When you sprinkle salt on your fish and chips do you ever think much about it? I know the word “salary” comes from salt (not that I have a salary any more) but I never considered how salt gets on the table. Here in this part of Cheshire, you can’t get away from salt. Even the names of the local towns reflect the history of salt manufacturing; Nantwich, Northwich and Middlewich. During the Triassic period salt deposits formed, and now wild brine springs bubble up from deep underground. The Romans discovered them and started commercial salt production locally.
Lion Salt Works at Marston on the banks of the Trent and Mersey was the last factory in this country producing salt by evaporating brine in enormous iron pans. The Salt Works is now a museum, and Colin, Debbie, Martyn and I went to investigate. It’s a little ramshackle because all the buildings were made of wood and not designed to last, but it’s fascinating. It must have been hellish working there; men stripped to the waist skimming the salt off the boiling pans, scooping it into moulds and moving heavy blocks around. It was hard, physical work in dangerous conditions with constant heat, steam, and the tang of salt in the air. And the canal carried the finished product to its final destination.
The Salt Works only closed in 1986, which seems so recent. Or is it just that I’m old?
We waved Colin and Debbie off and on their merry way towards Fettlers Wharf and home on Thursday morning.
Then we walked back up the canal towards Anderton to Marbury Country Park. Marbury Hall, the grand house that once stood there, was demolished in 1968 (dry rot apparently), but the grounds are still very tranquil.
They built most of the bridges crossing the canal around here with arches. Now they’re nearly all flat-topped because of ground subsidence caused by the salt mining. It’s even worse for houses and other buildings and locally the canal has breached because of it.
On Friday we decided three nights in one place was quite enough and set off for Middlewich. On the way we crossed the Croxton Aqueduct. It was just wide enough for the boat. We’re not on broad canals any more! The weird thing was because it was so shallow it affected how much water the propeller could shift, so we went over it at a snail’s pace. I even had time to jump off and take photos.
Last night we moored in Middlewich. It’s a town that’s well-known on the canals and has a branch of the Shropshire Union Canal named after it. So I expected a big urban metropolis and was surprised to discover it’s a quaint little town with one main street. That said, It’s got everything a boater could want; chandlers, supermarkets, water points, pubs, a post office and Amazon hub, and a canal heritage it’s proud of.
Tomorrow we’ll be off again. We’ll be going through our first narrow locks. Wish us luck.