Northwich canals

A gentle walk taking in a stunning piece of Victorian engineering.




4.5 miles (7.2kms)

200ft (61m)
1hr 30min

About the walk

Salt is essential to life and has been prized throughout history as a basic means of preserving food, a discovery that supported the development of civilisation. Vast deposits of salt underlie the Cheshire plain and in places natural brine springs were known to the ancients and exploited by the Romans.

Throughout the Middle Ages, salt was carried on pack animals along 'salt roads', hugely adding to its cost. During the early 18th century, improvements to the River Weaver enabled sizeable craft to reach the salt fields. The Trent and Mersey Canal was initially perceived as a rival, but reaching the Staffordshire Potteries and coal fields, it brought more traffic through the area. The two companies co-operated and a river basin was built at Anderton, directly below the canal, where goods could be transhipped. The difficulty was the 50ft (15m) difference in elevation, initially overcome using cranes, salt chutes and an inclined plane.

Bold solution

By the 1870s Anderton had become a costly bottleneck requiring a drastic solution. A lock staircase would deplete the canal's water and instead, a boat lift was proposed. Consisting of twin, counterbalanced caissons, each capable of holding two narrowboats, it was powered by massive pistons, sunk vertically into the ground. Construction took only 30 months, after which fully laden boats could be transferred in a matter of minutes.

However, the hydraulics were plagued by corrosion from the water, and in 1908 the lifting mechanism was replaced by overhead pulleys and counterweights. The conversion outlasted its industrial use, as commercial traffic had virtually finished by the 1960s, but in 1983, the structure itself was found to be corroded and closed.

That might have ended the story, but there was a bid for restoration. Work began in 2000, overhauling the structure and reverting to hydraulic operation, although this time using oil rather than canal water. The lift re-opened in 2002 and is once again a highlight of the country's waterway system.

Chemical industry

The Industrial Age found new uses for salt in a burgeoning chemical industry. The salt was extracted by brine pumping, which created unstable underground voids and subsidence left the salt fields dotted with flashes. In 1874 John Brunner and Ludwig Mond opened a factory on the banks of the Weaver at Winnington to produce soda ash, important for the glass and dyeing industries. It was the town's main employer for over a century, but the waste products of fuel ash and alkali dumped in the subsidence pits blighted the landscape.

A transformation

The focus of industry has changed, and reclamation by both Nature and man is restoring the area. Stabilisation of the underground workings has created new land for the regeneration of the town and the former tips are being transformed into the woodland, meadows and wetland reserves of Marbury Country Park and Anderton Nature Park, which now boast a surprising variety of plants and wildlife.

Walk directions

Leave the far corner of the car park through an arch. Turn left beside an avenue of lime trees, then curve right past the visitor facilities and ranger station. Cross a junction towards Big Wood, soon swinging right on a path beside Budworth Mere.

Reaching a small 'harbour', turn from the lake to a broader trail. Follow it left, keeping with the main path past a pool to a fork. Bear left towards Anderton Nature Park, eventually meeting the Trent & Mersey Canal. Ignoring a bridge, continue through the trees to another junction and there turn left to emerge on Marbury Lane.

Go left over the canal and continue ahead beyond a barrier. After 0.25 miles (400m), turn off right into Anderton Nature Park. Beyond a dip, the path off right leads to a hide overlooking Haydn Pool. The onward route, however, is left towards the Anderton Boat Lift above the reed-crowded banks of Witton Brook. Crossing a footbridge over Marbury Brook, ignore the path off right and remain by the water towards a high footbridge.

Just before it, double back right on a rising path. Go sharp left at the top and keep ahead over a small bridge to a fork before a clearing fringed by birch. Bear right past the clearing into more trees, then keep right at the next junction to pass through another open area. Reaching a T-junction at the far end by a waypost, go left, soon swinging right onto a path set back above the Weaver Navigation past Winnington soda works. Eventually, descend a flight of steps to river level and a junction beside a rifle range. The grass path ahead rises below a pool where dragonflies breed to join the main drive. Follow it away from the river to the Anderton Boat Lift car park. Pass straight through to the canal and go left to the visitor centre.

After seeing the lift, head back north along the tow path towards Marbury Country Park. Continue beyond the Anderton Marina for another 0.25 miles (400m) to leave at the next bridge.

Briefly reversing your outward route, cross the bridge and take the path off right back into the country park. This time, at the junction turn left and, following signs for the car park, continue through the woods to a meet a broad trail. Go right for 100yds (91m), then turn off left through a kissing gate across the open park. At the end, bear left beside the lime tree avenue and take the next left to the car park.

Additional information

Woodland paths, surfaced tracks and tow paths

Woodland banks, fields, occasional industrial backdrop

Off lead for most of walk, except in nature park

OS Explorer 267 Northwich & Delamere Forest

Pay-and-display car park at Marbury Country Park, open till 8pm summer, 5pm winter

Close to car park, by ranger station

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About the area

Discover Cheshire

Nestled between the Welsh hills and Derbyshire Peaks, the Cheshire plains make an ideal location to take things slow and mess around in boats. Cheshire has more than 200 miles (302 km) of man-made waterways, more than any other county in England. The Cheshire Ring is formed from the Rochdale, Ashton, Peak Forest, Macclesfield, Trent and Mersey and Bridgewater canals. This route takes you through a lot of Cheshire, and bits of other counties as well.

While exploring the county’s waterways, covering ground on foot or admiring the typical white plaster and black timber-frame houses, make sure to have a taste of Cheshire’s most famous produce. Although Cheddar has become Britain’s most popular cheese (accounting for over half of the cheese sales in the UK), it was once Cheshire cheese that was in every workman’s pocket back in the 18th century. Its moist, crumbly texture and slightly salty taste mean it goes well with fruit, peppers or tomatoes. As well as the usual white, there are also red and blue veined varieties.

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