The Trent & Mersey canal skirts the centre of the town of Middlewich and after navigating the first three narrow locks we found ourselves at a wide (14ft) lock alongside a busy pub. The Middlewich Big lock, as it is known, was to represent the the beginning of the wide, almost lock free navigation through to Preston nevertheless, the Croxton Aqueduct - less than half a mile away - had to be replaced and this was done with an 8ft 2inch wide steel structure. No wide beams along here then!
Other than to take on water at the waterpoint, we didn't stop, preferring instead to find a quieter location. Yet we still had quite a way to go to find such a mooring spot. Although we passed the idyllic beauty of Croxton Flash, and wound our way along the side of a hill as the canal follows the picturesque valley that the River Dane runs through, we found it difficult to moor. There are quiet moorings with picnic tables and BBQ facilities that were apparently created by the Broken Cross Boating Club, but predictably, these limited moorings were all full and it wasn't long before we found ourselves in the heavy industrial area on the outskirts of Northwich.
It wasn't 'till we had passed through Northwich with its heavily industrialised features and enormous ICI works that we found a suitable mooring spot for the night and that was only a mile and a half from the Anderton Boat Lift - the reason for this journey. Initially, my aunt and uncle were to accompany us on this leg of our trip but were unable to join us. I don't think they would have enjoyed this part of the trip at all.
Having said that, we found the Anderton Boat Lift to be an incredible structure. Looking a little like an enormous steel spider hanging on the edge of the River Weaver, this amazing Victorian structure has had a troublesome past. It was initially built in 1875 to connect the Trent and Mersey Canal to the Weaver Navigation, 50ft below.
The concept is simple. There are two huge water tanks (caissons) each with watertight doors that carry boats up and down.
In 1908 The original hydraulic rams were replaced by counter-balancing weights and massive geared pulley wheels. The lift worked 'till 1983 when serious deterioration put a stop to it and it wasn't till its restoration and modification was completed in 2002 that it became operational again, once more using the hydraulic ram system.
We waited our turn at the top and finally experienced the thrill of this magnificent structure by mid-afternoon on Thursday 11th September. While we were waiting, we made use of the visitor centre to find out all we could about its history as well as enjoyed a coffee in the coffee shop while watching the trip-boat and other narrowboats making the passage that we were soon to make.
In contrast to the industry, steep-sided valleys along parts of the river are covered in woodland that is still untouched by human hands.
The river winds its way through Northwich and since we were in need of supplies, we headed for the town swing bridge where there is ample mooring as well as a sanitary station. We remained moored opposite the boatyard for a second day as there was a street market that we found to be extensive. By Sunday morning, I had had enough and wanted to find a quieter spot. Since we like to have our Sunday roast, I put the oven on and the delicious aroma of roast pork followed us along the river (the lock keeper at Dutton lock even commented on it).
We discovered that the lower part of the Weaver Navigation is the most picturesque and we were happy to moor for a few days at a spot known as 'Devils Garden'.
Nevertheless, we did take the navigation down to its end at Weston Point, passing the derelict lock to the abandoned Runcorn & Weston Canal before turning and running alongside the Manchester Ship Canal, back to Marsh Lock. There we stopped to take photographs but we didn't want to stay. It is overlooked by what Ian described as 'Machine City', miles and miles of heavy processing plant works. We knew there were prettier places to moor.
Returning to Devils Garden, we found that the mooring we had left earlier was still available so we hammered in the mooring pins and tied up securely in beautiful and tranquil surroundings once again.
Wanting to take the Boat Lift back to the Trent and Mersey canal on Wednesday 17th September we left Devils Garden behind in the early morning mist and had a lovely run up the river.
Due to an impending boat festival, passage through the boat lift was limited and we wanted to get out of the way before we became entangled in it.
From here we will return to Middlewich, take the Shropshire Union Middlewich branch to the Shroppie main line and on to the Llangollen Canal.