was completed. By 2001 it was the 10th longest steel arch bridge, and at that time was just 8 inches (20 cm) short of having Europe’s largest span. It carries over 80000 vehicles a day, 10 times more than it was designed for.

Towering over Runcorn

and to our pleasure, (though not the locals) the bridge is currently closed to road traffic, whilst they upgrade it and add toll booths. We were still able to walk across.

Work in progress

We were only able to see clearly on the east side (towards Manchester) as we first crossed the ship canal, then the wide open mud flats of the Mersey at low tide, with the Fiddlers Ferry power station and industry of Merseyside on the north.

Views east from the silver Jubilee bridge

As we arrived into Widness in Merseyside, we saw the historic Mersey Pub, aka the Snig, where boatmen and women who had to brave rowing across the estuary, were served the local delicacy Snig pie…. made with locally caught eels

The Snig in Widness

When we were able to look West we saw the equally impressive railway bridge which runs parallel to the road bridge

The 19th century rail bridge

And in the distance, about 1.5km east, the Mersey Gateway bridge which opened in 2017

Looking towards the new Mersey Gateway

Having had our fill of bridges for the day we returned to Firecrest. I nipped into the convenient supermarket whilst Eric took Firecrest the remaining ¼ mile to the end of navigation and turning point.

Victoria arm, End or start of the Bridgewater canal

So we could return to Preston Brook and enter it’s tunnel through to the Trent and Mersey.

Preston Brook tunnel

Again as with most of the places we have visited on the Bridgewater canal, I would happily have stayed longer to explore more. But the Anderton boat lift awaits us on the next stage of our adventure.

Bridging the family gap.

Although Eric was born in Yorkshire, his family roots are around this area of Cheshire and, what was formerly, Lancashire. And this week has been very much centred on family, after earlier visits from Tim, Jane and Kevin we were now looking back in time to places where Eric’s predecessors had roamed the streets, and as it turned out also the canals.
We moored up at Stockton Heath which is nestled between the Bridgewater and the Manchester ship canal, with Warrington being on the north side of the MSC.

Lumb Brook aqueduct

We deferred to brother David, who has taken a lot of effort to collate the information about the family. Mum was born in Warrington, sadly her father, died in an industrial accident while she was still at school, but Gran kept the family together by taking a job in the Stockton Heath telephone exchange. Mum was never able to follow her own dream of training to become a teacher as she also took work in the telephone exchange. She used to tell us stories about scurrying to get to work before the swing bridge was opened to let the first boats of the day along the ship canal. She’d be half an hour late and in serious trouble if she got her timing wrong. Eric and I took the opportunity to walk across the bridge and remember her.

Stockon Heath bridge, designed by Edward Leader Williams, same man that designed the Barton Swing Aqueduct, crossed by mum and Gran in the 1930s and ’40s

Eric’s father was also born in Warrington, and he did get chance to complete his education, eventually gaining a doctorate in theology

The Rev Dr Harry, Dad

Although he knew he had a calling to become a Methodist minister, he followed his mentors advice and worked elsewhere before he trained for the ministry. Mum and Dad met and married at (now demolished and rebuilt) Bold street Methodist church in Warrington. I don’t know what it was like then but now Stockton Heath seems quite a trendy place and had the Bridgewater time restrictions allowed we would happily have explored further, we did see a blue plaque, but alas not commemorating Eric’s great achievement’s, it’s where George Formby lived.

We continued cruising through leafy Cheshire, through Daresbury which is where Dads grandparents Willie and Martha Jones had lived on a farm at Newton Bank around 1865 to 1890

Martha and Willie Jones, great grandparents

The weather was against us with strong winds, rain and poor mooring so we weren’t able to explore on foot. But we did go on to Preston Brook because that is where Willie had worked as a canal porter. Now the home of a rather uninspiring Midland chandlers

Midland Chandlers on the site of Dandys wharf with the M60 behind

The info board shows there were several wharfs here, where the Bridgewater shortly joins with the Trent and Mersey Canal or takes a sharp bend under a bridge and continues 5 miles to Runcorn.

From David’s investigations we suspect Willie worked at Norton Wharf just beyond the bend,

Approaching Norton Wharf heading towards Runcorn

which is now a canoe manufacturer and housing development.

I wonder what Willie would have made of this

When Eric and I first decided to move onto the water we had no idea of his great grandfathers past. Around 1890 Willie left the canals and moved to Warrington to become a white lead worker. I think that says something about the hardship of life on the canals that white lead was preferable to coal and cotton. It’s been a strangely surreal time walking the same footpaths and bridges that our family was 150 years ago.

Preston Brook Bridge and the cottages on Willies walk to work

I hope someone will read this in 150 years and feel the same sense of family pride that I do.

(Since my previous post David has sent more information about relatives working in Lymm, which I have added onto that page.)

Lovely Lymm

We had been told that the Bridgewater was a pretty canal, but nothing quite prepared us for lovely Lymm. It seems to be a thing on this canal that you turn a corner or go under a bridge and wham a stunning house on the bank. Lymm didn’t disappoint.

A very des res

It’s a chocolate box village and I hate to think how busy it would be in the “old normal”. We’d picked up Eric’s cousin Jane and her husband Kevin who live in this area for a short cruise and they acted as our tour guides.

Jane, Eric and Kevin

Lymm’s history is fascinating, yet small enough for the local heritage centre to be well worth a visit.
The central gathering point is a mediaeval cross built on a sandstone mound. It’s very similar to the red sandstone used to build Liverpool cathedral. Although I don’t recall seeing stocks outside the cathedral.

Lymm cross

Lymm was here long before the canal, it’s mentioned in the doomsday book. The turnpike road from Warrington to Stockport passed this way, but the industrial revolution and the canal brought many changes to this mainly agricultural community.

Not sure the working canal was quite this tranquil

In the early 1800s the women had a cottage industry as Fustian cutters. For those of you, like me, Fustian is a thick woven cotton/linen cloth that has a cut pile. Generally used for coarse working garments but also includes fine fabrics such as silk velvet. The woven fabric is brought from the mill to the cutters, it is dressed with a stiffener to enable the cutters to work their magic. It’s laid onto a long table where the cutters use special rods and knives to delicately cut the fibres.
The rise of the cotton mill industry demanded a huge workforce and many relocated to the towns to secure a steady, if meagre income, however Lymm being slightly further afield but on the canal route was able to transport cloth to and from Manchester and the cottage industry became the mainstay of Lymms victorian economy. Three story terrace cottages were built where the entire top floor was one long cutting room. Whole families worked as cutters including the men not just the women. The children were given laudanum and alcohol, sold for teething, to keep them passive until the were old enough to learn the trade, around 8 years old. Despite the work being intricate yet very poorly paid many of these families knew of nothing else, it was simply their way of life and was accepted.
However Lymm has other claims to fame, the Fustian industry had largely died out by the early 20th century as the process became mechanicalised. Wright’s of Lymm Ltd became a prominent employer making gold leaf until the 1980s. Wright’s gold leaf is what was used to decorate the gates to Buckingham palace. Not all of Lymm’s trade sparkled so. £30000 a year was made transporting nightsoil to be used as agricultural fertiliser.

Getting rid of rubbish must be one of Lymm’s current day assets as well. If you recall that big black binliner full of cardboard from our solar panel installation that had been sitting in the shower for the past week. Lymm has a dedicated boaters recycling bin. Oh the things that make me happy.

A welcome sight

We enjoyed a whole day in Lymm, Eric went off to visit Kevin’s workshkop. Sponsored by the Methodist church, Kevin runs the Chapel in the Fields project, providing a safe space for creativity and spirituality for the community.

He made us a lovely oak plaque for Firecrest. If we lived locally I’m sure it’s something we would both be actively involved in.


While Eric was being treated to the sights and smells of a woodworkshop I went off for a walk through the woods around Lymm Dam.

Lymm Dam, a pleasant 1.5 mile walk.

Since writing this post, we’ve discovered some more family history. Eric’s great grandfather, Thomas was born in Lymm, he was a labourer and moved to Warrington. Eric’s second great grandfather was Jabez Plinston(1826-1898), both he and his first wife were Fustian cutters. They were married in 1845, and had 2 children, sadly both died before their first birthday. Maria also died aged 26, Jabez remaried and a few generations later along came Eric.

The second leg, Bridgewater Mainline

We pushed on after doing the Barton Swing Aqueduct, as the Bridgewater, skirts through the suburbs, throught Salford past Trafford and the junction at Watersmeeting in Stretford. This is where we effectively leave the Stretford and Leigh branch and the merge onto the Main line. We could have turned left into central Manchester but we’ve had our fill of cities for a while.

Watersmeet of the Strettford and Leigh Branch with the Mainline

We weren’t entirely sure what to expect in this vicinity, it could have been a backwater strewn with barbed wire, litter and graffiti, but apart from watersmeet, it was a surprisingly pretty and interesting journey. Over the river Mersey on the Barfoot aqueduct, which seemed rather tame after the Barton, but just as essential to for our journey.

Barfoot Aqueduct over the Mersey

And although we didn’t try, I’m sure we could have moored up overnight without undue concern. We sailed through Sale, (sorry couldn’t help myself) past a mix of trendy revitalization taking advantage of the waterside. The large Linotype Works at Broadheath is currently being redeveloped although sadly most of its original grandeur has been lost. In its heyday over 10000 people worked here up until the 1960s, making typesetting machinery for the newspaper industry. The company also built 185 houses and recreational amenities for it’s employees along similar lines to what we saw last year in Saltaire.

We moored up just in proper countryside just beyond Altrincham. Not completely isolated because Tim was able to catch a train to join us for a cream tea hug for the first time in 6 months.

Homemade scones and strawberry jam, two of my favourite things