If you have ever watched canal boats gliding gently along and wanted to be part of it, this is your chance, without having to pay a fortune for the privilege.
The Forth & Clyde Canal Society exists to keep the waterway in use so that there’s no return to the bad old days when the canal was neglected and unused.
And not only does the society offer the chance to hop on board and enjoy tea, coffee and a leisurely trip enjoying the natural world from a different angle, it also offers training to people who want to grab a rope and be part of the experience.
Christine Hammell, the society’s secretary, caught the canal bug on boating holidays over the years and was looking for a way to continue to enjoy it.
“This has been completely life-changing for me – I have loved it!” she said, having first got involved with the society ten years ago.
“I absolutely love everything about the canal and the boats. I love canal boating holidays but they are very expensive and this is a way to get involved with very little expense.”
She said people are often under the impression that it is expensive to join the society – in fact, an annual membership costs £20 for those who are in employment and £12 for those who aren’t.
“The main thing is getting out and about in the open air,” she said.
Starting from next week, would-be crew members can go along for training on Wednesdays at the society’s base at Glasgow Road Bridge, near The Stables in Kirkintilloch.
Crew have to be at least 18 but otherwise it is open to anyone.
“You don’t need any experience whatsover,” said Christine. “Just come along and we’ll show you what to do.
“Many of us are retired, but there are younger members and we we’d really like to encourage younger people to join.
“If younger people don’t get involved then the canals are going to die.”
One of the young members has astonished everyone by becoming a boatmaster at the age of just 19, while the oldest volunteer is 86.
“It was only this year he had to give up being an active crew member,” said Christine. “But he still comes along because he has brilliant stories to tell!
“We all have some great stories after a few years on the canal!
“I’m training to be a boatmaster and we can help people take it further if funding is an issue.”
Most of the people who go along are happy to be shown the ropes as crew members. And they are most happy when they are shown how to steer one of the society’s vessels.
Volunteers receive training on fire and water safety, how to tie ropes and look after the vehicles and their passengers.
Christine explained there was no start or end date to the training – people can learn at their own pace, with no obligation to go along every Wednesday evening.
“It’s a very gradual process,” she said. “It is possible to take it further if people are really interested.”
If the thought of taking control of the boat terrifies you, however, there are plenty of other ways to help.
“We also need people who could help make tea or coffee for our passengers,” said Christine.
The boat Voyager seats up to 45 people and volunteers are vital to enable the society to take it out on the cruises it offers to people, allowing them to enjoy the scenery and find out more about the historic waterways.
“It is closed in, so you’re not open to the elements,” added Christine, “which means you can really sail whatever the weather.”
The smaller vessel, Gypsy Princess, has a tiller like a more traditional canal boat, which many people really enjoy getting to grips with.
The training starts on Wednesday, April 19, and this is the only date volunteers do not actually take to the water, as they receive lots of information about the season ahead.
The first Wednesday of every month is a social night for members when they can get out for a sail and enjoy a cup of coffee together – these start on May 3 and continue through to September.
The society would welcome anyone who wants to learn more about the canals and its boats on Wednesday evenings at the Glasgow Road Bridge base at Kirkintilloch.
If you cannot make the first training night, you don’t need to miss out, you’ll still be welcome.
To get in touch, visit the website at www.forthandclyde.org.uk or visit their Facebook page.