WINSFORD welcomed boaters from far and wide to the town’s first regatta for almost a hundred years.

Dozens of narrow boats filled the River Weaver for a commemorative Poppy Cruise on Friday, September 19, ahead of a fun-filled weekend during Salt Fair 2014.

As well as celebrating Winsford’s industrial heritage, the festival marked the centenary of the First World War and showcased the town’s enviable position on Britain’s waterways.

Chairman of the Salt Fair committee, Steve Smith, said: “It’s a bit surreal. Walking around Winsford today feels like you’re in another place.

“It’s the first regatta Winsford has had for nearly a hundred years and feels like the first stage of something much bigger.

“Everything is starting to bed in now and I’m confident the Salt Fair will get even bigger over the coming years.”

The regatta grew out of the New Dawn for Winsford vision set out by the YMCA’s Nigel Hughes and the River Weaver Navigation Society.

Backed by enthusiastic councillors and dozens of volunteers, the day was the first step towards greater investment in the Winsford Flashes.

Narrow boats docked at the town’s new £40,000 marina, welcomed by hundreds of locals enjoying the spectacle.

Meanwhile, organisers harbour serious plans driving forward plans to link the Rover Weaver to the Shropshire Union Canal – creating a ‘second Cheshire Ring’ and re-inventing Winsford as a major boating destination.

Town clerk, Alan Warburton, said: “I think it’s fantastic for Winsford. It’s something that we’ve been trying to achieve for a long time.

“The turnout has been brilliant. I think this can be, and should be, an annual event.

Councillor Charlie Parkinson added: “I just hope it’s the first of many regattas.

“This is the first step towards that and it’s gone fantastically well and it’s a great credit to the organisers.”

Former Winsford mayor, Des Worthington said: “It’s great to see how many people have turned up today. It’s really impressive and has brought a lot of extra visitors into Winsford.”

Salt Queen, Chelsee Fulham has had a busy year supporting the Royal British Legion’s hard work for the Salt Fair and accompanied them on their recent trip to European battlefields to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.

“It’s an exciting day for Winsford,” she said. “It was very emotional supporting the legion in France and Belgium and has been a great honour to be part of the commemorations.”

Each narrow boat carried poppy wreath bearing the name of a battle fought by the Cheshire Regiment.

Each wreath was added to a poppy mural on Hill Street bank by local artist, Derek Johnson.

The creation was one of many art projects around town that united school children and the legion in paying tribute to Winsford’s fallen heroes.

Town mayor, councillor Gina Lewis, paid tribute to local pupils’ ‘absolutely beautiful’ artwork and said the Salt Fair would continue to go from strength to strength.

“It really shows what Winsford can do. All this has been achieved by dedicated people investing their time and resources.

“We hope that this regatta and the success of the Salt Fair shows people that a New Deal for Winsford is a reality; not a dream.”