Tied up at Ellesmere Port

            10 am on Monday and the Cleddau crew were ready to start their exploration of the National Waterways Museum.

From their mooring behind the Holiday Inn they wove their way off the islands, climbed a steep ramp to top lock level, wandered past a number of old working boats in varying states of restoration, trudged past a building or two and found a bridge across two locks to arrive near the Visitor Entrance.
          “Can you advise us where is best to start? An Introduction?” asked Boatwif.
          There was a shrug of the shoulders. “No, not really, they demolished the building.” Odd… And this was the first of several requests for information to which only very limited responses were given. (More later).
          A pause: “You could go over down there as far away as possible and work back…” Having just come up from “down there” The Captain and Boatwif opted to exit the Visitor Centre, turn right and START. Stables first – a reminder that early working boats were legged in tunnels but drawn by horse along the towpath.

Next to the Power Hall – where engine buffs can drool over operating and static machinery used for a wide variety of uses.

Then the Blacksmith’s Forge, a vast space containing six separate hearths, explanations of anvils, an array of tools and worked metal products.
         Here the buildings backed onto the Manchester Ship Canal – and as if on cue there was a blast from a ship’s horn and mv Stolt Cormorant, an oil /chemical liquid tanker of 5,500 tonnes (thank you internet!) passed, heading towards Liverpool.

         Were you aware that concrete was used for ship-building when steel was a shortage material? This was a concrete barge, used in ports.

        There are boats that can be climbed onto – don’t miss the 70 foot Shadwhere the tiny boatman’s cabin, with back range and cupboards can be investigated.

       There’s a row of four workers’ cottages worth exploring too. Built for the porters on the docks, visiting each one became backward time travel: there was one laid out in the 1950s,

       another in the 1930s,

the 1900s

and the 1830s.

        There were mangles and dolly tubs – and a bucket and chuck it privy.

        Under cover in the vast Island Warehouse there are more intriguing displays: upstairs pride of place goes to nb Friendship;

the story of this boat, the recorded voices of her remarkable owners and the description of the lives they led is positively moving. Elsewhere the big ditch (the Manchester Ship Canal) and pattern-making (ie wooden moulds for metal canal-side furniture) is displayed.

Downstairs you can get close up to an icebreaker (minus the ice!) and learn vast amounts about the tools and skills needed to build inland waterway boats.

         Verdict: an excellent museum which deserves at least half a day.
          Come by car or public transport, fill in your Feedback card and whisk away back along the motorways.
          Come by boat – and struggle to find facilities: one near invisible tap by the Visitor Centre at the upper level, the trip boat moored in front of it; the well-hidden elsan disposal point accessed across three other moored boats; rubbish disposal in the skip outside the shop, but the site is locked after 5pm; the top lock needs a notice to explain its usage so as to prevent flooding down below. (Only much questioning eventually uncovered the information that some external gates have standard BW C&RT key locks.)
          Tomorrow: a top up of the water supply, if possible, and a three hour trip back to Chester. There’s a Roman Amphitheatre there that at least one of the crew wants to visit…
(One final photo: this is the spiked-topped wall four passengers from mv Daffodil climbed last September

 in their desperate bid to find a taxi to take them back to Manchester – and in so doing gate-crashed photographs being taken of an entire wedding party…)

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