Category Archives: adventure

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

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Sailing the Nancy Blackett in the Netherlands – part one

This 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 ~

This year we joined Nancy when she had already made the crossing to the Netherlands but we 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 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 ~

~ Looking out for Dutch barges ~

Local author Veronica Frenks came out with us 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 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

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My Family Roots in East Africa – Part Two

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~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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

 

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Filed under adventure, Africa, Autobiography, Biography, Diary, Family Life, Memoir, Sophie Neville, Travel, truelife story, Uncategorized

My Family’s Roots in East Africa

Cover photo MW

‘I’d like to go to Africa,’ I declared as a little girl, ‘and see forests full of parrots.’ This I did. Everything I had ever hoped to see was spread out before me and the experience left a profound impression.

Mailer Estate in 1970

My great-grandparents began farming at Usa River, just west of Arusha in 1919. I first arrived in northern Tanzania in 1972, when my mother took these photographs of the house and garden where her family lived for fifty years. I longed to climb the ancient fig tree in the garden but was told a cobra lived there. It was probably on the lookout for parrots coming anywhere near it.

Makorongo's War by Sophie Neville - revised 30 November 2015_html_m50ecfa90 - Copy

By the early seventies the family were busy farming coffee and often had visitors to stay. My great-uncle Tony used the farm as a base for his safaris and served as an honourary game warden having worked for many years in the Kenyan Police Force and Game Department. He was well-connected and once took Bing Crosby bird shooting, although this fact was kept secret until 2015.

Makorongo's War by Sophie Neville - revised 30 November 2015_html_4b186671 - Copy

I loved the outdoor way of life, was intrigued by the kitchen that was seperate from the main house, and amused by the hot water system that consisted of small cylindrical  tanks known as ‘donkeys’. Everything smelt of wood smoke. The best thing was that I was able to sleep in a safari tent set up in the garden, in true ‘Swallows and Amazons’ style. It felt as if I was being swept along in an adventure portrayed in the film ‘Born Free’ when Virginia McKenna played the artist Joy Adamson who became well known for bringing up a lion cub called Elsa, eventually releasing her into the wild.

Makorongo's War by Sophie Neville - revised 30 November 2015_html_3c38f792 - Copy

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Bringing ‘Swallows and Amazons’ within reach

 

Sophie Neville with Lapwing kids

‘Unlike other films, ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is within children’s reach,’ I’ve been told. It’s true. Any child can pretend that their bed is a sailing dinghy taking them to a deserted island. And when you are a little bit older – it’s not impossible to join a sailing club or go camping.

Aldeburgh Junior LapwingsWe took Swallow to join the Aldeburgh Junior Lapwings on the River Alde in Suffolk.

Boys with their Lapwing

One intrepid sailor had bought her own Lapwing for £100, raising the money by busking in Aldeburgh High Street. Tilly renovated and varnished the clinker-built dinghy herself.

Owl hoots

She can be seen here teaching the younger children how to owl hoot, playing ‘What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor’ on her thumbs.

Learning how to owl hoot

The children went fishing for crabs, which they later raced down the slipway.

A crab

They went in search of treasure – if that is what you call a scavenger hunt –

Scavenger Huntbefore sailing back to camp by the mud flats, cooking out in the open and sleeping in tents.

Junior LapwingThey launched their dinghies, raised their red sails

Boys with their Lapwings

and headed off, catching the tide.

Sailing on the River Alde, Suffolk

Swallow, the dinghy used in the 1974 film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ acted as flag ship.

You can find ideas for Swallows and Amazons themed parties and presents here.

Swallow on the Alde

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Swallows and Amazons 2016 – the film trailer

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Swallows and Amazons – the new film trailer: where adventure meets danger

Please click here to view of the film trailer

If you experience problems watching it – first make sure ‘Flash’ is enabled on your computer

 

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A Swallows and Amazons childhood

Swallows and Amazons fly sheet

The first swallows have arrived and summer is here. You only have to look around to see parents advocating a ‘Swallows and Amazons’ childhood for their offspring. They want to go camping, catch fish and learn to cook on open fire.

Titty’s dream of being alone on an island to experience what it must have been like for Robinson Crusoe has never been seen as worrying. Parents want to encourage their offspring to use their imaginations and explore the wilderness, knowing it will be memorable. As long as the weather holds they are happy to act as Man Friday. By exercising her imagination, Titty comes up with ideas that ultimately win the war and develop courage and resourcefulness by taking part in the adventure even though Captain John is at the helm. The fact that the mere able seaman becomes hailed as the hero of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ has inspired a generation.

Cobnor Camp 2015

TARS at Cobnor Camp

If you want the real deal, become a family member of The Arthur Ransome Society and sign up for one of our summer camps while there is still space:

If you can get to the Lake District, there is a camp on Coniston Water in Cumbria – 2nd to 13th August 2016

If you are nearer the south Coast, there is a weekend camp at Cobnor, sailing around Chichester Harbour – 14th to 17th August 2016

There is a ‘Swallowdale’ Camp in North Derbyshire – 27th August to 29th August 2016

and a sailing weekend in Staffordshire.

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Swallow at Cobnor

If you are keen on sailing find out about the Nancy Blackett Trust. They offer memorable opportunities for children and teenagers, as well as adult sailors who’d love the opportunity of going out in Arthur Ransome’s yacht and meeting like-minded people.

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The Nancy Blackett is based on the Orwell near where the Ransomes lived in Suffolk but she ventures forth and was even spotted on the Hamble last year.

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