A trip over the Mersey Gateway Bridge

I took a trip over the new Mersey Gateway Bridge which opened to traffic after midnight on the morning of Saturday 14th October. It is a new six lane toll bridge over the River Mersey between the towns of Runcorn and Widnes. It also takes traffic over the Manchester Ship Canal which links Liverpool to Salford. My article about a trip down the Manchester Ship Canal from 31 May 2017 has some images of the new Mersey Gateway Bridge during its construction phase.

The Mersey Gateway Project was a major civil engineering scheme to build a cable-stayed bridge with three pylons at 2.3km long with a river span of 1km. The main bridge deck is made from reinforced concrete and the spans are supported by steel cable stays attached to pylons rising up to between 80 and 125m above the river bed. It also included the construction of a 9.2 kilometre road network connecting the new bridge to the main motorway network.

It was built to relieve the congested and ageing Silver Jubilee Bridge. However, in order to pay for the new bridge both the new Mersey Gateway Bridge and the Silver Jubilee Bridge are subject to a £2 toll charge each way. The Silver Jubilee Bridge is currently closed for refurbishment following the opening of the new bridge.

The Mersey Gateway Crossings Board Ltd was set up to deliver the project working closely with the Merseylink consortium, which was appointed as the project company responsible for the building and operation of the bridge over the next 30 years. The £1.86 billion lifetime cost of the new bridge includes the design, build, finance, operation and maintenance of the project through to 2044. The majority of the funding comes from the tolls paid by road users, but there is also a contribution from the UK Government. The build element of the costs is £600m.

The construction used 127,415 cubic metres of concrete, had more than 1,000 people working on the site at peak times and took 1,200 days from start to finish of the construction phase. However, the project took over 23 years from inception when in 1994 the Mersey Gateway Project was set up to develop a new bridge over the River Mersey. In 2006 the Government gave outline approval to the project with funding being agreed in 2011 and a tendering process commenced to appoint a suitable construction consortia. This culminated in 2013 with the Merseylink Consortium being appointed as the preferred bidder for the project with work starting in 2014. The consortium including funders, infra structure and construction companies from Australia, Britain, Spain and Korea.

The bridge is expected to be paid off in 25 years at which point it has been promised that a review on tolls would be conducted. However there has been a mixed response to the new crossing with some people welcoming the new bridge but many others are unhappy at the daily toll costs.

Protests have been staged opposing the decision to implement tolls on both crossings. Campaigners say that the extra transport costs will have a detrimental effect on the area and the local economy.

It is however a very impressive structure to drive over and it certainly does cut the congestion that was associated with the previous single crossing over the Jubilee Bridge.

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Manchester Ship Canal Cruise

We took a trip aboard the Mersey Ferry boat the ‘Snowdrop’ which is currently painted as a dazzle ship (see my earlier blog post) on a cruise up the River Mersey and along the Manchester Ship Canal to its terminus at Salford Quays.

The Manchester Ship Canal is 36-miles long (58 km) linking Manchester to the Irish Sea.  In large part it follows alongside the routes of the rivers Mersey and Irwell.

There are many landmarks along the way.  There are many different types of bridges which have to be lifted or swung aside to allow ships to pass up or down the canal.  As well as bridges there are many sets of locks to be negotiated.  In order to travel from the tidal River Mersey the ship canal has to negotiate four sets of locks (including the entrance lock at Eastham) which lift vessels around 60 feet (18 m) up to Manchester.  And on the banks of the canal there are many historic buildings and a changing industrial landscape.

The rivers Mersey and Irwell were first made navigable in the early 18th century. Goods were also transported on the Runcorn extension of the Bridgewater Canal (from 1776) and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (from 1830), but by the late 19th century the Mersey and Irwell Navigation had fallen into disrepair and were often unusable.  Manchester’s business community viewed the charges imposed by Liverpool’s docks and the railway companies as excessive and a ship canal was proposed as a way of giving ocean-going vessels direct access to Manchester.  A public campaign was set up to enlist support for the scheme and was presented to Parliament as a bill in 1882. However, faced with stiff opposition from Liverpool, the canal’s supporters were unable to gain the necessary Act of Parliament to allow the scheme to go ahead until 1885.

Construction of the ship canal began in 1887 taking six years to complete at a cost of £15 million which is estimated to be equivalent to about £1.65 billion in today’s money!  When the ship canal opened in January 1894 it was the largest river navigation canal in the world, and enabled the newly created Port of Manchester to become Britain’s third busiest port despite the city being about 40 miles (64 km) inland.

Changes to shipping methods and the growth of containerisation during the 1970s and 1980s meant that many ships were now too big to use the canal and traffic declined, resulting in the closure of the terminal docks at Salford in 1984. The canal is able to accommodate a range of vessels from coastal ships to inter-continental cargo liners but it is not large enough for most modern vessels. By 2011 traffic had decreased from its peak in 1958 of 18 million long tons (20 million short tons) of freight each year to about 7 million long tons (7.8million short tons).

The canal was bought by the private company Peel Ports in 1993.  Peel are re-developing sites along the ship canal and are looking to increase shipping from 8,000 containers a year to 100,000 by 2030 as part of their Atlantic Gateway project.

I took a number of photographs along the route.

We took the ferry from Seacombe with a short hop to the Pierhead at Liverpool and down along the Mersey.

Woodside Ferry terminal in Birkenhead is the second Mersey Ferry terminal on the Wirral side.  The New Brighton and Tranmere ferry terminals having long since closed down.

Cammel Lairds shipbuilders yard with the twelve century Birkenhead Priory building as a backdrop.  I’ve posted in the past about both of these sites.

The former grand merchants houses at Rock Park on Wirral look much more elegant from the river even looking through the Tranmere Oil Terminal.  Rock Park comprises a varied selection of Grade 2 listed villas built between 1836 and 1850 along with landscaped drives and a Victorian Esplanade overlooking the River Mersey.  The Tranmere Oil Terminal was opened on 8 June 1960 to handle vessels of up to 65,000 tons, and is connected to the Stanlow Oil Refinery by a 15mile (24 km) pipeline. Part of the terminal occupies the site of a former ferry service to Liverpool, with the old pier considerably modified.

At Eastham locks on the River Mersey forms the entrance to the Manchester Ship Canal just after the Eastham Ferry Hotel.  We passed the Sten Idun chemical tanker being navigated down the canal by the MSC tugs Victory and Viking.

At Ellesmere Port the canal is joined by the Shropshire Union Canal, at a site now occupied by the National Waterways Museum. The area was a 7-acre (2.8 ha) canal port linking the Shropshire Union Canal to the River Mersey. It was designed by Thomas Telford and it remained operational until the 1950s.  I’ve posted about the boat museum in an earlier blog.

Essar Oil UK Stanlow Oil refinery is situated on the south bank of the Manchester Ship Canal, which is used to transport seaborne oil for refining and chemicals for Essar and Shell.  Stanlow has a refining capacity of 12 million tonnes per year, it is the second largest in the United Kingdom and produces a sixth of the UK’s petrol needs.  Stanlow is also a large producer for commodities such as jet fuel and diesel.  The refinery serves much of England through the UK oil pipeline network.  Oil is delivered to the Tranmere Oil Terminal via ship and pumped to Stanlow, where it is then refined and stored for delivery.

At Weston, near Runcorn, the ship canal also connects with the Weaver Navigation.  Stobart Ports now own the docks at Weston Point.  They are developing the site as an ‘inter-modal’ port facility to enable freight, currently carried by road, to be transported by rail and water. This will see increased warehousing, new container handling facilities, an extension to the existing West Coast main line rail siding, a new link road, and improved navigable access between the dock and the Manchester Ship Canal.

At Runcorn Ineos manufactures chemicals including chlorine, chlorine-containing compounds including vinyl chloride, heavy chemicals including alkalis, and fluorine-containing compounds. A separate business within the same company manufactures salt from brine transported by pipeline from the saltfields of central Cheshire.

The Runcorn railway bridge is on a branch of the West Coast Main Line and provides frequent services to the Liverpool Lime Street and London Euston stations.  Locally it has been called the Queen Ethelfleda Viaduct but more widely as the Britannia Bridge. The bridge is named after Ethelfleda because the southern abutments and pier were built on the site of the Saxon walled settlement built by her in 915.  Parts of the bridge are castellated to reflect this. There are three shields above the footway – the Coat of Arms of the City of London, Britannia (from the crest of the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) company and the Liver Bird of Liverpool.  Because of the crest the bridge is also known as the Britannia Railway Bridge.

The A533 road crosses the Runcorn Gap over the Silver Jubilee Bridge, the lowest bridge crossing of the River Mersey.  It is a through arch bridge with a main arch span of 330 m. It was opened in 1961 as a replacement for the Widnes-Runcorn Transporter Bridge, and was initially known simply as the Runcorn Bridge or Runcorn–Widnes Bridge.  In 1975–77 it was widened, after which it was given its official name in honour of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.  The bridge is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II listed building.

The Silver Jubilee Bridge is a bottleneck and becomes congested at peak travel times, and in the event of a breakdown or accident on the bridge, traffic in the area comes to a standstill. To resolve this problem, a second crossing of the Mersey the Mersey Gateway is now being built.  Construction began in May 2014 and is due to be completed by the autumn of 2017. It is located approximately just less than a mile (1.5km) to the east of the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge that connects the towns of Widnes and Runcorn.  It is will be a toll bridge, with three lanes in each direction.  The design is a cable-stayed bridge with three towers across the river and a second bridge across the ship canal.  It will be 2.3km long with a river span of 1km. The main bridge deck is made from reinforced concrete and the spans are supported by steel cable stays attached to pylons rising up to between 80 and 125m above the river bed.

As we move on down the ship canal we travel past a number of bridges.  The construction of the Manchester Ship Canal included the construction of several swing bridges and high level bridges which would not obstruct tall vessels travelling on the Canal.

Old Quay swing bridge

Moore Lane swing bridge

Acton Grange Railway viaduct

Chester Road swing bridge

Northwich Road swing bridge

Latchford High Level Bridge, Knutsford Road swing bridge and Latchford viaduct

Latchford Locks.  Latchford was chosen as the location of intermediate locks on the Manchester Ship Canal. These comprise a larger lock for ocean-going vessels and a smaller lock to its south for coasters, tugs and barges. A ship mooring area was provided on the canal’s south bank and enabled two large vessels to pass each other at this point.

Thelwall Viaduct or officially called Thelwall High Level Bridge.  The viaduct is a steel composite girder viaduct close to the village of Lymm  It carries the M6 motorway across the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey.  It actually comprises two entirely separate bridges, one of 4,414 feet long carrying the northbound carriageway, which was the longest motorway bridge in England when it was opened in July 1963, and one 4,500 feet long carrying the southbound carriageway which was opened in 1995.  The longest single span is the one of 336 feet crossing the ship canal.

Warburton High Level Bridge.  Warburton Bridge is a privately owned high-level cantilever bridge which incorporates a public highway the B5159 road, connecting the A57 with the A6144.  It has a statutory toll charge of 12p.  It was commissioned under the Rixton & Warburton Bridge Act 1863. It is unadopted and privately maintained.  It is one of the few remaining pre-motorway toll bridges in the United Kingdom.

Cadishead Railway Viaduct now disused

Irlam container terminal

Irlam Locks.

Barton Locks

Barton High Level Bridge carries the M60 over the ship canal.  It was opened in October 1960 as part of the then M63 and was known as the Stretford – Eccles by-pass.  Prior to its opening all the traffic in the area was forced to cross the Manchester Ship Canal via the Barton Road Swing Bridge or further upstream via the Trafford Road Swing Bridge.  The bridge was designed of such a height to give a clearance from the water level somewhere in the region of 100 feet to allow waterborne traffic to pass freely under it.  It was originally built with two lane carriageways in either direction but road traffic soon increased to the point where it became essential to widen the bridge to three lanes either side with each extra lane being supported by additional reinforced concrete piers built alongside the originals.  The work on this widening process was completed in 1990 – 30 years after its original opening.

Just a little further on a 60ft lifting road bridge which was being built collapsed next to the M60 Barton High Level Bridge in May 2016.  Construction was part way through the bridge which would carry a new dual carriageway over the Manchester Ship Canal to relieve congestion.  The lifting platform crashed onto the canal and has subsequently been taken way leaving the four bridge towers some of which suffered damage in the collapse.  The bridge’s completion has been put back indefinitely.

Barton Road swing bridge and Barton Swing Aqueduct, the only swing aqueduct in the world.  The Barton Swing Aqueduct is a moveable navigable aqueduct carrying the Bridgewater Canal across the Manchester Ship Canal. The swinging action allows large vessels using the ship canal to pass underneath and smaller narrowboats to cross over the top. The aqueduct, is a Grade II listed building and is considered a major feat of Victorian civil engineering.  It was designed by Sir Edward Leader Williams and built by Andrew Handyside and Company of Derby, the swing bridge opened in 1894 and remains in regular use.

Centenary Lift Bridge is the last bridge that we sail below as we then enter into the Salford Quays complex.

We then pulled into a side dock just before the ITV studios.  Media City is well named given the number of broadcasting satellite dishes next to our disembarkation point.

 

The trip had taken us over six hours passing through a varied landscape and a history of our industrial past and present.

Ellesmere Port Boat Museum

I made a visit to what is now known as the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port which is situated in South Wirral on the banks of the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal.

The museum contains the largest collection of canal boats in the world.  It has boats from Britain’s inland waterways and canals including narrowboats, barges,tugs and some wide bodied vessels as well.  The museum has been developed on a site at the northern end of the Shropshire Union Canal where it enters the Manchester Ship Canal at Ellesmere Port where huge warehouses, docks and a range of moorings and locks were built as the canal port developed.

The canal to Ellesmere Port was built by Thomas Telford and William Jessop funded by the merchants of the Shropshire town of Ellesmere to give them an outlet onto the Mersey and the port of Liverpool for their goods.  The canal was completed in 1795 and over the next hundred years the village of Netherpool which changed its name to Ellesmere Port grew steadily.  Industrial areas grew up around the canal and its docks attracted more and more workers to the area and the town itself continued to expand.

The Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894 giving businesses in Manchester direct access to the Atlantic to export their goods.  The Stanlow Oil Refinery was completed further along the ship canal in the 1920s and the town expanded so that it now incorporated further outlying villages as suburbs.  The canal port continued to be fully operational until the 1950s.

With the growth of railways and road transportation the use of canals declined and the dock complex was abandoned in the 1960s.  In 1973 a group of volunteers came together to rebuild the warehouses and the lock system and they founded the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum which became the National Waterways Museum in 2004.

The museum covers the area of the former canal port and retains the original system of locks, docks and warehouses.  The Island Warehouse now includes an exhibition on the history of boat-building and an exhibition which describes the social history of canals.  The Pump House contains the steam-driven pumping engines which supplied power for the hydraulic cranes and the capstans which were used around the dock and the Power Hall contains a variety of other engines.

The Museum also contains a terrace of four houses known as ‘Porter’s Row’. These were dock workers’ cottages which have been decorated and furnished to represent different periods from the docks history.  The houses show how they would have been in the 1830s, the 1900s, the 1930s and the 1950s.

The area outside the dockworkers’ cottages is set out as a typical street scene from around the 1940s and 1950s.

Whilst the museum displays many canal boats which tell the story of the waterways the heritage boat yard has a number of old and neglected boats which the boatyard aims to restore training young people in the skills of boat restoration.

Looking across the Boat Museum to the Manchester Ship Canal you can see the Widnes/Runcorn Bridge in the distance, another feat of engineering which was opened in 1961 to replace an older bridge dating from 1905.

The Holiday Inn which is adjacent to the boat museum is built on the site of the former Telford’s Winged Warehouse.  So called because it was a four storey building built on two arches across the canal basin.  It was completed in 1835 but was burned down in 1970.  The Holiday Inn was built in the late 1980s.  As I walked past the locks next to the Holiday Inn a pair of swans were feeding on the downfall from the lock gates.

All in all this was a very interesting walk back in time to the days when canals fed the industrial revolution which saw Britain develop into the first industrialised nation.

A space in time a visit to Jodrell Bank

This world renowned facility dates back to 1945 when the physicist and radio astronomer Bernard Lovell, following his work during WWII on the development of radar, took up a post at the University of Manchester to observe cosmic rays.  The project required a ‘quiet’ site away from the noise of the city to observe the solar system.  The University chose its botanical station at a little known place called Jodrell Bank, near Holmes Chapel in Cheshire 20 miles south of Manchester, to build a radio telescope.  Bernard Lovell was the first Director of what became the Jodrell Bank Observatory, from 1945 to 1980 when he retired.  He sadly died aged 98 in August this year.

Jodrell Bank is only 45 miles from the Wirral and with a rare day off I went along to the Discovery Centre on the site to find out more about this leading radio astronomy facility.  I have seen the telescope several times from afar.  Driving home as you come from to Buxton you can see Jodrell Bank on the Cheshire Plain far below the Derbyshire Peak District its white shape gleaming against a green backdrop.  Today I took a close up view of the facility.

The telescope was designed so that it could be pointed to any part of the sky.  It is a fully steerable and tiltable telescope with a solid steel surface dish capable of focussing radio waves from space to the monitoring station located in the gounds.  It was completed in the summer of 1957 and in October that year it followed the launch by the then Soviet Union of the first satellite into earth orbit, Sputnik 1.  The Mk1 telescope (now known as the Lovell Telescope being the largest of the four telescopes on the site) was able to track the progress of the launch rocket by radar. This brought the telescope into the public’s eye and it was realised that Britain had built a unique instrument which was in great demand for monitoring the satellites and space craft that were launched by the US and USSR as part of the ‘space race’ in the 1960’s.  Whilst this was never a major part of the telescopes’ work, the payments for its use helped pay the debts that were outstanding for its original construction together with a large donation by Lord Nuffield and the Nuffield Foundation.

The main Lovell Telescope is 76m wide and it is still the third largest steerable radio telescope in the world. There are three other active telescopes located at the observatory; the 28x 25m diameter Mark II, as well as 13m and 7m diameter radio telescopes.

Jodrell Bank has played an important role in the research of meteors, quasars, pulsars, masers as well as the tracking of space probes.  Jodrell Bank Observatory is the base of the Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network (MERLIN), an array of seven radio telescopes spread across England and the Welsh borders connected together which allows the astronomers to be able to collect more data from space.  The dish is moved around on a track with large bogey wheels which slowly move the telescope to face the correct direction or ‘azimuth’ and large motors mounted on the semi circular arms are able to tilt the dish to the required angle of inclination to observe the relevant part of the sky being studied.

The Discovery Centre has an interactive experience which includes exhibits about the planets and the solar system.  It includes this beautiful clockwork orrery in the centre of the exhibition room.  An orrery is a mechanical device that illustrates the relative positions and motions of the planets and moons in the Solar System.  Though the Greeks had working planetaria, the first orrery that was a planetarium of the modern era was produced in 1704, and one was presented to the Earl of Orrery who then gave his name to the devise.  As with this model built by Smith and Nephew of Liverpool an orrery is typically driven by a clockwork mechanism with a globe representing the Sun at the centre, and with a planet at the end of each of the arms.

In the grounds around the telescope there is a statue showing Nicolaus Copernicus the Renaissance astronomer and whose controversial proposal was that rather than the earth it was the sun which was in the centre of the universe and the earth revolved around it.  He is regarded as the father of modern astronomy.

The astronomers and physicists at the Observatory can access the giant dish through a series of walkways, lifts and steps.  The surface of the Lovell Telescope has been renewed on two occasions the last being in 2002.

Jodrell Bank remains a world leader in radio astronomy-related research and technology development and research across the electromagnetic spectrum.  Next time I see the telescope from a far on my travels I will remember my visit and experience being close up today.

A walk around Ness Gardens

On Sunday morning we went along to have a quick walk around Ness Botanic Gardens which are located just outside the village of Ness in South Wirral.  After a gloriously sunny Saturday the weather was again about to change so we took the opportunity to have a wander around before the rain arrived.

The gardens cover over 18 hectares and have a wide range of plants, so there’s a lot to see.  We had the morning to explore just a small part of the gardens.  The interest changes with the seasons so we set off to see what the late summer display was to be.  It was a warm day and there were lots of insects and butterflies in the gardens.

Ness Botanic Gardens started when the Liverpool cotton merchant Arthur Bulley, with his considerable wealth, began to create a garden here in 1898.  He was interested in introducing new plant species from across the world.  He was sure that Himalayan and Chinese mountain plants could be established in Britain and he sponsored expeditions to the Far East to collect new plants to prove his theory.  He introduced hundreds of new plants to Britain including rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias.

At Ness Mr Bulley propagated the plants they had collected and many of the seeds from the Far East were first cultivated here and he set up a plant and seed company, Bees Ltd, from this pioneering work.

Mr Bulley died in 1942 and his daughter Lois presented the gardens to the University of Liverpool in 1948 with an endowment of £75,000 with a stipulation that they continue be kept as botanic and ornamental gardens open to the public as a tribute to the memory of her father.

But during and following the Second World War it had not been possible to maintain the gardens as they had been and by the time the University took over they needed a lot of attention.  The University developed a more naturalistic setting for the plants and spent the next three decades achieving Mr Bulley’s dream.

The old building is still there but a new building the ‘Horsfall Rushby’ Visitor Centre opened in 2006, with a central courtyard area with reception, indoor cafe with outside seating area, shop, lecture theatre, conservatory and exhibition space.  It has a ‘green’ ‘living’ roof made up of sedums and mosses.  Along with propagation glasshouses there is an apiary where members of the public dressed in suitable protective gear are shown how the bees are kept.

The University continues to manage the gardens and there is an increasing emphasis on research, conservation and educating the public particularly schoolchildren.  There are around 10,000 types of plants grown in the gardens including many rare and interesting specimens.

In the Forest now…a trip around Delamere

On a day off from work we set off for a walk around Delamere Forest.

Delamere Forest comprises over 950 hectares of mixed deciduous and evergreen forest, open grassland and wetlands. It is the largest wooded area in Cheshire and lies within the Mersey Forest.  It is a haven for wildlife including the beautiful small tortoiseshell butterfly, greater spotted woodpecker, white faced darter dragonfly, green woodpecker, siskin and southern hawker dragonfly.

Delamere derives from the French ‘of the meres’.  Tens of thousands of years ago kettleholes were formed by melting ice blocks left behind by the massive ice sheets that covered Britain in the last ice age.  These became the meres and wetlands that are found across Cheshire.

At Blakemere Moss the Forestry Commisssion have recreated the original lake.  It was originally two kettle holes but they gradually filled with peat.  The site was cleared and re-filled in 1998.  There is a colony of nesting black headed gulls on the lake.  You can hear them from a distance before you actually see them.

Delamere Forest is all that remains of the great hunting forests of Mara and Mondrum established after the Norman Conquest of England.

The forest lies on sandstone and has sandy soils.  The natural woodland was originally Sessile Oak mixed with birch, alder and some pine.  In the Eighteenth Century oak trees had been planted suitable for shipbuilding by the Government in woods owned by the Crown.  The oaks didn’t thrive and there was little timber produced for the navy. Following this land was claimed for agriculture but from the early 1900s the area was replanted with various species of pine.  Since the 1950’s Scots pines have been replaced with Corsican pine trees which grow faster and yield more timber.  The forest is managed and produces timber from thinning and felling which ensures there is a mix of mature, middle aged and young trees.

The forest has a network of walking and cycling trails.  The 34 mile Sanstone Trail long dstance footpath passes through Delamere Forest where it links Frodsham in the north to Whitchurch further south in Shropshire.

You can walk as far as you want to depending on which trails you choose to follow.

You just have to be careful that you don’t go round in circles and get lost.  We did realise our mistake and managed to get back to the car parked at Linmere Lodge.