I came on holiday to Wales as a child, and fell in love with it straightaway."
I'm from York, but from that point on, I knew I wanted to live here. I also loved horses when I was small: I was riding them at seven, and had my first pony at 11. I also loved boats, and I live on one about four miles from Llangollen Wharf, and I get to work on them every day. So, yes, I've got one of the best jobs in the world!
I worked as a graphic designer when I first moved to Wales, for five years, before the job came up
I was desperate to get back to horses and to working outside, and then suddenly I was working on Pontcysyllte Aqueduct all the time. The first time I went on it is was quite something - it is the highest navigable aqueduct in the world, after all. Some people find it terrifying. Others think it's the greatest thing they've ever seen. I think it feels like you're in an aeroplane when you're on it. It's like you're flying.
In peak season, my day usually starts at 7.30am
We fill water tanks, check engines, and clean the day boats so they're ready by 9am. Then their customers start to trickle in, and we talk them through the safety briefs and teach them how to steer. Then I'll get our horses and walk them through Llangollen. All the locals love that. They really miss them coming in the winter! I miss them too, but I always go and spend time with them. My winter is all about painting the boats around the rainy weather.
We have five horses at the moment, and each have their own personality
Geordie came to us from Newcastle, and he's the old boy of the wharf at 30, now retired. Hercules is the second oldest at 12, and he can be a bit grumpy, but he really loves a cuddle. Then there's Harley, who's like a machine when he's working, but also like an innocent little brother. He does silly things like puts his head on the other horses' bums when he could be kicked, but they know he's just showing them affection! Tobias is a fantastic, typical cob who just gets on with it, but doesn't like to be away from the others long. Dakota is the youngest, sensitive, intelligent and – it sounds silly, this – but he's really polite. He always does what he's asked.
Looking after the horses well is everything
They live in a menagerie, not in stables, and we let them have their time in the field to develop, and get them good feed to built them up. To train them, we get them listening to gentle voice commands to walk and trot, then get them gently pulling a rope with a stick on the end: they start to understand what it feels like to pull a boat. Once it's safe enough to do so, we take them up on the towpath, so they get used to the atmosphere. Then we see what happens!
We don't have horses on the aqueduct itself, of course, but we do have lots of families
I love it when the parents used to come to the aqueduct when they were children, and seeing them share their memories. I always slow the boat right down when I'm up there, to let people really take everything in. People can also come up to the back of the boat for a chat with me then, which is nice. Heights have never bothered me, but I try to never take the views above the river for granted.
It took nineteen years for Thomas Telford to design it and build it, which isn't that long really [it was opened in 1805]. It's made of local stone, and the nineteen arches have discs with numbers on which I try and get children to spot. The aqueduct's also got a locked plug in the middle that they pull out every four years. There's usually a competition for a local schoolchild to do it: all the water washes over the side to the river. It usually happens in a January or February. It's quite a spectacle!
Part of history
When the Olympic torch went over the aqueduct, that was very special, especially as it went on one of the last Shropshire Canal boats, the Saturn. Feeling that history on the aqueduct is really lovely, especially as our company's now been going for 135 years.
I feel very privileged to be a boater, following so many other people's footsteps up there."