Martin was not happy. In fact, Martin, aka the Anderton Lift attendant, was decidedly miffed. His instructions clearly state there should only ever be two boats on the lift moorings. There were four.
Having enjoyed a pleasant weekend at the Middlewich FAB Festival, all four of the CCCC boats (see below) arrived early on Monday morning at the Anderton Lift, in close formation. It took some time to persuade Martin that there were no plans for all four to ride the lift together, but before long the first two boats were descending gently toward the river. The rebuilt lift with its hydraulic ram system is much quieter than the gears and pulleys of the old winding gear and provides the boater with a chance to admire the views of the River Weaver in both directions – ignoring, that is, the old ICI chemical works on the opposite bank.
Heading down-river first through Saltersford Lock to a mooring at Acton Swing Bridge all four crews found themselves unexpectedly in the bar of the Leigh Arms, holding the first of the “daily planning meetings”. The decision to head for the so called Devil’s Garden moorings, less than four miles further on, proved to be an excellent choice and became the base for the following two days.
Most of the river, which is wide, slow moving and sufficiently deep, meanders gently through a pleasant, grassy plain with low hills in the distance. All locks are manned whilst lift bridges are well above narrowboat height: clearly a restful change for canal users. The Devil’s Garden is no more than a large, woodland clearing, but with easy mooring and ample space for sitting out or even camping. It may be worth noting here that the G&T Hour or “Pimms O’Clock” gatherings, which have since become a feature of Four C’s cruises, were born here in the Devil’s Garden!
Tuesday saw the fleet heading off to the mouth of the river, or as close to it as possible. Bearing in mind that this would be an area of heavy industry no-one had any desire to stay overnight; the plan was strictly just recce and RTB. In perfect weather and with practically no other traffic the first boat was down to Runcorn in little more than an hour. After the Sutton bridges and M56 flyover the rural landscape disappears and the right bank is lined with power stations and oil refineries, some of them surprisingly colourful. (Why do they paint all those pipes different colours? Aesthetic value perhaps; or does someone have to remember where everything goes?)
At Weston Marsh Lock, where the Weaver joined the Mersey till someone put a ship canal in the way, the pontoon moorings provided a handy stopping point for everyone to go ashore and explore Marsh Lock Island. With the warm sunshine and the distant panorama of the river estuary, however, what developed was an impromptu and quite memorable picnic.
Some time later the Amazons (Cormorant II and Lord Toulouse) took off down the remaining stretch of the Weaver Navigation, determined to bang their noses against the disused lock at the very extreme; whilst the Swallows (Great Escape and Time Out) remained to hold the fort on the island – and finish the wine. Mid afternoon saw the fleet reforming and heading back to Devil’s Garden, in time for the sunset ceremony.