TOTAL LOCKS: 44
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 5.5 - 7 HOURS (34 HOURS IN TOTAL)
This is a boating holiday for anyone who wants to escape to Cheshire's best countryside in the company of wildlife and nature. But it's also the story of salt, Romans, lost treasure, civil war, the amazing National Waterways Museum and the boat lift hailed as a masterpiece of engineering!
After leaving Anderton Marina, follow the Trent & Mersey Canal southwards. The story of salt wraps round the canal here, and the mining of salt has defined much of the scenery around it. Salt has always been vital for human survival, and even language has evolved from the importance of it – Roman workers' 'salary' was paid in salt, and the term 'worth one's salt' is still used today. Just north of Northwich, Lion Salt Works is a restored industrial heritage site, the UK’s last open-pan salt making site. Northwich bears its motto 'Sal est vita' (salt is life), and the story of a town built on the site of brine springs is told in its Salt Museum. Buildings often disappeared without warning, with houses, pubs and even salt works lunging into giant craters formed by the collapse of underground salt mines!
Middlewich has produced salt since Roman times (its Roman name was ‘Salinea’) and there’s an interesting town trail you can follow to discover more about the saltworks settlement that dates back to 150-250 AD. At Middlewich, turn west onto the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal (the first yards used to belong to the Trent & Mersey Canal, and is known as the Wardle Canal, the shortest canal in the country!). Canal boating through Cheshire's remote rural landscape is a stress-free zone, with wildlife and nature to help refocus on the important things in life. The peace and calm follows you over a short aqueduct, under bridges, through a couple of locks and along a few country-miles until you reach the junction at Barbridge, where you meet the Shropshire Union Canal main line.
Heading northwards, there’s a brief moment needing the crew’s concentration as you tackle Bunbury Staircase Locks, first of the wide locks between here and Chester. Just over a mile later, there are two locks at Beeston, one made of stone, the other rather unusually of cast-iron plates – hence its name, Beeston Iron Lock. The ruins of the 14th-century Beeston Castle, now cared for by English Heritage, overlook the canal from the top of its steep rocky crag. Known as the ‘Castle of the Rock’, legend has it that the lost treasure of Richard II was buried at the bottom of its deep well in 1399.
As you approach Chester, the canal goes through Rowton Moor, scene of one of the final battles of the Civil War in 1645, also known as the Battle of Rowton Heath. After retreating to Chester, the Royalists (known as ‘Cavaliers’) were defeated by the Parliamentarians (known as ‘Roundheads’), with high numbers of casualties and prisoners, and then abandoned by King Charles 1, who withdrew with the remnants of his cavalry force to fight another day.
The historic city of Chester was known as ‘Deva’ in Roman times, and there is much to explore, not least its cathedral, zoo and museums. It’s possible to walk round the majority of the city from the top of its almost complete city walls, a fascinating circuit of two miles past old city gates and defensive turrets. Chester is also famed for the ‘Rows’, its distinctive and unique medieval shopping walkways. There are shops on both ground and first floor, and the wooden-floored balconies seem to come from a different age. When you have had your fill of all that Chester has to offer, it’s time to either turn round and retrace your steps back to Anderton or continue north towards the end of the Shropshire Union Canal at Ellesmere Port.
If you continue northwards, the canal follows a relaxed lock-free course through open fields, though there is some noise intrusion from the M56 and M53 which shadows the canal as far as its end where the National Waterways Museum awaits. It’s probably best to turn at the entrance to the Museum as the three locks here only head down to the Manchester Ship Canal (which requires advance notice and plenty of experience). The views from the Museum towards the Manchester Ship Canal, the River Mersey and Liverpool in the distance are awe-inspiring.
The National Waterways Museum is housed in the old wharf, built in 1844, offering a maze of waterside buildings and of course boats to explore. It’s a museum with as much to see outside as inside, as the texture and patterns of the brickwork make the old buildings exhibits themselves. The museum houses an unprecedented collection of historic boats that are lovingly restored and protected, and is also home to the vast Waterways Archive.
Once you have spent time exploring the museum, it’s time to retrace your journey back to Anderton, but after returning to the marina, one more treat awaits. One of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, Anderton Boat Lift is a masterpiece of engineering and the world's oldest operational boat lift. It was built in 1875 to lift boats over the 50 foot cliff edge from the Trent & Mersey Canal to the River Weaver below. Over 110,000 visitors flock from across the world to see this canal marvel every year, and you will want to allow enough time to explore this unforgettable experience before you head home.
Max: 5 People
Max: 5 People
Max: 7 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 6 People
Length: 66ft (63ft from Falkirk)
Max: 6 People
Max: 8 People
Max: 10 People
Max: 12 People