Mersey Gateway

The Mersey Gateway project will provide a new road link to relive pressure on the existing road bridge at Runcorn. It’s being constructed to the east of the existing bridge, and scheduled for completion in late 2017.

Can you identify the four navigable waterways the route will cross – there’s a clue for one of them in the title of this post.

Runcorn Road Bridge
Runcorn Road Bridge

This is the iconic road bridge that carries all the road traffic across the River Mersey at Runcorn today but it’s very congested, especially around the rush hours. You can just see the parallel rail bridge behind.  These bridges also cross the Manchester Ship Canal.

It’s the approach roads to this road bridge that block the line of the Bridgewater Canal at Runcorn Locks.  It’s hoped that, when the Mersey Gateway Bridge is opened, that realignment or modification of the existing approach roads will permit re-opening of those locks.

Mersey Gateway Bridge - Under Construction
Mersey Gateway Bridge – Under Construction

Taken from the existing (old) road bridge this shows how wide the River Mersey (Waterway 1) is, and how little water it carries at low tide, with the many sandbanks that make navigation difficult.  Across the centre of the photo is a temporary causeway linking the piers with tower cranes on them which are building the new Mersey Gateway Bridge.  Running along the right hand edge of the river is the Manchester Ship Canal (Waterway 2).

Mersey Gateway Bridge - Under Construction
Mersey Gateway Bridge – Under Construction

A closer view shows the northern pier and the tower crane starting it’s construction.  The temporary causeway linking this to the north bank of the Mersey is visible too.  In the background are the cooling towers of Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station.

Bridgewater Canal crossing for the Mersey Gateway route
Bridgewater Canal crossing for the Mersey Gateway route

To the south of the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal the Mersey Gateway route will cross the Bridgewater Canal (Waterway 3) and construction of this bridge is well in hand.  It’s already shown on my maps and I wonder how long before others show this new bridge.

Mersey Gateway route crosses the Bridgewater Canal
Mersey Gateway route crosses the Bridgewater Canal

The towpath and navigation of the Bridgewater Canal remain open most of the time, with short temporary closures for critical phases of work on the bridge.

That’s three waterways named. Have you identified the fourth?

That’s to the north of the River Mersey

Views along the River Mersey show the Runcorn Road and Rail bridges beyond the Mersey Gateway Bridge being constructed
Views along the River Mersey show the Runcorn Road and Rail bridges beyond the Mersey Gateway Bridge being constructed

There’s no pictures of the bridge work over the fourth waterway yet – this is the nearest I can get to take a photo.  The Mersey Gateway will continue north (to the right in this photo) and cross the St Helens Canal (Waterway 4).

Well done if you identified the four waterways before reading this far down the post.  You will have realised these are (from North to South):

Mersey Gateway Map
Extract from England & Wales map showing the Mersey Gateway

The Mersey Gateway is shown on my England & Wales waterway maps, and the individual maps for the Bridgewater Canal and the St Helens Canal.

St Helens Canal

History

The St Helens Canal ran from the River Mersey near Warrington to reach the outskirts of St Helens.  It’s sometimes known as the Sankey Canal as it used the line of the Sankey Brook in places. The broad locks enabled the barges already in use on the River Mersey to reach the Lancashire Coalfields.

The main line of the St Helens Canal was open by 1757, pre-dating the Bridgewater Canal by at least six years despite many claims that the Bridgewater Canal was the first.  Over the next twenty years four branches extended the St Helens Canal to reach the centre of St Helens and an extension of the main line reached Widnes.

Route of the St Helens Canal
Route of the St Helens Canal

The far end of the Ravenhead Branch was filled in over 100 years ago and gradual decline led to official abandonment of the canal in 1963.

Proposals for restoration face many obstacles but progress is already being made with the Linking the Locks project, restoring the line between the locks to the River Mersey at Widnes and Fiddler’s Ferry, with more information on the website of the Sankey Canal Restoration Society.

Maps of the St Helens Canal

Extract from St Helens Canal Map
Extract from St Helens Canal Map

There are detailed maps of the St Helens Canal on my website, available for download in Acrobat (pdf) and Memory-Map (qct) formats.  Like all maps for restoration projects they are free to download.

Virtual Cruise of the St Helens Canal

You can also take a virtual cruise along the St Helens Canal and its branches.

Newton Common Lock
Newton Common Lock

Select your starting point and click on the Next links to see the canals as they are today.

Entrance to the St Helens Canal

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Entrance Lock for the St Helens Canal
Entrance Lock for the St Helens Canal

The entrance lock to the St Helens Canal from the tidal River Mersey is only useable near high tide.

There were once a pair of locks here and the position of the derelict left hand lock is easily identifiable.

Waterway and Kilometerage HELENS 00.000.02
OS Grid Reference SJ 51375 84062
Date and Time 151229 105818
Copyright © Paul Balmer

Top Gates and Paddle Gear

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Top gates and paddle gear at the St Helens Canal entrance lock
Top gates and paddle gear at the St Helens Canal entrance lock

The entrance lock is in full working order and available for use when the tide is in.  A well used footpath runs across the top gate.  The fencing on the right of the photo is for safety, stopping people falling into the lock which is deep and muddy when empty.

Waterway and Kilometerage HELENS 00.045.04
OS Grid Reference SJ 51367 84210
Date and Time 151229 110132
Copyright © Paul Balmer

Above the Entrance Lock

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Above the Entrance Lock of the St Helens Canal
Above the Entrance Lock of the St Helens Canal

The canal is open for the first 600m and the centre of the canal is used for two lines of moorings for boats which go sailing on the River Mersey.  There are plans to re-open the rest of the canal in stages.

Waterway and Kilometerage HELENS 00.050
OS Grid Reference SJ 51365 84212
Date and Time 151229 105944
Copyright © Paul Balmer

Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station

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Fiddler's Ferry Power Station sits next to the canal
Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station sits next to the canal

Fiddler’s Ferry Power station sits near the canal.  A freight only railway line runs parallel to the canal and is used to bring coal to the power station.  A redundant signal post is still visible.

Waterway and Kilometerage HELENS 01.790.02
OS Grid Reference SJ 52685 85058
Date and Time 151229 112855
Copyright © Paul Balmer

Mersey Gateway Bridge

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Views along the River Mersey show the Mersey Gateway Bridge under construction
Views along the River Mersey show the Mersey Gateway Bridge under construction

The St Helens Canal runs close to the tidal River Mersey for the first 8 km (5 miles).  Looking to the west we can see the three cranes starting to build the new Mersey Gateway Bridge, due for completion in late 2017, with the arch of the existing Runcorn Bridge in the background.

Waterway and Kilometerage HELENS 02.370.01
OS Grid Reference SJ 53248 85213
Date and Time 151229 113633
Copyright © Paul Balmer