Memories to add to the third edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ – part three

“One pandemic discovery for my family was 1974’s ‘Swallows and Amazons,’ a charming British film about kids just playing on a lake. On their own, they’re plenty capable of making their own tents and adventures”, the US film critic Jake Coyle wrote in a review for the Associated Press of a new movie released on Netflix called ‘Yes Day’.

Many people have fond memories of watching the original movie of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ when it first came out in cinemas nearly forty-seven years ago and list it in their Top Ten feature films of all time.

David Kerr wrote: “I first saw the film while I was a junior projectionist. I was 17 at the time. My cinema was called the Astor in Bromley, part of south east London. While an independent cinema, we took the ABC circuit films. Somewhere, I have the LP record and a poster of the film. I went on to a career spanning 40 years in international film distribution.”

“It remains one of my top ten films even to this day. I worked for 20th Century Fox…Polygram…and United International Pictures which distributed Universal, Paramount and Dreamworks films. I had a good career and witnessed the good the bad and the ugly during my travels.”

Simon West and the camera crew at Bank Ground Farm

“From memory, I can recall that the film was released over the Easter school holidays in 1974. It’s just been helped as I have found a press ad online and it lists South London unusually running the film first on April 14th.”

Finding Swallow
Simon West, Sten Grendon and Sophie Neville with the director Claude Whatham

“I believe the film was supported by ‘The Lion at Worlds End’ …the documentary that Virginia and Bill Travers made with George Adamson about returning an African lion to the wild. I know I ran the film again either in 1975 or ’76 as an afternoon matinee only with a Kung Fu adult programme in the evenings.”

Brenda Bruce and Simon West on location above Coniston Water

“The film means a lot to me and has done so since 1974. It made me revisit the books…which I still read (currently dipping in and out of an old hardback edition of ‘Pigeon Post’) but I believe I had only read one during my childhood, which I think was ‘Swallowdale’. I also embarked on a number of holidays in the lakes because of the film. That first year I camped on a farm at Torver on the west side of Coniston.”

Simon West as John Walker studying the chart at Holly Howe before the voyage.

“The reason I include it in my top ten is simple. It is pure storytelling that takes the viewer on an adventure. You do not notice the individual aspects of film making you just become engrossed in the story. And that is what a good film should do. I watched it again just last week on a streaming service… It makes me smile ….what more can I say.”

Virginia McKenna with Sophie Neville on location at Bank Ground Farm

John Rose wrote: “I can remember watching the film in 1974 with my mum and grandma when I was a nine or ten year-old, at the then called Mecca Cinema in Horsham, Sussex (sadly now demolished). I remember loving the natural setting and the adventure in the film and remember it being thrilling and suspenseful! Still my favourite film, so cheerful and up-lifting. The lovely music! All still brings a tear to my eye.  Back then in the ’70s we didn’t have the lakes but at every opportunity our little band of local children would run off over the fields playing, building camps and climbing trees in the woods – such happy, carefree days.”

Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville and Sten Grendon in Swallow

Last time the film was broadcast on BBC Two, David Stott, who worked as a unit driver on ‘Swallows and Amazons’ when he was fresh out of college, wrote in to say: “I remember how cold you all were whilst filming the swimming scene.  The lily pond scene brought back memories of a very wet day on Pull Wyke caravan park.  Most of the day was spent in the two double decker buses that were your school room and the canteen waiting for the rain to clear. Everyone was so grateful to pack up and go home.”

Sten Grendon as Roger with Suzanna Hamilton as Susan

 

“I had many incidents with the parrot that I had to collect in the morning and return at night.  I hated the bird, often it was let free in a bathroom at Kirskstone Foot and l would have to catch it and put it in its travel bag. I notice in the film that it is chained down whilst it is sitting on your shoulder.”

Kit Seymour as Nancy, Sophie Neville as Titty and Beauty playing Polly the green parrot.

 

“I would spend a lot chatting to Ronnie Logan the hairdresser while the shooting was taking place, such a nice man.”

“The day they filmed the walking the plank scene I remember very well.  I took Ronnie Fraser to the Lodore Swiss hotel at  lunchtime and he was really very well plastered by the time I got him back for the afternoon filming.  I suppose it was the only way they managed to get him in the water.  He was not a happy chappy that afternoon when I eventually took him back to Ambleside.”

“I had to put the rushes on the train to London in the evening and collect developed film (how times have changed).  One of my treats was that I was allowed to watch the rushes with the production team in the evening. Watching it again this afternoon was a real trip down memory lane.  I cannot believe that I was a student starting out in life at the time and now l am a pensioner.  Where has all that time gone?”

Simon West and Sophie Neville on Peel Island in 1973
 
You can read more in the paperback on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’
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You can see some of the illustrations here:

Barbara Altounyan interviews Sophie Neville

Barbara Altounyan

Barbara Altounyan, who founded the charity, Hospice Biographers, interviewed me for Family-Talk, a wonderful project that she set up to unite families.

Barbara’s father, Roger Altounyan, was not only the inspiration for The Boy Roger in Arthur Ransome’s series of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books but qualified as a doctor, becoming the allergist who developed the Intal asthma inhaler. He experimented on himself so many times that he died prematurely, aged sixty-five. Barbara was able to interview him just before he passed away. The recording is so precious that she is keen to record the biographies of others.

You can listen to our interview here. It starts rather abruptly but is quite fun – a bit like Desert Island Discs without the music:

Do find out about Family-Talk and think of contacting Barbara yourself. She is able to conduct hour-long interviews on a Thursday and send the recording via We Transfer. Her service is completely free of charge. If you would like to be interviewed, please email Barbara at hello@family-talk.co.uk

Barbara says:

• All recordings are GDPR privacy compliant, ie they are strictly confidential and will not be shared. 

• All interviews are currently conducted over the phone / WhatsApp

• A  professional audio engineer ensures best possible quality sound

• Family-Talk is available to absolutely anyone who wishes to have their life story recorded over the phone. It is great for those who wish to have a heart-warming conversation with someone from a different generation within their own family and the technology is able to connect lots of different people, on one line. UK Citizens can be connected with anyone across the country or abroad. 

More information can be found on the website:  www.family-talk.co.uk (Barbara says “No one will be able to find us without the hyphen!”)

Hospice Biographers, inspired by Roger Altounyan, also records memoirs free of charge. If you would like to find out more about this nationwide charity for end-of-life patients, please click here

I have used archive photos to profile Dr Roger Altounyan here

You can watch a profile caught on film here:

The original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) screened on BBC Two

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If you enjoy ‘Swallows and Amazons’ do think of joining The Arthur Ransome Society who often visit the film locations or the Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook where you will meet like-minded people – of all ages. Most are dinghy sailors who love the books.

Lat time ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) was screened on BBC Two, at least one film fan held a TV party with a 1930’s theme. Others ‘stoked up the wood-burner and settled down to spend an afternoon re-living summer in the Lake District’, adding, ‘It is as if Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without ‘Swallows and Amazons’ – a timeless classic to watch again and again.’

Swallows & Amazons film billing

For the latest edition of the paperback on ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons(1974)’ with details of where the film was made and what those who appeared in it are doing now,  Please click here

The Making of Swallows and Amazons' by Sophie Neville

The ebook, entitled ‘The secrets of filming Swallows & Amazons (1974)’ is similar with a few more stories for adult readers and has links to behind-the-scenes cine footage. It can be downloaded from iTunes, Smashwords, Kobo and Amazon Kindle

The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons

It would be lovely to hear from anyone who saw it in the cinema when it first came out in cinemas in the summer of 1974 – more than forty-five years ago.

9a. Leaflet programme for S and A film Theatr Clwyd 1976_reverse.JPG

Simon Hodkin kindly sent in this cinema programme that he has kept since watching the movie when he was a boy growing up in North Wales.

9. Leaflet programme for S and A film Theatr Clwyd 1976_front

Can anyone remember the films scheduled later that long hot summer of 1976: ‘The Long Goodbye’ (1973) with Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt and Sterling Hayden, ‘What Next’ and ‘Black Beauty’ starring Mark Lester?

Swallows and Amazons comic 1

Swallows and Amazons comic 2

Arthur Herbertson managed to track down these rare publicity sheets for ‘Swallows and Amazons’ typical of movie games of the period:

Swallows and Amazons 1974 camp scene

Arthur has a collection of the four jigsaw puzzles and the Puffin paperback that came out with the film.

Puzzels

There was a vinyl LP narrated by the screenwriter David Wood that you can still purchase.

Arthur found a publicity brochure that I had never seen before.

Swallows and Amazons sales book 2

To read comments from people who saw the film at the cinema in 1974, please click here

The original story was written by Arthur Ransome in 1929 ninety years ago, so the film hits the half-way mark between the original readers and today’s audience.  It’s funny, the critics in 1974 are asking the same question as raised in the billing this week: Do ‘modern youngsters struggle to relate to such old-fashioned game playing’?

Do add your thoughts to the comments below.

Radio Times billing of Swallows and Amazons Christmas 2019

~Billing in the Christmas edition of the Radio Times 2019~

Ten reasons why imagination is so important – inspired by the author and travel writer Arthur Ransome,

The Arthur Ransome Society invited me to speak at their bi-annual Literary Weekend held recently at the Royal Agricultural University. The college is situated outside Cirencester in Gloucestershire, a ten minute drive from the Golden Valley where I grew up next to the Thames and Severn Canal. I spent my A’Level years at Cirencester College just down the road. Just before leaving school, we were invited to a formal dinner at what was then the Royal Agricultural College, in the Gothic hall where The Arthur Ransome Society dinned. I remember gazing up at the high ceiling with its carvings of bunches of carrots and other vegetables. My father was asked to be the after-dinner speaker that night. A quiet man, he did not relish the idea of public speaking but he delivered the most inspiring talk on travel. It gave me the confidence to launch out into the deep.

In the early 20th century, by embarking on a career as a foreign correspondent for the Daily News and Manchester Guardian, Arthur Ransome was able to travel to Cairo, China and through Russia. He sailed home from the Baltic in his own yacht and kept on sailing, taking a small dinghy with him to visit the Altounyan family in Syria. These adventures inspired his writing for us to relive. Our own travels can be guided by walking in his footsteps, even to half-imagined places such as Swallowdale above some great lake in the north.

While Arthur Ransome transported us to snowy lands by re-telling Old Peter’s Russian Tales, his series of Swallows and Amazons books have the attraction of almost being within our grasp. We could reach most of the locations he describes in our own holidays. Theses twelve novels are essentially about travel of a kind that engages the imagination. Gathering enough food and gear to survive on an island is bound to get you thinking. ‘Are you sure you haven’t forgotten anything?’ By including books such as  Robinson Crusoe that stimulated Ransome’s own imagination, as well as frequent references to South America, he takes us on a literary journey, inspiring us further.

  • Our imagination helps us to examine possibilities and predict danger, anticipate the enemy, access risk: Packing, alone, forces one to focus on what might happen. When you set sail in a small boat you need to be alert: ‘At the end of Darien there might be rocks.’  You learn to trust your decisions based on projections and possible outcomes, becoming a better leader, much like Captain John.
  • We use our imaginations to plan ahead. Nancy’s tactical schemes include anticipation of how others would probably behave.
  • Our imagination generates ideas, helps us solve problems or conflict: ‘If anyone was sailing after dark, we could hoist a lantern up there.’ Ultimately it is Titty, the youngest girl with the most active imagination who dreams up back stories for strangers, renames places, draws, writes, casts herself as Robinson Crusoe and wins the war for the Swallows.
  • Imaginative stories help us remember things.
  • By imagining how others might feel we gain the gift of empathy, which enhances our social skills, engaging unity of purpose. Providing children camping on an island in the Lake District with gooseberry tart and buckets of hot porridge is an obvious example, leaving carved fish for burglars to unearth is slightly more cryptic.
  • Imagination expands our perception and enhances our lives, making us more resourceful: ‘Everything had grown smaller except the lake, and that had never seemed so large before.’ The hay bags were being brought to the island by Mr Jackson.
  • Humour demands subtle forms of imagining, lifting us above the mundane, making the prosaic bearable. Titty turns Lakeland farmers into natives, her mother into Good Queen Bess.
  • Our imagination lifts us above the necessary enables our minds to travel. Ransome himself must have longed to voyage further afield. His novels are drenched in references to South America, Africa and ‘the Caribees’. We have the ability to dream big dreams and find a way of achieving them.
  • There are dangers – we can be wrong.  Titty was not at the camp as John and Susan imagined. She was alone in a clinker-built dinghy, without a blanket, out on the lake, witnessing a criminal behaviour. My Granny’s imagination descended into worry, which became rather irritating. I can only hope her pessimistic imagination fuelled ardent prayers for our safety.
  • An over-active imagine can raise expectations too high. Titty’s own imagination was liable to go over the top but she retained her sense of humour: ‘Might be a tidal wave’. Some poor souls become delusional fantasists. Broken dreams can plunge us into despair. Ransome’s own dreams crashed from time to time and probably drove him overseas. Russia was the one place he could escape his first wife. It ended up being the place where he met his second.

I quote from the Jonathan Cape edition of Swallows and Amazons. Re-reading this is a voyage in itself.  I discover something I never noticed before every time.

CR Milne, wrote of his father, AA Milne saying: ‘A writer is a craftsman and a designer. Another man might have made things with his hands; he made things with his imagination.’ It is clear that Arthur Ransome travelled in his imagination and reported on what it was like.

This summer I joined friends to sail up the Norwegian coast to Bodo above the Arctic Circle. I packed with some trepidation, imagining it could get cold and very wet but we enjoyed excellent, clear conditions. Our enjoyment was enhanced by the reality of sunny Summer day, after sunny Summer day, as if floating through the pages of a storybook. It was a dream fulfilled.

Travel and you are stretched, spoilt for the ordinary. ‘Of course, really we are going the other way,’ said Susan, ‘but it doesn’t matter.’ I know why my father wanted us to travel after leaving school. He knew it would increase our self confidence, extend our ability and help build skills beyond those stretched by taking A’levels. ‘Just pack a bag and go,’ he said. ‘There will always be a way. You’ll find there’s a bus that will link to a boat. Don’t worry about getting stuck – you’ll find something will turn up.’

~Sophie Neville off the coast of Norway, sailing across the Arctic Circle, 2019~

My father appreciated the fact travel is expensive but he always managed to work something out, taking advantage of his military travel pass to take a train to the Outer Hebrides and used his annual leave to sail on the Norfolk Broads in the 1940’s. He found a factory in Maryport to visit as part of his job with BIP. This enabled him to drive around the Lake District in the 1950’s. He worked in exports through the sixties and seventies so that he could fly worldwide. Marketing cable-ties and electronic components enabled him to take the QEII to America and planes to places as far afield as South Africa and Japan. These were the days when agents and customers would take him on tours of their country as part of a trade mission. Such journeys would otherwise have been prohibitively expensive. After retiring, my father sold his collection of early sailing books to cruise the Baltic. The question I now ask is: who inspired him? One major influence was the author Arthur Ransome.

Do think of joining The Arthur Ransome Society and coming to their Literary Weekends. To find out more please click here.

What Sophie did next –

TWT Ride 2018 Sophie Neville with 14 riders

The 4th Waterberg Trust Challenge Ride, which set off on 21st January 2018, proved fast, fun and fulfilling. Thanks go to all those who sponsored me on Justgiving.com and helped me to raise funds in other ways.

TWT Ride 2018 Sophie Neville with giraffe at Ant's Nest - photo Ant Baber

Crossing the game reserves of South Africa was a joy, especially since we encountered a number of newborn animals.

TWT Ride 2018 with zebra - photo Ant Baber

50% of funds raised go to Save The Waterberg Rhino to support the war against wildlife poaching.

TWT Ride 2018 photographing rhinos

50% of funds go to community projects that uplift the people of the region. You can see more photos of the projects supported here

TWT Riders 2018 learing about community projects in the Waterberg

Riders paid their own travel costs. We had a great team who’d worked hard on both their fitness and fundraising.

TWT Ride 2018 cantering up to Jembisa

Some days were long but we were blessed with good weather. When the going got tough, we dismounted and walked.

TWT Ride 2018 dismounting to tackle a steep hill - photo Sophie Neville

Seven different game reserves were traversed in six days, with 187kms being clocked up on the GPS.

TWT Ride 2018 coming to the end - photo Ant Baber

I felt hugely encouraged by everyone who supported me on social media and returned with dreams of exploring further afield. You can see more photos of the ride on The Waterberg Trust website.

TWT Ride 2018 Sophie Neville against sunset

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What you can do to help

Sophie Neville with Save The Waterberg Rhino game scouts

What Sophie is doing next…

This January I am working hard to get fit enough to take part in another sponsored horse ride through the game reserves of South Africa, where I once lived, to raise funds for The Waterberg Trust.

The safari company Ant’s Nest have generously offered to host our party of thirteen British riders and we are paying our own travel costs. Every penny raised in sponsorship will go straight to The Waterberg Trust, a UK registered charity.

50% of funds will be sent to Save the Waterberg Rhino and 50% will support projects that uplift local communities that are run by trusted friends. Each member of our team has been challenged to raise at least £1000 in sponsorship. The Drapers Company have kindly offered to match any funding that I raise personally, so if you can sponsor me your donation will be doubled. Even very small amounts are a huge encouragment and will go along way to improve things in Africa.

please click here for Sophie’s 2018 Justgiving page

OUR PLANS ~

DAY 1 – Riders will be met at Johannesburg airport and driven north to Ant’s Nest Game Reserve deep in the Africa bush where we will meet horses that have been selected for the expedition and set off in search of wildlife.

The Waterberg is home to the third largest population of rhino in South Africa, so their protection on the plateau is vital.

~The Waterberg Trust Riders with white rhino in 2017~

DAY 2 – We will spend the day riding up to Ant’s Hill, viewing game on horseback and looking for a breeding herd of white rhino, along with buffalo, wildebeest and antelope. We’ll return to Ant’s Nest for a talk on the work of ‘Save the Waterberg Rhino’.

DAY 3 – We set off early, riding north through the reserve and along sandy roads to the Waterberg Living Museum to meet Clive Walker, one of South Africa’s leading conservationists who is raising awareness of biodiversity and ecological systems. We may get the chance to see rare golden wildebeest as we ride up to Triple B Ranch were we will spend the night in a traditional farmhouse.

~Clive Walker, founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust~

DAY 4 – We ride down through Triple B Ranch, where they have hippo and over the hills to Lindani game reserve, which will give us another amazing opportunity to see wildlife such as vervet monkey, baboon and warthog, zebra, eland and giraffe.

DAY 5 – This is a long day when we ride to Jembisa, a reserve on the Palala River where the pace will get faster. We hope to find more plains game including giraffe, jackal, warthog and red heartebeest.

DAY 6 – We plan to visit Lapalala Wilderness School, which I have been associated with since 1992 when I became a horse safari guide in the area. The Waterberg Trust has been able to send groups of underprivileged children on a residential course at this eco-school to learn about conservation and the plight of South Africa’s wildlife.

One lesson is about what to do if you find a snake in the house.

The students take their enthusiasm into the community whose support is essential if poaching is to be combated. They are given a local mentor who can help with future issues.

We’ll spend the rest of the day riding across Jembisa where we hope to find hippos and perhaps see crocodile in the river before reaching the furthest point of the ride and grab a few photographs before bidding our horses farewell.

~The Waterberg Trust Challenge riders and back-up team 2017~

DAY 7 –  Riders will visit Lethabo Kids Club in the Township of Leseding who run an excellent ‘Back to School’ project to ensure all local children get into an appropriate school, equipped with uniform, shoes and school bags. We will meet Nurse Grace whose salary is financed by The Waterberg  Trust. The very first school nurse in the area, she has been looking after pupils’ health and issues that detract from their studies. We will also drop in on Kamotsogo community craft project that helps women living with HIV/Aids before leaving for the airport.

~Sophie Neville with students sponsored by The Waterberg Trust in 2017~

I need to get fit as there will be approximately 32–40km’s of riding per day, clocking up a total of 32 long hours in the saddle. It will be an exploratory venture, riding through this beautiful area, now proclaimed a UNESCO biosphere. You can read more about the ride here.

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WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP:

Sophie Neville completing The Waterberg Trust Challenge Ride in 2017

If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. 

Psalm 139 v 9 & 10 NLT

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Very Happy New Year!

happy new year

‘I’d like to go to Africa and see forests full of parrots!’

I’m not sure about the parrots but I’m off on an African adventure soon – details to follow in my next post.

Very Happy New Year to one and all. May 2018 prove fulfilling.

Sailing the Nancy Blackett in Dutch waters – part two

Nancy Blackett, the 28 foot cutter that Arthur Ransome bought with Spanish gold, as he called his royalties from ‘Swallows and Amazons’, is an old lady now. Built by Hillyards of Littlehampton in 1931, she turns eighty-five this year and yet looks pristine. If you ever wanted to sail the Goblin in ‘We Did Mean To Go To Sea’ you must know that it was Nancy who took this starring role in Ransome’s novel, first published eighty years ago.

Nancy Balckett in Middleburg photo Sophie Neville
Nancy Blackett

I arrived in the Netherlands this summer to find Nancy receiving visitors at a nautical festival in Midddleburg, while a jazz band played on the quay.  She was moored by a lifting bridge in the centre of town, neatly rigged and ready for anything. After taking a look at a number of old gaffers, her crew enjoyed a cold beer and walked down the canal to vittel-up at a supermarket before having dinner in what was once a packing house for silks and spices imported from the East Indies.

Nancy seen through the bridge in Middleburg
Nancy seen through the swing bridge in Middleburg

As the swing bridge rose the next morning, we made way and motored down the wide canal to Veere, mooring up by the grassy port bank. 

Hollyhocks of Veere
Hollyhocks of Veere

After being granted permission to go ashore, I passed the historic town well and walked down lanes bordered by hollyhocks to visit the museums of this ancient port. They house a number of charts and medieval maps that would have delighted the Swallows, along with old photographs of Dutch natives in traditional dress. I was tempted to buy a pair of clogs to take home for Bridget.

The waterways of Zeeland
The waterways of Zeeland

We left Veere to explore the islands and creeks of the Veersemeer before sailing down-channel and through a modern lock into the Oosterschelde estuary formed by the River Scheldt. It was once an important shipping route that bought wealth to the Netherlands but is quieter now. I spotted a seal and watched a cormorant swallow a large eel, that wriggled and jiggled inside its gullet.

Windmill of Zeeland
A windmill of Zierikzee

After negotiating the impressive Zeelandbrug that spans the delta, we sailed down to Zierikzee where you can climb the church tower, if you dare, and look out across the once fortified town. The windmills, ornate spires and ancient buildings help one to imagine what life must have been like in the 1500s when it became famous as a trading centre for salt and madder. I found scold’s stones and a whaler’s kayak from Greenland at the Stadhuis Museum in Zierikzee where Veronica Frenks was once the curator.

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The lock gates of Zierikzee

Our skipper, Ian McGlynn, wondered if we could sail back under an arch of the Zeelandbrug instead of waiting for one section of the road to lift. Built between 1963 and 1965 the Zeeland Bridge is more than five kilometres long and hardly comparable to the arch of Potter Heigham but Mate Judy Taylor didn’t want to take any risks. We had Nancy’s new mast to consider.

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Crewing the Nancy Blackett

It was only on our last evening-but-one that rain hit us. We’d had blue skies and sunshine all week. As the salt water was washed away from Nancy’s portholes I opened the pages of ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’ to find Ransome’s illustrations and read the final passages of the Swallows’ unplanned voyage to Holland. The book is eighty years old this year and yet moves me still. There is Nancy, portrayed as the Goblin moored up in a foreign port, which is where we left her to be enjoyed by other members of the Nancy Blackett Trust.

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Nancy Blackett in Zeeland

 A marathon reading of ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’ is planned, to celebrate the 80 year anniversary of its publication, at Pin Mill Sailing Club on the Orwell in Suffolk on Saturday 21st October 2017.
Pin Mill from the Water
To read more about Nancy or join the Nancy Blackett Trust please click here
Nancy has been featured by Country Life in a July issue you can read here
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We Did Mean To Go To Sea by Octavia Pollock

Sailing the Nancy Blackett in the Netherlands – part one

One summer, I grabbed the chance to sail Arthur Ransome’s favourite little ship, the Nancy Blackett. If you recognise her it might be because she was his model for the Goblin in ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea‘, possibly the most exciting and touching of the Swallows and Amazons series of books. I re-read it while we were in Dutch waters aboard the main character herself.

   ~ Nancy Blackett under sail on the Veersemeer in Zeeland this June ~

~ Beach End Buoy at the mouth of the River Orwell in Suffolk ~

In the story, the Swallows – John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker – promise their mother that they will not go to sea, but disaster strikes when the Goblin slips her anchor in thick fog, while her owner is ashore, and gets swept out past the Beach End Buoy at Harwich. The wind rises and the children find themselves sailing across the North Sea in a terrific storm before a friendly Dutch pilot guides them into Flushing.

~ Nancy in the old lock at near the medieval port of Veere ~

I was able to join Nancy when she had already made the crossing to the Netherlands but did take her through an old lock built in the same style as the one the Swallows encountered, all be it at the other end of the Dutch canal. It was as if we had sailed into the pages of the book and lived out the adventure ourselves, learning about ropes and reefing each nautical mile.

Mooring up could be tricky, especially since Nancy is an old lady with a bow-sprit, but unlike Susan and Titty, I never felt sea-sick for a moment.

~ Learning how to hoist the mainsail ~

~ The Nancy Balckett undersail on the Veersemeer in the Netherlands ~

~ Sophie sailing in salt water ~

~ Keeping a look out for Dutch barges ~

Local author Veronica Frenks came out one morning, taking us up a creek to see the traditional Dutch barges and historic ships that she often writes about. She soon made plans to write about Arthur Ransome for Spiegel der Zeilvaart, a Dutch periodical. Here she is with me, at the helm:

To read about sailing Nancy on the River Orwell in Suffolk, where she is based. please click here.

To read about sailing Nancy on the Beaulieu River and the Solent, please click here

If you would like to grab a chance to sail Nancy or find out more about the Nancy Blackett Trust, please click here

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photographs by Veronica Frenks of Ma Plume, Judy Taylor and Sophie Neville

My Family Roots in East Africa – Part Two

sophie-neville-at-usa-river-in-tanzania

~Drying coffee beans on our farm at Usa River near Arusha in 1972~

Days spent at our farm in northern Tanzania were full of colourful characters, including a cobra who lived in the trees overshadowing the house. He probably kept down the rodent population quite efficiently.

farmhouse-at-usa-river

My great-uncle Tony was probably more dangerous. He had a very sensitive nose and a legendary temper.

a-walk-in-africa

My aunt kept tame lemurs. They marked their territory by peeing on their hands. This was understandable until they decided to climb over your face.

reinhild-with-her-lemur

My father loved travelling in northern Tanzania and was intrigued by the wildlife.

april-1969-africa

I was fascinated by the people, many of whom wore traditional dress in the early 1970’s.

ear-piercing-and-cloak-at-shop-window

Extended ear-lobes, names such as Libougi and bright beaded jewellery had me squinting into the sunlight.

sophie-at-usa-river

In a country where polygamy was the norm everyone seemed to have rather large families with any number of wives and children.

african-school

Having your photograph taken was quite the thing. What the woolly lemurs thought of this, I do not know.

tame-lemur

There was always talk of the next expedition up-country. Careful packing was a constant preoccupation.

landrover-outside-farmhouse

Complicated arrangements were ever being made. Uncle Tony was an honourary game warden, with the power to arrest poachers.

baroness-reinhild-von-bodenhaussen-in-about-1970

My mother loved the idea of going on safari and urged him to include us as he toured areas where wildlife thrived.

my-mother-on-safari-at-usa-river-in-northern-tanzania-the-early-1970s

It was a privilege to be taken game viewing as a child by someone with such a depth of knowledge.

elephant

I began to sketch in the back of his Land Rover, while keeping lists of the animals we encountered and trying to learn their Swahili names.

buffalo

As we drove through the national parks, such as Lake Manyara we rarely saw another vehicle. The reason for packing so carefully was that there was no one around to help if anything went wrong. If you broke down or ran out of fuel you could be in serious trouble.

 

giraffe-under-tree

But there were always old  friends to visit and they were charming, most hospitable.

hilli-and-woolly

After driving for ages, we’d end up at another farm-house, playing croquet.

croquet

Nothing but croquet, all afternoon and evening. Somehow I survived. I did so by keeping a diary. It was the first of a whole pile of notebooks that have grown exponentially, forming the basis of quite a few books – with more to come.

croquet-2

To be continued.