Audlem’s waterways are a crucial aspect of village life

OverWater Marina

OverWater Marina - Credit: Archant

We take a tour around OverWater Marina ahead of the Audlem RNLI festival.

Jo Hoyles on board the Audlem Lass at OverWater Marina

Jo Hoyles on board the Audlem Lass at OverWater Marina - Credit: Archant

‘Narrowboats are the fastest way to slow down,’ David Johnson tells me with a smile, as we take a tour around OverWater Marina. ‘Here, it’s almost what the streets were like 40 years ago, where people know and talk to one another. It’s that lifestyle, with a laid back atmosphere which is my favourite thing. Audlem is so welcoming, which it makes it a beautiful place to live and work.’

David has been working at the OverWater Marina in Audlem for the past four years. Originally from Manchester, he escaped city life as one of the first moorers at the facility and got to know the owners, the Maughan family. ‘I started on a part-time basis, before becoming full-time and then eventually the manager. This is the best marina in the country, and we have won all the awards to prove it.’

It’s true, the marina has won a host of accolades including ‘inland marina of the year’ from the The Yacht Harbour Association for three consecutive years, as well as ‘marina of distinction’ and the first inland marina to be awarded five gold anchors – the equivalent of AA rosettes in the restaurant industry.

‘Our slogan is “beautiful, peaceful and friendly” and that’s what we are. We are a marina that is nowhere near a motorway, a train line or on a flight path – it’s a real holiday environment and that’s a credit to those who work here.’

David Johnson, manager at OverWater Marina

David Johnson, manager at OverWater Marina - Credit: Archant

It’s hard to believe that until 2007, it was a 30 acre field. Janet and Angus Maughan always liked the idea of transforming it into an inland marina, and ten years later they are reaping the rewards. Currently there is a 95% capacity on mooring, with only eight boat spaces out of 230 remaining. In April of this year they opened a further ten camping pitches – which most weekend are full subscribed.

‘It’s a quiet marina the majority of the time, with people enjoying their day to day lives or relaxing on holiday, but we do have a few events too,’ said David. The Audlem RNLI festival, running September 9th and 10th, is the next event coming up.

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‘The idea has been to run an annual event for the moorers on the Saturday, and then on Sunday open it out to the public and RNLI. It’s a fantastic day, with everything from music, stalls, a dog show and even a donkey derby. During the month, I also run a quiz night and a karaoke evening. I will run anything you want me to really, but I will stop at the full monty!’

Someone who shares the same enthusiasm about the marina and Audlem’s waterways is Joe Hoyles. He is chairman of the Audlem Lass, a boat service which runs as a ferry from the marina to the bottom of the Audlem Locks each Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday from Easter through to October. It is also available for private charters and school visits.

The Shroppie Fly alongside the Shropshire Union Canal

The Shroppie Fly alongside the Shropshire Union Canal - Credit: Archant

The boat is crewed by volunteers who give up their time to raise money for the RNLI, which suggested donations for a ride on the boat being £1 for adults and 50p for children.

‘We are now into our seventh season and have raised around £15,000 for the RNLI, after expenses such as insurance and petrol for the boat,’ said Joe, who took over as chair of the committee this year. Volunteers are asked which dates they are available for, and on average work two or three half days per month. ‘We have 30 volunteers, plus three juniors at the moment. It’s a real spectrum of people involved, with the youngest being 17 and the oldest 80.’

The concept was launched by Rodney Cottrell, who also raised £27,000 to custom build the Wheelyboat, a ferry service for disabled users which is also run from the OverWater marina. So far, they have charted over 26,000 people on the Audlem Lass and close to 400 people on the Wheelyboat.

‘I am hoping to reach 5,000 visitors for the Audlem Lass this year, which will be a record. ‘So far we are at 2,000 people and last bank holiday weekend we were up 500% because of the brilliant weather,’ said Joe, who has lived in the village for 31 years. ‘The service is a win-win for all as we get to raise money for a worthy charity and we’re also encouraging people to go into Audlem, so it’s great for local business.

Alison Walker of the Cafe at Bridge 80

Alison Walker of the Cafe at Bridge 80 - Credit: Archant

‘The waterways here are very important to the village; as it goes right through the centre, it’s critical to Audlem’s success. I think the holiday atmosphere and friendliness is because of the canal. There’s always so many things going on here, even 31 years ago it had that feeling. Whether it’s the transport festival, a beer festival or Party in the Park, it’s all wonderful for the village.’

Lunch with a view

Also located at OverWater Marina is Café at Bridge 80, which has recently been taken over by Alison Walker who had previously worked at the establishment for over two years.

‘Janet Maughan offered it to me to run, so it made sense as I knew the place inside out. I am just in the process of making a few alterations now, such as fitting a new kitchen as we have really outgrown it.’

Alison, whose past experience includes running a tearoom in Lincoln for ten years and a restaurant in Spain, prides herself on having a menu on which everything, apart from the bread, is homemade. From big breakfasts to daily specials, the café also runs an evening meal on the first Friday of every month – an occasion that gets rapidly booked up.

‘That’s why we need the new kitchen,’ laughed Alison. ‘It’s amazing what we can actually get out of there considering the space. On a weekend we are mobbed, especially if the weather is nice as we have outdoor seating. I would like to fit a plancha grill like they have in Spain, so I can also serve tapas.’