Up up and away


Who’d have thought a few days trip to explore the River Weaver would have turned into a several weeks staycation in a marina. Much as we have been grateful for the friendship and sanctuary, and not to mention convenience of Northwich Quay, we are confirmed continuous cruisers, and we’ve been desperate to be on the move again. With Firecrest restored to being a fully self sufficient boat again, we crept silently away this morning. Well it would have been silent if we hadn’t had farewell waves from our neighbours, perhaps they were glad to see the back of us.

Leaving Northwich Quay Marina mooring

Despite the early cloud it soon looked like a promising day as we approached the Anderton boat lift

Approaching the lift

And at 11:30 It was our turn to be swallowed up by the cavenous structure

We were to share our passage up with Leo, whom we hadn’t met before but they immediately recognised us from having read our blog, thankyou Leo, it’s always nice to meet our readers (And again we apologise for not having comments or contact enabled, that’s one step beyond my technical comprehension).

Nestled in with Leo

Strangely we found going up more exciting than coming down, I think it’s because we were much more aware of the opposite caisson descending.

I hope it doesn’t collapse

But it’s always fun to see your counterbalance midway

One up one down

And to wish them well for the river 50 foot below

Looking down onto the weaver

But we had had our fill of rivers for this year. Back to Canal life. Our plan is to head south. It doesn’t feel right on such a balmy day like this but we only have 6 weeks before the planned winter closures start in November, and we don’t want a last minute rush or to get caught by any other imposed lockdown. So we turned right as we left the lift and manoeuvred though all the boats enjoying this very pretty area and past the Lion Salt works that we’d walked up to.

The Lion Salt works from the canal

And from the 19th century salt chemical works onto the 21st century salt chemical works, as we cruised through the TATA plant at Lostock

21st century industry

One of the pipe bridges had been enhanced by some fancy iron cut outs recognising the regions salty chemical heritage.

It didnt take Eric long to translate the formula.

Sodium Chloride + Water = Sodium Hydroxide + chlorine + hydrogen

The canal continued to be dominated by its mining heritage with boat yards, historic wharfs and flashes but after a few miles we were in truely beautiful rural England,

The Trent and Mersey Canal at its best

And we were happy again.

Eric and Cheryl at our best

The Lion Salt Works


This little heritage museum on the banks of the Trent and Mersey Canal is well worth an hour or two, the £6 entrance fee and a 40 minute walk up from our Northwich Quay Marina mooring. Usually there are guided tours with knowledgeable local people who really know their stuff but alas we just had to follow the arrows.

The lion salt works


Although it is no longer producing salt, the buildings and much of the machinery are still in place and you really get a feel for the sweat and toil that went into making something we all take for granted. It might be a natural product, but it doesn’t grow on trees. I could impress you all with my scientific knowledge, but the museum posters sums it up so well.

Here’s the science


Cheshire Salt production began as soon as early man realised that the briney water in some of the ponds could preserve food. But through the centuries the surface ponds have gone, used up, evaporated,or drained away. In the 18th century rock salt was discovered underground, and this became a profitable mining industry. But that became uneconomic and in the late 19th century, commercial salt production returned to what had been the old cottage industry method but on a grand scale. And this story is told at the Lion Salt works.

The pumping station

Shafts were sunk to the underground salt layer. Water was pumped in to create a stream which dissolved the rock salt to make brine.

What lies beneath

This was then pumped back into holding tanks and then into sheds with boiling pans the size of a tennis court.

The boiling salt pans

Coal fired furnaces on the ground floor underneath the pans, were stoked to a specific temperature, not only for the water to evaporate off, but, and this is the clever bit, by varying the temperature and the length of time the evaporation takes, the shape and size of the salt crystal is controlled, thus creating different qualities of salt that could be used for differing tasks.

At 38°C fishery salt is a very course, hard to dissolve crystal, used for preserving fish. This salt is taken straight to the warehouses to dry out.
93°C produces a course large grained common salt used in the chemical, manufacturing and pottery industry. It took up to a fortnight for the evaporation to be complete.
110°C produces the fine salt where the pan was ‘doped’ to aid the quick formation of fine crystals used in home cooking, in mediaeval times the doping ingredient was a preciously guarded secret for each salt producer, it could be anything from ox blood or pigs urine, but the Lion Works used egg whites, animal jelly or soap powder, though I’m still not sure I really want to know.
The men that looked after the pans were skilled at their trade, known as lump men. But it was a dangerous tiring job. It was like working in a sauna, except that the salt would chaff their skin. They risked their lives raking the salt across the boiling water, cause they wouldn’t survive falling in.

Hard physical labour for the lump men


Once the desired crystal size had been obtained the salt was raked to the edge, scooped out and packed into block shaped moulds.

The blocks of packed salt were taken to the drying room for several weeks.

The drying room with a heated bricks

And then taken by conveyor belt into a milling machine to be ground back into usable crystals.

The milling shutes

You can see how the wood has been corroded by the salt.

The milling shutes

At the end of a gruelling shift the men and women would nip across the road to the pub to rehydrate themselves and they would also add salt to their beer to compensate for what they’d lost through sweat.

The final stage of the operation

The finished salt was then bagged and taken by barge to the Mersey ports to be shipped all around the world. Nigeria was one of the largest importers of lion salt, but when the country fell into civil war in the early 70s business dried up. The Lion Salt works closed It’s doors in 1986.

The rock salt used for gritting roads is still mined at Winsford about 5 miles downstream. But as we all know too much salt is bad for us, so as Firecrest’s repairs have now been completed, and with some covid lock restrictions still being in place, we have decided to cut our losses and abandon our plans to explore the River Weaver and Winsford.

Hopefully there won’t be any more subsidence causing canal breaches like this one outside the lion salt works in 1907, cause once we get cruising we don’t want any more stoppages.

I’m glad we weren’t moored there.

But Weaver, we’ll be back…

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.