Thursday, 25 March 2010

Thoughts of Oak

Last week I wrote about my first real canal holiday aboard "Oak" a 12-berth, seventy-foot hire boat operated by what was then "Willow Wren Kearns" at Middlewich. Here's another photo from that trip
Oak, climbing "Heartbreak Hill" on the Trent and Mersey, 1972
In those days, a New Year Boat Trip was an annual event and Its more than likely that "Oak" was one of these two seventy-footers hired in 1977 for an abortive attempt to go round the Cheshire Ring, although I can't remember now why we couldn't complete it.
Is one of these boats climbing the Rochdale Nine in Manchester Oak?
Blog reader - and occasional Starcross crew member -  Mark from Oxford has sent me this photo he took on one of his own holidays aboard Oak, sometime in the early 1980s. Seen here at Wolverhampton Top Lock, by which time  Willow Wren Kearns had changed their livery from cream to green.
Oak at Wolverhampton 198?
In 1984, I was back on Oak myself, this time successfully completing the Cheshire Ring from Middlewich in a week during which we found time for a side trip to Runcorn.
Oak at Runcorn, Easter 1984
By this time Willow Wren Kearns had become "Middlewich Narrowboats" a name it still trades under today, although the livery has changed again to a lighter green. 

That was my last holiday on Oak, and almost my last holiday on a hire boat. The early Willow Wren boats, from both Middlewich and Rugby bases, were extremely primitive by modern standards. Rudimentary heating, sea toilets discharging directly into the cut, no hot water (except from the kettle), no shower and no separate starter batteries so that after a winter's evening with the lights on it was necessary to hand-crank the engine in the mornings, which was a three person job - one at each end of the engine with starting handles and a third to push the decompression taps over when it was spinning fast enough to fire!
But they were obviously built to last - and to survive the rigours of being used by inexperienced crews on badly-maintained canals and I know of at least three that are still in use today, including "Oak", which I spotted a year or two back at Henhull, just north of Nantwich on the Shropshire Union
Oak at Henhull in 2006, now in private ownership


charlie said...

hi, good article , brought back memories of my first trip on these boats, left school in 77, so must have been easter 1977 when we did the cheshire ring , two boats two teachers and an unruly gang of lads!



Helen said...

Wow! How nice to see your pictures. As you very correctly say these boats really were built to last! I live aboard one of oaks sisters - Rowan (1976). If you ever come across any pictures from your holidays that include her I would be really excited to see :-)
Thanks for posting