Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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This article Dream Weaver is the copyright of Jim Shead - Cruising the River Weaver. First published in Waterways World April 2003.
With the restoration of the Anderton Lift in 2002 we not only regained a working wonder of the waterways but also a much easier access to the River Weaver was recovered. Some may grumble at the charges levied on the use of the boat lift and the need for advance bookings but they should try visiting the Weaver by way of the Manchester Ship Canal with the need for a special survey of seaworthiness and a whole set of requirements to be met and restrictions imposed. By comparison using the Anderton Boat Lift is easy and cheap. Indeed, as from this year it is free to use for British Waterways licence holders.
In previous years I had passed by the lift and seen it looking shabby and neglected in a weedy plot strewn with rusting parts from its structure. Now, newly restored and painted black, it towers above the lawns surrounding the visitor centre and attracts people from far and wide to see this working historic monument and to perhaps take a boat trip on it themselves. On our trip we saw plenty of other boaters who had come to try out the restored lift but not all of them took full advantage of the River Weaver, many doing only a short trip before returning. Although not everyone can spare the time they would like to devote to boating it would be a shame to dismiss the attractions of the Weaver on the evidence of the large chemical plant that faces the boater leaving Anderton Lift.
Turning upstream from the lift we soon leave Anderton's industry behind us as the river passes through open countryside on the short journey to Northwich, the only town close to the riverside. Northwich Town Swing Bridge is the first of a number of massive swing bridges, giving us an idea of the size of ship that once used these waters. These bridges are not often opened these days as there is plenty of headroom for normal river and canal pleasure craft. Just before the bridge there are BW facilities on the right and on the left are some moorings beside a service road that runs behind the High Street. Through the bridge on the right there are quieter moorings away from the road, opposite a large floating hotel and Northwich Marina.
Cheshire is well known for salt extraction and chemical works. Northwich follows in this tradition, having produced salt from Roman times and now having huge chemical works which will be familiar to boaters passing the town's back door on the Trent & Mersey Canal. On the River Weaver we arrive at the front door of this historic market town where, during the Civil War, Royalist forces were ousted by Parliamentarians in 1643. For most of history the town seems to have quietly devoted its efforts to industry, as can be seen at the Salt Museum, and to commerce, as evidenced by some fine timber framed and Georgian buildings. Today ancient and modern is mixed in a town centre offering a good range of shops and services.
The Weaver was not made navigable to Northwich and Winsford until 1732 when £15,885 was spent on the river and 11 locks were constructed. Over the years the river has been improved including a big lock elimination scheme in 1865 and river deepening to take craft of 10 foot 6 inches draught as late as 1964.
Heading upstream we come to Hunt's Lock on the edge of the town. This, like the other locks on the river, is operated by a lock keeper. All the locks are paired, a large and a smaller one side by side, and they have disused signals (like the old fashioned railway signals) standing on the lock sides. A little way above Hunt's Lock is Jalsea Marine Services Ltd, the only place on the river where pump-out facilities are available. For the next two miles the Weaver runs through pleasant countryside and under the high Hartford road bridge before arriving at Vale Royal Locks. The final three miles to Winsford Bridge is through open country somewhat spoiled by various extraction works and other industrial plants that appear from time to time along the banks.
At Winsford Bridge the British Waterways navigation ceases although the channel continues and navigation is possible onto Winsford Bottom Flash. Here there are private moorings and a sailing club as well as some caravan sites beside this expansive lake that was formed by subsidence caused by salt extraction. If you venture onto the flash take care, many parts are shallow and boaters can easily find themselves aground. A charming scene greets us by Winsford Bridge where the tree lined river narrows as it approaches the moorings of the riverside Red Lion pub. From here Winsford Bridge seems like an idyllic country village but the illusion is soon shattered when one steps ashore. The place is segmented by roads and contains pubs that seem to remain austere and uninviting even on the hottest summer day.
Retracing our route back to the Anderton Lift we pass the large chemical works and pass under Winnington Swing Bridge. Passing the last of the industrial sites we follow the wide Barton Cut which takes the river around a hill and on towards Saltersford Locks. This was built between 1832 and 1835 to shorten the course of the navigation. Below the lock we can see the line of the Trent & Mersey Canal on the side of the hill to our right, and catch a glimpse of the occasional boat or canal bridge. Before arriving at Acton Bridge there are some caravan sites and some expensive looking new riverside bungalows on the left, followed by the Riverside Inn with moorings for customers on the left. There are other places to moor just beyond Acton Swing Bridge, close to two good pubs.
Dutton Locks are a mile from Acton Bridge and are in a beautiful setting. They also mark the point where the courses of the river and the Trent & Mersey Canal diverge. Below the locks is the cream of the Weaver scenery and some of the finest river cruising you will find anywhere, as the river gently bends under the high Dutton Viaduct and on through woods and fields that are reminiscent of the rural reaches of the upper Thames. About four miles on from Dutton Locks we pass Frodsham Cut which once provided a route to the Weaver below Sutton Weir. The navigation now passes above Sutton Weir and onto the Weston Canal then under Sutton Swing Bridge. This is the start of a more urban landscape as the canal is crossed by a high railway bridge and then the equally high M56 motorway bridge.
The Weston Canal Act was passed in 1807 and the Weaver Trustees decided that their engineer for the past 26 years, John Johnson, was to build the canal and Weston Point Dock. He worked on it for over two years before they concluded that he was not up to the job and called in Telford to advise and Samuel Fowls to replace Johnson as resident engineer. The canal was opened in 1810. The last two miles of the canal is flanked on the right by an immense chemical works with miles of pipes, vast storage tanks, and endless complicated machinery which from time to time emit clouds of steam. Weston Cut passes the disused entrance lock of the Runcorn and Weston Canal shortly before entering Weston Point Dock, the end of the navigation and the junction with the Manchester Ship Canal.
A mile before Weston Point Dock is Weston Marsh Lock, forking off to the left. This gives access to the Manchester Ship Canal at the point where it meets the mouth of the River Weaver. We moored by the lock here and went to look at the ship canal and the view across the Mersey beyond. A large ship was using the mouth of the River Weaver to turn, assisted by two tugs, not a common sight here since the decline of traffic on the Ship Canal.
Making our way back up the river we leave the Weaver where we started, at Anderton. We should perhaps reflect that it was due to the Weaver Trustees that this engineering wonder was first built. The idea for the lift came from their resident engineer Edward Leader Williams. An approach was made to the North Staffordshire Railway, then owners of the Trent & Mersey Canal, but they showed no interest so the construction was left entirely to the Weaver Trustees. The lift was designed by Edwin Clark, a consulting engineer from London, and was opened in 1875. The lift worked by using hydraulic rams to lift caissons, weighing 240 tons, vertically up and down the 50 feet between the waterways. Due to problems with the hydraulic mechanism the lift was changed to a system of counterweights and pulleys in 1905. In 2002 the restored lift uses the original hydraulic system and provides a spectacular entrance and exit from a river of great interest and variety.
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