We spent last week exploring the River Weaver. It’s a fascinating waterway, one minute dwarfed by huge smelly factories and salt works, the next lost in beautiful countryside.
As a critical trade route for Cheshire’s salt and related chemical industries, it was kept up-to-date with brand-spanking new infrastructure throughout its life as a working waterway. Vast sluices and gates prevent it from flooding in all but the worst downpours.
In the 19th century, they built the Anderton boat lift to get salt barges from the nearby Trent & Mersey Canal:
And in the twentieth, they built mammoth electrical locks equipped with semaphore and hydraulics:
But the lorry still won, and not a single working boat trades on the Weaver nowadays. It’s rather sad to see the lock keepers setting their vast locks for a tiny narrowboat (15 tons), when they used to lock through behemoths like the St Michael (1080 tons):
Yesterday, we went back up in the boat lift with Will and Eimear…
…and are now cruising waterways that couldn’t be more different. First, this morning, the Trent & Mersey – open for business 1777 and barely changed since. Tunneling was so unfamiliar to engineers of the time that they aren’t built straight; there’s no light at the end until you’re halfway through and have gone round a couple of bends!
We finished today on the Bridgewater Canal, the first of the lot, opened in 1761 to transport coal. They kept it pretty simple back then: there are no locks or tunnels at all.
Tonight we are moored in Lymm. Over the next few days, we’ll follow the Bridgewater Canal to Wigan via Salford. Then begin our first journey over the Pennines on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal next weekend!
Check out the “Where we are” tab for a map. And here for an overview of all the canals: http://www.jim-shead.com/waterways/mwp.php?wpage=Inland-Waterways-of-England.htm