Tunnels, bridges and curious structures

Billinge Green Flash to Vicars Hall Bridge (near Astley Green); 40 miles, 1 lock

Once past Middlewich the northern Trent and Mersey Canal has a character hard to define – is it rural – or is it industrial? Cruise past the flashes, pass the Marbury Country Park near Anderton  16i-02  and the wooded areas north of the Anderton Lift, spy in the month of May great spreads of bluebells,  16i-03   sniff the sweet smell of wild garlic – and this is rural bliss. Yet around Northwich there are the salt making and chemical industries;  16i-01     if you look across the River Weaver from the Anderton Lift, (built to lift barges between the canal and the river)  16i-04   this is indisputably an industrial canal.

Between Anderton and Preston Brook (where the Trent and Mersey Canal meets the Bridgewater Canal) is a stretch of 7.5 miles – and three tunnels…

Northbound the first is the Barnton Tunnel.   16i-40   It’s a straight tunnel bore. The drill is to look ahead and if there is no approaching boat headlight proceed straight ahead (572 yards).  Half a mile later comes the Saltersford Tunnel (of 424 yards).    16i-06   Here, from the south, boaters can enter the tunnel only between the hour and twenty minutes past. Onward then, for about 5 miles until reaching, after a stop lock, the Preston Brook Tunnel, (1239 yards)  16i-10 16i-09   where boaters can only enter the southern portal between the hour and ten minutes past. So, that amounts to about 1.25 miles of tunnel transit…

Outside of the tunnels there are glimpses down onto the River Weaver  16i-07  – and a passing of the plaque that marks the site of the serious canal breach in September 2012.  16i-08

After Preston Brook the waterway becomes the Bridgewater Canal, immediately deeper and wider. The Bridgewater Canal bears east, though the suburbs of Manchester are still some 13 miles ahead. This is still Cheshire, but walking signposts to Runcorn and Warrington hint of industrial centres not too far away. It wasn’t long before there is a motorway bridge*,  16i-25    the first of many over the next three days. (Motorway afficianados see below for details).  After a night beside a yellow field  16i-11   Cleddau cruised onward, seeing the Bridgewater for the first time in this direction. Here was Moore,    16i-13  with its village shop most conveniently placed beside the towpath. Cruising along a lock-free canal on a stunning day gives plenty of time for admiring the scenery – and for gawping.  How properties have been modified over time is always of passing interest, whether by redesignating their purpose,  16i-14    or by adding on an additional wing  16i-15   or several additional structures…  16i-16

Lymm is a popular spot on the Bridgewater. It’s still in Cheshire, it oozes charm, affluence and community activity

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– and there was a mooring spot in prime position right behind the Cafe Boat.  16i-20 

Onwards from Lymm for about three miles, passing a majorette underneath a tree and   16i-39  several wisteria-bedecked properties while high warm winds created wind lanes along the water.   16i-22

Named “underbridges” (where a road passes underneath the canal) seem a feature of this canal.   16i-23    Not much further on from the River Bollin Aqueduct and in easy walking distance of Dunham Massey NT site  there was a very pleasant overnight mooring.

Tuesday saw Cleddau moving ever nearer new waters… A suburban landscape (Altrincham, Sale, Stretford)   16i-24   beckoned. Beside the canal runs the ‘Metrolink’, swift and silent, Manchester’s light railway.

Then at 11am there was a left bearing at Waters Meeting…  16i-26    The text in the Pearson’s Guide provides an apt description, describing the junction as

“a misleadingly mellifluous name for the junction of the Bridgewater Canal’s Leigh and Manchester lines – perhaps it was of more Arcadian aspect in the 18th century, before being engulfed by the world’s first industrial estate”.

And here is the first identifiable industry, Kellogg’s.   16i-28   Was today’s breakfast cereal manufactured right here…?

New waters, new territories – what would come next? There was a glimpse of Manchester’s famous Trafford Centre,  16i-29    shopping heaven for many – and useful mooring rings too.

Then came the next point of interest: there ahead was the Barton Swing Aqueduct,  high above the Manchester Ship Canal.

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Here, via Victorian engineering, one canal crosses another; to have seen shipping travelling on the Ship Canal would have given a sense of scale, but that was not to be…

Canal-side improvements were the next point of interest: new roads, houses, footpaths  16i-32  – and then a lighthouse,  16i-33   a striking folly, a mere 30 miles inland from the coast…!

Onward, past more new houses, (some very skinny),  16i-34    to Worsley – to where it all began! It was here that the Duke of Bridgewater in 1761 brought coal out of his mines and shipped it through to Manchester. Cleddau’s water tank was filled up here: somehow there was a sense of waterway pilgrimage in spending time within sight of the famous red-plaqued Packet House …!  16i-36 (The entrance to the mine is just to the right of the black and white timbered house.)

Onward, once more, just for a while, through massive new stop gates,  16i-37    towards Astley Green. For a mile or so green scrub crowded both sides of the canal; this is old colliery country. Ahead is the distinctive shape of a pithead (now disused).  16i-38

Further adventures lie ahead – the W word is much used, Wigan. That place seems to be on the itinerary for Wednesday…

*Motorways: This was the M56 ( Manchester to Chester); further along near Thelwall (drivers may remember accounts of problems on the Thelwall Viaduct) the waterway is crossed by the north /south M6; then at Sale there is the M60 (a western ring road around Manchester), then the M602 (a Manchester link to Liverpool) and then the M60 again…

Remaining miles and locks to Liverpool: 47 miles, 14 locks

Monkton Moments* to date: 0  (Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)






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