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).

Within 3 miles the canal was narrowing, passing a warehouse now used as apartment living,   running through a cutting, to arrive at Preston Brook Tunnel.

It’s a one-way tunnel with boat entry from the north allowed only between 30 and 40 minutes after the hour.

Once south of the tunnel   the canal becomes The Trent and Mersey.     There’s a shallow stop lock installed to separate the waters of two different canal owning companies. 

The bridges of the T&M might look ropey – but at least from a boater’s point of view they are numbered… 

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. 

Just metres further on is the entry into the top of the Anderton Lift,    ‘the Cathedral of the Canals’.

But here too was foul weather…

.Rain. 

Hail.

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!

Boat serviced and in drier conditions Cleddau cruised onward, past the Lion Salt Works,   past a multi-storey treehouse,    through the Northwich Tata Chemicals works,

onwards, past the de-watered Orchard Marina to moor late afternoon at Whatcroft Flash.

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…

Whatcroft Flash (and Croxton Flash)    are wide lake-like expanses of shallow water, often formed by subsidence of former salt workings.

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.

The journey continued, across dairy cow Cheshire,    the Winsford Top Flash fed by the River Weaver far below    .

It was Tuesday – and to avoid the threat of brooding rainclouds     Cleddau was tied up near Minshull Wharf.

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.

Onward – up through Minshull and Cholmondeston Locks (the wood-fired pizza boat rising at the second one). 

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.

A famous sight on the approach to Nantwich is the horse sculpture, a reminder that early boats were towed by the horse’s power…

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Responses

  1. JM Biggs says:

    Wow you covered a lot of ground quickly! Nantwich does not appear to have changed, thank goodness! The breach sites are fascinating to see. Did you purchase any books? Seeing these pictures sends a spasm of longing through my heart. I am wishing a good stretch of dry, sunny washed days for you both and nb Cleddau as you carry on southward.
    Love Jaq xxx

  2. Sue says:

    Hi Jaq,
    This canal trip is bringing back lots of memories of meeting you over this way. Do you remember ‘Cal Guy Jnr’ and I helping you up the pair of Hack Green locks in 2018? As for the Nantwich Book Shop – cafe trade was very brisk outside but I just wanted to feast my eyes on book volumes on shelves, for the first time in about 15 months… No, I didn’t buy any books, but I still prefer to read print on paper rather than from a screen…!
    Has it rained recently? Of course it has!
    Love
    Sue /Boatwif

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