Colin Ogden has been involved in boating for more 50 years, starting by working for a Burnley-based hire firm as a 13 year old and having a passion for the waterways and industrial history that saw him build two narrowboats, buy his own vessel and spend most of his summers cruising the Lancaster Canal with his wife Linda.
He is an unlikely rebel, but he came into conflict with Canal & River Trust about four years ago when North West Waterways Manager Chantelle Seaborn – newly appointed and with no previous knowledge or experience of the waterways – imposed 48-hour mooring restrictions the length of the Lancaster Canal without consultation or apparent understanding of boater's needs.
That protest, supported at the time by other boaters visiting the canal, including myself and another journalist Steve Haywood, led to the formation of a Facebook Group called Owd Lanky Boaters and to Colin deciding that something had to be done to restore the Northern Reaches of the Lancaster Canal – closed in the 1960s when the M6 motorway was allowed to cut the stretch between Tewitfield and Kendal into a number of sections.
Restoring the Northern Reaches would, perhaps, be the most popular and effective restoration in Northern England, putting the wonderful Lake District within reach of boaters across the country and providing endless opportunities for tourism as well as making the Lancaster Canal a much more viable prospect for hire boats.
It had long been the objective of the Lancaster Canal Trust, even if it's progress had been limited, but that organisation had been made ineffective thanks to another decision by Chantelle Seaborn to prevent it from doing any work on the canal, using the excuse of a disagreement over whether the painting of a certain stone on bridges was historically accurate.
That ban lasted two years and led to the leadership of the Trust being replaced by those willing to be C&RT compliant and a massive loss of members, disillusioned by C&RT's micro-management.
The only other body with an interest – in theory – in reopening the Northern Reaches was a conglomeration of local councils, the IWA and C&RT called the Lancaster Canal Regeneration Partnership (LCRP), but that had been moribund for years as the local authorities had no money or appetite for regeneration.
In fact, there was – and is – an abiding suspicion amongst canal restorers and boaters that C&RT was only willing to pay lip service to reopening the Northern Reaches. Even keeping the section it still owned open to allow the flow of adequate water from a reservoir into the navigable section of the Lancaster canal was more than it could manage most years and the costs of restoration and maintenance would be substantial.