- After the success of the 1971-2 trip and the relative failure of the first Easter trip the society decided to return to the new year. Willow Wren had a sister company “Willow Wren Kearns” based in Middlewich and this provided a different area to explore. On the face of it we made a curious choice of route – eastwards to Fradley Junction then back to Middlewich and on to Preston Brook! Did we misjudge the timing coming back and have a couple of days in hand (unlikely on a 6 day trip) or were we forced to turn round early by that work on the lock gate at Fradley? (see photo’s). Duncan recalls we got stuck behind an old working boat on a then-infamous scour in Rugeley and that we went the “wrong way” through Harecastle Tunnel (i.e. nothbound in the afternoon). On the way to Preston Brook we hit dense fog in the area of the flashes just north of Middlewich. This necessitated a “spotter” on the bow, signalling to a “middleman” in the centre hatch who passed on info to the steerer as to which way to turn! The fog was still thick on the way back. Jim and Bernard had to return to Eccles to “sign on” one day, which they did by hitch-hiking. On the way back they made it in one lift – with a little old lady in a Morris Minor! They had arranged that the boats would not pass a certain bridge so that they could know where to start looking for them (no mobile phones in those days!) but in the fog the boats had overshot and Jim and Bernard came across them unexpectedly only minutes after joining the canal several bridges beyond the stopping point. It was on this trip where we came across a fleet of working boats at Preston Brook belonging to the Anderton Company. We were very excited by this at first, but the look of utter dejection on the faces of the boatpeople who stood in the hatches to watch us go by made me think that they must all have just heard that the company was closing down. They were now the past, we were the future. I couldn’t bring myself to take any photos – or even to acknowledge them as we passed.
- Dates: 30th December 1972 – 6th January 1973
- Boats: Oak and Elm from Willow Wren Kearns
- Oak: Andrew Barratt, Kris Brook, Peter Challis, Jim Davies, “Doc” Holliday, Ed Leetham, Hugh Mowat, Bernard Jordan, Duncan Roberts, Gwen Trippett, Sally the Dog.
- Elm: Richard Atkinson, Steve Bacon, Martin Bird, Mark Doran, Mike Piet, Andy, Jill, Nigel
- Route: Middlewich – Trent & Mersey to Fradley Junction and back to Middlewich, then Trent & Mersey to Preston Brook and back to Middlewich. Elm (only) extended this route, continuing to Huddlesford Junction and Runcorn.
- Pubs: First night in Wheelock. I think this was the time we visited the canalside Cheshire Cheese (Ansell’s) but when it got busy they refused to serve us as we were taking up too much room and we decamped to the Commercial Hotel, where we watched Monty Python on the telly.
- New Year’s Eve in Stone, (in a Joule’s pub).
- One night (westbound)in The Blue Bell,Kidsgrove (Ansells) where the landlady opened-up the back room specially for us.
Photos: Jim’s and Mike’s photos are on this Flickr link