Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Manchester Ship Canal Cruise; 'The Big Ditch...'

I think It was about 1959 when I last did the trip along the Manchester Ship Canal. That was an outing from my primary school, I was about ten years old, and we went from Pomona Dock in Manchester (which no longer exists) to Pierhead at Liverpool. We returned by train, which in those days was steam-hauled, of course.

Today, on a trip organised by Wilmslow Guild independent adult education centre (http://wilmslowguild.wikidot.com/) myself and a friend did it again. Manchester and Salford docks are today unrecognisable by anyone who last saw them in the late 1950s. Back then, they were the busy terminus of one of Manchester's most vital arteries; they hummed with activity as giant cranes unloaded cargoes from row upon row of merchant ships which had sailed from far-away ports right into the heart of this great industrial city. Today the area is known as Salford Quays, and among the smart glass buildings and waterside apartment blocks only some preserved dock cranes and massive iron bollards indicate what this place used to be.

However, as our trip down the canal will reveal, there is still a great deal of commercial shipping activity on the canal, especially further west.

Our coach left the Guild at 08:45, arriving in plenty of time to catch our boat for the day, 'Snowdrop', a Liverpool ferry.

As ever, please click on the pictures twice for a full size image.

Our coach arrives at Salford Quays this morning

'Snowdrop', our Liverpool ferry which was to take us to its home port
awaits its passengers at Salford Quays

Brass plate on board 'Snowdrop'

The Lowry Bridge, in the 'raised' position for us to pass though

Passing Media City, the new home of TV and Radio in Salford

On the other side of the canal, the odd-looking building of Imperial War Museum North

Departure from Mode Wheel locks mark our transition from the dock area and entry into the canal proper

The de Traffords built this sandstone wall (visible in the gap in the undergrowth in the foreground) around their country estate at Trafford Park
'to keep industry out'. Well, that didn't work too well.....

The Centenary Bridge, linking Eccles to Traffod Park, is raised for us

Scrap metal wharf west of Eccles

One of the wonders of the canal - Barton Aqueduct, which carries the Bridgewater Canal over the Ship Canal and swings open containing a length of canal! Barton road swing bridge is behind it

The Barton Road swing bridge shuts behind us to allow the queues of waiting traffic to cross

Just west of the Barton swing bridges is the Manchester orbital motorway bridge, the M60. It opened in 1960 carrying what was then the M62 Eccles bypass. Work on the supports pre-dates the commencement of the first UK motorway, the Preston Bypass (now part of the M6) so can be said to be the earliest motorway works in UK.

When the motorway was widened from four lanes to six, the supports were strengthened with extra concrete pillars attached to the side of the originals, as can be seen in this picture.

West of the M60 there used to be nothing north of the canal as far as the Irlam Road except wasteland. Literally in the last few months, this structure, a new stadium for Salford Reds Rugby Club, has risen from the weeds

Peeking over the remaining weeds (as ever, please click twice on the picture for a full size image) are the listed control tower and main hangar of Barton Airfield, the original Manchester Airport until 1938, and playground for us private flyers in the years since

On entering Barton Locks, it was apparent that one lock gate wasn't working. A rope was rigged from the offending gate, via a pulley, to a winch to haul the gate shut (you may need to click on the picture to enlarge it to see this clearly). The Barton High Level Bridge can be seen in the background.

The river Mersey enters the ship canal over a weir. The canal cuts a fairly straight course along the Mersey valley to the Mersey estuary, and the original course of the river can be seen meandering north and south of the 'cut' at various points between here and west of Warrington

One of the Peel Ports container shuttle barges, used to move containers from ocean-going ships at Liverpool to points along the Ship Canal (today's ocean going ships are far to large to fit down the canal themselves). Note the 'pusher tug' at the back of the barge, with a bridge on a telescopic base that can be extended so the bridge can be raised to give a view over the stack of containers on the barge.

One of several high-level rail bridges over the canal, this one now disused was for the Cheshire Lines Committee (CLC) route from Skelton Junction near Timperley to the CLC line from Manchester to Liverpool. The canal was built after the railways, so the high level bridges had to be put in and the rail lines diverted over them.

Interestingly, although the railway line has been long disused, when the new Irlam by-pass road was built a 'tunnel' for it was made (left of the high level bridge, above), and the embankment made good again above the 'cut and cover' tunnel. Are there, perhaps, plans to re-open the railway at some time?

Warburton high level road bridge. If you drive over this bridge, you have to pay a toll. The toll is not for the high level bridge, though, but for an insignificant bridge a few hundred yards down the road that crosses the former course of the River Mersey.

Bollin Point, near Lymm, where the River Bollin enters the Ship Canal

Opposite Bollin Point, the original course of the Mersey loops off to the north

Thelwall Viaducts, carrying the M6 over the canal. The original viaduct is the nearer one, the newer one behind (further east) with its far less substantial support pillars. By now the rain had arrived, so the brollies and hats are out.

The rain didn't amount to much, and glass or two of this kept spirits up!

Knutsford Road swing bridge, Warrington, with another high level railway bridge in the background. This one used to carry the LNWR line from Skelton Junction to Warrington via Lymm.

Another meander of the Mersey comes in from the north to join the canal. A Cormorant on the wooden beam to the left dries its wings. The Ship Canal was highly polluted by industry in its heyday and would have been extemely poisonous, but these days the many water fowl are evidence that the water is clean enough to support plenty of fish. As well as the cormorants there are herons every half mile or so, oyster catchers, kingfishers (though we didn't see any of these) as well as ducks and swans and many other species.

West of Warrington Moor Lane bridge is the next-to-last swing bridge on the canal, and in the background the Euston to Glasgow West Coast Main Line crosses the canal on the last of the high level rail bridges

The last swing bridge is at Halton, as we approach the road and rail bridges at Runcorn

Fiddlers Ferry power station to the north, across the wide expanse of the Mersey

The main line from Liverpool to the south passes over the bridge on the left. The road bridge was opened in 1961 to replace the earlier transporter bridge. A new road bridge is planned upstream of this one as the 1961 bridge cannot cope with today's road traffic levels.

Oh, and the rain has stopped!

This powerful crane is used by the Ship Canal Company to lift lock gates. The giant barge behind it was used to transport a Concorde down the Thames on the way to its East Fortune retirement location, and to move Airbus A380 wings from the Broughton factory to the ship that takes them to Toulouse.

Lock gates stored by the side of the canal near Weston Point. The wall behind them divides the Ship Canal from the Mersey Estuary.

With the town of Frodsham in the background, the River Weaver joins the Ship Canal at Weston Point

Most of Stanlow oil refinery's product is shipped by pipeline, but some goes by coastal tanker. Here are two such vessels being loaded; note the line of bubbles around each one from an underwater pipe. This is to contain any spillage should that occur during loading.

The Boat Museum, Ellesmere Port. Here, the Shropshire Union Canal enters the Ship Canal, this being the distant port for the Shropshire town of Ellesmere.

This used to be the de-masting wharf, where ships with masts too tall to fit under the canal's bridges had them removed, to be re-fitted when the ship returned to the sea from the canal. Local shipping company Manchester Liners had retractable masts on their fleet to avoid the delay and extra costs of de-masting and re-masting.

Eastham Locks mark the end of the Ship Canal. Beyond here is the Mersey estuary and the open sea. At high tide the level of the sea is about the same as that of the canal, but at other times these locks retain the level of the canal and allow ships to make the transition between estuary and canal.

The canal is still very busy at its western end, with many ships entering and leaving. Here a coastal tanker with a Mersey tug on her stern to aid steering at low speed approaches the entry to the Ship Canal at Eastham Locks.

A gas transporter heads up the Mersey towards the Ship Canal

".....If you want a cathederal we've got one to spare". Giles Gilbert Scott's magnificent Anglican Cathederal dominates the Liverpool skyline. The Roman Catholic Cathederal ('Paddy's Wigwam') is to its left.

At the time of our arrival in Liverpool, the main ferry stage was occupied by 'Royal Daffodil', another Mersey ferry. We therefore called at Woodside on the Wirral side of the estuary before crossing to Liverpool. In the picture above, we approach Woodside Ferry Terminal.

The Liver Building and the Liverpool waterfront, seen as we approach the ferry terminal

Sister ship to our 'Snowdrop', 'Royal Daffodil' finally departs from the ferry terminal and passes down our starboard side, allowing us to dock

Passengers disembark at Liverpool at the end of our cruise from Manchester

There was a short walk from the ferry terminal to our coach for the journey back to Wilmslow. On the way, we passed this rather splendid sailing ship moored at Albert Dock.

Many thanks to Wilmslow Guild for organising a fascinating day out. Much has changed on the Manchester Ship Canal since my last trip in 1959, especially at the Manchester end. But surprisingly much is remarkably unchanged, especially at the seaward end. With the proposed opening of more container terminals along the canal by its owners, Peel Holdings, it seems the commercial future of the Manchester Ship Canal is assured.



  1. What a nice journey that was! Thanks

  2. Hi Vince, I did that trip the other way as a Liverpool schoolkid in the 60s. The locks were really busy and the sheer volume of shipping meant our trip was cut short. I was so impressed by the shipping and the ports of registry on their sterns, i joined the Merchant Navy form school and stayed 11 years.
    Your lovely (and informative)record of your trip has been a sweet /sour reminiscence, thanks.

  3. Hi Vince, nice blog but your comment "Passing Media City, the new home of TV and Radio in Manchester" is not true.

    MediaCityUK is in the City of Salford, not manchester.