Reviewed by Cathy Porteus
The National Waterways Museum is located in the old canal docks at Ellesmere Port. There is a collection of historic boats moored up amongst the docks and locks, which my son was interested in, particularly those that looked like they might be in danger of sinking!
Both inside and outside, there were informative displays explaining the history of the waterways. In the Porter’s Row Cottages, there were interiors from different decades starting from 1830 up to the 1950s.This was a good opportunity to explain to the children how houses and the way we live have changed in recent history. A costumed character was helping another visitor try to pick out a tune on a piano and answering questions on the exhibits.
The boat trip down the Shropshire Union canal was very interesting, as the tour guide Mark gave a detailed commentary about the history and local scenery. There was also an opportunity to ask questions, although this was limited, partly because the talk filled the whole journey, perhaps leaving out a few bits would give the audience more of a chance to make any queries that came up. We’re quite seasoned canal boaters but I still learnt something and the historic details gave us ideas for what to look for on future voyages, e.g. how the cotton ropes could pick up debris and then rub away the bridge edges from the towpath.
My children were interested in having a look round the stables, as we’d been told that up to 300 horses would have been stabled there in the past, on our boat trip. They had a good poke around some loose boxes and I read the displays, learning that boat people often preferred a mule to pull their boats, as they combined the best qualities of a horse and donkey. The Power Hall and Pump House didn’t interest us as much but would appeal to visitors who are more interested in engines and machinery. Outside these buildings there is a pleasant area to sit, with picnic benches. There is also a wooden play frame shaped like a narrowboat, which my son played in happily.
The Island Warehouse teaches visitors about how boats were built and there are cut away examples of canal boats to explore. There were displays with mannequins dressed as canal workers, with audio exhibits explaining about life on the waterways.
My son’s favourite part of the museum was the play area on the first floor of the warehouse. There’s a great soft play mountain of blocks that can be built into a narrowboat, complete with cargo. My son and another little boy had a lovely time building and knocking down the blocks, which was safely contained in a cushioned area. There is also a craft area adjacent, where my daughter enjoyed creating a bat and Halloween mask covered with glitter. There weren’t any staff in this area when we visited but the craft activity was self-explanatory so this didn’t affect our fun. Off to one side, there was another play area for smaller children behind a gate, meaning any toddlers could play safely too.
The café has a good selection of drinks, cakes and sandwiches as well as some hot food. The prices were quite reasonable for a tourist attraction, with a meal deal of soup and sandwich priced at £5. We had 2 cakes and 4 drinks for just over £9, which seemed a fair price. The shop had souvenirs and gift items for all price ranges; it was easy to find a small treat to buy for the children as well as there being some nice canal themed items for adults.
I’ve visited the Waterways Museum a couple of times before and would recommend it to families, particularly those where the children are interested in history. Despite visiting at half term, the museum was quiet, which seems a shame as it’s an interesting place to look around. All staff were happy to help and knowledgeable. There is ample free parking and the location is very near to the M53, making it easy to get to by road, or of course by canal.
There are visitor moorings in the upper basin, or overnight mooring is available at the lower basin, for a charge, see the CRT website for further information. There is a waterpoint, Elsan pump out and refuse facilities available for visiting boaters.
Tickets cost from £4.95 to £21.
For more information visit https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/national-waterways-museum.
National Waterways Museum, South Pier Road, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, CH65 4FW