Every year there is a gathering of historic narrow boats at Ellesmere Port, where the Shropshire Union Canal joins the Manchester Ship Canal. The warehouses here are now one of the Canal and River Trust’s Boat Museums, and the Waterways archives are held here.
We’d not attended one of these gatherings since we went up by train in 2010, and stayed in Chertsey‘s hold in our tent which has still never been pitched on land. This time we were to be staying in the hold of our friends’ new old butty Betelgeuse. They’ve only owned it 7 months but have made some incredible progress, creating a removable “pod” in the empty hold which houses a very nice bathroom and living room, to provide social space and a shower whilst they continue to mainly live in the butty’s back cabin, along with their cat Max.
We drove up from Cambridge on Sunday morning and were pleased to find virtually no traffic, meaning that we made it in about three hours, including a break, arriving in time for the Boaters’ Games, which was a lot of fun, involving mostly rope throwing skills. The sun came out in the afternoon and we went on a little pootle to the winding hole and back, with Mike’s Victoria towing Betelgeuse, but mostly just spent time wandering about, catching up with friends. The evening saw the Boaters’ entertainment, with singing, music, and for the first time, contemporary poetry!
On Monday after an excellent breakfast cooked on Betelgeuse‘s back cabin range we decided to explore the waterways archives, which was very interesting indeed. As well as Willow‘s BCN gauging record, we found a transcript of the Ellesmere Port Toll Clerk’s register, showing that on August 12th 1949, Willow was at Ellesmere Port paired with sister boat Elm, and between them they were loaded with 44 tons of flour from King’s flour mill, bound for Wolverhampton, carrying for the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive. This is the first reference we’ve ever found to Willow actually carrying a specific load, so we were very excited to find it!
Later on we spoke to the Carter family who have very recently purchased Willow‘s sister boat Ash, which was at Norton Canes last time we saw it. The boat was owned by their family in the 1960s so it has gone to a very good home. It’s not often that Severner owners get together so it was great to have the chance to have a properly geeky chat with Reuben and Mike. All too soon we started the lengthy process of saying our goodbyes (this took the better part of an hour!) and heading back down the M6.