Friday, 1 July 2016

Hailed on the towpath by a voice from the past

Life as a moorings warden for the CRT is full of interest but I was surprised yesterday morning to be hailed from a boat moored on the towpath at Lancaster's seven day moorings. I thought at first it would be a boater "expressing his opinion" about the work of the Trust but then I realised I was being addressed by name.

The boater concerned turned out to be someone I had boated with back in the 1970s on a succession of hire boats hired over the New Year holidays.  It wasn't quite a voice from the past as David had called in on us at Uplands Marina when we kept Starcross there in 2013 but that had been the first time we'd met in 40 years and this was now the second. David and his wife now live aboard their boat, spending the winter in a marina on the Kennet & Avon and the summers exploring the canal network, which is what had brought them to Lancaster.

Over a cup of tea, David showed me a document that he had on the boat, which he thought might interest me - and here it is.

Willow Wren Kearns was the former Middlewich operation of Willow Wren that had then been sold to the Kearns family. Boats can still be hired from their base today,the current operators being Middlewich Narrowboats.
The invoice is for one of two boats hired by our group that year. Interestingly it is clearly made out for "Oak" although the photos we have of the trip equally clearly identify the two boats as "Elm" and "Sycamore".  (Willow Wren's Middlewich boats were named after trees, the Rugby-based boats after birds).
The bill, for a week's hire, came to £141 plus £13.68 VAT (at 8%) but we had previously paid a deposit of £66 making the total for the week just over £220, including £25 deposit against damage. Shared 12 ways that would have been about £18 each!

There was another document enclosed: A letter from one member of the group who had had the responsibility of booking the boat and organising the financial arrangements.  Participants had been invited to make a contribution of £22 per person to include boat hire, damage deposit and food kitty. The damage deposit had been returned and there was £3.30 left in the food kitty. (It didn't include beer!).

The trip had been quite eventful. 1976 was a hard winter and after a few days battling with ice on the Macclesfield Canal the boats had got frozen in at Congleton on the way back. 
Elm and Sycamore frozen in at Congleton
Some of the crew had offered to return when the ice had thawed and return the boats to base. We saw this as a free holiday but Willow Wren Kearns obviously saw it as a favour and had generously knocked a further, precisely calculated, £10.80 off the hire price, meaning that a total of £6.86 was now being distributed to participants. Beer was about 15p a pint in 1976 so that would have been a very welcome sum.  You can read more about that trip here.

Interestingly, some of these old Willow Wren boats are still around - or at least they were 10 years ago when I snapped "Oak" (the boat we had originally booked in 1976) at Henhull on the Shroppie
Ex-Willow Wren "Oak" at Henhull in 2006
Happy Days, that have stayed with me ever since.

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