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Sunday, 12 May 2013

The arrival of the newlynamed Shropshire Star trip boat at Norbury Junction on the Shropshire Union Canal revives a 50-year-old tradition on one of the country's most attractive and popular canals. And the man to steer the boat on it first outing from its Norbury base is Mal Edwards, who steered the first ever trip boat to operate from there – a converted wooden working boat called Iona, which was horse-drawn between the
1960s and 1980s.

Norbury Wharf Manager, David Ray, said: “We are delighted that Mal has agreed to steer this first journey. Not only did he steer the old Iona trip boat from here for many years, he was the last lengthsman on the
Newport and Shrewsbury Canal which used to take boats to both those towns until it closed many years ago.

“The canal arm at Norbury Junction is the start of that old canal and our dry-dock was once the first lock on the way to Newport.

“We have launched this new service on the day the Newport and Shrewbury Canal Trust have their annual event here at Norbury and we hope their plans to re-open the canal go ahead and we can take the trip
boat on what would be another attractive waterway.”

Renaming the vessel The Shropshire Star means the highly succesful daily newspaper of the same name has become the first newspaper to have a boat named after it. The bank holiday weekend saw the new trip boat
officially renamed the Shropshire Star by Mr Tom Graham, a member of the family which owns the Star's parent company, the Midland News Association.

The trip boat, the first to operate from Norbury Junction, near Newport, for nearly 15 years, emerged from a short stretch of the defunct Newport and Shewsbury Canal during the weekend canal festival and Tom
Graham joined Mal Edwards and David Ray, the manager of Norbury Wharf Ltd, in donning flat caps and sprinkling traditional ale over the vessel.

David Ray said: “In a way this is a successor to the many working narrowboats who used this stretch of canal and, as there are a lot of superstitions about renaming boats, we decided it might be a good idea to pay tribute to those old boatmen.

“Caps were the headgear of many working men and most boatmen earned a beer at the end of their long working days, so we devised a little ceremony that acknowledged the past and allowed us to look to the

The Shropshire Star will be following in the wake not only of the wooden Iona trip boat but also another Iona, originally a working narrowboat called the Bellerophon, which was renamed the Iona and worked
from Norbury. It now operates on the River Wey. However, the 70ft long Shropshire Star is no stranger
to the people of the West Midlands, it was built in 1969 as a trip boat by Les Allen, a Black Country boat-builder, and has operated from Oxley Moor on the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal until last year; firstly as the Compton Queen and later as the Stafford.

Since acquiring the vessel earlier this year Norbury Wharf Ltd, which also operates a fleet of holiday boats for hire and dayboats, has been using its skilled staff to begin a refurbishment programme.

David Ray said: “We have stripped out the interior fittings and either renewed or refurbished everything from the carpet upwards. Although we have not had time to completely repaint the exterior – that's a job for next winter – we have smartened it up and changed the name.”

The Shropshire Star, named in honour of both the canal which will be it's new home and the local newspaper read by hundreds of thousands of local people, plans to bring the pleasures of narrow-boating to an even wider audience.

David added: “We already cater for people who want to hire a boat for the day or the week and we sell  boats to those who have fallen in love with the canals. This is a way of allowing everyone from small children
through to people old enough to remember the working boats on the canals, to get a taste of one of our great national assets.

“The canals are unique and have become a place to see history in action, as well as enjoy some of the best countryside in the UK and even observe some wonderful wildlife and our new trip-boat will allow
even more people to get out on the water and enjoy all that without having to do any of the work of operating a boat themselves.”

The Shropshire Star will operate as public trip boat at weekends from May till November, with plans for Christmas trips being formulated. It will also be available for charter during the week with a wide variety of trips planned to appeal to everyone from schoolchildren wanting to learn something of the history of the
canals through to youth organisations, charities and special interest groups.

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