Loved the Anderton Boat Lift #narrowboat #boating

The Anderton Boat Lift raises and lowers boats some 50′ between the Trent & Mersey Canal and the River Weaver. It was built in 1875 (Queen Victoria got the Major Meccano Set for Christmas from Albert) and was restored, methinkth, in about 2002. It is a delicious chunk of Victorian engineering, from the days when England made things.

Queuing up outside the turn into the lft (lift just visible to the top left). Things got crowded. More so than they needed to have been…

The Cardinal awaiting his turn on the boat lift. The boat alongside was a refugee who wanted to book passage but hadn’t, and neither had they allowed themselves anywhere sensible to moor while they booked… and the other boat already waiting with the Cardinal allegedly, reportedly, declined to either move back a little to let them into a gap or to let them moor alongside. If so then it was an interesting approach to international entente cordiale, and a surprising one coming as it (allegedly, reportedly) did from the upside-down continent on holiday. The Cardinal obliged though, happily.

When going down there is a holding area before moving onto the lift itself, an extra set of gates twixt the upper canal water and the drop, perhaps. The orders are to move into it and stop to await further orders. We did so, cheerfully. You can see the length of the cruise out into thin air to get to the lift in the top photograph here (above, topmost), and yes, that is the Venerable Cardinal moored up below on flashy pontoons.

Into the “holding pen” at the top of the lift and stop at the “STOP” sign while water levels are sorted and double-gates are lowered.

Either caisson holds one trip boat or two narrowboats. Once manoeuvred forward into the lift caisson itself there is more of a feeling of being inside a vast cathedral of a machine. For some sense of scale remember that the Cardinal is 17.37 metres long, weighs about 17,000kg, and the view in these photographs omits the rear three metres or so of the boat…

Both boats then slowly move forward into the actual lift caisson, and a further double-gate is lowered.

The final gates are then lowered into place – one to hold canal water back, one to hold in the water that the Cardinal is floating on while in the caisson.

Big, heavy “guillotine” gates – that drip canal water all over the boat AND down a chap’s neck.

Naturally when one caisson is at the top the other is at the bottom of the lift, and they travel up and down in opposite uppy downy directions. Boaters meet themselves one another both half-way up and half-way down.

Caissons approaching half-way. Hello chaps – going up? We’re going down…

Tis customary to wave and to grin for the benefit of holiday videos being shot from both sides.

Incredibly, and disconcertingly, each caisson is lifted/lowered each on a single, massive hydraulic ram…

This beast does all of the work and all of the holding of the weight of caisson, two boats and water sufficient to the floating thereof.

…and this is where and how the hydraulic ram emerges from and disappears into the foundations. Victorian foundations were ever so accommodating, except for the bustle.

There’s a giant who lives under here, and he spends his days poking the hydraulic rams back out.

Once at the bottom – or indeed, the top – the water levels in the caissons are re-equalised with canal and river, and the vast “guillotine” gates lifted, the boats are then free to go.

Released into the wild, fifty feet lower than the Trent & Mersey Canal, onto the River Weaver.

Immediately ahead is – yes, you guessed it – a vast chemical factory (used to be I.C.I. – Imperial Chemical Industries – but is now TATA). To the right heads away from town, but towards a very, very seriously broken and out of action lock. To the left is the town of Northwich. Blasts on the horn are required to try to ensure that a boat passing up or down river doesn’t t-bone a boat exiting the lift.

Being me, I plonked us on the first available pontoon, the better to grok the experience and the area. The Bro, who had very kindly consented to risk his life on Victorian machinery along with me, had with him his automobile (although he’d parked it rather than taking it on the boat lift with us), and thereupon I took advantage and we went to purchase some much-needed (for me, at least) comestibles. Ta very muchly, sir! Asparagus! Broccoli! Fresh watermelon juice (magnificent stuff)! Peaches! New potatoes! Bread, and etceteras. Yum, et le yum – and scurvy warded off for another week. 🙂

The River Weaver is GORGEOUS – wide, tumbling turns, trees and wildlife almost hiding the chemical factories and the town of Northwich! Seriously, a splendid and very tame river indeed.

The Weaver is about the most civilised river in England, having four locks upon its mere twenty miles of length, and being so controlled as to almost be a canal anyway. That said, it does have several water sources dumping into it, and the levels can be up and down and sideways if there’s rain (rain! in England! as if!), and moorings are on all manner of things from the river bank to specially-installed floating pontoons that rise and fall with the river level. These were some such, and very posh they were too. Being a river tis also wide enough to turn a narrowboat around along almost the whole of its length, which is a novel thing after being used to having to find scarce winding holes on the canals.

So. I loved the Anderton Boat Lift. What did I think of the River Weaver? Well, I didn’t love the River Weaver, and I’ll try to explain my peculiar reasons for why in the next blog post. I’ll try! My reasons for not feeling in the full flush of giggles on the Weaver are, I think, as peculiar as are the internal workings of my psyche.

Did I take any video of the trip down on the boat lift? YES! The Chinese “Go-Pro” substitute worked lovelylyly. Here it is. I have speeded up (to eight times normal) the actual descent, but left in the real-time opening of the gates, just to give you an idea of the pace of the beast. Oh – and I’ve sped up the exit from the lift, too, since I spent a portion of that time allowing some “space” to our refusnik companion boat.

I hope that you enjoy the video – seven and a half minutes from beginning to end.

To the Bro I apologise most sincerely, I sort of had to leave some of you in on the video footage so that I could show the entrance to the lift. In compensation and penance I have also left some footage of myself in at the end of the clip, when I oiked away to check the canal rozzer signage… I call this clip of me “Old Fart Tottering Along A Floating Pontoon”.


Oh well.

Chin-chin until the next post,

Ian H., Bro and Cardinal W.


🙂 [Big grinny face emoticon]


  1. Great video and wow that lift is a huge mechanical marvel that is still standing the test of time. And to be praised by the CRT tooo….when will your medal be arriving then? Sally.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that mayhap my medal is in the post (2nd Class, small packet) and may take some time to arrive… The lift is an amazing beast and very well worth the effort to experience – all that it lacks is a steam engine belching fumes. 🙂


    1. I believe that QV preferred the epithet ‘One’ above all others… 😉 The old Victorians certainly got stuck in to the job at hand in a way that we just don’t do these days (not for the past fifty years, anyway)! If we could just regain the attitude and drive that they had and combine it with a touch of modern Elfin Saferty we’d be set.

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  2. Oh wow! That felt just like being in the boat, what an amazing thing.I marvel how people could build these monster gadgets. How anyone could manage that manoeuvre single crewed – hurrah for bro what a splendid chap to having hanging in your cabin cupboard! Got the next part of the story sitting waiting, thank you for posting and sharing these expereinces.

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    1. The Victorians didn’t mess around, they just fed manual labour into their “health and safety (not)” system until the job was done! I doubt that England would even consider building something similar today – given the politics and fuss and hyper-expense (£££$$$ profit to private companies) of HS2 I’m not sure that the country even could! 🙂 Maybe some tunnels to share soon, perhaps after a short (a long) lie down and a quiet gibber…

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    1. Stoke shmoke already! The Weaver is delicious (but not for me), and the Anderton Boat Lift is awe-inspiring – I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Actually, I will do it again (although I’ll come straight back up too methinks!

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