Canal volunteers are ready to set sail for their 2017 season

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Members of Linlithgow Union Canal Society (LUCS) have been busy over the winter preparing for the start of their 2017 season on April 15.

The society, now in its 42nd year, has become an institution on the Union Canal with a band of loyal volunteers ensuring members of the public can enjoy a boat trip along the canal at a leisurely pace.

And while the society is more than 40 years old, the excitement of all the volunteers who help run the organisation as a new season approaches is as high as ever.

It has been all hands on deck to get the boats and the premises ready for opening day. But it is understandable when you realise the full season of events scheduled for 2017 and LUCS is at the centre of it all.

Opening day this year coincides with the Easter weekend and, as well as heralding the start of regular boat trips from the basin, the Steamers (steam powered vessels) are expected to make an appearance at the basin on the Saturday.

Sailing from Falkirk earlier in the day they should arrive at Linlithgow early afternoon, although the exact time is unknown – cruising to a schedule on a canal is always difficult!

Throughout the day there will be displays of radio controlled boats by Edinburgh Model Boat Club.

This group of 45 enthusiasts was on hand last year too. It frequents many clubs and regattas throughout the year, having won several trophies and other awards for outstanding model-making skills.

On Easter Sunday, visitors can hunt for a “prickle of hedgehogs” in the basin with some young sleuths perhaps winning an Easter egg for their efforts.

Regular boat trips include the ever-popular 20 minute Town Trip on the society’s flagship Victoria, leaving the basin every half-hour, while the picturesque cruise out to the magnificent Avon Aqueduct every Saturday and Sunday departs Linlithgow at 2pm.

Boats are also available for charter for private functions and parties – last year even saw a wedding ceremony on board – and day boat Leamington is available for self-drive hire.

No previous experience is necessary as LUCS volunteers provide help and assistance.

LUCS is run entirely by volunteers and there is always room for more to come on board.

Chairman Allan Melling said: “It is a fairly unique organisation as, no matter your interest, there is probably a volunteer role to suit you.

“And many of the tasks have absolutely nothing to do with boats!

“For instance, we are immensely proud of our premises, particularly our hanging baskets which give a colourful welcome to our members and visitors alike.

“We are currently looking for more volunteers to help look after our planting programme as well as volunteers to help in the tea room and the museum.

“Or you might just want to come along to the basin for a chat over a cup of coffee and see what’s going on.

“It really is a friendly place and many an hour has been spent just watching the boats go by.”

LUCS runs a number of longer trips to Falkirk Wheel. Advance booking for these is essential.

The first trip is on May 28 but there are others throughout the season.

There is an added feature to the wheel trips this year with the introduction of new lighting in the Falkirk Tunnel.

The tunnel has always been atmospheric, full of eerie echoes, odd nooks and crannies and thousands of stalactites. But the new feature lighting adds to the experience of travelling through this 200-year-old structure.

There is a whole spectrum of events on at the canal throughout the year including the Falkirk Wheel’s 15th birthday, the Edinburgh Canal Festival, folk festivals and, new for this year, a proposed festival of light on December 8 and 9.

More details will be posted on the LUCS website and Facebook pages as well as in Basin Banter, LUCS own e-zine magazine.

However, the biggest event locally is the LUCS fun day, which this year will be held on Sunday, August 20.

There will be face painting, stalls, a Punch and Judy show and displays by International Rescue, a demonstration by St Bernard dogs and, of course, the famous cardboard boat race.

* Lesley Banks, the artist in residence for Scottish Canals, recently visited LUCS. Her work will soon be touring Scotland, starting with her first exhibition in Falkirk on May 7.