Summer horse boating displays in Worksop

BOAT horse Charlie, who achieved TV fame on Countryfile in May, will be hauling Dawn Rose at Worksop on several Sundays over the summer.

The only Chesterfield Canal ‘cuckoo boat’ in existence will be towed between the winding holes below Stret Lock and opposite Sandhill Lake (Godfrey’s Pond), passing through Morse Lock. Stret Lock is alongside the Lock Keeper pub (S81 1TJ).

Displays will take place on Sundays July 21, August 4, 25, September 8 and 29, all between 12noon and 3pm.

Filming Countryfile with BBC presenter Matt Baker.

Charlie was walked by Countryfile presenter Matt Baker during the recent broadcast coinciding with the Chesterfield Canal Trust’s annual boat pull. The horse’s owner, Dean Pearce, has been training him for many months, originally pulling a railway sleeper.

Charlie hauls cuckoo boat Dawn Rose along the Chesterfield Canal during a training session.

Eventually a trial was carried out at Manton with Python, the Chesterfield Canal Trust’s 90-year-old ex-working boat. In early July the first trial took place with Dawn Rose and all went well.

Cuckoo boats were unique to the Chesterfield Canal. The design did not change from the 1770s right up to the 1920s when the last ones were made. Up to the end of commercial use in the 1950s, they were still horse drawn.

They were never equipped with engines. A mast was used when they ventured onto the River Trent. The last cuckoo boat known to be in existence rotted away over 20 years ago.

A group of Chesterfield Canal Trust members decided to build a new boat in the early 2000s. After much research, they drew up a list of all the timber that was needed. This was published in the trust’s magazine, in spring 2004 and sponsors were found for every piece within a few weeks.

Seven and a half tons of fresh Lincolnshire oak and boat-skin larch was then bought and stored in a secret location to season. An appeal also went out for traditional hand tools of the type used a century ago.

An agreement was reached with British Waterways to do the work in a corner of Shireoaks Marina. Construction started in 2011.

The work was led by David Bownes who has a vast knowledge garnered by talking with working boatmen the Chesterfield Canal. He was involved with working on cuckoo boats as a young man, so he was one of the very few people alive – possibly the only one – with real working knowledge of their construction. As a result of this build, there are now several others who have picked up this knowledge.

David was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Chesterfield Canal Trust at its AGM in 2015.

It took four years to complete the boat. Some of the planks (or strokes) that make up the sides are 27ft long, 10in wide and 2in thick. They had to be planed exactly and then put into a home-made steamer for several hours before being bent into place. There are 90 planks along the bottom. Each one had to be shaped precisely and they were then fixed into place by three hundred and sixty home-made nails each 9in long and hammered upwards.

Vast quantities of old rope, tar, pitch and linseed oil were used to make the boat watertight.

Since its launch in 2015, Dawn Rose has run an annual Boat Pull where groups can tow the boat for a fee and raise money for their chosen cause.

Last year, Dawn Rose was the star attraction at the Erewash Rally having been towed there, including along the River Trent, by Python.

It has long been the intention to arrange for a horse to demonstrate towing, but there have been lots of problems along the way. The crew is delighted that finally everything has fallen into place.

You can support the project by becoming a Friend of Dawn Rose. Go to the Trust’s website –