Cheshire Walks - Northwich Heritage walk
PUBLISHED: 12:05 08 November 2011 | UPDATED: 12:00 09 October 2012
Seasoned walker Keith Carter describes a walk from Northwich, the old centre of Cheshire's salt industry
The suffix wich, as in Nantwich, Middlewich and Northwich, is said to derive from a salt-pit or group of buildings where salt is produced. Salt was for centuries the main industry in all three towns even as far back as Roman times. It is held that Roman soldiers were paid in salt and the word salary comes from salarium.
Today salt production in Cheshire is confined to Middlewich where British Salts factory producing table salt has been recently acquired by the Indian-owned conglomerate Tata Chemicals. The history of salt can be studied in the Salt Museum in Northwich reminding us of how white gold has helped to shape civilization.
1 Our walk this month starts from Northwich and makes use of a fine path/cycle way along the River Weaver known to canal users as the Weaver Navigation. By linking the canal system to the Manchester Ship Canal and the Mersey Estuary by dredging the river made access possible to the open sea necessary for transporting cargoes of all kinds, mainly salt, to the wider world.
Today this is no longer economically viable and the Weaver is used solely by pleasure craft although their owners have to be dedicated to include it in their adventures on the Cheshire Ring.
As long as not too many of us turn up at once, a good place to park to do this walk is on Weir Street, a side road and cul-de-sac off the A533 road out of Northwich just before you come to the prominent railway viaduct. There is kerbside parking here and we start by walking under the viaduct on the surfaced cycle way leading down to the River Weaver.
2 Keep left with the river on your right, soon crossing the slipway of the Rowing Club and signs of boating activity on the far bank where various vessels are moored, some of them like the rusty tug, tied up there permanently. Northwich was known as a shipbuilding centre and a few vestiges remain in the boat yards we can see across the river. We pass under Hartford Bridge carrying the A556 followed by the railway bridge taking the West Coast Main Line across the river.
This is a lovely stretch of riverside walking with opportunities for wildlife spotting. If birds spark your interest, the lock keepers at the Vale Royal Locks are keen bird watchers and have a board on which recent sightings are posted up. When we passed by there had been sightings of a hobby, a falcon a bit like a peregrine, which has an appetite for dragonflies. We didnt see it but were intrigued by the sight of three buzzards soaring above and calling to each other with their distinctive cries.
The locks are of considerable interest, too. Up to 30 narrow boats can be packed in at once, a necessary measure at busy times when you consider that a million gallons of water is displaced at each operation of the lock gates. The lock-keeper has a useful website for anyone wanting to know more about the Weaver Navigation, www.weaver.britainswaterways.co.uk.
3 Beyond the locks we leave the river by a path on the left to climb a brow, then take a path between two unfenced fields and leads to a bridge over the railway. On coming to a junction of paths with a helpful signpost we keep left towards Northwich, a distance of four miles. The path becomes surfaced and we join a lane and walk through housing to a T-junction where we turn right and walk into the village of Davenham.
Regular readers will recall that I wrote up a walk from here in the June issue of Cheshire Life. On my last visit we visited the Oddfellows Arms so to keep a balance this time we went in to the Bulls Head, showing strict impartiality you understand. Both are well up to standard.
4 Leave Davenham by way of Church Street past the church and cross the high bridge over the Winsford road. On the far side a permissive path has been established, accessed via a gate in the hedge on the left, just past the entrance to a fisheries depot.
This gate was padlocked when we tried to use it, the path closed because of a herd of cows grazing in the field so we had to stay on the lane as far as Shipbrook bridge. On the other side a further gate on the left, not locked Im glad to say, puts us on a footpath which heads to the apex of a hedge then keeps along it to where a stile is found overshadowed by hawthorn bushes.
Cross it and head up a brow to find a further stile giving access to a field of clover in full bloom in early September, a lovely haze of pink with the soft hum of bees in the background. A stile then deposits us on a lane where we turn left and walk along it until it meets a horrendous dual carriageway with traffic competing for the land speed record. This has unfortunately to be crossed and you may have to wait some time until a gap opens up enabling you to scurry across, your heart in your mouth. The lane almost opposite is the way forward, passing Rudheath Cemetery on the left which makes you glad you managed to get across that road in one piece.
5 Continue on the lane until you come to where it crosses a stream. You cant really call it a bridge. A footpath departs on the left via a galvanised kissing gate, the first of several on this next section. This path joins a track and we continue to the left beside a meandering river until we find a mere in front of us and the track ending in a turning place.
6 Take a path to the right of the mere and follow it with the railway embankment on your right. At a bend in the river we go through another of those kissing gates and at the next fork ignore a path that goes off right under the railway. Keep ahead until you meet a well-made path and follow left to where this path curves up to where an avenue with bungalows either side of it appears. Go down this avenue and take the next left then left again where a sign indicates the way to the town centre.
This is Manor Road which runs parallel to the railway line and leads back into Northwich. Once past the park, go under the viaduct, continue along the river, over an iron footbridge, across the road at a pedestrian crossing and youre back where we started.
Area of walk: Northwich and the Weaver
Distance: 7 miles
Time to allow: 4-5 hours
Map: OS Explorer 267 Northwich and Delamere Forest
Refreshment: Pubs in Davenham, cafes and pubs in Northwich
Wheelchair and pushchair friendly? Yes, for the first half.
Further reading: Salt, A World History by Mark Kurlansky