Tag Archives: Holiday activities

‘What did you do on your holidays?’

I am often asked what I get up to on holiday. We have just returned from Rendez-vous de l’Erdre in Brittany, when we rowed some forty-five kilometers down a tributary of the Loire, leading a procession of 240 traditional boats into Nantes.

RDV poster

The journey started in Portsmouth,

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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. 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.

RDV flag

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.

RDV map

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.

Passengers in the shallop-001

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

Reflections

where Stephanie was reporting on our progress for France 3.

France Television

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

Steamboats

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.

trombones

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

Saxophone

With the music came with the most amazing food.

fruit

We were looked after beautifully.

Sophie Neville on the Erdre

Having eaten well, with our passengers aboard once more,

passengers

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

Nantes

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

Sophie in Nantes

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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Filed under Memoir, Sophie Neville, Travel, truelife story

In search of our old film locations

Peel Island on Coniston Water ~ photo: Sophie Neville 2012

On a wet but beautiful day in Cumbria we set off on a quest to find some of the locations used in Richard Pilbrow’s 1974 film of Swallows and Amazons.

To my delight our journey started with a drive down through the streets of Rio (Bowness) and along the east shore of Windermere to Haverthwaite Railway Station at the southern end of the lake (or Antarctica as Titty labeled the region). It was here that we spent our very first day filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ back in 1973. I had not been there since.

The driver of the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Steam locomotive

We had a chat to the train driver who explained that they now run six journeys a day. From Haverthwaite the steam locomotives run alongside the River Leven to Lakeside Station. From here you can take a native steamer back up to Rio (the Bowness pier) or to the Far North (Ambleside, which is the town at the head of the lake where we lived whilst filming in that long distant summer when I was twelve years old.)

Talking to the train driver just as we did in 1973

Whilst we used engine number 2073 in the movie, this steam locomotive 42085 was built in 1951. It uses about two tons of coal a day but it utterly magnificent.  The driver probably uses rather a lot of steam oil too.  It’s a smell I relish, familiar since childhood days spent on steamboats. I remember it from the SBA steamboat rally held on Windermere in 1991, which I describe in Funnily Enough.

Steam Locomotives Forever!

Curiously, Haverthwaite Railway Station looked cleaner and shinier than when we used it as a film location in 1973. I can only suppose it was still in the process of being restored back then, when Simon Holland our set designer cluttered it up with push bikes and luggage trolleys.  Much to our surprise, the yellow taxi we were transported in during the filming was actually driven along the platform.

Lakeside and Haverthwaite Steam Railway

We climbed aboard the train and I explored, as Titty would have done, discovering people seated inside from far distant lands.

Inside the carridge of the Lakeside and Haverthwaite train

David Wood’s screenplay for the film of Swallows and Amazons, directed by Claude Whatham, opens to find the Walker family cooped up in a railway carriage compartment as they travel north for their holidays.

With Virginia McKenna at the Haverwaite Railway Station

Viginia McKenna at the Haverthwaite Railway Station in Cumbria soon after it re-opened in May 1973. Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton, Lesley Bennet, Kit Seymour and Sophie Neville are with her. The carridge with compartments is in the background ~ photo: Daphne Neville

We saw this distinctive carriage in a siding as we steamed down the valley. Funnily enough when I reached home, later the next day, I came across a photograph on the internet I had never seen before. It was of Virginia McKenna, playing Mrs Walker, reading a magazine inside the compartment. Strangely it turned up when I Googled my own name – Sophie Neville.

Virginia McKenna playing Mary Walker, mother of the Swallows in the EMI feature film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ made in 1973

The train is not included in Arthur Ransome’s book of Swallows and Amazons, written in 1929, but he does feature locomotives in his later novels, notably Pigeon Post. I clearly remember filming the BBC adaptation of Coot Club at what must have been The Poppy Line, a steam railway in north Norfolk when Henry Dimbley, playing Tom Dudgeon, jumped aboard the moving train and met Dick and Dorothea.

Peter Walker of Mountain Goat with Sophie Neville at Lakeside Station, Windermere.

I jumped off the train at the Lakeside Station to meet up with Peter Walker of Mountain Goat. Peter has carefully researched and put together a Swallows and Amazons tour, exploring ‘High Greenland’, the ‘Forest’ and ‘High Hills’ to discover the places where Arthur Ransome lived. We set off in search of the places where he fished, wrote, and drank beer.  It was fascinating – and proved an excellent way to spend a day in the Lake District despite the rain.

'Native shipping'

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Filed under Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, Claude Whatham, Cumbria, David Wood, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Lake District, Landscape Photographs, Memoir, Movie, Movie stories, Photography, Richard Pilbrow, Sophie Neville, Steam train Haverthwaite Railway Station, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, Travel, truelife story, Uncategorized