It was a wet Saturday in Northwich.
Mooring at Northwich can be incredibly easy (as on Tuesday morning, 10th August) – or very difficult (as on Saturday 7th August). The lengthy pontoon in front of the new(ish) cinema and retail area at Baron’s Quay could take half a dozen or more narrowboats, but if it’s full the options are the opposite side of the river, further away from the town centre (though closer to Waitrose) or The Wall. With a degree of luck the mooring point at the lower part of The Wall might be free (on Saturday it wasn’t…) and so ensued a session of lasso-throwing to get the bow rope over a bollard on the higher portion of The Wall. Then followed an exercise in ladder scrambling off the bow – all for the sake of a grocery top up and a Saturday newspaper…
There hadn’t been any intention of spending a night in the middle of Northwich, a wise decision it would appear, as a day or so later a boater reported having stones and tin cans thrown at his boat over the weekend…
So where was Cleddau’s next stop on the Weaver? Well, about a mile upstream from the town moorings is Hunts Lock, below which is space for several boats on 48 hour moorings. What a good find this mooring was during a wet weekend. There was brief excitement at the arrival of nb Tudor Rose (the name utilising the family surname of Tudor) and the occasional distraction of boat traffic in and out of Hunts Lock and trains crossing high above on the viaduct.
From Hunts Lock it’s just a 10 minute walk to the Weaver Hall Museum and Workhouse where the horrors and desperation of workhouse life in Victorian times are clearly shown.
Salt has been produced in Cheshire since the Iron Age. Over time Northwich became the most important of the “wich” salt-producing towns. “In Northwich trade was divided between rock salt and white salt, and after 1873 was increasingly dominated by the chemical industries, which used salt in their manufacturing processes.” (Museum display). A salt workers’ banner in the museum reflects the variety of workers within the industry and an interesting motto in the centre. (DEFENCE NOT DEFIANCE)
Salt formed the basis of the area’s chemical industries (and, should readers ever be asked in a pub quiz where Polythene was invented, well the answer is at Wiinnington Research Laboratory, Northwich!)
Over time many of the salt mines have collapsed – sometimes collapse was caused by insufficient rock salt pillars being left to support the roof, sometimes water in the mines dissolved the supports. Property has been severely damaged. By the 1880s new buildings were being constructed using a timber frame which were jacked up to level them – and in some cases buildings were moved to a different location!
An interactive display explained how in the 2000s four large mining voids underneath Northwich were filled with Pulverised Fuel Ash (power station waste product) to stabilise the area. More than a million tonnes of the PFA “grout” were used in the project which cost £32 million.
To moor on the stretch above Vale Royal Lock was the intention – and indeed that was the case, but the Cleddau crew by inclination are “completists”. (This word was first used by another boater in 2013 on hearing that Cleddau had been to the navigation limit of the Upper Avon above Stratford… ) So on sunny Monday morning the boat rose through first Hunts Lock, then a half hour later through Vale Royal Lock, to cruise on past the ideal mooring spot (later returned to), under the low Newbridge Swing Bridge, past the winding gear tower of the vast underground rock salt mine (90 tonnes of rock salt is cut every 15 minutes) and the rock salt mountain range that extends towards Winsford.
There’s a small public marina and water point but with three boats already queuing up for water how long would the wait be…?
Dare one say it – for delightful surroundings, a sense of peaceful isolation and wildlife company this rivals Tixall Wide…
Downstream again on Tuesday. All the Weaver locks are manned. Some lock keepers take ropes from bow and stern to hold the boat steady while rising or falling in a lock but one or two have insisted on using the centre rope only. This has made Boatwif feel redundant in some locks but the Captain began working on a theory to do with the positioning of bollards along the lock side.
There was a dodgy moment when descending the final Weaver lock. The lock keeper had put the bow rope round a bollard near the front gates, then returned it to Boatwif and a stern rope was wound round a bollard further back and handed back to the Captain by the assistant lock keeper. On both sides of the lock the paddles were being raised to lower the water, the level dropping fast. At both Hunts and Vale Royal locks the massive gates are wound open and closed manually. As the boat descended at Hunts Lock the bow seemed to be directly above the winding mechanism. ALARM! The lock keeper rushed across the gates from the opposite side and hauled the boat’s bow rope backwards away from the mechanism.
“That was close…” Boatwif ventured.
“Not really,” was the (slightly unconvincing) reply.
Onward, on through Northwich (see resurfaced pedestrian area, shopping top up achieved easily via the totally empty Baron’s Quay pontoon, water top up achieved with difficulty at the service point undergoing refurbishment) to moor at Anderton, ready for the Wednesday morning ascent.
There is often a lot of waiting about at the Anderton Boat Lift. Not so on Wednesday: Cleddau was the only boat booked to go up in the lift, the duty operator at river level lifted the pipe fenders swiftly onto the roof, untied the ropes, gave the bow a mighty shove and announced “Bow thruster in action…” (Cleddau has never been equipped with an electrically driven bow thruster!)
Within 15 minutes Cleddau was 50 feet higher, back on the narrow Trent and Mersey Canal, her river cruising completed for the season.
Weaver Navigation: Northwich – Winsford – Anderton: 18½ miles, 2 locks (twice)
(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections) .
2021 Monkton Moments* total now:10
- (“Are you a sailor? We used to have a boat down at Neyland…”)
- Boat name associated with Saint Clears
Lancashire / Yorkshire / Tudor Rose conversations: 2