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Shropshire Union - Part 4
Barbridge to Ellesmere Port via Chester
Navigable for craft up to 72' in length; 9' beam; 8' headroom; 2'6" draught.
We cruised our final section of the Shropshire Union (Chester) Canal between Barbridge Junction and Ellesmere Port in June 2007 as part of our summer cruise of the north west region of the inland waterways system. Sections 1 - 3 were part of our 2006 cruise on the Cheshire Ring.
Our first day's cruising on this section was from Wardle to Wharton Lock, almost in the shadow of Beeston Castle, one of Cheshire's premier landmarks and somewhere we planned to visit.
The canal is lock free for a couple of miles from Wardle and then you drop down through Bunbury Staircase (Wide) Locks, where Anglo-Welsh have a boat hire centre. We shared the staircase with a young family on a hire boat for a week, who have been boating every year for the last 6 years and thoroughly enjoying the experience of cruising 'in their own back yard' as they only lived 20 miles away. With a further four locks over the next two miles or so the cruising was not hard going.
Two of these wide locks: Beeston Stone Lock and Beeston Iron Lock were quite close together - Both built by Thomas Telford these two locks were designed to cope with the unstable sandy sub-soil of the area. The stone lock is constructed entirely of large blocks of sandstone and doesn't appear to have budged an inch over the years, still allowing the passage of breasted narrowboats, but the iron lock made of large cast iron plates riveted and bolted together has distorted and bulged inwards and BW recommend that boats travel singly through it.
On the southern side of the canal you will eventually see some raised earthworks with fortifications, these were war-time fuel storage bunkers, close to the railway (and canal). These are not identified on the Ordnance Survey maps of the area.
We eventually moored above Wharton's Lock (away from the Shady Oak pub below the lock) overlooking pasture, far enough away from the Crew to Chester railway line not to be bothered by the frequent train service that serves Birkenhead and Hollyhead. The bird life in the area was teeming, with flocks of newly fledged long-tailed tits as well as Bullfinch and the common 'usual suspects' like Chaffinches etc. We did have our first sighting of a Stonechat whilst using the footpath to Beeston Castle when crossing the pasture.
Beeston Castle is an English Heritage property, well worth the short hike!
After leaving Wharton's Lock there is over eight miles of lock free cruising, some of it past very long private linear long term moorings near Hargrave (That seemed to go on for ever but was probably only half an hour or so!) We moored up at the popular 'Cheshire Cat' PH, near Christleton a couple of kilometres to the east of Chester city as we had picked up talk from other boaters that the Chester section of the canal was 'bandit territory' - We spoke to a British Waterways patrol / enforcement officer we met in Christleton and he assured us that under normal circumstances the Chester section was as safe as any other city centre canal section, best avoided on Friday and Saturday nights for mooring but providing you moored sensibly the rest of the time 'no problem'. We took this on board (on Friday) and stayed at Christleton walking in to Chester City for some sightseeing on Friday.
We found Chester City to be pretty much like any other for boat friendliness over the four nights we were only verbally assaulted once by a drunken yob (he went on with his staggering once we offered him a swim in the canal to cool off), and that was during the day!
We walked the Dee Arm of the canal that connects the Chester Basin to the tidal River Dee - The locks are in a sorry state and it would appear that no boat navigation has taken place for some time. The weed and filth would take some cleaning out! We pity the folk who bought the canal side apartments and cafe business. It can't be too good to be here!
Between our stops in Chester City, two nights on the visitor moorings at the Chester Basin and two (Wednesday and Thursday) by the 'Frog and Nightingale' PH, we cruised up to Ellesmere Port to visit the Boat Museum. The Chester to Ellesmere Port section of the Shropshire Union passes through mainly great countryside until you get close to Ellesmere Port, when there are terrific views of chemical works and industrial estates. The canal itself was navigable (contrary to boat-lore) with occasional floating 'island' and lumps of tree. The most upsetting was the really pitiful amounts of general rubbish - bottles, fast-food packaging with occasional pallets, plastic pipe and timber (one piece about 5 meters long!)
When we got to Ellesmere Port and the Boat Museum a nice BW man had moored (chained and padlocked) his work-boat on the (limited) visitor moorings - it was obvious it wasn't going anywhere soon! We phoned BW Regional Office to ask for it to be moved. Eventually an apologetic BW Manager (Andy Whitehouse) phoned us back to let us know that the boat was up at Ellesmere Port Boat Museum from Chester on a lock repair job and would be moved ASAP. While he was on the phone I pointed out the fact that the canal section needed a clean-up (as this is not a good example to our foreign boating holiday makers), he indicated that on the way back to Chester there would probably be a 'litter pick' - We saw the same BW working-boat arrive back in Chester Basin 24 hours later- Moored on visitor moorings again! - Empty! (Lip service by BW to the licence paying boater methinks!)
Anyway the cruise up to Ellesmere Port / Boat Museum was well worth it and uneventful - not having to lift the weed hatch once - phew! We spent close to four hours wandering round the Boat Museum historic site, although we thought a little expensive, once we got over the shock of the entry price, we did find The Waterways Trust were doing a better than average job of promoting a greater awareness and enjoyment of the UK's inland waterways. The entrance fee does include a 'canal cruise' of about 30 minutes - We passed on that one and took a 10% discount on our entry tickets!
On return to Chester we did our shopping at Tesco just behind the 'Frog and Nightingale' Opposite Iceland did more sightseeing and sat out a full day of the wet stuff!
To sum up we liked this main section of the Shropshire Union Canal, Chester is a great place to visit with some FREE entry venues, The Boat Museum is brilliant and Beeston Castle is a must!
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