Lancashire Life Food editor Philippa James visits Canal Boat Cruises in Wheelton

PUBLISHED: 12:04 08 March 2012 | UPDATED: 16:30 13 January 2018

Lesley Yates and Philippa James

Lesley Yates and Philippa James

Food writer Philippa James takes to the water to see how one family have reinvented themselves

Ellie Yates and Philippa JamesEllie Yates and Philippa James

It wasn’t exactly an auspicious start to a relationship of 28 years – John Yates enjoyed a pint at The Witton Inn, Blackburn on a Friday night with the lads and chatted to Lesley, the landlord’s daughter. The following week John rang Lesley to ask her on a date, ‘Hello, it’s John here.’ And her response?

‘John who?’

The partnership not only survived but, with a passion for boats, their business acumen and family team work, the couple have gone from strength to strength and were named Tourism Business of the Year 2011 at the Be Inspired In Business Awards. ‘We knew we were in the running, but we never expected to hear our name called,’

Lesley said. ‘It’s really been the big one for us!’

John has always loved boating – at 18 he had a small cruiser at Wheelton

which he loved tinkering with, but, as Lesley added: ‘Meeting me, getting

hitched and children coming along, meant that all went by the wayside!’

John is a tree surgeon and Lesley’s background is as a commercial manager for, among other things, a large tour operator. Their three children, Louis, 23, Bridie, 21, and 19-year-old Ellie all work for the business and Ellie said: ‘I love working for my mum and dad.

Ellie, Louis, John and Lesley YatesEllie, Louis, John and Lesley Yates

Every day is different and I meet interesting people, it’s a lifestyle, rather

than a job.’ Ellie and her parents giggled as they recalled one client who asked if he could bring pets along and turned up on a motorbike, with two ferrets on leads.

John’s return to his love of boats started 12 years ago when he announced to Lesley, ‘I’ve bought a canal boat, The Jersey Wanderer.’ Lesley’s reaction was ‘Hmmm, I don’t know about this.’ She returned from work in Manchester, picked the kids up from school, and headed off to

the boat, moored at Tarleton.

‘As I boarded, my shoulders went down, I instantly relaxed and this was the start of everything,’ she said. ‘We wondered, with John’s engineering background and my tourism skills and being weary of the rat race, if we could do something.’

And so, in 2006, they launched Canal Boat Cruises. The family now have

three hire boats, including two named after their children – Bridie Bear and Elle’s Belle – their own boat, 25 moorings, and their restaurant boat

Romance. This is fast becoming a phenomenal success with recommendations for the delicious locally sourced and fairly simple menu.

The provenance of their food is very important to them, with Spout House

Farm, just up the road, supplying their meat, Thomas Moss from Preston

providing vegetables, and Bryan’s Salads, at Tarleton, gaining a special mention for the quality of their produce and excellent customer service.

I tried the delicious pork roulade, this month’s recipe, which was prepared by Isa, the Austrian chef, who used to have The Royal public house, at Tockholes.

Lesley said the themed menus are now over-subscribed, with the tapas nights, Saturday dinners, and Sunday lunch being particularly popular.

Life may seem idyllic, but it can be far from plain sailing – in recent years the canal has been frozen for eight weeks during the peak Christmas season, and has been closed due to drought conditions over a 90 mile section in the height of summer. And that’s not to mention the time John dived in to the canal in his underpants to retrieve a propeller which had fallen off.

I’ve always loved the idea of being a water gypsy and, as I bade the family farewell, Lesley’s words rang in my head: ‘We work in canal-time. We never would have thought things would have panned out like this for us but actually we plod along quite nicely.’

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The print version of this article appeared in the March 2012  issue of Lancashire Life 

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