Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here reporting on a local hike from the 10th June 2020. As the pandemic restrictions had been slightly reduced, we felt that we should jump in the car to drive the short distance to the Northwich area. We have walked around the Anderton Nature Reserve and Marbury Country Park on several occasions but, we had never followed the Saltscape Trail in the area. The trail crosses over itself forming a figure of eight as it weaves through the Northwich Woodlands. It is a waymarked trail and covers approximately six miles but can be split into two easily manageable three-mile long routes, The Dragonfly Walk and the Orchid Walk. The weather forecast looked promising with the threat of rain later in the day. Even if we dawdled, which we tend to do, the walk should have only taken three hours at the most. It was mid afternoon when we set off and we arrived at the Anderton Marina, where we parked the car on the roadside.
Saltscape is the area in the River Weaver Valley in Cheshire that has formed by the salt laid down over millions of years. Mining and industry have formed the landscape and caused collapses of land that have filled with water in the area. The Saltscape Trail takes in a small section of this unique landscape. Information boards are positioned along the trail giving the reader an insight into the history, geology and ecology of the area.
There were very few people around as we set off on our walk so, I had a run, off-lead. I met a few other dogs as we walked but, after a quick sniff we both went on our merry ways. My dad said that he trusts me a lot more than he used to when we are out. After all, I am an adult now. When I was a pup, he says that I was a bit of a handful. I can’t recall that. I think that he must be mistaken. Anyway, if I wander off, I return as soon as he calls me, well sometimes I do. It depends on squirrels, birds, other dogs and if I am deep in the undergrowth, investigating. Well, I am still here aren’t I?
We set off on our short hike toward the Anderton Boat Lift car park, once the site of Anderton Salt Works, which we passed through to join the footpath. Anderton Nature Park is an area of reclaimed land that was once derelict and polluted from the local soda industry. Decades of lime, ash and clinker waste was dumped on this land which is nowadays a pretty woodland with many species of wildflowers and trees. As we walked downhill to the banks of the River Weaver and through the birch trees, we passed the old pipes that carried brine to local industry. The old bund wall is still visible in places through the undergrowth.
The footpath followed the route of the Witton Brook, through Marshall’s Wood, before we headed north and away from it at Haydn’s Pool. The pool, along with other lakes in the area, known as flashes, were created due to subsidence due to the salt workings. It is a popular birdwatching site in the area. We shortly turned right along Marbury Lane across the ornate Butterfinch bridge over Forge Brook. The feint smell of garlic permeated the air as the last of the plants were dying off. The lane was once a cinder toll road but today it is tarmac coated.
We stayed on the road until we met a left turn that was to take us around part of Neumann’s Flashes, a larger lake formed by subsidence. This is another very popular birdwatching area with hides available around these reclaimed lime beds. Rare sightings include Spoonbills, Perigrines, Lapwings and Crakes. Subsidence is still an issue in the area with the canal having to be regularly topped up due to leakages.
We left the path around the flashes on the eastern edge of the lake to pass through a gate and across a boardwalk, over brine pipes, to join a short stretch of pavement alongside Ollerton Lane in Marston. This led us to the Lion Salt Works, a tourist attraction, that is closed due to the pandemic. The site was once an open-pan salt production site close to the Trent and Mersey Canal. The works opened for production in 1856 and was still in operation until 1986.
After a few yards we left the lane to join the towpath of the Trent and Mersey canal. My dad tends to get a bit nervous when we are walking along towpaths. I have been known to take a dunking after I overstretch to reach a moorhen or a duck. But, this time, I managed to not fall in. I don’t think that he would have been happy if I had to be dragged out of the water by the scruff of my neck.
This was a pleasant section of the route but a bit overgrown for the big feller as he had to keep ducking under the overhanging branches. We had great views across the fields on the opposite bank toward Great Budworth Church. As we turned a bend in the canal we passed by an area where there had been a catastrophic breach of the canal wall in 1907 resulting in the collapse of the Marston Hall Salt Works. Further along the towpath was the site of the pumping station that pumped brine to Runcorn.
As we passed under the footbridge over the canal we were alongside Marbury Country Park on the opposite side of the water. We actually came across the first patch of mud that we had seen for a few weeks during this dry spell. I obviously had to walk through it and help myself to a quick slurp of the puddle. My dad didn’t seem to approve. Hey ho! Further along the path, on the opposite banks again we came to Hopyards, part of the Forestry Commissions Northwich woodlands. The canal was overgrown with reeds at this point with its abundance of warblers and the odd mallard or two.
Our hike was coming to an end as we reached Anderton Marina, a huge narrowboat storage area and boating holiday hire centre. There appeared to be no space available as the canal boating industry was in a state of limbo, awaiting the pandemic to pass and for holidaying to resume. Our car was parked just above the road bridge and so, we were back. It had been an easy stroll around a fascinating area, and it hadn’t rained. Result! Till next time!