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.

Poppies on Islington, Liverpool

Driving through Liverpool recently on my way to the M62 I came across a surprising vista. Liverpool and Manchester made a joint bid last year to fund a project called a ‘Tale of Two Cities’; with the aim to have wildflowers planted in inner-city areas.  As part of the scheme for Liverpool, the project organisers have created a wildflower corridor along the Islington central reservation, leading up towards Everton Park.


The two cities bid for the £120,000 funding available through the national ‘Grow Wild’ scheme.  ‘Grow Wild’ is a £10.5m campaign to bring people and communities together to sow, grow and support UK native wild flowers. It is funded by the Big Lottery Fund and led by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London.  ‘Grow Wild’ has been set up to inspire people to get together to transform unloved urban sites, gardens and windowsills into wildlife-friendly wild flower patches. Liverpool and Manchester wanted to deliver a distinctive cultural wild flower project to connect two historically divided cities, blending pathways into the two cities with environment and culture. Their proposals have been supported by the National Wild Flower Centre, the National Trust and the two city councils.  More details can be found at


The idea was that Everton Park in Liverpool and Hulme in Manchester will make bold statements by transforming large areas of neglected space and unloved verges into magical displays of wild flowers. The local communities in each area share many cultural and historic similarities.


In Liverpool, derelict and paved areas of Everton Park have been planted with wild flower displays, some marking demolished streets and the central reservation on Islington.  In Manchester, wild flower landscapes have be created along Princess Road and its linked surroundings to be seen by 100,000 passers-by daily on their way in and out of the city centre each day.


Planting events, cultural exchanges in each city and coming together at music and art festivals organised by the people of Everton and Hulme have all been planned to take place in the wildflower areas that they have sown and cared for.  Community leaders will continue to meet through events across the two cities.  The hope is that an imaginative working relationship between the two historic rivals will be a roadmap for others to follow.


Richard Scott, senior project manager at conservation charity Landlife, who coordinated the Tale of Two Cities bid, said that the plan was to ensure maximum visibility for commuters and local communities by placing wildflowers in highly visible and unexpected urban spaces.  The Grow Wild competition was decided by a national online vote that was decided in November last year.  Liverpool and Manchester were chosen against strong competition from the London Borough of Newham, Bristol, Plymouth and Sheffield.


As you drive up Islington from the city centre you can’t miss the planting and the colour of the wild flowers which as I came to see them were mostly poppies giving a bright red carpet set against the cityscape down the hill.  Like Princess Road in Manchester thousands of people commute up and down Islington each day and the show of wildflowers there is unexpected and quite spectacular as I found them.

Moel Findeg


Earlier in February I ventured out for a walk on the hills in North Wales to celebrate my birthday.  It was the day after a severe storm which had brought trees and some power lines down and whilst the force of the winds had dropped we didn’t venture onto the high mountains but explored a corner of the lesser known Clwydian hills.



The Clwydian range is only half an hour’s drive away from Wirral being located in north east Wales.  The range runs from Llandegla in the south to Prestatyn in the north dividing the valleys of the River Dee and River Clwyd, with the highest point being Moel Famau at 1,817 feet (554m).  The range is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty.


The summits of the Clwydian hills provide extensive views across north Wales, to the high peaks of Snowdonia, eastwards across the Cheshire Plain, Peak District and towards Manchester and Wirral and more distantly Liverpool to the northeast.



For this walk we started from Colomendy Outdoor Education Centre near Loggerheads on the Mold to Ruthin road and walked through woods and past old and still active quarries around the old mining village of Maeshafn.



Some of the paths were blocked with fallen trees and where they crossed many fields they were a quagmire of mud given the high rainfall we have had this winter.  Our lunchtime stop off point at the Miners Arms in Maeshafn had to be abandoned as the pub was closed having no electricity supply due the gales.




The ‘high point’ of the walk was ascending Moel Findeg which has some extensive views for quite a small hill.  Views of Moel Famau, Foel Fenlii and Moel Eithinen can be clearly seen from the top of the hill.  The area is a local nature reserve and was saved from quarrying some years ago when local residents raised the funds to buy the site.




Walking down from Moel Findeg we passed an eerie old disused farmstead before we descended back down to the valley from where we started.




We arrived back to our starting point with the gentle glow of late afternoon winter sunshine.

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.

An Appointment with the Boss

On Friday night we headed off to the Etihad Stadium in east Manchester.  Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were playing their second straight show in England of the Wrecking Ball tour after performing a knock out concert at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland on Thursday night. They are playing the Isle of Wight Festival on Sunday (most likely in the mud) before performing a few more dates in Europe and then onto Hyde Park in London in July.  Going to the Etihad made a hat-trick for us of Manchester ‘sporting grounds’ as we have seen the Boss play at Old Trafford Cricket Ground and Old Trafford football stadium on past tours.

Unfortunately with the heavy rain across the north of England and the sheer weight of traffic trying to get into Manchester we got stuck in a traffic jam coming from Liverpool at the end of the M62 and got into the concert at 8.15 pm an hour after the start.  Leaving Wirral at 5.30pm was obviously too late in the circumstances.  But the Boss is famed for his long shows so we knew there was more to come.  We walked in with the band playing ‘Atlantic City’ from the Nebraska album.  As we settled down the band kicked into ‘Prove It All Night’ and 19 further songs.

The full 30-song, 3 hour and 17 minute set list was:

1. Badlands

2. No Surrender

3. We Take Care of Our Own

4. Wrecking Ball

5. Death to My Hometown

6. My City Of Ruins

7. Spirit In The Night

8. E Street Shuffle

9. Jack of all Trades

10. Atlantic City

11. Prove It All Night (’78 Intro)

12. Two Hearts

13. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)

14. Darlington County

15. Shackled And Drawn

16. Waitin’ On A Sunny Day

17. Save My Love

18. The Promise (solo piano)

19. The River

20. The Rising

21. Out In The Street

22. Land Of Hope And Dreams

As usual the Boss gives his all and more and he and the East Band played an encore of:

23. We Are Alive

24. Thunder Road

25. Born To Run

26. Bobby Jean

27. Cadillac Ranch

28. Dancing In The Dark

29. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out

30. Twist and Shout (with a bit of Louie-Louie).

Whilst it had been raining all day in Manchester it stopped, we are told, as soon as Bruce took the stage although we did have a few small showers from time to time. But being the Boss he came out to the audience during the showers as he likes getting wet on stage!

As professional cameras were not allowed I couldn’t take my trusty Canon SLR so along with other people using their iphones I tried to take some pictures using my old Canon Ixus 850 pocket camera, it doesn’t have any form of image stabilization so I couldn’t get any shots of the band on the stage that weren’t a bit shaky and blurred but I managed to get some pictures from the big screen on our side of the main stage.  We were sat in East Stand.  The stadium was not completely full, in the Colin Bell stand opposite us there were some empty seats probably being others that were stuck in traffic somewhere in the north of England but the pitch was packed.

There were lots of highlights from the show.  As is customary the Boss strutted along the front of the crowd pulling out some young people and ladies to dance and sing along with him.  One young lad pulled onto the decking sang a whole verse of ‘Waitin’ on a Sunny day’; he deserved one of Bruce’s plectrums that was thrust into his hand as a memento as the Boss lowered him back into the crowd.  “The Promise” played on solo piano by Bruce was another high spot.  On ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’ when the Boss got to the line “and the big man joined the band” he and the band stopped playing and stood completely still as statues in their positions as they showed pictures of Clarence Clemons celebrating his life and contribution to the East Street Band. As the film ended they crashed back into the end of the song with the echoing crescendo “with a tenth avenue freeze-out, tenth avenue freeze-out…”

Clarence’s nephew Jake Clemons has taken on the mantle of playing sax and the crowd applauded him on every sax solo he gave.  Taunting the crowd that at his age (he is now 62) he is no longer up to giving any more songs Bruce falls onto the stage in mock exhaustion to be revived by Little Steven wringing out a spongeful of water over him.  Reinvigorated off we went into the pounding encore setlist.

The Boss and the East Street band played their last song and at 10.35pm as they took their last bows the riggers and roadies were straight onto the stage to start dismantling the scaffolding and equipment to get the show back on the road and off to the next venue.  We then joined the thousands of people getting out of the stadium thronging the streets walking back to their cars or public transport links and then wending their slow journeys home.