Tuesday, 26 August 2008

IWA National Festival

Monday 25th August 2008
Autherley Junction

The 2008 Inland Waterways Association (IWA) National Festival was in our backyard this year, billing itself as "The Black Country Festival" and located for the first time in Pendeford Park alongside Autherley Junction, where the Staffs and Worcester / Shropshire Union canals meet.

We had planned a family visit on the Sunday but a mutinous crew and threatening storm clouds undermined the idea. However, Bank Holiday Monday found the Captain with an unexpected day of solitary shore leave. Having spent the morning fixing a failed bilge pump on Wand'ring Bark, the sun came out and I made a spur of the moment decision to make a pilgrimage to the Festival.

Whilst I had travelled through the junction dozens of time on the water I had absolutely no idea how to find it by road and has to resort to my trusty Birmingham A-Z. (GPS hasn't featured on Captain Ahan's radar just yet). I found myself directed to a free park and ride service form the Birmingham Midshires base on Pendeford Business Park and was quickly and painlessly moved to the showground - an impressive start.

As this was my first "National" I didn't really know what to expect. The crew of the Robber Button had visited on Saturday and warned of excessive mud, but the warm winds had dried the site considerably. My benchmark was the 2007 Crick boat show and it was pleasing to find that whilst boat sales and hardware formed an element, the main focus was on the people aspects of the waterways. By this I mean that a broad spectrum of waterway activities were represented, all the way from Cooking demonstrations to a stand explaining the work of the Boaters Christian Fellowship (BCF) whose badges adorn so many portholes. In addition there were stands and displays for many waterway associations and interest groups around the country.

I was particularly interested in the work of the Birmingham Canal Navigation Society (BCNS) and the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Resroration Trust who are working on projects in our immediate area. I was made particularly welcome on the L&H stand where my wallet was opened to support their raffle and, having expressed more than a passing interest in their work was quickly enrolled as a member for the princely sum of £10. Much to my surprise I later received a call from Bob Williams, the Chairman to say that as I was the 2000th member I have been awarded free lifetime membership, complete with publicity shots for their forthcoming magazine! They graciously offered me my £10 back but I declined, as my aim was to give something to them rather than visa versa. I have a feeling that my relationship with this particular body will deepen over time and my free life membership could cost me dear....

As for the rest of the show, I enjoyed the two hours I had available and the event would have sustained my interest for much longer if I had the time. I made a point of wandering down the towpath to have a good look at the historic boat display which was really interesting. This featured about 25 ex working boats in all states of repair. My favourites had to be the steamer, President with Kildaire in tow. I regularly encounter these boats at the Black Country Living Museum but it was great to see her in steam complete with an enthusiastic crew, all done up in character.

My lasting image will be the hundreds of boats at Autherley Junction, a sight I will probably never see again. I am more used to seeing this stretch on a cold and blustery October day with sleet slicing across the cut and not another boat in sight.

Well done IWA. A cracking festival and you got lucky with the weather this year!

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