Tail End Charlie…

Would it be right or left on the river at the bottom of the Anderton Lift?

The owners of Ruby Ann, the little boat also in the descending caisson, planned to go left towards Northwich until talked out of it by the lift keeper. “Lots of traffic on the river up there,” they’d been told. The Cleddau crew had already decided to head downstream first.

So Cleddau followed Ruby Ann away from the Lift and both boats turned right. For the first stretch there is evidence of past and present salt and chemical industries; the high wharves indicate how this river was used as a navigation to transport salt out to Manchester across the Mersey to Liverpool.  There’s a hefty structure above the weir at Barnton, a reminder that the river was made fully navigable by 1732. 

Then the river takes on a rural feel. There was a slow amble down to the first locks,  the pair of Saltersford Locks. (Masked by the trees above is the Saltersford Tunnel, passed through on the canal only hours before). One narrowboat was already at the lock waiting for the gates to be opened.

When the gates opened a boat emerged to head upstream. One by one the three boats slowly entered the very large chamber. The lock keeper took ropes from each boat, passing each one back down to a crew member.

The rear gates were closed; the water level began to drop. The ropes were played out to keep the boat steady. The lock was nearly empty. Then the world seemed to tip.  What were the eyes seeing? The stern of Ruby in front veered left towards the water…

“Slacken the rope!” Boatwif shouted from right behind.

“Loosen your rope!” shouted the Captain from the stern 60 feet back…

“HELP!” Boatwif yelled to the out of sight lock keeper.

Was it instinct or experience that made the woman shove her hand hard against the wall – and the boat righted itself…

“Did you see that?” The face of Ruby Ann‘s owner was ashen. “I need a drink. I need a drink!” he said.

The lock keeper hove into view. He had seen none of the drama that all the boaters in the lock had witnessed. What had the boat caught on? His concern seemed half-hearted.

The owner, proud of his month-old boat, remained shaken and alarmed. “Is my boat damaged?” he said as the lock keeper looked along the hull.

There was no evidence of damage and no obvious place where the underside of the boat may have caught. But the incident brought back to mind Cleddau’s own tipping drama, on the Thames decades ago, when it was found that a line of bricks had moved out of true and caught the boat underneath…

The Saltersford Lock gates were opened. No action or details were taken.

The front two boats headed off downstream while Cleddau pulled in on the pleasant moorings below the locks. It had been an early start that day, now it was time to stop.

To the “bottom end” of the Weaver the next day was the plan, to moor on the pontoon at Marsh Lock.

A row of properties by the south bank looked strangely empty of life: had they been affected by the Weaver flooding earlier this year?

Ruby Ann was tied up at Acton Bridge (where hopefully the crew had recovered from the tipping drama).

Onward, crows in the sky, a cormorant drying its wings.

Dutton Locks are the last ones going downstream on the Weaver and this time Cleddau was the sole user.  After the alarming near-accident at Saltersford Locks the previous afternoon the Dutton lock keeper’s words were very reassuring.  He pointed to the front gates and the sluice operating panel:  “I’ll be down there watching and right close to the controls,” he said. Nothing untoward occurred…

Out of the lock and ahead are two arresting sights, the timber footbridge over the backwater and the Dutton Railway Viaduct. Onward, past a popular mooring pitch at Devil’s Garden (back in 2014 this was where a bat paid a visit to the boat).

At the junction with the Frodsham Cut there was a floating platform from which a bucket scoop was dredging the river channel…A dumb barge being pushed towards it to collect the spoil necessitated some precision steering!

There was a thrill at Sutton Weaver and a wave of nostalgia – there on her regular mooring was The Daniel Adamson, the 1903-built little steam tug that had towed trains of flat barges and carried passengers, had been a vessel fit to transport foreign royalty and VIPS on the Manchester Ship Canal, had fallen into disrepair, been scrapped, bought for a pound – and then with huge volunteer effort had been restored to become a trip boat, a training venue, and a wonderful visitor experience. (See here to read how back in September 2019 the Captain and Boatwif were given a tour of The Danny )

There was definite activity aboard The Danny on Thursday afternoon – it was good to see that the volunteers are still  taking good care of her …

Looking back, what a splendid sight she is.

Under the M56.

Past the Runcorn Rowing Club.

During the last couple of miles of the Weaver the river’s character becomes industrialised again: Rocksavage Power Station, a gas production plant and various chemical works line the northern bank.

Ahead were the gates at Marsh Lock. Wonderfully the pontoon  beside it was unoccupied.    What is it about this bleak open space that so appeals? Beyond the lock lap the waters of the Manchester Ship Canal. Beyond that there’s a glint from the water of the River Mersey. Structures are big, built for large shipping, serious waters and challenging weather…There’s heavy industry along one bank but open marshes and access to the sea on the other…

A dig into The Daniel Adamson’s website proved worthwhile. The ship’s cruise of 3.5 hours next day would involve leaving Sutton Weaver to cruise along to Marsh Lock, turn and cruise upstream to Acton Bridge. And so it was that just before 1pm on Friday voices were heard. Outside was The Danny, excited passengers on the deck watching as the ship was being turned. Black smoke puffed from the funnel, flags fluttered from the mast – and at the stern a very special Red Ensign was flying, denoting the Danny’s status as one of the top 20 ships on the National Historic Ships list.  A thrilling sight.

The weather was blustery but with a break in the showers Cleddau was untied to head upstream for an overnight mooring at Devil’s Garden.

Back past Runcorn Rowing Club, past The Daniel Adamson’s empty mooring   and onward, the breeze still stiff. Simultaneous sightings – on the right mooring space at Devil’s Garden but across a bend in the river a funnel was emitting smoke… To follow the funnel seemed a more attractive afternoon option.

Slowly a three boat convoy snaked up the river, The Daniel Adamson in the lead, Joshua Hoyle as middleman, Cleddau at the rear.

“When you’re coming back,” the Dutton lock keeper had said the previous day, “just give me a call when you get to the viaduct.”  

There was a VHF radio conflab, the steam tug would need the lock on its own, the narrowboats would have to wait on the lock landing.

The Danny slotted neatly into the chamber, ropes were thrown, and the gates were closed. Meanwhile the two narrowboats (one a 70 footer, one a 60 footer) had to secure themselves and wait for The Danny to depart and for the lock to be prepared. How Boatwif longed to photograph the tug’s rise in the lock but there was no way off the boat… Slowly, slowly the mast and the wheelhouse rose into view   before cruising on another mile or so to disembark the passengers at Acton Bridge.

By late afternoon the tug was found, moored up, passengers gone, prestigious Red Ensign lowered and stored.

Saturday’s cruise (in heavy rain) passed again the flooded Acton Bridge properties, the boat then rising up through Saltersford Lock to head on towards Anderton. Near Winnington approaching narrowboaters may have been mystified by a camera trained upon them; the photo subject, however, was The Tree, the tree that Cleddau was tethered to back in April 2012   Relief Crew (late of nb Tentatrice ) will remember Cleddau’s immobilisation while a new diesel pressure pump was sourced…) There was the high bank that Boatwif was shoved up onto to secure the boat to a tree. Hasn’t that tree spread over the last nine years!

It would be another few days before Cleddau takes the Anderton Lift back up to the Trent and Mersey Canal (booked for Wednesday 11th August). Meanwhile, onwards to Northwich – and a mooring convenient for shopping but not for vertically challenged boaters…

Weaver Navigation: Anderton – Marsh Lock – Anderton – Northwich: 28 miles, 2 locks (twice)

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

2021 Monkton Moments* total now: 8

Lancashire / Yorkshire / Tudor Rose conversations: 2



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2 Responses

  1. Jennie Gash says:

    I certainly remember the emergency stop! The scramble to get on and off and the persistent rain for the 24 hours we were stuck. I guess it says a lot about our friendship that is survived our incarceration, especially with the Relief Captain’s very dodgy tummy! Sadly I remember very little else about the trip and we were so looking forward to taking Tentatrice along the Weaver with you this year, but it was not to be. Enjoy the rest of your trip and we hope to see you soon. Jennie

  2. Sue says:

    Hi Jennie,
    Another thing I remember during the unplanned tree-hugging episode was playing Trivial Pursuit and raiding our store of games for younger children to try to amuse ourselves!

    We are back at canal level now; after the width of the river the narrow channel and the number of boats around Anderton gave a feeling of claustrophobia!

    Yes, hopefully we’ll see you soon,

    Sue /Boatwif

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