Saturday, 11 October 2014

What goes down must come up

Tonight's mooring with the River Weaver way down below
Well here we are back on the canals. Three weeks ago we went down the Anderton Boat Lift to the River Weaver and yesterday we came back up the Lift to the Trent & Mersey Canal.  In between times we also fitted in a lightning (is that the word for a 450 mile round trip in a 1.0 litre hire car?) to visit family in Suffolk.
We are unanimous in voting the Weaver the highspot of our boating year and it's come as something of a shock to be back on the leaf and silt churning shallowness of the canals. Not helped by someone up there having turned the sprinkler system on in the skies. I'm surprised it worked after so long out of use!
The first miles after the Lift are a long and lock free stretch that circles round the edge of Northwich across a landscape still ravaged by salt extraction. The most famous example of this is The Lion Salt Works at Marston, the ruinous remains of which were featured on tv's 'Restoration' programme some years back.
Restoration nears completion on the Lion Salt Works
The Lion works opened in 1894 and produced salt by pumping brine from underground which was evapourated off in large pans until 1986. After its closure it was run as a museum for some years until advancing dilapidation forced its closure again.
It is the last surviving open pan salt works in Britain and maybe in Europe and finally, in 2008 a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund kick-started major restoration work of the whole site to become a major museum. When we last passed this way the site was still a ruin surrounded by 'keep out' warnings but the change now is startling; restoration is almost complete and the museum opens next spring. See here for more details.
Steam and stink from the vast ICI plant
Beyond Marston comes one final, unforgettable reminder of the industrial plants that dominate this whole are - the vast and vile looking chemical plant at Rudheath that straddles the canal, belching steam and noxious smells. This sprawling eyesore, large chunks of which appear to have fallen out of use and simply been left to rot, is actually owned by ICI Alkali division – not that you'd know for these ugly plants rarely boast a name and this one is no exception.
A large new marina nearing completion
But another one certainly doesn't
Fortunately the T&M now heads into countryside, which is something of a relief even to someone like me who enjoys a bit of industrial squalor. We passed a large and impressive looking marina which appears close to opening and then, barely a mile later, another which claims to be 'Opening in Summer 2014' (yes, you read that right) and is little more than some marker posts in the ground. Perhaps they are having second thoughts – with so many vacant marina moorings right now there seems scarcely the demand for one let alone two.
Anyway, we moored opposite what will be the entrance and this morning headed the few miles down to Middlewich. Middlewich is a bit of a boating hub – a sort of poor man's Braunston – with six locks (the first of them broad for some inexplicable reason since the rest are narrow), two hire fleets and a junction to the branch canal that nips off westwards to join the Shropshire Union. Which is where we are headed.
Poor old Middlewich doesn't offer much beyond the canal; it's a small, scruffy sort of place that has plenty of Indian restaurants, a couple of charity shops and – bizarrely – a shop selling motorsport memorabilia but not a lot else to delay one. Nice to report, though, that the new owners of Middlewich Narrowboats hire fleet have smartened their place up no end: the boats look smart and the formerly scruffy buildings a lot, lot smarter.
Moo, that's a fine looking tug you've got down there
We might be well down the canal now but we still can't shake ourselves free of the Weaver: tonight we are moored in a stunning spot with views down a long, deep valley to the River Weaver way below,  following its twisting course until it opens out into Winsford Top Flash. Beautiful.

 And finally...
Please leave area immediately ... at 4mph?

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