Over 1,000 visitors turned out to enjoy IWA Chester and Merseyside Branch’s boat rally to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the opening of the Chester Canal.  Organisers were concerned that, with a plethora of events in the area as the nation caught up after Covid, the public might go elsewhere.  However, on the day, after a great publicity campaign by IWA volunteers, the fears were dispelled, and the free event was widely enjoyed.

There were nine trading boats at the event, which pleased the organisers as they were all well patronised by the public.   Incredibly, so much so, that the pizza and cake stand trade boats sold out by Saturday evening, and had to restock for the Sunday visitors; (photo below).   The Saturday evening commercial BBQ stall holder was also delighted having only one burger and three sausages left at the close of the evening!

Blessed with improving weather and based around Tower Wharf close to the city centre, the opening ceremony featured Louise Gittins, leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council; (photo below).   The event had a waterways education programme for children, trade boats, live music and most popular of all was the local Aspara dance troupe and their pole dancing routine; (photo below).

Experts were on hand both to take visitors on guided tours of the historic inland port and to explain the role of the Chester Canal in the waterway network especially the Shropshire Union canal system from its opening in 1772 to present day.

Decision makers aware of the economic value of a waterway  

The event, possibly coming so soon after Chester was named as the first Historic Inland Port in the UK, attracted a number of senior people from Canal & River Trust, whilst councillors and the local MP, Chris Matheson, were also in attendance.

Jim Forkin, IWA Chester and Merseyside Branch chairman, said “Many towns across the nation seek ways of finding a new purpose for their town centres and envy those with a canal or want their derelict canal restoring.   Chester is incredibly fortunate having both a canal and a navigable river within the city centre.  The problem is that they are not joined up.   A relatively small amount of capital would provide a lock within the river Dee weir.  Then, after cleaning up the Dee branch, boats could once again navigate out onto the river.   They could cruise alongside the Welsh border with all the economic benefits that would bring.”

Volunteers worked tirelessly at the event, safely mooring some 30-plus narrow boats on Friday afternoon (photos below).   From 7.30am on Saturday they then erected gazebos, banners and marquees.   Unfortunately, several narrowboats failed to arrive, as the route they were taking was via the Anderton Boat Lift, which unexpectedly had to close for maintenance on the day they were expecting to be lowered down to the river Weaver.

Although primarily a celebration for the anniversary of the Chester Canal’s opening, three waterway restoration societies had stalls. They came from the Montgomery, Sankey and Manchester & Stockport canals, and met many people to promote their restoration proposals.