The pair of historic working boats donated to the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal Trust have just completed the first stage of their journey from the Grand Union Canal in Northamptonshire to the Shropshire Union Canal – thanks to a team of volunteers working and sleeping on the boats over three days.
It was the first proper trip in more than ten years for the Big Woolwich pair Bainton and Berkhamsted and took in four flights of locks and a couple of tunnels, one over a mile in length.
The first day was taken up with preparing the vessels. The boats, built in 1936 by Harland and Wolff, travelled up the broad locks of the Buckby flight before travelling through Braunston Tunnel and down the Braunston flight of locks. The four-person crew from the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal Trust finally stopped for the second night at Newbold, near Rugby.
An early start on the final day of this stage saw the boats travel from the North Oxford canal, around the hairpin bend at Hawksbury Junction and onto the Coventry canal.
From the start the day was wet, cold and miserable and the crews quickly became soaked, so by the time the long flight of 11 narrow locks at at Atherstone came into view the journey had become more of a slog than a pleasure.
Working a pair of boats through a lock flight means doubling up with everything. Each lock has to be filled and emptied twice and it is often easier to bow-haul the butty boat rather than hook it up to the motor boat in short pounds between the locks.
Another volunteer joined the crews at Atherstone, making the descent a little easier, and there was some initial help on the first few locks from Canal and River Trust volunteer lock keepers.
The locks at Atherstone run through the town and then out into the countryside, ending in open countryside, after passing the massive Aldi supermarket warehouse and head office, bustling with lorries, trying to keep up with the demand caused by the Coronavirus crisis.
Once beyond the locks, the boats and their crews still had another couple of hours cruising before reaching the marina at Alvecote where the boats can be safely left for a week or two.
Decisions on the final stage of the move – along the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal into Birmingham, through to Wolverhampton and dropping down 21 locks onto the Shropshire Union Canal before going on to Norbury Junction where the initial phases of the restoration will begin – will be made in light of the development of the Coronavirus crisis.
The boats are to play a key role in the plans to restore the Shrewsbury and Newport canals, although, sadly, they will no longer become the stars of the Trust’s annual May Day Festival at Norbury Junction as it has had to be cancelled because of the pandemic.
In the longer term, the Canal Trust plans to have teams of volunteers working on the restoration of the boats, under expert supervision, and to use them as part of it’s educational programme.

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