Runcorn Waterway Festival 2004

Water way to spend a day

  • 00:00, 23 July 2004
  • By Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News

BOAT enthusiasts sampled the spectacular delights of the 'Venice of the North' during the weekend's Runcorn Waterway Festival 2004 celebration.

Crowds gathered in the rain for the start of the three-day extravaganza, and even the weekend's indifferent weather failed to put a dampener on proceedings.

The long-awaited festival was the brainchild of the Chester & District branch of the Inland Water Ways Association (IWA) in a bid to revive a stretch of waterway in Halton that has largely gone unused in recent years.

But more importantly, the impressive fleet of canal boats - which totalled more than 100 - also played a vital role in the IWA's ongoing campaign to re-open Runcorn's locks since their closure in the 60s.

The vision is to both reopen and restore them to their former glory to coincide with the building of the proposed New Mersey Crossing

Rally secretary Lesley Taylor said the weekend's event had played a major role in highlighting the importance of restoring the borough's main canal routes.

She said: 'The festival show provides a great interest in this area, which is fantastic in terms of our campaign for the restoration of the Runcorn locks.

'It is important that we attract people back on to these waters as it will provide great benefits in the interests of tourism.'

Ron Evans, branch chairman of IWA, said: 'It would create two rings, one from the River Weaver towards the locks and the Anderton Lift, and the other down to the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum and through Cheshire.'

Over the years, Halton has become one of the country's leading attractions among boating enthusiasts and has hosted biennial boating events, including the Jubilee rally in 2002.

Saturday's journey started at Norton Priory, before transporting visitors to The Brindley arts centre.

And while this year's event proved a major attraction, next year's is expected to see more than 600 boats taking part.

Cllr Rob Polhill, who was present at the festival launch, hopes the re-opening of the locks will help give Halton a welcome boost, bringing it in line with Liverpool as a top tourist attraction.

He said: 'Reusing the waterways like this is marvellous for the area.

'I've also raised the possibility with the council of providing a regular canal trip for visitors from Norton Priory, as I think it would be really popular and bring more tourists into the area.'

Halton MP Derek Twigg, who also attended the festival, said: 'The Inland Water Ways Association does a great job and has gained a lot of support for its restorations project.

'It was my first trip on a narrow boat and I really enjoyed it.

'When you think of our history, Halton's waterways are very much a part of it.'

A number of rally activities took centre stage as boats were moored near The Brindley arts centre.

Music was provided by a brass band and activities were provided for the younger visitors, plus a dog show.

A guided walk was also organised by the IWA branch, and a tour of the historic Sprinch dockyard arranged by the Bridgewater Boat Club.

Entertainment was provided by Halton FM.

Later in the day, an award was unveiled by historian and former chairman of Cheshire County Council, Bill Leathwood, in recognition of IWA's campaigning success.

He joked that although some call Runcorn the 'Venice of the North,' he said the vision and imagination of the IWA 'was superb in gaining momentum behind the restoration project.'