98 20 QUESTIONS
Peter Bruton is the Canal & River Trust’s Volunteer of the Year 2016, but what made him decide to help?
Peter Bruton, Canal & River Trust’s volunteer of the year, tells us why he decided to offer his time
1 What first attracted you to the waterways? I have been interested in the waterways for as long as I can remember. My grandparents’ home at Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire, where I used to spend the majority of my school holidays, was very close to the Grand Union and also the main West Coast railway line to which I was equally attracted.
2 Tell us about your boating experiences…. My early experience came from hire boats but in 1995 I acquired one of my own and kept it for 14 years by which time it became obvious I was spending more time with British Waterways’ boats than my own.
3 What do the waterways have to offer the country? An opportunity for recreation and relaxing. I believe being alongside water, whether urban or countryside, just adds something to the activity.
4 Which is your favourite canal or river? Difficult this one, there are a number I could choose, but I think I would have to go for the South Stratford. The run from Kingswood Junction through the rolling Warwickshire countryside with its unique barrel cottages and the spectacular aqueduct at Edstone, second only to Pontcysyllte, never fails to please.
5 And what do they need most? Like everything that is becoming elderly, the canals need a little TLC and currently I believe that is just what they are receiving. Finally, they are now being recognised as a national treasure with a secure future.
6 What’s the best time of day to be on the waterways? Any time really, providing it is not raining, but if I had to choose it would be very first thing in the morning when there is still a little mist over the water.
7 What led you to become a volunteer on the canals? It was on an impulse really, and not something that I had planned. I was at an exhibition at what was then called the NIA ( National Indoor Arena) and was walking past the British Waterways stand when I saw a display headed ‘Why not become a British Waterways Volunteer’ and the rest is history.
8 Which canals have you worked on, and what tasks have you done? The boats which make up the Heritage Working Boat Fleet (there are five of them) are part of the West Midlands Waterways and are based at Icknield Port in Birmingham, and all my volunteering has been with this group that look after and operate the boats. The boats are displayed at shows and festivals, plus numerous school visits in conjunction with the education team and our main purpose is to show what life on the canals was really all about when these boats were the principle freight carriers in the country.
9 What do you like most about your volunteering duties? Boating on a warm day takes some beating, but the friendships I have made are very special.
10 How did it feel to be named Volunteer of the Year? When I was first told about the award I assumed it was a hoax but when I realised it was true, I was naturally very flattered. While being pleased for myself, more important was the way it reflected on the whole group and the work that they do.
11 What would you like to see happen to the waterways in your lifetime? Carry on as we are doing now, not only with maintaining what we have already got but in developing new and bringing abandoned stretches back to life.
12 What is your proudest achievement? What could be better than achieving Volunteer of the Year?
13 Have you ever had the misfortune to fall in? Four times, twice while on my own boat and twice when volunteering. Luckily these days we wear lifejackets.
14 What are you reading? Don’t have too much time for reading books except when I am on holiday. It takes me best part of the week to read the Sunday Times and to keep up with the magazines I receive which are usually to do with railways or canals.
15 Who would be your ideal cruising companion? Anyone who is interesting and has a good sense of humour and who does not scare me too much when they are on the tiller.
16 What did you want to be aged 12? Cannot really remember, but probably an engine driver.
17 What do you think of people on the waterways? There will always be a few exceptions but generally people are friendly and acknowledge each other which they would not normally do if they passed in the street.
18 What other interests do you have besides volunteering? I am retired now so all my activities are either volunteering or hobbies. Apart from time on and around the canal, I play bridge and bowls. I also spend time following my interest in railways both full-size and model and am a member of the Coventry Model Railway Club.
19 Where would you go for a dream cruise? My dream cruising takes place on a big ship on the sea where the weather is warm.
20 What superpower would you like to possess? I am not sure I would want any superpower, being lead volunteer for the Heritage Working Boat Group is quite enough.
‘Boating on awarmday takes some beating’ PETER BRUTON - CRT volunteer
One of the unique barrel-roofed cottages on the South Stratford