Frodsham Cut to Winsford
Easter 2010 - Part 7
7th April 2010
17 Miles - 4 Locks - 7 Hours
Today dawned clear and mild, a light mist hanging over the water as we set off for Dutton Lock. The guidebook tells you to call ahead and warn the lock keeper of your impending arrival so, for once, I did as I was asked. He hummd and harrd and told me that he had a cruiser waiting in the lock and a narrowboat approaching, but he would hold it for me if I put my foot down and could get to him within 10 mins.
Weir stream bridge below Duttons Lock
This seemed like a reasonable challenge to I opened the throttle nearly to the stops and forged ahead pushing a monstrous bow wave before and huge wake behind. You have to remember that this is a big commercial waterway with no moored boats, so it did no harm.
Wreck at Duttons Lock
The Weaver Navigation does a good line in wrecks, with quite a spectacular one in the cut above Dutton Lock. It also hosts a number of restored Weaver Flats (or are they Brunners - I am not sure of the difference).
Sarah Abbot - a restored Flat / Brunner
All along the route, huge timber wharfs are decaying, slowly fallng into the water along with the bollards and rings designed to hold cosaters tight into their berths. It has a melancholy air about it at times, a feeling that we had arrived just as the action has moved on elsewhere.
Liking backwaters I was intrigued by the Dardenelles, the river channel exiting the main navigation channel beneath Saltesford Lock. Pearson suggests that this may be navigable but the lock keeper suggested otherwise. "Maybe a shallow draft cruiser could get up there, but you wouldnt get far in that narrowboat". Another plan discarded.
We left the other craft behing at the boat lift and pressed on upstream into Northwich, a bustling half timbered town and the most significant habitation on the route. It felt as prosperous as Winsford (6 miles to the south) felt poor.
Signals at Hunts Lock
We reached Hunts Lock at 12.15, realising that this was the lock keepers lunch break. No matter, it provided an opportunity to take some photos of the site and also the little used ship lock (they mainly use the small one). Eventually, a lady lock keeper knocked on the roof and invited us to move into the chamber, the sides of which are encrusted with fresh water mussles which squirt water. We were advised that these are a feature of the upper river but couldn't survive in the lower reaches due to the extreme pollution. Maybe that's why our fishing was so unsuccessful last night. It transpired that she used to live at the Black Country Museum, where her daughter was conceived and that she now lives in a cottage beside Dutton Lock, what a life.
The reach above Hunts Lock is lined with big sea going craft, tugs and sometines even a motor torpedo boat, plus Yarwoods Yard where the now famous Admiral Class of narrowboats were constructed.
After a long sraight section we suddenly turned a corner and there was Vale Royal Lock, nestling in a bed of trees. The lock keeper is something of a twitcher and our 15 min wait on the pontoon with the engine off allowed us to experience the full barage of birdsong, which rings out in the area. At Vale Royal they are obliged to use the big lock, in spite of £7m being spent restoring the less water hungry small one. After all the time out of action, they can't get the cross over bridge to retract so the main lock continues to be used on a timed basis.
Beyond Vale Royal the navigation starts to reveal it's industrial heritage, with the UK's sole operating rock salt mine (Salt Union) standing beside the water and spewing out tons of red grit ready for next winter. This white gold once reigned supreme hereabouts, a bit like the coal in the Black Country, the salt has run out and the entrails of it's industry are now quietly decaying into the undergrowth.
Salt Union mine - little Siberia
We passed into Winsford, passing the Red Lion, which marks the end of the BW waters, and followed the narrowing channel out into Winsford Bottom Flash. This is a huge lake casued by subsience into played out brine workings. The depth of this lake is uncertain and there are dire warnings about the perils of getting stuck, so we only ventured in a few hundred yards before turning and mooring at the Red Lion to re stock with provisions.
Winsford is a bit of a sad town, reminicent in some ways of Brownhills in that it has lost its primary industry and now lives in the deep shadow of its heritage. It was a long walk into the centre, past endless shuttered shops and then into the small shopping centre which carrys the musty odour of too many charity shops. The other growth industry seemes to be pawn shops and gold buyers, but even the pawn shops were independents - Cash Converter has yet to reach Winsford. The redeeming aspect of the centre is Asda, the anchor store which provided all the supplies we could carry (and a Morrisons half a mile to thr east, so I am told).
Vale Royal Lock
There was little to hold us in Winsford so we moved back to overnight at Vale Royal Cut, opposite an impressive arched sluice and probably the most attractive mooring on the upper pound.