Tunnels and junctions, flashes and breach sites
It was Monday morning and overcast as Cleddau and crew cruised the last few flat miles of the Bridgewater Canal. There was a local landmark, the Norton water tower in Runcorn, there was the entrance to the Runcorn Arm (a three mile canal stretch that used to give boat access to the Manchester Ship Canal) – and there was another motorway bridge (M56).
It’s a one-way tunnel with boat entry from the north allowed only between 30 and 40 minutes after the hour.
A mile beyond the tunnel (heading south) is the popular mooring site at Dutton which overlooks the Weaver Navigation 50 feet below. It was here in September 2012 that excessively heavy rainfall over the Cheshire Plain saturated the ground – and caused a major breach in the canal. (Breach site 1) The repaired canal now has a range of mooring rings and a centre line marking the midpoint of the canal’s collapse. This milestone had been recovered from the mud and debris, restored and returned to its former position. (See here for record of the breach and its repair, including the milestone).
Onwards – always with glimpses of the Weaver Valley below. Then, while Cleddau slowly slipped past the Black Prince moorings at Acton Bridge a potential stowaway trudged across the map for a few minutes. There were hazes of bluebells and wafts of aroma from wild garlic.
Within another couple of miles there is another one-way tunnel, Saltersford Tunnel. What luck, again no time was spent waiting to allow northbound boats through. South of the tunnel the channel crosses a wide pool – and then there is tunnel 3, Barnton Tunnel. You can see straight through here; if all is clear go straight ahead…
All clear. There’s a tricky bridge hole to negotiate – and then, not far on at all is an additional hazard. Storm Christoph (in January 2021) wreaked havoc here, creating a landslip at Anderton into the canal. Repair work needs to be slow and careful, a gas main across the canal being very close to the landslip site… At just tickover speed Cleddau crawled along the buoy-marked channel.
But here too was foul weather…
Drenching monsoon conditions.
Faces lined the windows of occupied boats, staring out, aghast at the squall’s ferocity, glad that they at least were inside a boat and not exposed outside on the stern. The thick grey curtain of water and hailstones hammered down. As Cleddau approached the Services another shape slewed across the water, a boater leaving Anderton Marina.
Dodgems, with the exiting boat just a murky shape…
The boats did not collide and Cleddau headed for the mooring bollards by the water tap. For the second time in less than a week Boatwif launched herself off the boat to land in inches of water to secure a rope around a barely visible white top. Wet. Wet. Wet!
It had been a 13 mile, 3 tunnel, 1 lock, 1 total drenching sort of day…
Whatcroft stirs strong memories, especially of that glorious April evening (in 2012) followed by a wild wind-whipping night and an agony of a morning in being towed off fallen stonework… See story here. When choosing a mooring site more caution is taken these days in assessing both wind direction and water depth…
After a dance-around-each-other routine at the narrow Croxton Aqueduct Cleddau approached Middlewich’s Big Lock. This anomaly of a lock is double width, wide enough for a broad beam boat, although no such boat can pass northwards across Croxton Aqueduct or southwards up the Middlewich Town Locks.
There were VLKs (volunteers) galore at the town locks, one each on the Middlewich Three, one on King’s Lock (southbound) and one at Wardle Lock, accessed via Middlewich Junction (Wardle Lock Junction) providing the east-west route across the Middlewich Arm. “We manage to put volunteers on the locks Mondays to Fridays,” said the leader, “but no-one wants to do weekends…” Remember that, boaters, if you like help in the Middlewich area.
Up through Wardle Lock – and nearby was nb Lizzie, and walking towards her was Paul, aka Oz Lizzie, applauded for his efforts at the Rochdale Nine on 6th May. Routes and plans were exchanged – oh, the joy of boater conversation…!
Onward; past squatters in a pretty back garden and past another breach site, just below Stanthorne Lock (Breach site 2, March 2018) now repaired with a pleasant line of mooring rings installed.
Regular readers might recognise the word “Webasto”. Hasn’t every spring season been affected by some misbehaviour within the diesel central heating system…? This year the bathroom radiator had refused to bleed – and then it decided to weep in a sinister fashion across the bathroom floor. A marine engineer with an appropriate tool sorted that problem out at Aqueduct Marina on Wednesday.
At the end of the Middlewich Arm is Barbridge Junction: there’s a curious sign here on the junction bridge, it’s as far as the boats licenced on the Bridgewater Canal are allowed to go. For those licenced to proceed (C&RT licence) turn sharp right for Chester and Ellesmere Port or sharp left for Nantwich and Wolverhampton.
Now Cleddau was on the main line of the Shropshire Union Canal, heading for Nantwich. Less than two miles from Barbridge Junction the canal wends its way below the Hurleston Reservoir; here water from the River Dee provides the water supply for the Cheshire towns of and Crewe and Nantwich. White poles provide monitoring posts for the stability of the dam wall – and here is yet another canal junction, the four locks at Hurleston Junction providing access to the Llangollen Canal.
It’s quite a walk down Welsh Row from the Nantwich Embankment into the town – even in these pandemic times this historic Cheshire salt town exudes confidence and prosperity. There were people, shops, cafes, St Mary’s Church was open to visitors, – and, for the first time in fourteen months, there was chance to browse along bookshelves. What bliss was this?!
Since Daresbury (near Runcorn, Bridgewater Canal):
32 miles; 9 locks; 3 tunnels; 4 junctions; 2 breach sites