After a pretty grim weekend today dawned bright, dry and sunny. Pity about the cold wind, though. Without that it would have been very pleasant.
With three boats to drop down to the river we needed two trips. We went first, sharing with NB Partout at 10:15.
Waiting for the lift.
I didn’t take many pictures of the trip down, I’m sure that Carol and Ann, on Rock’n’Roll and Moore2Life respectively, have more than made up for it!
Our caisson going down, looking back along the aqueduct.
Looking back up through the structure.
Water leaking from the west caisson.
Down and out, NB Partout heads north (downstream) while we pull onto the holding moorings so I can get some pictures of R’n’R and M2L coming down.
Here they come.
They are lift “virgins”, so are full of questions for the operator when they reach the bottom.
The lower gate goes up revealing both bows….
Watch out for the drips….
M2L comes out first…..
…..followed by R’n’R
Back aboard now, and we head upstream to Northwich
We weren’t alone on the river today, not quite.
Northwich Marina has one of the few remaining side-slipways still operating. This whole area is scheduled for redevelopment, but there’s talk of keeping this rare bit of machinery operational.
Northwich Marina slipway
We arrived at Hunt’s Lock to see the lock crew just setting up the lock for us.
Approaching Hunt’s Lock
All of the Weaver locks are keeper operated. At this time of year they’re not manned all day, you have to ring the Northwich depot to book passage.
We used the smaller, earlier of the two locks.
In Hunt’s Lock.
Three narrowboats just nicely fit across the chamber. At just over 11 feet, this is the deepest of the four locks. The navigation has been upgraded several times, the locks steadily increasing in size and decreasing in number as traffic patterns changed.
In 1732 there were 11 timber locks and weirs, able to accommodate Weaver Flats of around 40 tons. These boats either sailed or were bow hauled by teams of men up the river. Various improvements were made, but, when Edward Leader Williams was appointed Engineer in 1852, a massive upgrade was started. New locks were built to take 1000 ton coastal vessels, and the number reduced to five (including the one down to the Mersey at Weston Point).
In 1875 the boat lift at Anderton was finished, replacing chutes which dropped cargos down from the canal to the river.
Now, with commercial traffic at a standstill, we’re back to using the earlier, smaller locks. These are around 88 feet long and 25 feet wide. The 1000 ton locks are up to a massive 213 x 37 feet.
Leaving Hunt’s there’s a broad, tree-lined 2 miles of river before reaching the highest, Vale Royal, lock. There are two crossings along here, Hartford Bridge carrying the A556, then an older railway bridge carrying the West Coast Main Line.
M2L leads R’n’R beneath Hartford Bridge.
The fine sandstone railway bridge just below Vale Royal Lock
Hartford Bridge was built in 1938, hence the Art Deco influence on the design of the supports. The railway bridge pre-dates it by a century, solidly and uncompromisingly Victorian.
Vale Royal Locks are just around the corner. For a while boats have had to use the large chamber, as the swing bridge across the smaller was unsafe to use and had to be left closed for access. This resulted in a huge use of water every time the lock was emptied, so it was operated on an hourly up/down schedule to manage water lost downstream. BW have managed to swing the bridge open, and have temporarily replaced it with another bridge at the tail of the lock, so we can use the small one again.
Vale Royal Locks
The large chamber is on the left, we’re heading into the smaller one in the middle. On the far right is the bywash carrying surplus water downstream. This is a modified much earlier lock chamber.
Lunch in Vale Royal Lock
Just a ½ mile further on we pulled in on the moorings above the lock. It’s peaceful here, just the occasional drone of a plane heading for Manchester Airport.
On Vale Royal moorings.
The towpath has recently been resurfaced, there’s just the section between the lock and Hartford Bridge to finish, then there’ll be an all-weather surface from Winsford to Northwich.
Locks 2, miles 4¾