Chance Timings

Anderton to West Marsh Lock via Northwich: 15 miles,  2 locks

So here goes, about to descend 50 feet from the canal to the River Weaver…

On arriving at Anderton Boat Lift (it was about 1245 on Sunday) Boatwif dived downstairs in the Visitor Centre to book a passage on the Lift. Short of staff, there was no human voice accessible by phone so a booking in person needed to be made.

Confident of the booking procedure Boatwif pressed the green button (to get into the booking office lobby) and arrived at the reception counter. The windows were closed and no-one was behind the desk. There was a bell to the right to press for attention.

It was pressed – twice.

Nothing. Nobody.

Best to return upstairs, thought Boatwif, where the shop counter was staffed – but the entry doors to the booking lobby wouldn’t reopen.

It’s an odd feeling, being trapped in a space when no-one knows that you are there.

Phone!

Boatwif phoned the Captain, (he by then manoeuvring the boat outside the Visitor Centre) to explain the situation.

The entry doors remained stubbornly locked. The lobby seemed hot and stuffy.

Then, in an Alice in Wonderland moment, Boatwif registered another pair of doors set into the opposite wall.

The doors opened – to the outside of the building. Stumbling around the corner of the building Boatwif came upon a couple of C&RT staff quietly eating their packed lunches at a staff picnic table. Just who was more surprised to see whom… To her credit the duty receptionist immediately abandoned her lunch, fired up her computer and booked Cleddau onto the 1330 down passage of the Lift. This would cross with the trip boat’s up passage from the river. Booking made (no charge) Boatwif exited the building for the second time via the staff doors, crossed the staff car park and returned to the canal and to the boat. Even before arrival the Captain had received a text message confirming the boat’s 1330 booking. How efficient was that!

An aqueduct leads from the holding basin out to the Lift.    From it there’s a stunning view down onto the Anderton Lift grounds (new play equipment) and upstream on the river.   A gate is lowered to retain the water in the aqueduct at the stern and a gate ahead of the bow is lifted.  The boat can then move forward and a gate is brought down at the rear to retain boat and water in the caisson.

Cleddau was the only boat booked to go down. A prolonged hoot from below indicated the trip boat’s arrival at the lower caisson.

There was a small judder and then slowly the caisson began to descend, slowly and smoothly; at the halfway point the upcoming trip boat hove into view. 

Once down at river level the water levels need to be equalised     before the caisson gate is raised and the boat was cleared to leave.

It’s from the river level that the classic postcard views are taken, and Anderton is often dubbed the Cathedral of the Canals.

Northwich is the main town on the Weaver. It’s a bare two miles upstream from Anderton. The new development at Barons Quay is open now, a grand pontoon just beside it. There was space on it     – ideal! Cleddau was tied up. Only much later was a small notice discovered on the access gate (Mooring for 24 hours only. No return within a week).  Such restrictions really disadvantage boaters who might want to shop and explore a place…

A stroll around the new complex in the morning provided mixed impressions: a swish Odeon cinema, a huge Wildwood eatery, an Asda, a card shop, a sports shop – and loads of empty units.

Downstream on Monday afternoon then, passing the Lift (boat just entering the caisson)    and onward past Barnton moorings to Saltersford Locks,    back in action since August 9th after a lengthy repair. There’s a holiday park feel to the settlement on the south bank      and then comes Acton Bridge, some mooring space beyond. 

There are four locks on the Weaver, each one operated by lock keepers who need to be contacted by phone. Onwards on Tuesday morning, through the large Dutton Locks.     There are bridges to see on exit, the old horse bridge      and the impressive 20 arch Dutton Viaduct which carries the West Coast Main Line.    Then, on a hillside to the right there’s a long gap between trees and a distinctive green slope.     This was the site of the 2012 Dutton breach on the Trent and Mersey Canal, the repair complicated because of the difficulties in getting machinery to the site.

The river meanders now, gloriously.  It’s a pastoral heaven.  Remote from any road or rail traffic is Devil’s Garden, a perfect mooring place for isolation seekers. 

The plan to stop for water at Sutton Weaver Bridge seemed scuppered when from a distance a shape emitting smoke, no less, seemed to be sitting at the water point.    This, it transpired, was the Daniel Adamson, (the Danny),    the 1903 tug that was bought for £1 and restored to its glory as a 1930s passenger vessel to use on the Mersey and the Weaver.  A yellow hose was being used to refill this boat’s water tank. “There’s a pontoon in front of us,” a crew member called and help was quickly on hand to moor Cleddau in front of a much larger neighbour.   This was the boat restored by Heritage Lottery money, but since (ahem) colliding with a top gate at Marsh Lock in 2018 she had been trapped on the Weaver.

After filling Cleddau’s water tank the Captain and Boatwif were given a grand tour of the steam powered vessel…  About a dozen men were on board, either working hard – or, in the upper saloon, talking hard. These were the volunteers preparing the boat for departure to Liverpool the following day.

The coal-fired furnaces to create the steam were being checked and the decks were being swabbed, sailor-style with mops and buckets. There are two saloon decks,   now refurbished in 1930s style plus an upper promenade deck.     See more photos on the Daniel Adamson website here:

The crew were obviously keen to present the boat at her pristine best -, why, on Saturday she will be the venue for a wedding reception at Albert Dock…

“Would you like to see the wheelhouse now?” asked the guide. A boater couldn’t / wouldn’t say no to that…Up the steep ladder, through the open doorway to the wheel itself. What a beautiful thing it is – though how it is moved to steer the vessel remains a mystery. “We had Timothy West on here, you know,” said the guide, “for that programme with Prunella Scales.”  Yes, it had been seen! To have stroked the wheel steered by Timothy West seemed to transfer a little bit of boater stardust! To the right of the wheel is mounted the shiny engine room telegraph, a beautiful and functional instrument. What luck to have decided to stop at Sutton Bridge and to come upon this splendid vessel.

Onward, to complete the day’s cruise, only a couple of miles further on. Cleddau cruised under the M56    to moor opposite the “The Big Boys’ Chemistry Set” at Runcorn. There are miles of pipes and gantries,     with arrays of chimneys and gas spheres.

The mooring pontoon beside Marsh Lock    gives access to the lock and views across the Manchester Ship Canal to the Mersey Estuary and the John Lennon airport. 

How are the gates of this lock operated? Are some of these structures redundant…? How often is the lock used? A plan began to formulate – why not wait until the following afternoon to see the Danny come through the lock…and see it being operated.

Wednesday dawned, seriously breezy. There were ‘white horses’ out on the Ship Canal – would the back end of a hurricane prevent the Danny’s planned crossing of the Mersey?  The sun shone, the air was warmer but the breezes were certainly brisk…

At just after 2.30 there was activity up at the lock, C&RT men opening the gates. Flashcards to identify the parts would have been helpful since the words “clutch” and “bobbin” were in frequent use. A tall lever inserted into a hole and heaved on was vital to the operation too.

A mock Dutch barge came downstream, its owner keen to see the lock operation too..

And then she came, steaming towards the open Marsh Lock.    There was business with ropes of course       and some poking about at the top gate with a very long, very sharp boat hook. 

Even while the boat was descending the polishing of a brass porthole continued.

 

The lower gates were cranked open     and in due course, with a splendid hoot on the steam whistle, the Danny steamed out of the lock,    keeping clear of the sandbanks and bearing left on the Ship Canal for Ellesmere Port and Liverpool.

To think that a chance decision to use a particular water point had led to a tour of a much loved vessel and the witnessing of a special departure.

Next time: back up the Weaver

2019 Monkton Moments*: 11.   Number 11 from a Danny crew member: “I was at Brawdy. My stepdaughter lives in Pembroke Dock.”

 (Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

 

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1 Response

  1. Carol says:

    What a fantastic opportunity you stumbled across, lucky people!

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