There is something quintessentially English about the sight of a narrowboat meandering down a country waterway, and when the captain of the narrowboat is the distinguished figure of Allen Kelsall it certainly reinforces the image.
Allen has been involved with the Judith Mary narrowboat since 1983, including in 1988 when a second Judith Mary was built by Anglo Welsh in Whaley Bridge. He is a trained chef, and as he had a catering company it seemed to be a natural move for him to supply the restaurant boat with high quality food.
In 1991 he bought both Judith Mary vessels, although the original initially moved to Chester, and then further afield. “The first Judith Mary now operates around Stalybridge under the name Staley Rose,” explained Allen.
The route that the present day Judith Mary sails is along the Upper Peak Forest canal which, at 518 feet, was the highest navigable canal in England until recently when the Huddersfield canal was rebuilt.
For twenty two years the regular journey used to be a return trip to New Mills, until 2005 when the long awaited opening of the Buxworth canal basin resulted in a much more picturesque cruise.
Allen undertakes around 250 trips per year, each lasting for around two and a half hours, giving him over six hundred hours afloat annually. Every cruise caters for up to 38 passengers, serving a selection of good food as well as drinks from the licensed bar. It is a daunting prospect to keep the Judith Mary operational for this packed schedule, and he uses a local man to look after the engines to ensure that the boat passes its stringent annual inspection in water, as well as in dry dock at Kerridge.
He also engages the services of renowned Paint Master Andy Russell to keep the external appearance looking shipshape, with details such as lettering and floral details needing regular attention.
Of course, things do not run smoothly all of the time, and last year Mr Kelsall had a potential disaster on his hands when an engine fault prevented him from his regular engagement of transporting the Whaley Bridge Carnival royalty from Buxworth to Whaley Bridge. Fortunately, a Buxworth boat stepped into the breach, and Allen was able to use a variety of day boats to effectively tug the Judith Mary for the remainder of the week until the engine could be repaired.
The Carnival Royalty are not the only VIPs that Allen has entertained, as his other passengers have included Princess Diana, Barbara Castle and Edwina Currie as well as presenter Bob Greaves and footballer Gary Owen. Despite being a fan, he did not immediately recognise ex Manchester City player Owen. “I told him ‘you look just like Gary Owen’, and it was rather embarrassing when he replied ‘I am’,” admitted Allen.
Most of the Judith Mary bookings are for parties, including hosting the infamous Whaley Bridge Cricket Club Trip on more than one occasion, but there are also public sailings as well as the opportunity to charter the boat. For more information please visit www.judithmary.co.uk.