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.
The most challenging task for me is raising my oar in salute, as we did here for our landlady:
The long oars are heavy. The only way I can raise mine is by putting one end under my foot.
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.
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.
While some of us worked really rather hard on our holiday, others enjoyed the river from a different perspective.
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!
A newspaper report has just arrived from Nantes in France, where we arrived on 30th August in our shallop, the Royal Thamesisand 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.
I’ve also been sent these photographs of the sandolo, showing our standing up oarsmen being applauded by the crowds.
The traditional French rowing boats taking part such as Fille de la Loire, were also admired by thousands.
Although a couple of gondolas took part, accompanying us some way down the River Erdre, I don’t remember seeing them in Nantes.
A few years ago, 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 the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway Station at the southern end of the lake (or Antarctica as Titty labelled the region). It was here that we spent our very first day filming ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in May 1973. I had not been there since.
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.)
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.
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.
We climbed aboard the train and I explored, as Titty would have done, discovering people seated inside from far distant lands.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can read more about the locations used in the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) in the paperback ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ available from libraries, bookshops or online here.
There is also a similar ebook, entitled ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows & Amazons (1974)’ available from all ebook distributors including Amazon