A group of volunteers who work to maintain the Erewash Canal is gearing up for a special three-day celebration over the Bank Holiday weekend, May 26-28.
The Erewash Canal Preservation and Development Association is marking its own 50th anniversary this year, and the 45th anniversary of its first milestone project.
Spokesman Paul King said: “It will be a great free day for all the family filled with entertainment, food, trade stalls,a miniature steam engine rally and opportunity to learn about what we do and the projects we’re involved with.
“We have around 85 boats travelling from all over the country, and we’re hoping to welcome them with a good turnout of local residents.”
The highlights of a packed programme include live music, real ales, children’s activities, guided walks, museum tours and flypasts by Second World War aircraft. The festival is centred on the Great Northern Basin at Langley Mill, which was reopened in 1973 after five years of work by the association’s founding members, some of whom are still involved to this day.
Paul said: “The group was established in January 1968 in Long Eaton after British Waterways decided to close the canal – which had only survived that long because of Stanton Ironworks.
“One of the first things they did was go up to Langley Mill, where they found the basin totally derelict. The lock cottage had been bulldozed into the canal.
“It took a great deal of work for them to clear it out and restore the locks and the swing bridge, but it’s probably the most important project the association ever undertook.
“If the top end of the canal hadn’t been reopened, there would have ben no point cruising up canal, and now there is a thriving boatyard and a community of people who moor their boats here.”
Historically, Langley Mill served as the meeting point of the Erewash, Cromford and Nottingham canals, with the latter two having been shuttered around the time British Waterways abandoned the Erewash.
Change could be sailing over the horizon, however, as plans are being made to stretch the canal north-west once again.
Paul said: “The Friends of Cromford Canal will be at the festival talking about their plans. The restoration could not follow the original line, but a lot of work has been done on the plans already.
“If planning permission can be secured for a way to cross the A610, then things will start moving quickly.”
The association’s own works typically progress at a more sedate pace, but in recent years they have helped restore heritage canal buildings including a Victorian pump house and Sandiacre lock cottage.
Paul said: “We have about 200 members all in all, and a regular weekly working party of about 15 people who get together and do routine maintenance like cutting the weeds back and clearing debris.
“Not so long ago, we bought our own boat, the Pentland, and restored it over six months. One of our members did all the welding, others stripped and built the engine, and we put it into the water for the first time this month, so now we can actually work on both banks of the canal.”
There has certainly been enough work to keep Paul busy since his retirement from working at the Imperial Leather soap factory.
He said: “I was looking for things to do, and I’d been on a few family canal holidays, so I thought this might be something good to get involved in.
“I’m 68 now, and one of the youngest members of the group, so hopefully the weekend event will reach new generations who can continue our work in the future.”
n For full programme details for the Bank Holiday, plus more information about the association and its work, visit https://goo.gl/YRe1xf.