Weaver reflections – and a bat in the boat

Cruising the Weaver Navigation is one long visual and mental treat – there’s active industry, industrial heritage, impressive structures, miles of glorious rural landscape, abundant wildlife, superb moorings  C42-28 C42-03   and the historic town of Northwich.

To deal with the industry first. Salt has long been a dominant industry in the Weaver Valley. Cruise upstream from Anderton to Winsford (nearly 11 miles, 2 locks) and you come to the head of navigation. Creep if you dare past the Red Lion pub, under two bridges, follow the channel round and meet the Winsford Bottom Flash,   C42-06    a shallow lake or mere created by the salt mining and brine extraction. Boaters should go no further than the first boat’s mooring unless prepared to run aground in shallow water.

Turning back past Winsford a seeming mountain range stretches along the westerly river bank. C42-05    This is rock salt, mined from about 200 metres underground and used for treating roads in icy conditions. Think of it if the coming winter is a harsh one…

What had first appeared in the early morning mist as some sort of romantic tower   C42-04

is the mine’s lift shaft…                                                                                                          C42-10

In the area opposite Anderton   C42-13   is a huge chemical works   C42-33     – and then no more hint of industry until the last mile of the navigation where a vast petro-chemical works extends into Runcorn. To the uninitiated it is a confusion of pipes and tanks, gantries and spheres.  C42-21      C42-22  There’s a nephew in West Wales who could probably explain a thing or two here…

It is at this end of the Weaver that from Marsh Lock you can get a sighting of another canal. It connects to the Manchester Ship Canal, a serious beast, which carries predominantly commercial and working traffic between Liverpool and Manchester.   C42-23

In between the Start of Navigation  C42-08    and the far end at Runcorn Docks   C42-24   (the church was built by the Weaver Navigation Commissioners for bargees and seamen) there are four sets of locks, all doubled up and huge. C42-18    Can you read this?   C42-15     The dimensions of the larger Dutton Lock is 225 by 42 feet and the largest ship to navigate through was 1080 tonnes. C42-16    The locks are substantial, the lower two electrically operated, the two above Northwich still hand operated.  C42-12    Now mobile phones are used as contact between boaters and lock keepers; in an earlier era railway signals were deployed.  C42-02    Then there are the bridges (not many of them at all in the central section) but all worth looking at. Enormously high railway bridges,  C42-20    the sweep of a motorway bridge (M56),  C42-25   impressive swing bridges  C42-26   and graceful weir footbridges. C42-19

As you cruise through the long unpopulated sections of the navigation there is a silence, an unusual but pleasant silence. No road traffic noise, no trains – just birds. Birds circle overhead or flash swiftly past   .C42-27 Just three kingfishers were glimpsed on the 600 miles of waterway travelled between May and September – and on the Weaver in three separate areas three kingfishers have been sighted. One, squat and plump, was perched on a low branch just outside Northwich. Another flashed low near Saltersford Locks. The third darted above the water and dived into a bush opposite Devil’s Garden. Herons seem unscathed here by boats.   C42-34    At Vale Royal one tiptoed through the shallows at the river’s edge, focusing on what was below, head plunging periodically to catch its evening fish. High above buzzards wheel in pairs, catching thermal air currents, then swoop down to capture their prey.  A notice displayed at Dutton Locks lists the 66 different bird species identified within a mile of the locks during August.

Devil’s Garden is a rural wild mooring downstream of Dutton and Acton Bridge. Perched on a slope some fifty feet above the mooring   C42-29   there was just one sound – the slap, slap of a solo rower’s oars rising from the river below – and after he had passed just the crows, a heron’s shriek, an insect buzzing and the faintest flap of a butterfly’s wings… It was at Devil’s Garden that rabbits leapt and frolicked on the opposite bank – and a bat took refuge inside the boat. Do not ask, Techno Son-in- Law, what was the species. It was small, black, furry, and it dived for cover into the back cabin pillows…

What else is there to see on the Weaver? Sadly, two of these,  C42-09 C42-07    the enemy of boaters’ props as well as a variety of unusual boats – some up on blocks, a tug, C42-01  a wreck of a coaster,  rowing boats and kayaks and look, a narrow boat called Calon Lan…   C42-11


Back up to canal level via the Anderton Lift on Saturday.

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