Help the Montgomery Canal keep its horse-drawn boat

The Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust is appealing to horse-lovers and boat-lovers to come to the rescue of the Montgomery Canal’s popular horse-drawn boat based at Maesbury near Oswestry, Shropshire.

For seven years Cracker the boat-horse and his butty, the specially constructed Countess, have given rides to visitors from near and far, from local councillors and other dignitaries being encouraged to support the canal and its restoration to Sir Gareth Edwards and his wife filming on canals for their Great Welsh Adventure for the BBC.

The trials of lockdown and the passage of time have created a situation where the team running the trips are having to give up.

Cracker himself has been writing a monthly column in the canal newspaper Towpath Talk ̶ his team suggest that there cannot be many other newspapers that have a regular equine contributor. In the latest, and last, of these monthly columns Cracker says that at 18 years old his aching joints take a bit more getting going than when he was young and that his crew are in a similar situation.

So the Trust is asking if there are people in the area who would like to learn the skill of towing a canal boat by horsepower.

Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust Chairman Michael Limbrey said, “We have been proud of the three different trips that have been on offer to visitors to the Montgomery Canal – the pioneering Heulwen Trust at Welshpool, the cross-border trips on the George Watson Buck at Llanymynech, and particularly the horse-drawn trips on Countess at Maesbury Marsh with its knowledgeable crew who have so much experience of the traditional way to run a canal boat.

“The working life of the Montgomery Canal, which ended nearly ninety years ago, always involved horse-drawn boats. Canals like the Montgomery, and the whole Shropshire Union network of which it is part, were built because goods could more easily be transported by a boat towed by a horse than over the poor roads of the eighteenth century. This is why our canals always have a towpath.

“The experience of a canal boat towed by a horse is unique. The clip-clop of the horse on the towpath and the swish as the boat glides swiftly and silently through the water are so different from any other canal experience. We are hugely grateful to Cracker and his team for all they have done to keep that tradition alive, for Cracker’s amusing musings each month in Towpath Talk, and for their contribution to the life of the Montgomery Canal.

“The time has come for the team to retire and we are very keen to see if Countess can remain as part of what the canal has to offer. Specially built for towing by horse Countess holds eleven passengers and can run in either direction simply by moving the rudder from one end to another.

“Our appeal is to find people in our area who have the skills to manage a horse and a boat. Without a new team, we fear Countess will be lost to the Montgomery Canal.

“We can say however that it is not essential to take over Cracker’s newspaper column.”