Very Happy Christmas from Sophie

Ride the Wings of Morning - Lulu paperback_html_mdc1541

Hoping you find time to relax with a good book.

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What we did on our holiday ~ Part 3

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The Drapers’ shallop on the River Erdre

You know what it’s like; you never see photos of yourself on holiday until someone else sends them to you. Here I am, rowing in the bow of the Drapers’ shallop. By some miracle we seem to be together, in that our blades are barely visible.

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The most challenging task for me is raising my oar in salute, as we did here for our landlady:

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The long oars are heavy. The only way I can raise mine is by putting one end under my foot.

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My fellow rowing club member who took these shots from the water explained that his camera unexpectedly went into an ‘Impressive Art’ setting. Although this looks like a painting, it was for real, taken out on the water from a sandolo.

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As you can imagine, the whole trip took quite a bit of organising, but it was worth it. This shot was also taken on art mode.

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While some of us worked really rather hard on our holiday, others enjoyed the river from a different perspective.

Passengers in the shallop

Next week, on Wednesday 24th and Thursday 25th September, The Draper’s Shallop will be taking part in Countryside Live at Lee Valley in the London Borough of Hackney, when children from the inner city of London will get a chance to pull an oar and experience what it feels like to travel on the river as Queen Mary once did.  I’m volunteering on the Thursday.

On Saturday 27th September, she will be competing in London’s river marathon along with 300 other crews. The course of the The Great River Race starts at London Docklands, with vessels rowing up the River Thames under all the great bridges of the capital to Ham House in Richmond, passing under Kew Bridge at about 3.00pm. Let me know if you spot her!

~ photos by Robin Privett

What we did on our holiday ~ Part Two

royal thamesis in the French newspapers

A newspaper report has just arrived from Nantes in France, where we arrived on 30th August in our shallop, the Royal Thamesis and Serena, a sandolo belonging to our rowing club, City Barge. As I explained in my previous post, we’d been asked to lead a procession of historic boats into the city as feature of their jazz festival – an activity holiday with a difference.

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I’ve also been sent these photographs of the sandolo, showing our standing up oarsmen being applauded by the crowds.

10620557_10152240262897821_5850021894383206567_n The traditional French rowing boats taking part such as Fille de la Loire, were also admired by thousands.

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Although a couple of gondolas took part, accompanying us some way down the River Erdre, I don’t remember seeing them in Nantes.

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There was certainly a huge variety of boats involved in the Rendez Vous de l’Erdre 2014.

Click here for another photo on the website of Club d’Aviron de Suce sur Erdre. 

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The 240 vessels taking part ranged from sleek period motorboats to a barge once used to transport cattle, which was now taking jazz musicians downriver.

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I loved seeing the steam boats or bateaux vapeur, including Ursula who was flying the flag of the SBA or British Steam Boat Association we once belonged to as a family.

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After mooring up in the basin at Nantes,

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the Mayor of the city treated us all to the most fabulous reception at the Hotel de Ville.

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We found that a feast awaited us.

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Hungry sailors and oarsmen were rewarded for their efforts

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with a variety of delicious things to eat

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and local wines.

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‘What did you do on your holidays?’

I am often asked what I get up to on holiday. We once rowed some forty-five kilometers down a tributary of the Loire, leading a procession of 240 traditional boats into Nantes for the Rendez-vous de l’Erdre

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The journey started in Portsmouth, where the crew from our boat club, City Barge, gathered to load two boats onto the cross-channel ferry to Le Havre.

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We took Serena, a Venetian sandalo and The Royal Thamesis, a thirty-six foot shallop belonging to the Draper’s Company.

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Towing them from Oxford to Brittany was no mean feat, but other vessels from Great Britain had also made the crossing, including a thirty-three foot steamboat.

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We launched the shallop at a pretty town called Nort sur Erdre where a jazz band was already playing to herald the festival de la Belle plaisance française.

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Stephanie Pasgrimaud from France Televisions Pays de la Loire came aboard to interview me – in French and English for the regional News on France 3.

Sophie Neville being interviewed on France 3 TV

That afternoon we rowed some way down to Monsieur et Madame Courant’s B&B on the river where we met up with other members of the party and stayed for the next four nights.

The gite

I had the most lovely room overlooking the water; chambre d’Empire.

Chambre d'Empire

As the mist rose the next morning we put up our canopy to transport our passengers downstream.

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We have a crew of six oarsmen,  with a cox and a wiffler. I alternated with others, taking on all three tasks.

Rowing the shallop

We row in medieval fashion, one oar each, seated on a fixed thwarts.  Please click on the image for a history of the vessel. You may have seen our boat if you watched the Queen’s Jubilee pageant, rowing in third place, while old Father Thames glared down from our badge on the stern, elvers peaking from his beard.

Father Thames

That first morning in Brittany we practised various manoeuvres before rowing a short distance to a boat club, where we moored for a picnic lunch.

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Here we met oarsmen from all over Europe.

Pauline with the Venitians

Including those who row standing up.

Gondaliers

We rowed on to moor up for the night at the small town of Suce-sur-Erdre

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where Stephanie was reporting on our progress for France 3.

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Here the crews of the 240 boats taking part in the event were treated to a special dinner held outside with a jazz band playing sea shanties.

Diner with sea shanties

The organisers had brought together traditional boats, passé nautique, of many kinds.

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Although there were four steamboats and a number of canoes

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most were in the class  de voile-aviron ~ row and sail ~ principalement des bateaux de petites tailles, souvent anciens, et correspondent pour la plupart à des critères de rareté ou d’élégance.

French boats

At every stop for coffee or lunch, laid on by the festival au point de vue, we were accompanied by le jazz.

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It was phenomenal. Much was traditional but new experimental jazz was also being played to appreciative audiences.

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With the music came with the most amazing food.

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We were looked after beautifully.

Sophie Neville on the Erdre

Having eaten well, with our passengers aboard once more,

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we were honoured with the task of leading the procession of historic boats into Nantes.

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On the Sunday morning we were invited to the Hotel de Ville, the town hall

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for a reception with speeches

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and prize giving when our club, City Barge, was awarded a very large bottle of red wine.

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Questions asked of a writer

Sophie Neville in the tropics

Me, Sophie Neville, in tropical debate

No matter where I am in the world, not a day goes by without someone, somewhere asking a question or sending a message in connection with my writing. I am hugely grateful for the encouragement.

In many ways, ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’ was written by popular request, effectively commissioned by hundreds of people who wanted to know how it felt to appear in the film, albeit forty years ago.

It has to be said that was a little apprehensive about the questions I might be asked on Matthew Wright’s show, broadcast live on Channel 5 – for two hours.  If you are feeling brave, click here to see a profile on The Wright Stuff.

They wanted to know about the idea of children being allowed the freedom to take risks and enjoy their own adventures away from civilisation.

“… if it’s possible to have a Swallows and Amazons childhood these days – and if today’s kids would actually have the skills to survive. “

If you have views on the subject or want to see more on outdoor pursuits discussed on the programme email: wrightstuff@channel5.com

Sophie Neville If not Duffers.

IF NOT DUFFERS WONT DROWN

You may need Windows 8 to watch it but the whole programme can be viewed here: 

 
The first section is about the film ‘Swallows & Amazons’

Arthur Ransome’s Lakeland homes and places where you can stay

Arthur Ransome first visited the Lake District as a tiny baby. He said that his father, ‘carried me up to the top of Coniston Old Man at such an early age that I think no younger human being can ever have been there.’  Thereafter the family traveled up by train every summer, from 1884 – 1897, to stay on the Swainson’s farm at High Nibthwaite at the southern end of Coniston Water.
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The four children were allowed to run wild in the hills or slide down the knickerbocker-breaker rocks above the farm whilst their mother painted and their father fished the River Crake. They had the use of a rowing boat, which they would take a mile up the lake to Peel Island for a picnic.
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Peel Island on Coniston Water, which you can visit by boat.
Peel Island on Coniston Water, which you can visit by boat.
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I’d love to take my family to spend a week at Low Water End, a holiday cottage at the southern tip of Coniston Water, which has boats, lake frontage and a small slipway.
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Another lovely place to stay is Hill Top Farm, a traditional Lakeland house built in the 1700s and now owned by Martin Altounyan, son of Roger Altounyan and grandson of Dora Collingwood who was such a great friend of Arthur Ransome’s.  They say you can see the Crake estuary from the garden. It is near Penny Bridge village, four miles from Coniston Water and just three miles away from Hill Top at Haverthwaite where Arthur Ransome lived at the end of his life.
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As a young man Ransome escaped from London for a holiday in Coniston village and found himself invited to stay nearby at Lanehead by WG Collingwood, Dora’s father. Ransome writes in his autobiography that  had originally meet the family in 1896 on Peel Island. ‘Mrs Collingwood told me that she remembered that meeting on the island and her surprise that my mother, who was a very pretty young woman, could have a family of such very ugly children.’
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The rocks at the end of Peel Island where the Collingwood family traditionally had picnics
The rocks at the end of Peel Island where the Collingwood family traditionally had picnics
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By 1904 Arthur Ransome was being taught to sail by Dora, Barbara, and Robin Collingwood in a heavy old dinghy called Swallow that they were able to take out on Coniston Water. He later  stayed at Low Yewdale at the north end of Coniston, which I believe still offers Bed and Breakfast or a self-catering cottage.  Ransome would set up ‘a tent on a small mound close to Yewdale Beck a hundred yards up the valley’ so that he could sleep outside when it was fine.  In her guide-book, In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons Claire Kendall-Price shows you how you can walk from Low Yewdale to Ambleside via The Drunken Duck, a pub you can now stay at that I believe Ransome visited.
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It is easy to see how all this experience, the houses Ransome loved and places he knew of since childhood were poured into his Swallows and Amazons series of books. You will have to tell me which of his stories were written here:
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Low Ludderburn

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After many adventures in Russia and the Baltic, Arthur Ransome bought his second wife Evgenia to live at Low Ludderburn on Cartmell Fell above Windermere where they lived from 1925 until 1935.   He loved the work room made for him at the top of the grey barn outside. They moved to Suffolk for a while  but returned during WWII to live at The Heald, which overlooks Coniston Water.

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The Heald, East of Lake Road, Coniston Water
The Heald above Coniston Water where Arthur Ransome lived between 1940 and 1945 ~ photo: Peter Walker

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It was here that Ransome wrote The Picts and The Martyrs. They had a jetty there where he kept his boat Coch-y-bonddhu, which is used as the model for the Scarab, a sailing dinghy bought for Dick and Dorothea Callum in the novel.

There are a number of books about the life of Arthur Ransome, not least his own autobiography published by Jonathan Cape from which I have quoted briefly here. I can recommend Arthur Ransome, Master Storyteller by Roger Wardale and The World of Arthur Ransome by Christina Hardyment – which has a photo of me on the cover.

News from Hill Top, where Arthur Ransome once lived

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It seems that not a week goes by without Arthur Ransome’s name being mentioned in the national press. Today the news is of Hill Top, the 17th century farmhouse at Ealingsheath, a tiny hamlet near Haverthwaite in Cumbria, where Arthur and Evgenia Ransome lived in the 1960s enjoying the lovely view across the Lakeland fells.

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In the Epilogue to Arthur Ransome’s autobiography, Rupert Hart-Davis wrote: ‘In 1960 the Ransomes bought the little derelict farmhouse in the Lakes which they had rented for the last four years as a holiday cottage. Repairs and alternations took longer than expected, and it was not until November 1963 that they moved into their home, Hill Top, Haverthwaite, near Newby Bridge. They both loved the house, and the buzzards, redstarts and deer by which it seemed to be surrounded… ‘ He celebrated his eightieth birthday there, although by then ‘…he was confined to a wheel chair on the upper floor of the house.’

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The present owners, Stephen and Janine Sykes, who bought Hill Top in 2012, have just finished converting the garage/barn-end into a holiday cottage. You can read the story in the Mail Online today entitled: ‘A home full of Swallows & Amazons…’ and, as they say, is a good base for exploring the locations described in book and used in the 1974 movie, which the Mail describes as, ‘A perfect adventure.’ I describe doing so myself in previous posts.

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Stephen Sykes says, ‘ The picture used was actually of “The Pavilion” – a games room. It’s now impossible to believe, but it was converted from a very substantial former kennel (600sf).’
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‘We demolished another kennel of 1,000sf (now a courtyard garden) and we’re just finishing the conversion of another to an office/store room! We’ve spent a lot of time, effort and money in “de-kennelling” Hill Top and returning it to domestic use! Needless to say, the guest accommodation, “The Cottage at Hill Top”, forms a self-contained part of Hill Top itself.’
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Stephen added, ‘Cumbria Life are coming to photograph Hill Top today for a feature in their Christmas issue.’ The house certainly looks wonderful.
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‘We’re just in the process of creating a website, in the meantime we’re marketing through Lakelovers.’ Stephen and Janine are more than happy to take direct bookings – please ring: 01539 531 452. The last three digits of their phone number are the same as in Ransome’s time.  They offer a 10% discount to TARS members.
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Stephen Sykes is  an investment analyst and author of The Last Witness who studied astrophysics at UCL in the days when men were landing on the moon.  He previously wrote to tell me that they have a number of old photographs and , ‘… a collection of most books by and about Arthur Ransome.  Obviously, we’ve made it our job to learn much about the Ransomes and… visited the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds to look through Arthur Ransome Collection where there are dozens of photographs of Hill Top from the late 1950s to c. 1963. I now have digital copies of most of these, including a number of good quality colour slides of Arthur and Evgenia. I guess it’s rather unusual for someone to find a treasure trove of photos of their house from half a century ago and see how its then famous owner transformed it!
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‘Astonishingly, the Lake District National Park Authority indicated that they had absolutely no interest in the Ransome connection and even moaned that if Hill Top were to become a “tourist attraction” it would merely create traffic problems!’ Stephen added.
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When I last passed Hill Top with Mountain Goat no one else was using the lane that runs in front of the house even though it is not so very far from the southern end of Lake Windermere and the Haverthwaite Railway Station where the steam train comes in and the Windermere steamers dock.
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Dave Guest of BBC North West Tonight presented an item on Hill Top that went out on 6th November. The BBC liked it so much it was broadcast nationwide on BBC Breakfast at 7.50am on Thursday 7th November.
Meanwhile the sale of Esthwaite Water, where Ransome loved to fish, seems to have gone global. This article has appeared in the Indian press: click here for the Bangalore Mirror.
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Arthur Ransome reading on BBC Radio Cumbria

Peter Walker with Sophie Neville and the locomotive
Peter Walker with Sophie Neville at Lakeside Station on Lake Windermere

Peter Walker has just written from Kendal to tell me that Arthur Ransome could be heard on BBC Radio Cumbria yesterday afternoon.

A newly cleaned up archive recording of the author reading from his classic book on fishing ‘Rod and Line’ in 1956 can be heard on BBC I-player for the next five days. Please go 25 minutes into Emma Borthwick’s programme for the item recorded by Jennie Dennett at Hill Top, the Ransome’s house above Haverthwaite, which the new owners, Stephen Sykes and his wife Janine, are opening for Bed and Breakfast.

BBC Radio Cumbria at 17.25 on 15th August 2013

 

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Slate Quay below High Nibthwaite at southern end of Coniston Water where Arthur Ransome learnt about fish as a child on holiday in Cumbria.

Peter Walker’s excellent ‘Swallows and Amazons’ tour gives one an insight and understanding of Arthur Ransome’s life in the Lake District. For more information please click here.

Sophie with the Mountain Goat
The Mountain Goat bus built for explorers. It enables you to look out over the dry stone walls of Cumbria as you travel along.

Aboard the ‘Nancy Blackett’

Sophie Neville aboard the Nancy Blackett at Buckler's HardA few days ago I was able to grab a chance and sail a yacht once owned by Arthur Ransome called the Nancy Blackett, ‘The best little ship I ever owned.’

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Nancy had been brought up from her birth at Woolverstone on the River Orwell in Suffolk to Buckler’s Hard on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire for The Arthur Ransome Society International Annual General Meeting held at Brockenhurst College near by.

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Apart from being Arthur Ranomse’s model for the Goblin in two of his books in the Swallows and Amazons series ~ We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea and Secret Water ~ the Nancy Blackett has recently appeared in Sally Potter’s feature film Ginger and Rosa.

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I went to visit her when she was open to visitors at the Boat yard at Bucklers Hard on Sunday 26th May.

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We emerged having wondered how Arthur Ransome managed to fit himself into the heads, which are right in the bows. Apparently he used to sit there smoking his pipe. How his wife squeezed herself in I do not know – she was 6’3″ tall.

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On the morning of 27th May we had a quick look around the historic village of Bucklers Hard,

Sophie Neville at the Mast Builder's Hotel at Buckler's Hard

including the Master Builder’s Hotel,

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before finding Nancy at the marina.

Sophie Neville aboard the Nancy Blackett

After climbing into our life-jackets, we left the mooring and motored down the Beaulieu River.

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Once we reached the Solent, our sails were hoisted and we were sailing towards the Isle of Wight.

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Peter Willis, Chairman of the Nancy Blackett Trust was with us.

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It was exciting to take the helm as we made our way up to Lymington on a broad reach at about 4 knots, at first against, then with the tide.

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Having left at about 10.00am we reached the Royal Lymington Yacht Club soon after 3.00pm and moored up for the night.

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We had enjoyed perfect conditions and the most wonderful experience.

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Nancy’s crew then welcomed aboard sailors from the Royal Lymington Yacht Club who were keen to see around her.

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If you would like to sail the Nancy Blackett do visit her website and join the trust. The next meeting will be on Saturday 6th July when Sophie Neville has been asked to give a talk on ‘Filming ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’ in Norfolk’.

The Nancy Blackett by Claudia Myatt

The Nancy Blackett was recently profiled on BBC 1 by Coutryfile when Matt Baker went out on her first sail of the season.

Here is a compilation of the programme made up by the Nancy Blackett Trust:

Boats of the Norfolk Broads ~

Sailing on the Norfolk Broads

I recently found a family photograph album with pages illustrating holidays spent under sail in the 1930’s.

Breakfast on the Norfolk Broads ~ Easter 1939
Joan with her friends having breakfast on the Norfolk Broads ~ Easter 1939

Not all the black and white photographs are as horizontal or as sharply in focus as one might wish but they show the glorious boats available for hire

Sailing on the Norfolk Broads - Easter 1939

and reflect what fun was had out on the water.

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We were rather shocked by the cigarettes held in the mouths of the young men but Joan is ninety-nine now and still agile.

Martin Neville on the Norfolk Broads
Martin Neville sailing on the Norfolk Broads with friends in the early 1950s

Having sailed on the Broads with friends, my father hired a Hullabaloo boat to take us out when we were little.

Sophie Neville with her sisters on the Norfolk Broads

We went out of season, when boat hire was cheaper. As there was no one on the water my father let me take the helm mile after mile, despite the fact that I was only about seven years old.

Sophie Neville on the Norfolk Broads
Sophie Neville wearing a life jacket c. 1968

 We loved living aboard and were often surrounded by wild geese.

Sophie Neville on the Norfolk Broads

It seems Arthur Ransome, who had fished on the Broads with Titty’s father, Ernest Altounyan, in 1923, also enjoyed cruising in the spring. His biographer, Roger Wardale, said that ‘Both the Ransomes liked to visit the Broads just after Easter, before most of the motor cruisers had started the season and it was the best time of year for birdlife.’ He went on to describe how Arthur Ransome kept a log of his three weeks spent in a Fairway yacht, the essence of which he used to write Coot Club in 1933/34. ‘As well as visiting Roy’s of Wroxham, tying up at Horning Hall Farm and watching the racing boats go by, towing through bridges, mooring beside a Thames barge at Beccles and watching a fisherman catching eels with a bab, there are numerous details that combine to make Coot Club a valuable account of the social and natural history of the Broads as they were more than 70 years ago.’ 

Roger Wardale illustrated his book Arthur Ransome Master Stroyteller , using wonderful photographs and sketches by Arthur Ransome, including a very jolly one of the Hullabaloos that had not been published before. Do get hold of a copy of the book, to read the chapter on Coot Club for yourself.