Ellesmere Port

Having got to Chester, we just had to complete the journey to the end of the line at Ellesmere Port. Back in the 1790s, engineers had a similar idea when they wanted to create a waterway which would connect the Mersey and the Severn. However disagreements, rising costs and falling traffic needs meant that the full route was never completed, and instead of being the Ellesmere canal, this section earnt the nickname of the most unsuccessful canal. Nowadays however it is a interesting change from the rest of the Shroppie. Much much quieter than the run into Chester, floating weed replacing hire boats as the main obstacle

Weedy waters

It would have caused havoc if the weed had got wrapped around the prop so we were going extra slowly, so the locals didn’t really need it keep such a close eye on us, cause we weren’t going to trigger this speed camera

Smile you’re on camera


But apart from the weed it was ok to cruise along, and we found some lovely mooring places

No weed here

At Ellesmere Port , where the Shroppie, Manchester Ship canal , Mersey all come together the Canal and River trust have utilised the old wharf buildings to create a fantastic museum

The incline plane down to the Manchester Ship canal

It showcases canal history, how times have changed. When families worked the canals instead of mooching about like we do, they lived in a fraction of the space we have, with one tiny cabin for the whole family to cook, eat and sleep in, and moving from first to last light every day.

I’m glad we have so much space on Fircrest

It brings a new meaning to WFH(working from home)

No room for a dishwasher


And they were no less proud of their homes. A tradition barge would have been beautifully decorated with ornate paintwork of roses and castles, crochet trim and polished brass.

What a beautiful boat


The horses would also have had crocheted fly protectors and painted tack. But I don’t think they would have had a whole granny square coat like this one.

Meet Rainbow, the granny square horse

Of course not all narrowboats were how we imagine them with our rose tinted glasses. The first commercial canal was the Bridgewater canal , servicing the coal mines at Worsley. These were known as Stavationers, because the internal ribbing looked like a starving persons ribs.

A Stavationer coal boat


And the wide beam boats often did shorter journeys so didn’t all have living quarters. The site at Ellesmere Port was not only a wharf for goods ferried across the Mersey, but it was the site of the local gas works, where coal was burnt to produce Town gas. One of the buildings is dedicated to some magnificent old engines and we were lucky to get a guide who talked us through the machinery.

Theres a machine for everything

The entry ticket to the museum is valid for a whole year, which is a good thing because there is so much to see and too much to absorb in a single visit. But the day we visited felt like November not September and we got our wires crossed about what we both wanted to do, so didn’t stop overnight as we could and should have done. And of course once we had left and moored up the weather improved.

No more rain

I would wholeheartedly recommend a visit to this museum for all boaters. Just don’t cycle to it along the Towpath.

King Charle’s Chester

We took a few more days to cruise up into Chester, stopping under the Egg bridge at Waverly and outside the Cheshire Cat, but eventually found ourselves the perfect mooring in King Charles’s garden.

King Charles’s tower

The early morning golden sunshine lit up his tower on the Roman wall filling us with a sense of adventure as we explored the city. It is suggested that during the first English Civil war (1642-1646) this is where Charles I stood and watched his soldiers being defeated at the Battle of Rowton Heath. Personally I think he was enjoying looking at the narrowboats moored below, until Eric pointed out that he might have been plotting the route but the canal wasn’t actually built until the 1770’s.

Looking down into “our” garden

Chester has a fascinating history, far too complex for me to do justice to. However it’s proximity to the River Dee made it ideal for the Romans to establish it as a major fortress between England and Wales. They named it Deva Vitrix , and built the original wall. The Anglo-Saxons maintained, repaired and strengthened the wall to help defend against the marauding Danes. And it continued to protect its residents until the disastrous 16 month siege in 1645 when the Royalists fell to the parliamentarians. Chester then realised it was more profitable to welcome visitors, both traders and tourists, and the wall became a 2 mile circular pedestrian thoroughfare.

Eric the gladiator

Until the 1800’s Chester had thrived as an inland port, and although hard to imagine now, taking some quite big ships on the River Dee.

The River Dee

Sadly or fortuitously -I would say the latter, the combination of the River Dee silting up and Liverpool being able to take the bigger ships on the Mersey, the port faded away. But the local entrepreneurs realised that a canal could help maintain trade links both onto the Dee and the Mersey.

Is it a most or a canal?

Beside the canal, one of the highlights of the city, is the stunning architecture. Many of the original Tudor buildings remain, but the spectacular city centre is predominantly Victorian. We shouldn’t complain because we fall into this catergory but they are a significant draw for the tourists making it a strangely busy place to be. Both Eric and I were content just to wander around looking up and all the intricate wooden carvings, and the unique balcony walkways,

Waltons jewellers and the Chester cross

and at the same time looking down to the Roman ruins

What remains of the Roman bath houses

Luckily for us the mooring below the wall is 14 day so we had plenty of time to explore.

The Eastgate clock tower

Pottering around Stoke


From the south, Stoke on Trent itself isn’t the prettiest of places to cruise into. It suffers from the typical neglected backsides of light industrial units, security fences, barbed wire, graffiti and litter entangled in overgrown vegetation. But it is what it is, and it isn’t the worst we’ve seen. At least here the town planners have realised what an asset the canal can be and the towpath is in good condition.

A warm welcome

But there are some major highways that run close by so the mooring is either noisy, undesirable or non existent, and with 5 locks within the centre of town, it means that we have never stopped to explore the centre of Stoke itself. I have a sneaking suspicion that if I took the time to explore, Stoke could be a fascinating place with a strong industrial and creative heritage. However, we carried on cruising until we got to Etruria junction and the canal regains its prominence.

One of the old flint mills, now home to two historic working boats

Many of the old wharfs have been repurposed to serve as CRT yards and workshops for the benefit of boaters and gongoozlers alike. And although many of the heritage buildings which were once a hive of activity for the canal traffic have been allowed to fall into disrepair.

This is the Anderton wharf which possibly has some connection to the Anderton boat lift,


At least one gem remains, the Middleport Pottery has thrown open it’s gates to the tourist trade and despite still being a working pottery, it welcomes visitors.

The Middleport bottle kiln

Although we were a bit concerned about it’s health and safety notices warning people to be careful near the canal

Don’t say you haven’t been warned

The abundance of coal and clay meant that Stoke was ideally placed for entrepreneurs and innovators such as Wedgewood and Spode to create a world famous industry here and why in the mid 1700’s Brindley’s team began to dig the canal where bridge 128 now stands.

Where it all began


100 years after the canal had been in existence Westport Lake was created , although not for the benefit of the local industry, Brownhills Colliery hit the water table and flooded both the mine and surrounding land. Nowadays its a local beauty spot along side the canal.

Westport Lake

We were lucky enough to moor opposite the pottery and spent a few days walking around and enjoying the sights. (Middleport have daytime only mooring for visitors)

A prime mooring spot


We would have loved to have done the factory tour, but it is still waiting for it’s release from Covid restrictions. We were allowed to walk around the site though, and it’s very atmospheric.

I can’t imagine it was this quiet in it’s hey day

Most of Stokes bottle kilns have been dismantled now, although some just appear to have been abandoned.

So sad to see such an eyesore

As I looked opposite this decay I wondered if our descendants will feel the same nostalgia for the current factories if they are still standing in 50 years time.

I wonder how long this one will last.

From Stone to Stoke


Having achieved the first of our commitments by getting the Boat Safety Certificate, it was time to move on to Stoke for “mission possible 2”. But with 4 days to do the 10 miles, we were going to take our time enjoying this bit of canal.
We paid our respects to poor Christina Collins, a passenger travelling south, who, in 1830, was “meddled with and murdered” despite having reported her fears to the canal company office in Stone. Her sculpture by the bridge has been cleaned up since we saw her last October.

Stone bottom lock overlooked by Christna.

Stone itself, was a prominent place on this canal when, in 1755, a group of Liverpool merchants and Staffordshire potters, sponsored Thomas Brindley to survey the land with a view to linking the Trent and the Mersey rivers together. However it wasn’t until 1764 when Josiah Wedgewood and his partner Thomas Bently, realised the potential and took the idea forward. In 1766 an act of parliament was passed and the Grand Trunk Canal company was formed. With its headquarters here, the Stone section was opened in 1771. Amusingly, the celebration party proved to be a little too exuberant as £1000 worth of damage was done “by repeated firing of the cannon”. A whole lock and bridge fell in causing CRT to issue a navigation closure notice… (Ok I made up that last bit about CRT)
Despite initial opposition to the canal from packhorse owners and river navigators, Stone grew and thrived bringing a huge economic upturn for the small market town. And not just for the potteries.

Beer is still brewed in Stone,

After all the rain we’ve had , it looks like summer might be putting in an appearance and it’s a joy to wake up and want to set off cruising

Oh what a beautiful morning…

Good bye swans, thanks for having us.

Past the Wedgewood factory, thanking Josiah for his part in getting this Canal built, but not stopping to for a visit this time.

I don’t think this is the original building


However we did moor up to do some essential shopping at the Trentham Estate, a destination shopping complex incorporated into the Trentham Hall and Gardens. (About a mile’s walk from bridge 106) It’s focus is more on garden centre type concessions, rather than the high street fashion, and we needed a Mountain Warehouse to pick up a replacement pair of shoes for Eric. Footwear sorted we moored for the night at Sideaways, on the long straight section that’s just ripe for development before Stoke. It’s close to the railway and is what we call a functional overnighter. So gave us the breathing space we needed before the final push through the graffiti covered neglect that sadly seems to be the norm on the outskirts of some towns and cities.

You’ve got to hand it to them, not all graffiti is bad

However it’s not all bad, someone along the line has realised what an asset a well maintained Towpath is to the community and has given us a warm welcome.

Stoke bottom lock