Friday, September 25, 2020

Windy and busy on the Middlewich Branch

We left it till Wednesday to move on up the Branch towards Barbridge. The weather was better and we hoped it would be a little quieter…

I kept an eye on the queue below Stanthorne Lock, but it was just gone eleven by the time there were only a couple of boats waiting to go up. At one point there were five lined up end to end! The trouble is that it’s slow to fill and empty, and, being the first lock in this direction above the extensive Middlewich moorings, tends to be a bottleneck.

Below Stanthorne Lock

The day was fine, dry and bright, but there was a brisk breeze blowing the clouds about in a classic Simpson sky…

Mags was feeling the cold…

…but happy with it!

We didn’t get too far, just a couple of miles, and pulled in Bridges 20 and 19.

There’s a pleasant walk running from Bridge 19 along the edge of the woods and over the Weaver on a small footbridge that I was looking forward to introducing to Amber, but the towpath is closed just this side of the bridge because of repairs further on.

We were going to move on today, but the wind put us off so we stayed put and watched the bundled-up boat crews zipping past as if the air friction would warm them up… With springs both ends and a bow breast rope we didn’t move about – much.

We’ll definitely be on the move tomorrow though, honest!

Locks 1, 2¾

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Anderton to Middlewich, a spot of painting and Amber gets her boat dog baptism!

Last Tuesday we left Anderton heading up towards Middlewich.

Halsall reloading coal and fuel at Anderton Wharf

Half-wide boats at Wincham Wharf, built to fit through Dutton Stop Lock and and the tunnels to the north to access the Bridgewater Canal.

We pulled in on the grass at South Flash on Tuesday night, then turned around on Wednesday morning to moor against the concrete edge a bit further back.

This spot is ideal to paint the gunnels as the boat stands clear of the bank due to the angle of the cast coping. I got one side done on the Wednesday, then cruised back to Billinge Green to turn around again to get to the right hand side.

It was as we came in to moor again that Amber decided to see if she could jump a three foot gap and realised to her dismay that she couldn’t… I hauled her out, looking very sorry for herself.

She’d not long dried off when she plunged into a muddy ditch while playing with another dog further along the towpath. So she had a second dip in the fishing pond alongside the canal. A most disgruntled dog.

Anyway, amongst the excitement I got both sides painted and the left side washed and polished too, so that was a job well done.

So Friday morning we were on the move again away from the wide waters of the flashes and up past the fine Whatcroft Cottages, beautifully situated beside the canal.

Some sections of the canal along here are getting very overgrown with reed beds extending well out across the channel. It makes negotiating the bends a game of chance whether there’ll be a boat coming or not…

Through the wooded section alongside the River Dane.

A pause while a boat comes over Croxton Aqueduct, the third since the canal opened in 1777.

Instead of going up into the town we pulled in below Middlewich Big Lock for a couple of nights.


It was busy at the locks, boaters taking advantage of what might be the last of the good weather before Autumn arrives with a vengeance.

We left it till Sunday before moving up through town, heading up Big Lock then the four narrow locks to moor above Kings Lock after turning around.

Leaving Big Lock

Up the three narrow locks…

..and waiting below Kings Lock.

Yesterday was Mag’s birthday. I won’t say how many years, but remember the old Two Ronnies sketch in the hardware store? Where Ronnie Barker comes in asking for fork handles and is given four candles? Well, Mag’s cake would have needed ninety fork handles… 

Val and John and little Harry came across to wish her a happy birthday, Val had baked a splendid cake but the candles were conspicuously absent… So I dug out some that said Happy Birthday.

Later on we spent over an hour on Zoom, a conference call with the family dropping in and out from all over the country and as far away as Canada wishing her a good day. And it was!

On another fine morning today we pulled pins and dropped down Kings Lock, filled with water then turned left under the junction bridge. Up the deep Wardle Lock and out to the edge of town saw us moored on the rings at the site of the breech below Stanthorne Lock.

Waiting to turn onto the branch under the bridge to the left.

Moored below Stanthorne Lock.

This will be the last fine, warm day for a bit, rain and wind with cooler temperatures are moving in overnight and are set to linger for the rest of the week so I got the right side of the cabin leathered off and polished before we had a late lunch. Glad that’s out of the way.

We’ll steadily roll across the Middlewich Branch this week, then down to Nantwich again when we run short of supplies.

Since last post… Locks 7, miles 12.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Lost locks, a banana bonanza and an uplifting end to our Weaver excursion.

I really, really should get back to blogging more regularly. Then you won’t have to lose an hour of your life reading what is shaping up to be another long, rambling post!

Right then, where were we? Ahh yes, Sutton Bridge, last Tuesday. We took the day off as intended on Wednesday, Amber and I had a walk up river to see what there was still to see of Sutton Locks. Not a lot as it happens.

Sutton Locks were built as the entrance to the Weston Canal to protect the water levels in Weston Point and Runcorn Docks. Frodsham Lock had been in existence for several years before the Weston Canal, maintaining a navigable head of water above the tidal estuary. But I’m guessing that it’s associated weir wasn’t high enough to cope with seasonal flooding and high spring tides, so Sutton Locks acted as a barrier to these variable levels. Interestingly the two adjacent and different-sized chambers had pairs of opposing gates so that boats could lock up or down from the canal depending on the river level.

Using the excellent mapping system on the National Library of Scotland ( can see the original arrangement and the current situation…

From 1898…

…and now

The locks are to the right if you’re struggling, clearly marked on the OS map.

The locks are now buried in the trees and bushes in the bend of the channel, and the spit of land separating the locks from the weir stream is considerably shorter. With the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894 the Weaver Estuary was no longer tidal so Sutton Locks were no longer needed. The channel to the south-east of the locks was opened up, removing a good lump of the lock island. The locks were left to gently decay into oblivion. But not before they were joined by several old, redundant work boats, some narrowboats, some Mersey/Weaver flats. These versatile cargo vessels were the mainstay of the carrying fleet on the Weaver and up and down the Mersey, sail driven in the open waters and drawn by a team of men or draught animals in confined channels. As trade decreased and moved to larger, motor-driven boats the old ones were decommissioned and often left to rot in out of the way places. One of these graveyards is the disused lock cut at Sutton.

1975 Image purloined from

One of these sits in the chamber of the small lock, closest to the towpath. It’s the corpse of Daresbury, built in 1772 and used on the Weaver for coal carrying. She was still in use in 1956, there’s apparently a photo (that I can’t locate…) of her in Northwich at that time. By 1985 she was no longer needed and was sunk in the lock chamber and left to rot. A survey was carried out by Navy divers with a view to raising and restoring the hull, but it was found to be too far gone.  

There’s very little to see now, it’s probably clearer in the winter when the foliage has died back, but there’s only barely visible copings to spot from the towpath. And a bit of the timber of the old Daresbury.

The transom, I think.

flooded hold…

…and ironwork off the fore end.


The reed bed obscures all of the other craft dumped in the cut.

On Thursday morning we made the trip back upriver, not all the way, just up Dutton Lock and stopping at Acton Bridge.

Dutton Railway Viaduct

Bridge over Dutton weir stream.

Amber relaxing aboard…

…and ashore.

We had a Tesco delivery scheduled for arrival at three o’clock on Friday and it arrived handily. It was only after the driver had left and we were unpacking that  realised that the six bananas I’d ordered actually turned out to be six packs of six!

That’s a lot of bananas!

We do like bananas, but for breakfast dinner and tea for the next week would have been too much, so I separated them, wrapped the stems and stored them in the cool of the wine cellar.

It’s supposed to keep them fresh for a fortnight. We’ll see…

In the evening, after packing away the groceries and filling the water tank we left the noisy environs of the bridge and moved up to the peace and quiet below Saltersford Lock.

Approaching Saltersford Lock on a beautiful evening

Saturday saw us up the lock in company with another three boats, and stopped on the grass at the nature park just past the lift for the weekend. This morning was our last on the river for a bit, our passage up the boat lift was booked for 11:30 and we went up with another boat.

Heading for the lift

Passing the down caisson at the halfway point.

At the top we swung right and slotted into a gap just vacated by someone going down. How lucky was that!

We’d only been tied up for a half hour when Halsall came chugging along so I flagged them down, filled the fuel tank and swapped an empty gas bottle.


We’ll head back towards Middlewich tomorrow.

Locks 2, miles 10½

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

To Frodsham and beyond!

It’s been an uneventful week, we headed down to Acton Bridge last Thursday as planned, meeting Brian from Four Counties Fuels for some solid and liquid fuels, delivered by van the following day. That loaded we toddled off back upstream to moor below Saltersford Lock, away from the constant traffic over the bridge.

On Saturday morning we were off early (for us) and up Saltersford Lock by half-nine.

Instead of stopping at Anderton we pushed on, through Northwich to moor below Hunts Lock. Although it’s further from the shops in the town centre it’s a far more pleasant mooring than Barons Quay pontoon or opposite the marina.

I had a bag of Amber’s dog food to collect from a Hermes parcel shop in the afternoon, then a few bits and pieces from the local Waitrose.

The small lock at Hunts comfortably takes three narrowboats abreast.

Vale Royal is the same, with the smaller of the two the only one usable. Downstream it  swaps around and the large chambers are in use at Saltersford and Dutton.

Yesterday (Monday) we moved the short distance out of town downstream, slotting nicely into a gap just upstream of the boat lift.

Overtaken by Spey before we turned around to moor.

Amber and I had a pleasant walk up in the nature park this morning before  we were off again, downstream still to catch the ten o’clock locking at Saltersford. With the current passage restrictions you have to plan ahead a bit.

Winsford Bridge is undergoing repairs to strengthen the structure.

When it was built in 1910 traffic was a lot lighter in both volume and weight…

Approaching Saltersford Lock.

We shared the 237 x 37 foot chamber with just one other boat… Unlike those above Northwich which will take three narrowboats, these two downstream will accommodate 15!

Passing Acton Swing Bridge, pivoting in the middle as the two arms cross the navigation and the backwater moorings used by Acton Bridge Cruising Club.

This is the furthest downstream we’ve ventured so far this trip.

Dutton Sluices ahead, with Dutton Lock around the corner to the left.

Poor old Chica is looking even more forlorn after last year’s floods.

It’ll not be long before the wheelhouse slips off into the river.

Below Dutton Locks the navigation passes the elegant laminated bridge carrying the towpath over the backwater and then under the substantial sandstone viaduct carrying the West Coast Main Line.

From here to Sutton Bridge is the prettiest section of the navigation, passing through meadows and woodland with only the odd farm to be seen.


For the trip back upstream I’d thought about having a night at the quiet rough mooring at Devil’s Garden. But I’m not sure how Amber would cope with the cows…

A couple of changes in the development of the navigation can be seen as it approaches Frodsham.  The sharp bend on the river was bypassed early on by the construction of Frodsham Cut and Lock which then rejoined the now-tidal river on it’s way to the Mersey Estuary.

Frodsham Cut to the left.

In 1853 the Weston Canal was completed, allowing vessels to avoid the final section of the river and run down to Weston Point Docks and to the Runcorn and Weston Canal which connected through a flight of 10 locks up to the the Runcorn Arm of the Bridgewater Canal.

Onto the Weston Canal.

Finally, in 1894, the Manchester Ship Canal was opened and the docks connected to the new waterway. Subsequently a further lock was constructed at Weston Marsh to allow vessels to join the MSC from the Weston Canal without going through the docks.

Sutton Swing Bridge, with the railway viaduct in the background.

After passing under the M56 bridge and the Runcorn Rowing Club headquarters the right (east) bank becomes home to a large chemical works which flanks the navigation all the way to the current end of the navigation.

We pulled in at Weston Marsh Lock for lunch and for Amber and I to have a nosey round…

Looking out over the water – The Weaver coming in from the left and the Manchester Ship Canal from behind the spit of land in the centre before heading up to Manchester to the right. The Mersey Estuary lies beyond the far bank.

It’s not easy to see much from such a low elevation, so here’s a satellite view courtesy of Google Maps.

Weston Marsh Lock is in the centre.

Maintenance work on Weaver Sluices, a half-mile away across the MSC.

After lunch we cruised the last mile to the current end of the navigation at Weston Point.

Under the locked swing bridge is Weston Point Docks, now no longer accessible

The derelict entrance lock to the Runcorn and Weston Canal.

The R&W ran for almost 1½ miles to Runcorn Docks and the connection to the bottom of Runcorn Locks. There’s considerable enthusiasm for re-opening the canal and the locks, thereby forming a cruising ring involving the Trent and Mersey, Bridgewater and Weaver Navigation. Unfortunately there’s little funding for a project of this scale.

We returned back up the canal to Sutton Bridge and pulled in for the night.

This has been our longest cruising day for some time, 5 hours, 16½ miles and two locks! Easy trip though.

A day off tomorrow then we’ll head back upriver on Thursday. We’re booked back up the boat lift on Monday morning.

Since last post – Locks 3, miles 24¼