Narrowboat Adventure #13: Cathedral of the Canals

Thursday 24th  to Saturday 26th March 2022

Matilda thought she was having olfactory hallucinations when she woke to the smell of seasonal baking. Knowing that we planned to moor at Anderton, famous for its boat lift, where there is a visitor centre and café, Matilda planned to have a coffee and a hot cross bun at the end of the journey.

Over the last few days we have seen several swans sitting regally on nests and are hoping that before this adventure is over, we will see cygnets and ducklings on the waterways.

On our way out of Lymm, we saw a heron swooping and circling above the boat. For a while it seemed to be following us, one moment ahead of us, the next moment behind, perhaps hoping the movement of The Duke would make the fish rise and therefore easier to catch. Sadly, Matilda never seemed to have her phone at the ready when it came particularly close.

This part of the journey along the Trent and Mersey Canal included only one lock but three tunnels, all of which operate a one way system. Boats are allowed into the Preston Brook Tunnel at specific times: travelling southbound we could start our journey only in the ten minutes between half past the hour and 20 to the hour. Fortunately, our timing was perfect and we drew close to the tunnel entrance just as two boats which had been moored up waiting, pulled out.

The Preston Brook Tunnel is 1,239 yards long and straight enough to be able to see daylight at the other end. It is followed almost immediately by the Dutton Stop Lock. Stop locks were originally used to break the flow of water so that one canal company could not take large amounts of water from another company’s waterways. We have seen the disruption that a lack of water can cause and such water acquisition could seriously damage profits. The difference between the two levels was minimal but we still had to operate the paddles and gates to progress.

We passed an unfortunate small narrowboat, which apart from its semi-submerged state looked to be well-cared for and in better condition than many that we have seen moored up.

The canal is generally quite wide, but in places it had clearly burst it banks, creating broad areas which were treacherously shallow. It was just as well Matilda wasn’t steering as she misinterpreted the signs and would have run The Duke aground.

We have been blessed with some beautiful warm sunny days this week and Robert declared it was shorts weather. It is hard to believe that the shorts and trademark Hawaiian shirts have made an appearance in the UK in March.

The Saltersford Tunnel is 424 yards long and also has timed entry: northbound boats may enter the tunnel for 20 minutes on the hour and southbound boats may enter for 20 minutes on the half hour. This time we had just missed the southbound time slot and moored up to put the kettle on and wait.

Near the entrance, someone had carved figures on the remains of a tree.

The Saltersford and the Barnton Tunnels were amongst the earliest canal tunnels to be excavated and they are described as “far from straight”. The Barnton Tunnel was our last tunnel of the day and is 572 yards long. It is not subject to a limited period timed entry.

We found a place to stop beside the Stanley Arms in Anderton, registered The Duke at the bar as an overnight mooring and went in search of Matilda’s hot cross bun. A very helpful member of staff at the Anderton Boat Lift told us that it would be working the following day and said he would have happily shown us around but for the fact that it was a volunteer training day. He also told us where we could walk round to see it from a different angle but unfortunately the Visitor Centre was closed, as was the café and Matilda had to resign herself to waiting a little longer for her freshly baked morning goods.

Built in 1875, it is the oldest working boat lift in the world. Matilda remembers her mother showing her a newspaper article about the restoration of the Anderton Boat Lift which started in 2001, following its closure in 1983 due to corrosion. It reopened in 2002 so we were just going to miss the twentieth anniversary celebrations at the weekend. The bunting was already in place.

The Stanley Arms, Anderton – hostelry for day 37

24/03/2022 – Miles: 13.34 – Locks: 1 – 7h00m

The route for day 37 – Lymm to Anderton

The following morning we walked over the canal and round the outskirts of the Visitor Centre.

The Anderton Boat Lift, which is also apparently known as the Cathedral of the Canals, is a two caisson [water tank] lift lock which provides a 50-foot vertical link between the River Weaver and the Trent and Mersey Canal. A single caisson on the boat lift weighs 252 tonnes – the equivalent of two and a half empty Boeing 757 planes. 

You can do a Walking the Lift Tour which takes in the aqueduct, the control room finally takes you up on top of the lift. The website says that this is not suitable for people with a fear of heights. You can also book to take your boat on the lift from just £5.00 but this time we had to settle for looking from afar at this extraordinary piece of engineering.

Continuing on our journey, we passed a pizza boat going the other way.

Strangely a very narrow aqueduct leads . . .

. . . to Middlewich . . .

St Michael and All Angels Church, Middlewich

. . . where a double width lock gives its name to the canalside pub.

The Big Lock, Middlewich – hostelry for day 38

25/03/2022 – Miles: 9.50 – Locks: 1 – 3h30m

The route for day 38 – Anderton to Middlewich

We decided to visit The Little Lock café beside The Big Lock pub for breakfast as Matilda had seen that they served toasted teacakes and she felt that this would be an acceptable substitute for a hot cross bun [see Dish of the day]. The three locks after the Big Lock seemed particularly narrow by comparison and at one point Robert shouted to Matilda to close one of the paddles as the pound and the lock below were both flooding.

Ralf is sometimes insistent that he should get off The Duke to help with the locks, but to be truthful, he is perhaps more of a hindrance than he realises as Matilda constantly worries about him falling off the edge, down some steps or into the lock and it is hard to open the paddles one-handed whilst holding a lead in the other. Sometimes she works round this.

We hit a bottleneck on the last lock with four boats queuing in our direction and two passing the opposite way but eventually found a perfect mooring spot, opposite The Olde Barbridge Inn.

The Olde Barbridge Inn, Barbridge – hostelry for day 39

26/03/2022 – Miles: 10.84 – Locks: 7 – 6h30m

The route for day 39 – Middlewich to Barbridge

Route Map:

Days: 39 – Miles: 285.63 – Locks: 341

Video of the day:

Selfie of the day:

Dish of the day:

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