Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here. Me and my human decided to write a blog about one of our regular Runcorn walks. We walk from home usually, and complete a circular route but, this time we will just write about the waterfront part of this hike. We will start our short recollection at Old Quay Swingbridge and end it at Bridgewater House on Percival Lane. It was another cold but, dry day as we set off toward the Manchester Ship Canal, where the Old Quay Bridge crosses onto Wigg Island Community Park. We crossed over the bridge and parked at the viewpoint overlooking the river.
The tide was low in the river so we went for a short walk around the disused visitor centre and down to the bank of the river. The wreck of the Able flat was visible above the mud. A few ribs can be seen when the tide is low. We turned back to cross the bridge to head left into Runcorn town.
Because we were walking along the side of the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal I had to put up with my human singing ‘The River’ by Bruce Springsteen. If you have read any of my previous blogs you will know by now that the big feller can’t resist torturing me with his monotone singing voice. I think that I should join in when he kicks off in future. I can howl a good tune!
The Runcorn and Latchford Canal, which was later known as the Old Quay Canal, was built to provide a navigable waterway alongside the tidal River Mersey. The Manchester Ship Canal was later built to complete a navigable waterway from the River Mersey to Manchester. In 1894 the Old Quay Bridge was constructed to enable road traffic to access the chemical works on Wigg Island. It is a Grade II Listed Building. The Engine house, next to the bridge contains the hydraulic system that operates the bridge. Next to this building is the Accumulator Tower and the Control Building. If you are planning a trip to Wigg Island be prepared for a long wait at the traffic lights!
We left the bridge to walk along Old Quay Street which is lined by a relatively new housing development. After turning right into Irwell lane, we quickly turned left to walk along the Decks. The footpath passes between the apartment blocks and the Manchester Ship Canal. At the end of the Decks is the original site of the Runcorn Ferry. At the bottom of Mersey Road, the ferry used to transport passengers to Woodend, now Spike Island, in Widnes. A building on the left was once the Ferry Boat, later known as the Boat House Inn, and was a convenient waiting spot for the ferry.
After leaving the Decks we walked along Mersey Road with the site of TS Ashanti, the Sea Cadet hut on our right. Nowadays, the land is fenced off and left to grow wild. As we walked we came to the Ethelfleda metal statue. The Lady of Mercia is seen looking toward the area of her burgh at Runcorn Gap.
Further along Mersey Road, on the opposite side, is a wall plaque commemorating the opening of the newly laid road in 1924. The wall that the plate is fixed to is the river wall from before the Manchester Ship Canal separated the river from the town. I had to stay attached to my lead because my human sensed that I was about to go duck and geese hunting at the bank of the canal. I wouldn’t have chased them. Honest (winking eye emoji). Ha!
Further along the road we came to the sandy beach on the bank of the canal that was known as Ferry Hut. In early Victorian times Runcorn was a popular Spa Town. People used to visit this promenade area before the building of the canal, to bathe in the River Mersey at Ferry Hut. The houses along the promenade at Belvedere were guest houses for the town’s visitors.
We came to the disused landing stage for the Transporter Bridge that used to carry people and vehicles across the river to Widnes. This magnificent structure was the first ‘road’ crossing of the Mersey going upstream from Liverpool. Built in 1905, it was the first transporter bridge built in Britain and the largest of its type in the world. It was designed to carry 300 pedestrians and four horse drawn carriages 25 metres above the high tide level of the river. In good weather it would take 2.5 minutes for the crossing. It was closed in 1961 when the Silver Jubilee roadbridge opened. Some of the approach structures to the transporter bridge are still in place.
Between the Transporter Bridge and the Ethelfleda Railway Bridge, a shipbuilders yard dominated the banks. Abel and sons ceased building ships in the area in the 1950’s. Mersey Flats were built here to transport goods offloaded on the Mersey into Runcorn and Widnes docks. Two of these flats are still in existence, the Oakdale and the Mossdale with the last ship built in 1953, the Ruth Bate. The shipyard was known as the Castlerock Shipyard after the ‘castle’ built in 915 by Ethelfleda, ‘Queen’ of the Mercians, to repel a potential Viking invasion from Widnes. The site if the ‘castle’ or burgh was demolished to make way for the building of the railway bridge.
On the opposite side of the road, the magnificent All Saints’ Church stands in its walled churchyard. The first church on the site is thought to have been founded by Ethelfleda in 915. A replacement was built in 1250 but, this building fell into disrepair and became dangerous and was demolished to be replaced by the current building in 1849. The church is a sandstone structure with a slate roof and has a square tower topped with an octagonal spire 49 metres tall.
We walked across Mersey Road to the landscaped area where the remains of the Transporter bridge landing stage is located. The grassy area is surrounded by railings with decorative fencing overlooking the water. A metre tall ships anchor is sited in the middle of the lawned area. Information boards display the history of the area and the wildlife of the estuary.
We walked under the huge freshly painted Silver Jubilee Bridge. The bridge has been closed to traffic for over two years while it has gone through extensive repairs and painting. When it reopens it will be a toll bridge as is the Mersey Gateway Bridge that opened as this bridge closed. The main steel arch is 330 metres long and is 87 metres above the river bed. A few metres from the road bridge is the railway bridge, the Ethelfleda Viaduct or the Britannia Bridge. This bridge was completed in 1868 with a wooden footbridge fixed to the side. The footway was closed in 1965 to pedestrians as the roadbridge was built with a walkway.
On leaving the bridge area we walked the short distance along Collier Street and onto Old Coach Road. A relatively new footpath takes you along the side of the Ship Canal until we came to Bottom Locks. This is the area where the Bridgewater Canal dropped down five locks to join the Manchester Ship Canal. The flight of ten locks, five up and five down, is a major project that will hopefully, reopen the link from Top to Bottom Locks.
The end of our walk was at Bridgewater House, a few metres from the bottom lack. It is a Grade II Listed Building and was constructed in 1771 for the Duke of Bridgewater when he was supervising the building of the canal. Through its history it has been used mainly as offices. During the Second World War it was used by the RAF as its Balloon headquarters. It is currently being used as an office block.
It was the end of our wander so, about turn and back to the car. It didn’t take long because my human wasn’t taking photographs every few minutes. If anyone reading this has any ideas for Runcorn walks that we could write about, leave your ideas in the comments section. Until next time!!