Hundreds of visitors braved torrential showers as a stunning array of narrow boats sailed into Chester.

Decked out in colourful bunting, flags and paintings, more than 120 boats moored-up along the canal during the largest ever gathering of boaters in the Tower Wharf basin.

Crowds enjoyed entertainment from brass bands and pole dancers, while families took trips along the Shropshire Union Canal in narrow boats, tried traditional boating skills and learnt about the extensive history of the area.

 

And despite the torrential rain, crowds were treated to an impressive fly-pass by the RAF Hurricane as the clouds briefly parted on Saturday afternoon.

The three-day Inland Waterways Association (IWA) National Campaign Festival saw boaters travel from all over the country to the city, including Bonnie Goldberg who came a long way from her home in Long Beach California to join in the festivities.

Gran-of-four Bonnie, who stayed on her narrow boat with her husband Mike, said coming to Chester was always an ‘adventure’ and a ‘breath of fresh air’.

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The 73-year-old retired teacher said: “It’s such a beautiful city and has so much history. It’s fun to be here, there’s no place like it.

“I love this rally, we come every other year. We happened upon it in 1990 by accident, the people that run this rally are absolutely wonderful.”

The festival marked the official launch of the city’s Waterways Strategy, which aims to boost tourism by creating a link between the canal and River Dee.

Officially opening the festival on Saturday, Lord Mayor of Chester, Bob Rudd said the strategy was a “golden opportunity” to turn Chester into the “must go city of the North”.

“Chester has somewhat been left behind by other cities in putting waterways at the heart of economic regeneration. We do hope things will now change,” said Cllr Rudd, whose ceremonial role includes Admiral of the Dee.

“We hope by seeing all of the waterways as a single interlinked system that can attract more boats, more people, more regeneration that can benefit the city as a whole.

“This is a golden opportunity to do something about it and make a difference. Chester could once again be the must go, must see city of the North.”

The Lord Mayor was joined by MP Stephen Mosley and Canal and River Trust CEO Richard Parry, to speak out in support of the strategy at the opening of the festivities.

But the star of the event by far was cob horse Bilbo Baggins, who trotted all the way from the British Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port, pulling Gifford – a 1926 narrow boat.

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Bilbo, who is 20 around 60 in human years, delighted crowds as he took a well deserved rest after walking for over four hours along the banks of the canal in the sweltering heat on Friday.

In a rare sight, the hobbit-named horse was then walked across the Roving Bridge to his temporary home in Taylor’s Boatyard.

On Thursday the oldest horse-drawn fly-boat Saturn was pulled into Chester for the festival by Cracker the horse.