Rickmansworth Festival: Celebrating canals and community

PUBLISHED: 13:36 16 May 2016 | UPDATED: 13:36 16 May 2016

The event is a Mecca for narrowboats, with around 100 gathering on the festival stretch of the canal (Photo: Greg Townsend)

The event is a Mecca for narrowboats, with around 100 gathering on the festival stretch of the canal (Photo: Greg Townsend)

Copyright Greg Townsend

Rickmansworth Festival, one of the premier waterway events in the country, takes place in May. A hundred narrowboats and so much more, writes Louise McEvoy

Lazing in the sun - the festival attracts around 20,000 people over the weekend (Photo: Greg TownsendLazing in the sun - the festival attracts around 20,000 people over the weekend (Photo: Greg Townsend

Held on the third weekend in May every year, Rickmansworth Festival attracts more than 20,000 visitors and there’s little wonder why. Celebrating its 23rd year, the two-day event beside and on the Grand Union Canal is a highlight of the town’s calendar and the finale of Rickmansworth Week.

Jam-packed with displays and family activities, the top attraction for many is the vast array of canal boats from across the country, with at least 100 vessels of varying types and histories moored along the towpath up to four deep.

The festival occupies part of Rickmansworth Aquadrome, the towpath between Stockers Lock and Batchworth, and the area around Batchworth Lock. Held this year on Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22, the festival celebrates canals, the community and the environment.

It began as a purely canal-based event in 1993 as part of the British Waterways Canals 200 celebration that year, which recognised the importance of these man-made waterways over the past 200 years, and has since evolved to include many attractions to suit people of all interests and ages.

Narrowboats can end up four deep around Batchwood Lock (Photo: Greg TownsendNarrowboats can end up four deep around Batchwood Lock (Photo: Greg Townsend

Highlights of the weekend this year include an RAF Battle of Britain memorial flight with a Dakota flypast, a canal boat tug-of-war and a dog show, as well as the chance to meet the mighty Joshua, a working boat horse.

There will be a wide range of around 70 trade, craft and charity stalls, a funfair and children’s farm, a medieval living history display and demonstrations and an environment fair, as well as a licensed bar and food outlets. A major draw are the scenic boat trips - to take in the atmosphere of the festival from the water - or try your hand at canoeing or fishing.

Artist-blacksmith Peter Williamson will be at the event displaying elements of his craft, which includes making swords, fire baskets and glass holders.

Live music stages will feature rock, jazz, folk and acoustic sounds with the likes of young fusion rock band BlindFunk, acoustic guitar duo BB and the King, blues singer Joe Strouzer and the South Oxhey Community Choir.

The festival is run by the Rickmansworth Waterways Trust, formed in 1991 to encourage community interest in the environment, history and heritage of the waterways and to how they can be enjoyed today. Roger, the trust’s historic working boat, plays an important part in contributing to this aim, along with education programmes, canal cruises and the Batchworth Lock Canal Centre. Conserving Roger, which is one of the last 20 or so wooden narrow boats left in original working order, is one of the trust’s most demanding tasks. A key focus on and around the canal at Batchworth during the festival is the educational work of the trust, with many activities for children and adults alike and the opportunity to navigate the locks of the trust’s unique working model canal system - the Little Union Canal.

David Montague, a biochemist and director of a global medical diagnostics company, is the festival director and chairman of the Rickmansworth Waterways Trust. He has been involved in the event for 18 years, running the boat trips before taking the helm of the festival three years later. He said, ‘The festival was much smaller in the beginning and was just based around Batchworth Lock. Over the years the event has grown in scale and incorporates all the features that our visitors enjoy today.

‘It’s one of the premier waterways events in the country, with a full weekend of music, family entertainment and activities at one of the largest events of its kind in the area. The festival is aimed at families of all ages and there is something for everyone.’

Visit the festival

Rickmansworth Festival runs from 10.30am-10.30pm on Saturday May 21, and 10.30am-5pm the following day. Acts on the music stages in the Aquadrome and at Batchworth Lock start at 11am.

There is a suggested minimum £2 visitor donation to support the event and help fund the Waterway Trust education programme.

The festival car park is in Stockers Farm Road and is £3 for the day. The Aquadrome car park is for registered disabled and permit holders between 9am-5.30pm on both days.

For more information, visit rwt.org.uk

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