Sunday, August 30, 2020

Not all salt mines are in Siberia!

Yesterday we left the quiet moorings at Vale Royal for the throbbing metropolis that is Winsford. Well, not exactly throbbing, and not really a metropolis either, but I’m sure the town has it’s moments.

It’s only 3 miles to town but boats have to negotiate the low Newbridge Swing Bridge on the way. I’d prepared by removing the chimney (yes, the chimney was back up but more of that later…) and the radio aerial, and also moving John Sage from the coal pallet to a position further aft where it’s a couple of inches lower.

Leaving Vale Royal on a fine but chilly morning.

We were following a small Sea Otter narrowboat that had come up Vale Royal Locks earlier and I was interested in seeing how much headroom he had…


We’d been under the bridge at least twice before, but with the recent rain I wasn’t sure how much extra water was coming down.

I needn't have worried, as it turned out we had 4 or 5 inches to spare.

The navigation passes the heaps of rock salt extracted from deep underground by Compass Minerals at Winsford Salt Mine.

One of the four winding houses still carries the logo of the Salt Union, formed in 1888 to regulate the industry.

Salt was discovered here by locals prospecting for coal in 1844 and it has been producing rock salt (Halite) since then apart from a 36 year period when it was closed due to over production capacity in the area. It’s mined by machinery, originally by drilling and blasting but more recently using cutting machinery. The mine is the biggest in the UK and is growing every year as more material is extracted. At around 150 metres below ground it supports a stable environment and some of the worked out areas are now used for storage of sensitive documents and even paintings.

The underground workings stretch for 100 miles under the Cheshire Plain and produce around 1m tonnes of salt every year, most of which is used for winter road clearing all across the UK. So next time you’re following a gritter you'll now know where that stuff that’s sand-blasting your paintwork came from!

The process used for production differs from that used mainly around Middlewich. There hot water was pumped into the seams and the resulting brine pumped back up to be evaporated in pans. This method destabilised the underground strata, resulting in the subsidence common in the area.

Leaving the workings and the heaps of salt behind the navigation follows more of a natural course, winding for the last half-mile or so before passing under two road bridges (where CRT ceases to have jurisdiction) and emerging onto Winsford Bottom Flash.


When we were last here, several years ago, we turned around and returned to Vale Royal, now there’s an alternative in the form of a mooring basin located on the edge of the flash. Funded by Local and County Councils it opened in the spring of 2016.

There’s room for maybe half a dozen or eight narrowboats, but it does tend to be shallow…


Watch out for the swans, coots, mallards and geese!

We’re staying here today then toddling back downstream tomorrow, back to Vale Royal. We can’t go any further till Tuesday when the lockies are back on duty.

Amber was very interested in the chew potential of the small stack of logs I’d cut for the fire yesterday morning…

I didn’t expect to be doing that in August!

Locks 0, miles 3

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Heading upriver.

Last Friday, after 2 nights moored opposite Anderton Marina, we headed to the boat lift for our afternoon booking to drop down to the Weaver Navigation.

Leaving the Anderton Boat Lift.

We didn’t get so far, pulling onto the pleasant moorings just upstream with easy access to the nature park. And here we stayed until yesterday (Wednesday) waiting out the weather and enjoying long but often damp walks through the woods and across the grasslands of the reclaimed settlement lagoons, a legacy of the salt works opposite.

Bookend cormorants on the derelict gantry across the river.

Canine crewmember relaxing.

So yesterday, under grey skies, we headed upstream to Northwich.

Wide water as we bear right to the town with Wincham Brook under the bridge to the left.

The brook used to be navigable up to a mill about a mile upstream but is now overgrown and shallow.

I wasn’t sure where we would finish up moored in Northwich, but as we came  around the last bend I saw that the new pontoon below the Baron’s Quay development was almost empty. That’ll do then.

It’s not ideal for dogs, especially one that wakes in the morning with her legs crossed, with a ten minute walk to any decent grass but it was only for one night.

I got my shopping done mainly in the dry, then we hunkered down as the wind picked up and the rain came down.

This morning, although the river was only up a couple of inches, the stream was running fairly strongly although from experience I knew that most of the water was coming down the Dane and it would be quieter above Town Bridge. So I untied and moved out into the flow, heading across to the water point downstream of the bridge. It’s often tricky getting on here with the flow under the bridge, but this morning was especially challenging! Luckily it was just before 8 so there wasn’t that many people about to watch me dashing from rope to rope to get tied up snuggly!

Watered up we toddled on, pushed sideways by the Dane as we passed, then on to Hunts Lock.

With restrictions on lock operation times currently in force we needed to be there by 9 to catch the first penning up. Hence the getting moving before 8!

Some big and not so big boats moored near the CRT yard.

If you look to the left of the pic you’ll see the new location of the rubbish bins, on a pontoon almost under the old footbridge. 

I wouldn’t want to see Safe Hand’s bows coming at me out of a fog!

A quick interweb search throws up a vessel of this name, built in 1950 and a vegetable oil tanker. Not much info available though.

Surprisingly, although there were three boats tied below Hunts Lock, no-one else was waiting to go up so we had the undivided attention of the two lockies on duty.

In Hunts Lock

Promising to see the lockies again at 10 o’clock up at Vale Royal Lock we headed off upstream, past Jalsea Marina. There are boats of all shapes and sizes here, and in various conditions, too!

Proceed is unlikely to do that in the near future…

…and this Dutch barge type has it’s decks awash.

The river is wide and rural now until the salt mines near Winsford, crossed by Hartford (Blue) Bridge and Vale Royal Railway Viaduct.


We pulled onto the waiting pontoon below Vale Royal Lock with a little time to spare before they made it ready for us, so time for a coffee and a belated bowl of muesli!

Spot on 10:00 we moved around the corner to approach the lock.

There are actually three here. The earliest is on the right, now sluices and the source of all the foam floating past. The next, and middle-sized is in the middle and the one in general use while the largest one capable of accommodating 1000 ton vessels is on the left.

The swing bridge across the chamber had to be swung out of the way before we gently but fairly rapidly rose to the highest level pound on the navigation.

Just a short distance further on we pulled onto the mooring rings opposite the old river loop. Only one other boat here, and they’ve left now. Something I said?


Soon after we’d tied up the rain started again and it’s been continuous since. It's more like October than August!

We're hoping to get up to Winsford, but the low headroom Newbridge Swing Bridge (that doesn’t swing anymore) ¾ of a mile upstream might put the mockers on that if the river rises any more. Still, we’ll have a look.

Locks 2, boat lifts 1, miles 4¾

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Lots of changes around Northwich…

We left the flashes on Thursday morning after a couple of days of peace and quiet, heading for the hustle and bustle of Anderton.

Reflections on Tuesday evening

Sunrise on Thursday

It was fine and sunny, but cooler with a brisk breeze blowing as we made our way north.

The marina at Billinge Green Flash is now up and running, after several years of toing and froing with the local planning department.

A bit of a change from when the derelict Brill was a marker for the shallows…

A bit of info here if you’re interested.

Hauled out during dredging

A little further on, on the towpath side, Park Farm Marina is fully operational too.

Then another short distance along Orchard Marina, where Seyella was built in 2006, comes into view.

Something’s going on here too…

The basin is completely empty for dredging (it needed it!), the two dry docks and workshop have are gone and are being replaced by another building under construction. For some time the marina has been mainly moorings anyway. I wonder where all the boats went? Probably into the new marinas we’ve just passed.

As it a couple of years ago…

The derelict land opposite the Broken Cross pub has sprouted a new housing development…

Moving on past the Tata salt works and there’s a new pipe bridge crossing the canal adorned with some fancy artwork visualising the processing of brine…

NaCl + H2O (salt + water) converted to C12 (Alkyl Benzoate, a hydrocarbon used in cosmetics), H (Hydrogen) and Na OH (Caustic Soda). If my schoolboy chemistry is right…

I‘m sure there was some sort of works behind those trees approaching Bridge 192…

…And the slowly subsiding house on the other side of the bridge has been replaced by a couple of new ones.

Hope the foundations are good!

Finally the decayed wooden evaporation shed at the Lion Salt Works is now just a hole in the ground.

Blimey, we’ve only been gone for two years!

We cruised on through Marbury Wood, topped up the water and disposed of rubbish and recycling at the services, then moved on hoping in vain to get a mooring this side of the boat lift, so we turned around, came back to Anderton Marina, turned again and tied up under the trees opposite. Not the best spot but it has done us for a couple of nights.

Later on today we’ll be dropping down onto the river, booking is at 15:15. But I don’t think we’ll be going far once we’re down. Not for a day or two, anyway.

Amber and I have had some good walks around the parks on both sides of the canal. 

And we were in time to see Mack, Sue and grand-daughter Lily on Yarwood coming back up the lift yesterday morning.


Locks 0, miles 6

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Down and out – of Middlewich.

Yesterday we left the mooring below Stanthorne Lock where we spent three nights. A dull sort of day with little sign of sunshine.

Looking back at Stanthorne Lock

Twenty minutes on under the several bridges crossing the canal here we arrived at Wardle Lock, just having to wait for a few moments while a boat finished coming up.

Below the lock we pulled back to fill the water tank, watching the boats going up and down this busy junction.

Tank full and we followed another boat who’d just filled with diesel at Kings Lock, squeezing through the narrow gaps between boats at the former Middlewich Narrowboats hire base, now operated by Floating Holidays.

About 35 minutes later we’d dropped down the three Middlewich locks with the help of a pair of volunteers, and cruised past Andersen Boats, where we hired a boat probably thirty years ago now.


We pulled in near the small park between the winding hole and Big Lock, around lunchtime.

A couple of trips up into town saw the cupboards full enough to last a few days, but we decided to stay put for the rest of the day as the rain had started in earnest.

It was still raining when Amber and I went out this morning but it cleared by late morning so we set off.

Below Big Lock was a small flotilla of boats off the Bridgewater milling about, of course they don’t have any use for locks up there on the Duke’s Cut.

Leaving the town the canal crosses Croxton Aqueduct, a narrow iron replacement for the original wide stone one.

The north end of the Trent and Mersey was built to accommodate barges carrying Middlewich salt, hence the broad Big Lock and the wider than normal flat-topped bridges.


The canal follows the River Dane valley for quite a way, hemmed in by the wooded banks giving dappled shade when the sun popped out.

Another lunchtime finish saw us moored alongside the large flash in pleasant sunshine. We did have a couple of showers this afternoon though. A couple of nights here, methinks.

Locks 5, miles 5 (2 days)