AROUND 60 canoeists recreated a historical paddle which changed the face of the Warwickshire waterways on Saturday (March 18).
Leaving from the Navigation Inn in Wootton Wawen, the flotilla passed over the Edstone Aqueduct on their way to Wilmcote. The journey replicated the one completed by two canoeists in March 1957 which subsequently led to the cancellation of a planned abandonment of the southern section of the waterway.
When John Pinder and Michael Fox paddled the same stretch of water 60 years ago, their toll-ticket was enough proof that there was a need for the canals to remain open and this enabled its well-documented restoration in the early 1960s.
It was the first canal restoration in the country and it was officially re-opened in 1964 by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. It ultimately became the template for the restoration of hundreds of miles of further derelict canals in the following decades and halted the abandonment of many others.
Members of British Canoeing, The Inland Waterways Association, the Stratford upon Avon Canal Society and the Canal & River Trust, completed the trip, accompanied by Geraldine Dahlke, daughter of the late Michael Fox, who had done parts of the original trip when she was eight-years-old. The trip was watched and supported by John Pinder.
Ben Seal, places to paddle manager at British Canoeing, said: “The canals are a really precious resource for canoeists and this event celebrates an extremely important journey in history.
“The actions of John and Michael 60 years ago has since ensured that tens of thousands of paddlers can enjoy everything these waterways have to offer.
“It’s fantastic to see so many paddlers out on the water today, commemorating this special place.”
Clive Henderson, chairman of the Stratford upon Avon Canal Society and one of the key organisers of the event, said: “The foresight of two of our Stratford Canal Society founder members to plan their canoe trip from Stratford to Lapworth 60 years ago soon proved that the canal was used, thus providing evidence preventing its closure and abandonment.
“This trip demonstrates the appreciation of many more than just the 60 paddlers fortunate enough to enjoy this beautiful waterway today.”
John Pinder, one of the original paddlers in 1957, went to the event and said he was delighted to see so many people enjoying the water.
“It was nice to see everyone out on the canal and commemorating the event,” he said. “I had no idea that our original trip would have such a positive impact on the area and that it would escalate to this scale. It is a marvel.”
Richard Parry, chief executive of the Canal & River Trust, was among the flotilla. He said: “It was a pleasure to take part in the paddle, and also a very poignant reminder that 60 years ago we nearly lost this canal.
“Thankfully a handful of people recognised the value of retaining this waterway and fought for it to remain open, laying the foundations for its subsequent restoration by dedicated volunteers.
“Whilst today the canal is open again, it’s great to see that people still have that same passion, with thousands of people regularly visiting and supporting our efforts to care for it.”