Third time lucky…?

It was nearly seven years ago when a very particular cruise saga started. Techno Son-in-Law announced that a birthday present for two would be dispatch on a Cruise – a cruise along the Manchester Ship Canal…

Arrangements were made, tickets were booked – but, if you read here, you’ll see that due to most unusual circumstances the cruise ended up in a very expensive taxi ride… A boat trip to within sight of Runcorn and a clamber over a wall at Ellesmere Port was not quite what had been signed up for…

Four years on, in 2016, Cleddau and crew had arrived in Liverpool via the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Once tied up in Salthouse Dock Boatwif located the Mersey Ferries terminal and set about buying tickets for said cruise, Liverpool to Manchester. At the ticket desk there were protracted discussions along the lines of yes, tickets being available, yes, boat available, yes, cruise running but yet no tickets to be sold “because of the bridge”. Jinxed! A bridge spanning the Ship Canal had collapsed during construction work that very day, hence the confusions.

Cruises between the two cities remained cancelled for quite some months.

Three years on, back beside the Mersey, what were the chances of a Manchester Ship Canal cruise?  An internet trawl revealed that the first cruise of the 2019 season would be Thursday May 9th. Thumbs up! Fingers crossed!

An online booking was made and once in Liverpool the exact timings were confirmed. In the days leading up to the cruise the Captain kept a watch on the weather forecast. But whatever the weather the crew were going to do it…

It was a wet morning, a deterrent perhaps to other passengers? At Pier Head coaches began to disgorge passengers, school parties and tourists for the 50 minute Explorer cruise on board the Snowdrop, as well as passengers for the Royal Iris to Manchester.  Watched by a wet seagull Mersey Ferries staff cajoled passengers into the right queue.

On the other side of the Mersey a Stena Line ferry pulled away from its mooring and departed for Dublin. Just along from Pier Head, at the Princes Dock terminal, a strange craft (a wave piercing catamaran) pulled out, spun round and departed.  This was the fast (2¾ hour) ferry to the Isle of Man).

On time the Royal Iris approached the floating pontoon, its interior cabin and under cover decks already crammed with passengers who had boarded ten minutes earlier at Seacombe, a terminal on the Wirral side of the Mersey. Squashed it was on board, the newer arrivals struggling to find seats and cover from the constant rain…

The ship turned up stream, Liverpool to the left, the Wirral and Birkenhead to the right. Downstream stand the cranes at Liverpool’s modern container port.    The shipyards of Cammell Laird  are passed (Wirral side) before,  five miles or so upriver from Liverpool, Ship Canal traffic needs to enter Eastham Locks.

Since the 36 mile long canal was constructed for large ocean-going vessels the locks are significantly larger than seen on the inland waterways. The Royal Iris seemed to take up very little space in these lock chambers.

Onward, passing the pipes of  Stanlow oil refinery.

A Ship Canal pilot had joined the cruise back at Eastham Locks. He became the skipper’s pace-setter, aware of the approach of an 11,000 tonne oil tanker… Car drivers in the north of Scotland know about passing places; boaters on the busy Grand Union can relate to having to squeeze past moored and wide beam boats. Slowly, slowly the Royal Iris crawled along the Ship Canal, the two vessels approaching each other from opposite direction.

To the left (north) the Mersey Estuary ran parallel to the canal. On the far side an Easyjet aircraft was descending from the east to land at the John Lennon Airport.

Then at Ellesmere Port there was a long “hover” as Tanker Autumn crept past , her positioning held firm by tugs fore and aft. (For those who like to know a vessel’s provenance she is registered in the Marshall Islands, which are a US associated state in the North Pacific Ocean).

There was Ellesmere Port. This is the access to the locks up to the Shropshire Union Canal that runs south to Wolverhampton. and there, clearly remembered, was the hotel that featured in the 2012 aborted Ship Canal trip…

Onward. Wharfs. At one glass was being collected for recycling; at another coal was piled high.  At the Eddie Stobart Dock salt hills were to be seen.

To the left of the canal the estuary is still apparent.  Huge sluices allow for discharge of flood water into the Mersey.  A bund separates canal from river, in one place the bank reinforced by former lock gates.

Runcorn – recognisable to locals by its Silver Jubilee Bridge. Beyond is the new Mersey Gateway Bridge, a six lane toll bridge opened just 11 months ago by the Queen.

The River Mersey, though still apparent, is narrower now.

A waterway built for 7,698 gross tons vessels needs depth 28 feet (8.5 m) and clearance below bridges. Here the Moore Lane Swing Bridge was swung open to allow the Mersey Ferry boat through…

Engineering structures come thick and fast now (3 more swing bridges) leading to Latchford Locks. It was here then that the tree trunks washed down from the waterlogged Cheshire Plain (September 2012) jammed the sluices – and the Canal beyond was running out of water…

Despite the downpour the lock procedure was closely observed. Lights (red and green) indicate when a ship is free to enter. A light rope is thrown from the lock side to a crew member who ties it to the boat’s hawser (heavy mooring ropes). The hawser then is hauled up and looped over a large bollard.

Quite how the paddles were operated to fill and empty these huge locks seemed something of a mystery: a lever and a rising pole seemed to be involved. (Further info will be gratefully received…) A chain pulley system is worked as part of the gate opening and closing system.

Onwards again, towards Manchester – under Thelwell High Level Bridge  (wasn’t Thelwall Viaduct once a name familiar to long-suffering northern M6 users?)

Another wharf – another purpose. Here containers are transshipped from Liverpool Docks to further inland to reduce movement of freight by road.

More locks, at Irlam and Barton.

After Barton, the real drama (in engineering terms) is seen. Here’s the Barton High Level Bridge leading to the M60 (which when it collapsed during construction in 2016 brought the Mersey Ferries trips to an abrupt halt…)   It operates on a horizontal plane, rising to allow boat traffic under, lowering for motorway vehicles.

Then (excitement mounting) comes Barton Swing Bridge. From the Ship Canal it looks like this: from the Bridgewater Canal (taken from the Swing Aqueduct on 29th April) it looks like this:

It’s pretty special, the Barton Swing  Aqueduct, a Victorian engineering feat and  the only swing aqueduct in the world. Here now it was already swung open for the Mersey Ferry trip boat to pass through. The drop down from the aqueduct seems long, as if it is 50 – 60 feet from the movable tank of water to the canal below. Cruising past it at Ship Canal level it seemed a rather low structure!

Just one more set of locks are negotiated  before the Ship Canal reaches Salford Quays, This is he name given now to Manchester Docks and a name synonymous with BBC and ITV studios, the Lowry (Arts Centre) and Imperial War Museum North.

Photos from family visit, July 2018.

Due to works further ahead passengers were disembarked at the Esprit Quay. There was no sighting of the inspirational buildings that surround  Salford Quays now…

A third attempt at a  Mersey Ferries Manchester Ship Canal Cruise had come to an unremarkable end: the luxury coach travel back to Liverpool was swift, warm, comfortable – and it crossed that M60 Barton High Level Bridge, at motorway level.

So tick:   seven years on the Manchester Ship Canal Cruise has been achieved, has been survived in relentlessly dismal conditions…!


Next time: Treats in Liverpool




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