Ilkeston on display at the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port, with Ferret. Her long journey is over, but you can visit the museum to see her.
Well, here I am, back home again and moored up alongside my old friend Ferret.
What a time I’ve had over the past four months! When I left Braithwaite and Kirk’s yard in 1912, I was just an ordinary working horse-boat and no one would have given me a second glance. So who would have thought that an old girl like me would have been turning heads and attracting so much attention in 2012, but then Dave, John, the trainees, and volunteers in the Heritage Boatyard have done such a wonderful job of restoring me to my former glory, and I must be special because I’m part of the National Collection.
It had been a long cherished dream of Martin and Mike that I should make the journey to London following my restoration, but how it could be achieved was another matter. To undertake such a journey under tow was no mean feat, requiring crews with experience and special expertise, and a too big a commitment to ask of one crew. Having put their thinking caps on, they came up with the idea that it could be achieved if it was done in relay in collaboration with other volunteer groups, and so came about the great partnership between the The Boat Museum Society, the London Canal Museum, The Canal Museum, Stoke Bruerne, and Rickmansworth Waterways Trust.
Having come up with the masterplan, they then needed to sort out the details of getting the volunteer crews, dates when they were available etc., and gradually the plan came together. As volunteer bodies, the support and co-operation of the National Waterways Museum and the Canal & River Trust was essential in bringing the plans to fruition.
The great concern at the beginning of the year was the problem of water shortages on the network and how this might impact on the journey – but then it rained, and how it rained! There was also a lot of rain during my journey and, with deadlines to meet, there could be no mooring up for the day until it stopped – my crews had to be up and away, just as it was when I was a working boat.
And another great thing about this journey is that I haven’t been towed by just any ordinary boats with engines – Radiant, Sculptor, Roger, Buckden and Bantam IV are all of historic significance as inland waterways boats.
But the big excitement for me was when I was towed by the horses – first Joshua, and then Buddy – just as I had been built to be. I can’t remember when I was last towed by a horse, and I don’t think anyone else knows either.
I have met so many people while I have been away, appeared on TV, inspired a song and a poem, met old friends and made many new ones, and have had hundreds, if not thousands, of photos taken of me. I have so many people to thank for making my journey possible and, as Steve mused the other day, it is probably impossible to know just how many people have been involved and contributed in some way to the success of this venture – thank you all.
But my special thanks have to go to the crews and the hufflers who have worked long days and in all weathers to get me to London and back, in safety, and on time, and to all the people behind the scenes who organised the publicity, events and VIPs that have made a major contribution to the success of my journey.
Time now for me to catch up on my beauty sleep during the winter months but don’t be afraid of disturbing me, I’d love to have you come and visit.
THE BOAT MUSEUM SOCIETY
THE LONDON CANAL MUSEUM
THE CANAL MUSEUM, STOKE BRUERNE
RICKMANSWORTH WATERWAYS TRUST
NATIONAL WATERWAYS MUSEUM
CANAL & RIVER TRUST
Sunday was a great boating day to finish the trip. Other than the frowns of an unhappy group of anglers, it was good to see so many people walking along the towpath enjoying the canal and the fresh sunny air, particularly families with young children who all wanted to wave at Ilkeston and, where speed and opportunity presented itself, receive the Ilkeston leaflet.
Most of the last few miles of the trip was spent preparing the boat, washing down the outside, cleaning the cabin and doing the brasses. Blowing up the balloons was accomplished very easily once we had read the instructions! The brief wait near the winding hole gave us time for a quick brew and to cool down the fire in Ilkeston. It was an impressive sight to see the flotilla coming out to meet us and lots of lively banter made the whole thing a lovely experience. Much conversation revolved around the technicalities of releasing the balloons, who when and how. It seemed bizarre that after such a complicated trip we struggled to sort it out - perhaps a little fatigue was setting in and the pressures of public performance starting to weigh heavily on us.
The Mayor had arrived. The starting gun went off, we moved gracefully towards the Museum, Ilkeston bringing up the rear, under the last bridge, already we could hear the cheering and the hooters of the other boats, the steam whistle from the boiler house, and Bill from the boiler house playing a jazzy snare drum (yes, a snare drum - I thought it was a bit strange as well!). Right on cue, the balloons were floating into the air - after all the planning I hardly noticed as we concentrated on steering Ilkeston into the bank, trying to look calm and competent.
The crowds were a bit of a shock, I hadn’t expected so many people, and soon we were engrossed in the formalities of the welcome speeches, cake to be eaten, and showing the VIPs around the boat. We were a motley looking crew, lack of showers, six days of sulphurous coal smoke, and our recent cleaning duties had left us looking slightly less than pristine, but somehow that didn’t seem to matter, although I noticed sensible people engaging in conversation with us managed to manoeuvre themselves upwind!
Sneaking away for a pint from the bar of the Beer Festival (and noticing that most of the barrels were saying ‘sold out’) the tiredness started to set in. The early mornings and long days, enjoyable as they had been, had taken their toll. Back to the boat to get our personal gear, and a chance to meet ‘Dave and Mack’ who had been the Ilkeston crew with Sue and John up to Birmingham. We exchanged reminiscences, joined in the shared misery we had experienced trying to sleep in the bedhole on Ilkeston, the difficulties of lighting the fire, the number of times Dave and I had knocked our heads on the cabin beam, but agreed it had been a great experience.
Monday morning, we woke up in our comfy bed at home. A marvellous night’s sleep in a bed that is actually bigger than the entire Ilkeston cabin! We had a cup of tea that only took 30 seconds to make, then stood under a hot shower until the water started to run cold!
(from right to left) Mack and Dave, the crew from London to Birmingham, and Anita and Steve, the crew from Birmingham to Ellesmere Port.
John and Sue, the intrepid couple who travelled down to London on Buckden to collect Ilkeston and then brought her all the way back.
No brass band, but we did have Morris Men, a ukelele band, and a good crowd to welcome Ilkeston back home this afternoon.
It seems to have been a week of accidents - first Sue (of Buckden) having hurt her wrist, then huffler Sue on Friday hurt her ankle, then Will (who would have skippered Worcester today) came off his bike yesterday - so no Worcester to tow Ilkeston back into the Museum. But, in hindsight, it was only right and proper that, having towed Ilkeston all the way from the London Canal Museum, Sue and John on Buckden should have had the honour of bringing her back into the Museum.
In keeping with the magnificent organisation that has been a feature of this journey, Ilkeston and Buckden were ahead of schedule, and so paused at the winding hole until they got the call to say that Angela Claydon, Past Mayor of Ellesmere Port had arrived to welcome Ilkeston back home.
A small flotilla of Museum boats travelled to the winding hole to escort Ilkeston back into her home, to the sound of boat horns, and the release of balloons from Ilkeston’s hold.
In addition to Ilkeston’s return home and her 100th birthday, we were also celebrating the 100th birthday of Worcester, the tunnel tug. Sue James had made two magnificent birthday cakes so, after speeches by Angela Claydon, John Inch (General Manager of the NWM) and Di Skilbeck MBE (President of the Boat Museum Society), the two cakes were cut ceremonially by Angela Claydon and Di, and then enjoyed by everyone.
John (skipper of Buckden and part-time diesel fitter) said a few words as well and shared a some statistics regarding Ilkeston’s return journey - 229 miles and 5 furlongs travelled, 226 locks negotiated, and 114 boating hours worked by the crews. As the outward journey had taken ‘the scenic route’, he estimated that Ilkeston’s round trip had been one of 489 miles and 1 furlong! (John works in ‘old money’ as you can tell!)
It was a great afternoon.
After a hot bath, meal, and a good night’s sleep, Ilkeston’s crew will be adding their view of the homecoming.
Last evening was full of drama. On Wednesday, Sue (of Buckden) had banged her wrist on the tiller and, despite powerful painkillers, it was refusing to improve. The decision was made that she should visit A & E - luckily the presence of Bob, with his car, saved the day. It’s always a worrying time but us British are at our best at such times - we went to the pub!
After only an hour or so, Sue was back with us, x-rays completed and a clean bill of health - nothing broken. We have put her on light duties today - she’s only allowed to make tea and wash up!
We rose again at 06.45 today, to find the boats covered in ice: care would be needed on locks and climbing around the boats. One team member down, this could be a difficult day. Then as we untied the ropes - the cavalry arrived - Will and Richard who had been up since 05.00 to get here. What a great team and so very welcome.
The Chester locks were negotiated with amazing speed and soon we were on the home straight. Now the real work begins to get the boat ready to arrive in style.
The last lock of the day done and dusted, and now just the long pound on to Chester before we finish for the day.
Dave Morris, the Saturday CRT volunteer, helped us through the locks at Bunbury. We were held up for 30 minutes with a diesel leak but our ‘diesel fitter’ John soon sorted out the problem, but not without some help from a really nice guy on a boat moored nearby who loaned us a couple of tools.
And another thank you, to Bob from the Saturn Group, who pitched up today and to take some photos and help us through the locks.