“ Crick Boat Show, Northamptonshire: One of the biggest annual canal boat shows in the UK. „
As I sit pondering the lousy looking weather for our latest bank holiday, thoughts return to the last of this year's bank holidays and what we did then - visiting Crick Boat Show with my sister and her partner.
When I first asked my sister if she wanted to come to stay for the jubilee weekend she didn't seem particularly enthusiastic. Apparently it was something to do with her fear that our cat would attack her dog or something equally unlikely. Then a couple of weeks before the holiday she rang and excitedly asked if she and her partner could come. I knew we hadn't suddenly become lots more interesting over night so I wasn't surprised when she revealed an ulterior motive in the shape of Crick Boat Show which takes place about half an hour from our home. She's wanted to go for years and this time the Jubilee weekend coincided with the show and she wanted to make the most of it.
~A life on the ocean wave?~
You could be forgiven for presuming that a boat show would take place on the coast and not in a place which is mathematically speaking at almost exactly the most distant point from the sea. Crick Boat Show is not for the ocean-going sailors - it's for the canal boating community. My sister and her girlfriend are the proud owners of a 42 foot narrow boat which is normally tied up on a canal bank somewhere near Devizes. Many of their friends live on boats and when the weather's not too bad, they spend a lot of time on the canal. For those not au fait with boat sizes, 42 foot is titchy in narrow boat terms. They arrived on the Sunday of the Jubilee weekend to watch the end of the Royal boat pageant on the television, getting quite excited to see some plucky little canal boats joining in and were getting in the mood with two days of the boat show still to go. We chose to go on the Monday since the weather forecast was slightly less awful than for the Tuesday.
Crick Marina was opened in 1996 and is one of the most popular in the East Midlands, partly due to its quiet, rural location, but undoubtedly also due to being only a mile from Junction 18 of the M1, making it easily accessible to weekend boaters. The Crick boat show has been running since 2000, taking place at the end of May or in early June. I suspect (but am not sure) that it's normally the late May bank holiday but this year the show ran for four days over the Jubilee weekend. There are hundreds of parking spaces on the grass fields next to the arena and when we arrived at noon on the third day we had no problems to find a space.
We should have planned ahead and bought online as the reductions for doing so were considerable. I was quite shocked that entrance was £12 per person and I'd suggest that you need to be a pretty hard core canal boat enthusiast to feel you're going to get anything like your money's worth. As 'friends of boaties' rather than actual enthusiasts, I thought it was very expensive, especially considering there are plenty of places in our area where you can go and watch canal boats for free. I love the industrial heritage represented by the local canals and I can sit and watch boats going through locks all day long. I've had several holidays on canals and I'd class my husband and I as mildly enthusiastic but certainly not obsessed.
My sister had a long shopping list of things for her boat and their friends' boat and was keen to make sure she went to one particular chandler for whom she had a discount card. But shopping wasn't top of our priorities and we were keen to leave that to the end of the day so we wouldn't be lugging bits of miscellaneous boat 'stuff' around with us all day.
~Something for all the family - but mostly retirement aged boat owners~
Crick Boat Show tries to lay on entertainments for all the family and we were rather impressed by the old-fashioned merry go round and traditional fairground rides as well as a large marquee set aside for children to play. There's a large beer tent and lots of food stalls in a central courtyard area and there was a programme of live music throughout the day and evening including a rather good twosome called 'Gwen and Ken' who we quite liked and a simply dreadful group called the 'Creole Kings' whose lead singer sounded like a strangled cat.
The marina is the heart of the show - or more accurately I should say 'part of the marina' as well over half of the moorings are closed off to the public. The others are filled up with boats which are for sale or demonstration boats allowing designers and builders to show off their craft. If you are seriously in the market for a canal boat - whether a narrow boat or a wide beamed converted 'Dutch barge' you can make appointments to see most of the boats and save a lot of time driving from one boat yard to the next checking out different builders. If you're not buying but you've got a boat of your own, it's probably a bit like going to the Ideal Home Show, checking out the latest in interior designs and gadgets for your boats. Or if you're just tagging along like us, you may well feel a bit awkward asking to look around. My sister and I had a good look around a boat run by a waterways charity from Dudley and learning about the work they'd done to clean up some old canals in their area, but we skipped the commercial boats.
Three vessels offer short boat rides from the marina but that didn't appeal to us so we set off to get some lunch, to listen to some live (but rather whiny) music in the beer tent, and to plan the afternoon's shopping. If you've got a boat and you want to buy something, it's highly likely that you'll find it at Crick. From miniature twin tub washing machines, exotic portable toilets, brightly painted engines and maintenance items through to kitchen widgets and bandannas for the dog who seems a compulsory boatie companion, there's something for nearly everyone. Just possibly not for us. Our visitors were happy to discuss the pros and cons of different pump out toilet systems and the efficacy of running a boat fridge off a solar panel (you can't - you'll need an invertor or something like that) but there are limits to how much excitement your average man or woman on the street can drum up about shower cubicle sealant and ventilation systems.
Talking of dogs, I was very impressed to see so many having a day out with their humans. My sister's dog Finlay was socialising with the other mutts as much as his mums were with the boat people. It did seem that having a dog is pretty much compulsory if you want to live on a boat - hopefully a dog with more sense then Finlay who has a bad habit of falling off the boat. And talking of the people, my husband commented that we were very much in the minority as under-50s because the demographic was very much towards retirement age and above.
There were several large marquees including one set up to entertain young visitors, another with mostly food, and quite a few with boat supplies. Aside from picking up some Union Flag cup cake cases for my mother (she's competing in the village flower and produce show in a few weeks and is VERY competitive), I didn't buy any of the items on offer. Yes, I had some noodles and a coke for my lunch, but other than that there was little to tempt.
~Is it for you?~
We stayed for about 4 hours, sister got all she was looking for and was thrilled to bits with her shopping, we saw all the boats and I took lots of photos but for me this was a one-off visit - a first and last boat show. Without my camera to distract me, I think I'd have struggled to pass more than 2 hours here. I would say that you really do need to be a boat owner or prospective boat owner to be willing to spend £12 a head for an event like this. For those who can stretch their enthusiasm to a full four days, there is a camp site (goodness only knows what state that must have been in after the rain) and much reduced prices for those staying for the whole show. As outsiders, quite a lot of the 'fun of the fair' was wasted on us. What I most felt was missing was a centre point such as an arena where relevant 'events' could be hosted. There were a few talks in one of the marquees but demonstrations of one kind or another would definitely have increased and maintained our interest a bit longer.