16 January 2015

Cheshire walks: Acton Bridge to Dutton Locks

One thing I quickly realised about British winters is that blue-sky days can be few and far between, especially in the mostly grey days of January. So, when last Wednesday dawned bright, clear and cold, I just had to get out and enjoy it.

My housemate was amenable to an outing so in the car we hopped and off we headed to Acton Bridge. I wanted to photograph the bridge (for a project on swing bridges) and we hadn’t actually planned a walk but, sometimes, when you see a path leading off into the distance, you’ve just got to follow it … so off we went.

The Acton Bridge Swing Bridge crosses the River Weaver and, as it name implies, it can rotate to allow tall river traffic to pass along the river. Swing bridges are fascinating feats of engineering and are relatively common on England’s canals but more on that in a forthcoming blog.

The countryside was looking lovely in the sunshine – a patchwork of dark brown ploughed paddocks and bright green grassy fields edged by elderly oak, ash and beech trees. I thought that was a gate in the fence until I looked closer and realised it’s actually a hunt fence. Although the 2005 Hunting Act banned traditional fox hunting in this country, hunting is still part of countryside culture – only the manner of the hunt has changed.

The reeds lining the river banks glowed in the wintery sun and, though the slight breeze prevented perfect reflections much of the time, there was still a pretty rippled effect on the water. We weren’t intending to walk far as my housemate has a gammy knee but, when we saw that bridge in the distance, we just had to investigate.

And as we got closer the waterway divided and the view got even more intriguing. Now, we obviously had to go further and check out what that was in the river behind the bridge and then, of course, we would have to cross the bridge and check out those boats.

Though we didn’t realise it at the beginning of our walk, our route alongside the river is part of the Weaver Way, a 40-mile-long trail that runs from Frodsham in the north to Audlem in south Cheshire. As the signpost informed us, we were at the halfway point between Frodsham and Northwich. As this section of the Way is only 10 miles long, I plan to do it once the weather improves a little. I do love me a pretty canal-side walk!

From that pedestrian bridge we’d seen in the distance, the further structure became clear. These sluices were built way back in the 1870s, as part of the flood defences that made the Weaver Navigation (the man-made parts of this waterway) a leader in water management at that time. The architectural style is Baroque and each of the eight arches carries a sluice gate, though unfortunately we couldn’t see the water flowing out the other side.

The half-submerged boat, the M.V. Chica, has been in the river since 1993 and is something of a mystery. Some web research produced a report penned by a son-in-law of Thomas Henry Barlow, the last Master of the Chica, which states, amongst other things, that the ship was built in Norway in 1894, was commandeered by the Germans in 1940, was a trader along the North African coast for a time and, in its last incarnation, provided pleasure cruises along the Weaver.

The Chica sits just a hop, skip and a short swim from Dutton Locks. Built in 1874, when the River Weaver and Weaver Navigation were used to transport salt to the Port of Liverpool, this is one of five sets of double locks on this waterway. They were built as replacements for the original eleven smaller locks so that coastal freighters up to 1000 tons could use the river. Although the wooden lock gates looked a bit decrepit to me, the locks are still fully functioning.

We explored the locks, crossing from one side to the other and back again. But we couldn’t stop there. As you can see in the photos (above and below), from the locks we could see there were more things to look at just up ahead.

The former lockkeepers cottages are actually on an island – the river splits here, with one part flowing through the locks and the other through the sluices. That branch of the river rejoins the main stream under the twin-span footbridge known as the Dutton Horse Bridge. Built between 1915 and 1919, according to Wiki, this is one of the ‘earliest remaining examples of a laminated timber structure’ and ‘is also believed to be the sole laminated greenheart timber bridge in the country’. 

Up ahead, we could see the Grade II listed Dutton Viaduct, where the West Coast Main Line railway crosses the River Weaver. Its 20 arches were built in 1836 of red sandstone at a cost of £54,440

We didn’t get any closer to the viaduct. My housemate’s gammy knee was beginning to feel the strain of our walk and the clouds were building, making the day feel even colder, so we called it quits at the Horse Bridge. We retraced our steps back to Acton Bridge, drove a short distance further along the river and rewarded ourselves with a delicious lunch at The Riverside Inn, enjoying lovely views of the river as we ate. What a thoroughly pleasant outing it had been!

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