We were intending to take two days to get to Anderton, but with the weather due to deteriorate rapidly over the weekend we decided to do the whole trip today. We’ll hunker down during the rain, and be ready for our Boat Lift bookings on Monday morning.
Leaving our mooring near Middlewich.
Middlewich is of course one of the Cheshire “wich” towns, notable for the production of salt. But the origin of the suffix –wich is interesting. In Early English a shallow bay was known as a wick or wich. At the time the only way to produce salt was to evaporate sea water, and a gently sloping beach was an ideal location to do so. Hence place-names like Harwich in Essex and Sandwich in Kent. Over time, following the discovery of inland underground salt concentrated in water as brine, the -wich was used to indicate a salt producing town.
Ironically, those who chose to adopt the name for a shallow bay to describe an inland town were in most cases right. The brine deposits to be found under Middlewich and Northwich are left over from the evaporation of shallow prehistoric seas.
Salt has been produced in these areas since Roman times, the traditional method of evaporating brine in open pans being used till recently. But extraction of the underground salt-rich water has left huge cavities, with the inevitable result; subsidence. Those who live in coal-mining areas are well aware of it’s effects, but it’s also a problem around here. The numerous shallow bowls of water called flashes are the result of subsidence, and there has been a lot of structural damage to buildings as the ground shifts.
Brine pumping is no longer in use, but the slow sinking of the land still continues. The bridges over the canal around here are not the conventional brick arch, but consist of vertical brick abutments carrying a horizontal deck. In an area where ground subsidence is a problem, the benefits are two-fold. An arch requires both sides to stay relative to each other else a catastrophic failure will occur. Independent brick pillars don’t have the same problem, the deck may just need to be refitted to repair the span.
Bridge 175, brick pillars and an iron reinforced deck.
Another advantage is that as the surrounding land slumps the bridge goes with it but the canal doesn’t. That is to say, the water doesn’t. So headroom is reduced. With this design it’s easy to lift the deck by inserting a couple of courses of brick to the piers. Try doing that with an arch…
The canal just out of Middlewich is still on it’s downward journey. The concrete edges have been raised several times by the simple expedient of casting another layer of concrete on top.
Raised canal edges.
This was done as recently as a couple of years ago just by Croxton Flash, but it’ll need doing again very soon…
Latest repair disappearing under water.
The towpath here is a good eight inches below water level, and is permanently awash.
Anyway, on with the trip. Just around the corner from Croxton Flash the reeds encroach into the channel, leaving just enough room for two boats to pass.
A bit bunged up.
The canal follows a generally northern course with the River Dane down on the left till it heads off to Northwich near the splendid Whatcroft Lodges
These sit either side of the carriage road to Whatcroft Hall, a Georgian house built in 1780. English Heritage have it listed as a Grade II building. You can’t see it from the canal, though.
Two more flashes are passed before the countryside is left behind as the environs of Northwich start to appear.
Mags passing the derelict boat in Billinge Green Flash.
The wreck is probably the remains of an ex Fellows, Morton and Clayton motorboat Brill. It was sunk here deliberately to demonstrate the depth (or lack!) of water in the flash.
These flashes, again caused by the subsidence, were used by BW to dump several unwanted work boats, but most have since been salvaged.
Wincham Wharf is not quite so busy now. Harral Brokerage here unfortunately went into liquidation last August, but a new business, Narrowboats Ltd, is operating from here.
There’s a plant hire company near Northwich Victoria’s football ground, with portable offices to let.
Nothing wrong with having a dedicated area for those devoted to the weed, is there?
Making it difficult…..
We’re now heading west, towards the Weaver valley. The last bit of the built up area is left at Marston Bridge, where the Lion Salt Works seems to be gently decaying.
Lion Salt Works
But appearances can be deceiving. The site is under restoration and is due to re-open as a working museum in 2014.
Through Marbury Wood and our little convoy pulled in to water and dump rubbish before moving on to moor in Anderton.
Through Marbury Wood
Locks 0, miles 8