Monday 31st May to Monday 7th June 2010.

The Middlewich Branch completed, we started on the Trent and Mersey, joining school holiday boat traffic heading towards the Anderton Lift. We couldn’t have timed it worse for crowds at the Big Lock pub as they gazed, stared, call it what you may; everything we did was observed from behind the railings ten feet from the lock.
I passed a comment, to Mike, shouldn’t there be life rings hanging on the fences between us and them? There were plenty of pub food and drink signs but not a single safety device.

A pleasant night was spent in the woods but the morning brought rain. This should clear the pollen, V said, but it’s a fallacy because grass pollen is very adept at dodging rain drops in its desperate quest to reach my nose.

There are two things wrong with June, Wimbledon and Seasonal Nasal & Ocular Trauma or ‘SNOT’ for short.

The only cure was to sit inside with the doors closed and read Mike’s book on air disasters. I don’t think you’ll catch me flying in Comets, DC10s or 747s for a long, long time.

On Wednesday at 11 we entered that great iron structure called the Anderton Lift (or Anderton Drop) . Any thoughts of structural failure were swept away by a friendly member of staff who, it turned out, also did time in the merchant navy and kept us distracted and amused by his stories.
anderton lift

And so half an hour later and in company with Sarah-Kate we emerged safely from that ancient monument to our clever ancestors and stuck our noses out into the River Weaver.

Once past the ammonia factory we entered a beautiful wooded valley with peaceful river waters that hardly seemed to move. A bit scummy in places with patches of green floaters that looked and probably tasted horrid but it carried us without a sound towards our first mooring at Barnton.
barnton mooring

A walk was announced and I could find no excuse. Tricked by the promise of a ‘short on the level’ walk to Saltersford Lock, I was then coaxed into climbing the valley wall, to the canal hundreds of feet above us, on a path that took us the long way round to our moorings.

A barbeque was the perfect end to the day and as Mike lit a disposable, Jo covered it in meat and V brought out the falling over liquid.

Thursday was action packed. We covered the few miles downstream to the end of navigation at Weston Point and returned to excellent field moorings near Frodsham.

The Weaver is well provided for if you appreciate stone or steel bridges. It’s a well known fact that trains hate water so they get the highest bridges.

But where the road crosses the river it has to make do with a fancy steel structure placed just above your head. I’m told they will swing if you give them enough notice.

We weren’t the only ones out today, we must have seen at least two narrowboats plus this fun craft propelled by paddle at the front and motor at the back.

Another fun boat, a narrow one this time.

Marsh Lock, at the end of the Weaver, gave us a lunch break and an opportunity for ship spotting. Our reward was the Wilson Cork heading past Weaver Bend towards Eastham Lock.
wilson cork

Here’s another sight that brings back memories of 25 years ago. As we leave the woods of green and brown and approach the lower reaches of the Weaver we enter a forest of pipes and chimneys. With the wind behind us there’s little to indicate what gasses and liquids ooze from the valves on our right. Could that be benzene or dichloropropene or just plain zylene. We’ll never know.

This notice says it all, “Toxic Chemicals”. I wonder what they’re concocting today.

Gas bubbles and creamy green stuff spread out into the cut from somewhere below the bank-side stonework. It’s hard to see how fish can survive in this, as the official brochure claims they do.
The occasional face from their side of the barbed wire stared back but said nothing; along the two miles or so of pipes we counted as many humans as fingers on one hand.

We’re free to explore to the end of navigation (the literature states) but not to disembark. You wouldn’t want to anyway, it’s not that attractive.
runcorn chemicals

On the return journey Mike pointed at writing on one of the larger pipes that said “Help me I don’t like it here”. Were we too late? We looked for someone, anyone, clutching their throat or dripping blood from their ears, staggering towards the water but there was no one to be seen, just a relentless hiss and gurgle from vent pipes. Too late, the chemicals have dissolved his body.

Back at the moorings out of sight of the chemical works and across the fields the walker can find shops at nearby Frodsham. Needless to say, while I picked the short straw and did boat watching duties, the ladies put their feet up at the first place of refreshment.

If you collect post boxes, as I know some do, there’s an interesting one at Frodsham built into the back of a telephone box.
frodsham postbox

In summary there’s a real sense of yesterday on the river. There are signs that this was a busy industrial doorway to the outside world with water craft of every size. A sunken barge of huge proportions, wharves part hidden under sycamore trees and the size and number of iron bollards, mooring hooks and rings tell of small ships that called in for cargo before sailing back out to sea.

Water abstraction pipes, guarded by decaying wooden fences, fill in the gaps between massive mooring timbers that cling to crumbling concrete walls. Steel gantries sweep out to the water’s edge and disappear again into tin clad buildings; broken and rusty pipes poke their fingers out from bramble bushes as they dribble goodness knows what into the River Weaver.

Abandoned locks and wharves at Weston Point tell us that ships once came here. Ships may have gone but the concrete and stonework bank sides with their crooked protruding bolts where timber used to be remain for future generations to ponder how things once were.

50 year old trees between wharf and warehouse tell us that things have been this way a long time but new nature trails from the road to the water’s edge might be signs that change isn’t far off.

What stories could these river banks tell of yesterday’s industries and workers, and what evidence might there still be buried in the mud below us.

Part of me wants to see the river cleaned, restored and used again but part of me also wants to see it left to return to nature in its own time. Of all the rivers we’ve explored this might be the one I’d least like to see lined with plastic boats and luxury apartments.

Perhaps the British Waterways Skippers Guide sums up the future in one paragraph headed “Swimming”

Swimming is an offence against BW bye-laws
It is dangerous to life and health
Do not swim in any waterway you could get tangled in rubbish
The water can often carry serious diseases, such as Leptospirosis, which can kill.