Lydiate to Salthouse Dock: 14½ miles, 6 locks, 7 movable bridges and 1 tunnel
Only a couple of weeks ago Cheshire Mum and Cheshire One had driven from Macclesfield to Liverpool. Their journey had taken about an hour and a quarter. Cleddau’s journey started about three hours north of Macclesfield – and took something like 62 hours to complete.
The last stretch of this 129 mile long cruise was to involve some physical effort, a continuing attention to timing and plenty of visual variety.
There’s been a hint of a board game about these final miles – you know, the sort where obstacles delay your journey or if you throw a 6 you can roll the die again…After getting past the Bridge 20 Coxhead’s Swing Bridge obstacle (open midday, Mondays and Fridays) time would hang heavy between Friday (bridge passage) and Monday (access permitted to Liverpool Docks). With nothing to lose a request was made to bring forward the Liverpool booking by a day. Permission granted – in game terms leap forward one day!
There was a safe overnight mooring at Lydiate – and on Saturday morning a good browse among the exhibits at Lydiate’s Art Show. Onward then, through Lydiate and Maghull – just a couple of miles – and three swing bridges.
“They’re all different, they’re all different,” a local boater warned.
First up was Bell’s Swing Bridge (BW key, automatic barriers, boater to push the bridge open and closed).
Third bridge, Maghull Hall Swing Bridge has a grim reputation (key, electrified barriers, a busy road and impatient drivers). A resident in a house nearby watched the proceedings with interest – and one car shot under a descending barrier…
A curiosity noticed this western end of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal is the canal side WW2 pillboxes, many of them double storey… Another distraction was this end of terrace house – just how many extension projects had there been…?
Between Melling Stone Bridge and Holmes Swing Bridge is about half a mile of safe towpath mooring. Yes, cyclists, runners, dog walkers, locals all came by but there was no Saturday night trouble or strife. Up on the hill is St Thomas’s Church, an area of the churchyard crowded with forget-me-nots. It was gloriously bright and dry – but far too bitterly cold to contemplate outside boat tasks…
Sunday: “the game” resumed… it was started at Holme Swing Bridge (handcuff key, BW key and bridge swung by boater effort) and passage through took a while. The progress of a boater the other side of the bridge had been halted the previous evening by a faulty handcuff key. (For the boater did Cleddau’s arrival with a functioning key feel like a Get Out Of Jail Free card…?)
Onwards, a bare mile to the next obstacle, Handcock’s Bridge (totally electrified). Now boaters can operate it between 0930 and 1430. The canal threads through the edge of Aintree (look, racecourse jumps) and Kirkby. There are plastic bottles aplenty in the water – and weed. Occasionally planks float by and even tree branches. It’s a green corridor along which generally older people walk, many with pug-type dogs. “What abou’ tha’ bridge?” they ask, many aware of the scale of damage at Bridge 20, Coxhead’s Bridge.
A mile or so further on is Netherton Swing Bridge, which like Handcock’s, is electrified and can be operated between 0930 and 1430.
For bridge anoraks there is one more swing bridge, a footbridge, at Litherland (key, hand pushed) with no timing restrictions.
There are occasional runners, barbed wire along the top of garden fencing, some graffiti, some fetching murals. Once a canoeist approached; an hour or so later a single narrow boat was cruising from the direction of the docks. There are glimpses of cranes and near Bootle another reminder of the canal as a waterway for youths and families.
There’s a sharp left to the top of the Stanley Lock Flight: Alice May was already there. At 1300 the top gates were unlocked and downward progress began. There are four locks in the flight, two more within the docks. Jules (CRT lock keeper), wound paddles, pushed gates and then set off by van for Princes Dock lock.
Fine iconic buildings came into view. And then, just as Jules had mentioned, there was the towering bulk of a cruise ship, tied up at the cruise ship terminal. This was Celebrity Reflection .
Concentrate, concentrate, remember the route. Under the gaze of a liver bird a large floating target was being anchored beside Princes Dock Lock. This, it transpired, was the setting up of the Hero Challenge golf event (to be held on Tuesday 7th May).
The two boats dropped down Princes Dock lock and set off through a concrete lined tunnel, emerging briefly twice before plunging into the gloom again. It’s hard to make sense of the glimpses of different shapes – which one of the Three Graces was this? Who was the man on the horse? (King Edward VII). Was this the Mann Island lock?
Wind (of course) and barely legible numbering low down on the pontoons made the allocated pontoon hard to identify. There was some pirouetting, some reversing, another half turn – and eventually Cleddau was brought in to her berth.
Here she can rest awhile, with free electricity to power her (see the blue cable) and a tap a hosepipe’s length away. The crew, meanwhile, will work at checking out the sights and sounds of this vibrant waterfront city.