All Aboard at Norbury Junction

With an eye on the weather forecast (which was threatening rain), some 23 members of the club arrived at Norbury Junction Wharf to meet Phil Jones of the Shrewsbury and Newport Canals Trust who, when he came to talk at a meeting at The Buckatree, had invited us to see the narrowboats he and his team are restoring to eventually berth at Wappenshall which we had already visited.

The sun came out to welcome us as Phil walked us across the wharf to where the Canal and River Trust has provided them with canal-side space to work on the two boats, Berkhampstead and Bainton. He told us that the one nearest us, the Berkhampstead, was the “butty”, a narrowboat the same as all the others “but” it has no engine! They were designed as a pair with the Bainton as its engined lead boat. They were built by Harland & Wolff in 1936 at Woolwich, London and were lease-gifted to S&NCT by their former owner, Roger White, who hadn’t used them for 15 years or more but wanted to see them restored & used. They had long been moored at Weedon, Northamptonshire and this piece shows their preparation to depart for Norbury Junction in March 2020.

Sadly, Covid intervened mid journey & they had to be moored up at Alvecote near Tamworth for 5 months before the 2nd leg could be completed in Aug.2020. Here’s a clip of that journey :- (You can “skip” the ads after a few seconds!)

Phil told us how they had to remove all the old tarpaulin covers before setting off not only because they were badly perished but also they were catching the wind, hampering the steering and, presumably, none of the volunteers had any experience of steering a pair of 71ft boats. Since arriving at Norbury Junction, they have also removed all the canopy timbers and done some welding to get their Boat Safety certification (like an MOT). Some of the work & painting necessitated use of the “dry dock” (which Phil kindly walked us over to see). Volunteers have also refurbished the butty’s cabin which the braver among us clambered over step-ladders into the butty to have a look at. They will soon be working on the Bainton’s cabin while the engine is out for an overhaul. After Phil’s interesting talk, we walked back to the Tea Room/Café for our wholesome lunch which we all seemed to enjoy then, after our walk around the junction, we were offered a 1 hour cruise.

As there was some confusion about what time we would depart, it was a little later than Phil and I had anticipated so some members had to leave beforehand but, just after 3pm, we got away then got back just after 4pm. We saw the interesting two storey “telegraph pole” bridge which Thomas Telford designed so that he could erect a telegraph pole over the canal but under the main bridge so that the cables could cross the canal without going to an extreme height to go over the road. We also saw a heron and some interesting, moored narrowboats while availing ourselves of the on-board café/bar.

All very enjoyable. Amazingly, the little rain we did see fell mainly while we were on board the cruise and the sun came back out as we disembarked. President Tom thanked Phil and the boat crew before we left to go home. A very pleasant day, Thanks Vic for the organisation and this report and to David for the photographs

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