Your Crew and Hosts:

This page is a bit embarrassing for us, with the photos, but we are told this kind of page is required to allow potential guests to see who will be looking after them whilst aboard Willow.

In 1995 (when in their early 40's) Nick & Irene moved aboard their first narrowboat - a desire for a change in lifestyle - and they haven't looked back since. From 1999 to 2001 they managed Gourmet Cruises (a Restaurant & Trip narrowboat business), on the Basingstoke Canal in Surrey. The 72ft restaurant boat was licensed to seat 47 diners, requiring skippers to be qualified with a Maritime & Coastguard Agency Boatmaster's Licence. A legal requirement now, even for hotelboat skippers. As the principal 'Boatmaster' at Gourmet Cruises, Nick was involved with staff training to Boatmaster level as well as, of course, spending many many hours at the helm. Irene, with a background in hotel management, undertook the catering and hosting aspect of Gourmet Cruises. Before living aboard Nick was a police sergeant, having specialized in police training - skills later applied to narrowboat training and consultancy, a secondary interest to hotel boating.

Then there was our collie Meg - prominent in photos throughout this site. Sadly she is no longer with us, but for around 15 years she was my constant companion on Willow's back deck. Our new crew dog is border collie 'Skye'. Joining us at a mere 8 weeks (Nov'13), she was born from working parents on a hill farm in the Trossachs. To follow Meg, she has big boots (paws) to fill - but I'm sure she'll do her best. In time, no doubt she will start to feature in photos throughout this site. Update (May'14) Skye's progressing fine and will make a grand boat collie (and we love her to bits) - see marginal photo.

Willow was converted to a Hotel Narrowboat in 2001 when Nick & Irene left 'Gourmet Cruises' to operate their own business. Spending three seasons operating the Gourmet Cruises business on the Basingstoke had been very lucrative (and quite enjoyable) but the operational cruising area lacked variety (90 mins cruising each way). Hotelboating on Willow offered almost nationwide cruising on the main English/Welsh canal network - but over the years that English/Welsh network has become so very congested, particularly at peak holiday periods when lock queues can amount to several hours at a time. The old b&w photo on the right was taken on the Llangollen canal in 1958, with a six year old Nick sitting on the lock gate. There were no queues at locks in those days.  Irene is also an accomplished boater, and very accomplished at locks (see photo on the left). Of course Irene can multitask, so she is in charge of the catering side of the business (trust me, it's better that Nick sticks to the steering). 

A particular milestone for Willow came in 2011, when we made our move back north of the border onto the Scottish Lowland canals. After living aboard narrowboats on the English/Welsh canal network since 1995, we wanted to return to Scotland - but continue boating. The Scottish Lowland canals suffer none of the congestion found south of the border, so real boating would prevail over frustrating lock queues.

Initially we thought about selling our much loved Willow and buying an ex Black Prince Hire boat, already based at the Falkirk Wheel Holiday Hire base - for conversion to a hotel boat. So in early 2011 we put Willow 'on the market' (although still cruising the English/Welsh network). Less than four days later we had taken her back off the market.  Moored near Colemere on the Llangollen canal, we had been sitting having a glass of wine in Willow's bow cabin. Simultaneously, we had both been thinking - "we can't sell this marvellous boat we've lived and worked on for over a decade, and exchange it for a hire boat (even a nice one)". One of us said" we can't do it" - the other said "no we can't".

So Plan B went into operation - but with a lot of help and support from Richard Millar of Scottish Canals (previously British Waterways (Scotland)). As the manager in charge of the commercial development of the Scottish Lowland canals, he was able to pull in help from the EU backed 'Waterways for Growth' scheme. After all, they didn't yet have a cruising hotelboat on the Scottish Lowlands canal network. It would be wrong to provide too much precise information on this website, as to the precise nature of the assistance, but it was very well received from our standpoint.

So by the end of July, 2011, Willow had been shortened by Terry Scott Marine, Church Minshall (by 4ft to fit the Scots locks - just); placed on an 'extented trailer' and brought up to the Firth of Clyde by road transport. After launching in the tidal Firth of Clyde, we 'sailed' Willow up the Clyde to Bowling, where we entered the Scottish Lowland Canals network - Now based at our prestigious Falkirk Wheel basin moorings, the rest is history.

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