Memories of Sunderland: The Boaty

Photo: Looking westwards at the North bank of the River Wear near Southwick, taken by SGM 2020.

Article submitted by Barry Fellows. Articles represent the author’s view, and not necessarily those of SGM.

Anyone who grew up in Southwick, and especially low Southwick, in the seventies will be familiar
with the “Boaty”. A magical world where much of the school holidays and long summer evenings were spent.

Situated between Austin and Pickersgill yard and old Castletown colliery site on the banks of the Wear the Boaty was an adventure playground. Ponds, woods, tributaries, flotsam and jetsam, hills and rock faces. All the things needed for growing (mainly boys) kids to explore and (yes) learn. There were three levels to the Boaty. The top where there were ponds and open land, the dense thorny woods and the riverside. The “Big Hill” dominated one end – probably an old slag heap from the pit – whilst the other end had a marshy inlet.

The ponds had names (they elude me now) and were a source of wonder – frogs, toads and newts thrived despite the raids from jar wielding youths. We learned about nature, how it worked and perhaps began to respect it. One particular hot summer one of the smaller ponds was depleted of water and a group of us spent a full afternoon transporting various amphibians to a bigger pond. We did (foolishly) try to introduce fish to the ponds. At low tide on the riverside, there were numerous tributaries and streams cutting through the grassy banks.

These were home to sticklebacks (and occasionally other fish that got stranded by the retreating river). We didn’t realise at the time that these fish needed brackish water to survive, so the pond experiment failed! Days were spent trying to damn inlets (why? Not sure, but it was us against the tide). We rarely succeeded. There was plenty of material, tree trunks, wood, barrels and cans washed in from far away no doubt. Occasionally there would be a dead sheep and once a horse – all from Lambton’s land we somehow deduced.

When you first entered the Boaty you were met with an old semi derelict house which was perfect “tiggy on high” landscape. Single brick walls with significant drops both sides were traversed at high speed with the agility of a mountain goat – you did not want to be “it”. However, there was the inevitable overzealous incident that in its worst case led to a fractured arm and split head! It did not deter us!

As well as tiggy there was manhunt. Whoever was there was split into two groups, one group would then go away and, not necessarily hide but make for a fortified position of sorts. The game was the for one group to capture all of the other group. Once you were caught you became part of that group. There were no rules. These manhunts could last for days! Amid the sprawling Boaty there were plenty of places for you to hide until a quisling gave you up!

Long days would lead to sitting at the top of “Scar Face” (a sort of rock/mud face cliff about 10 metres high) with a fire, tired from tiggy/manhunt/exploration. You would look out across the river at similar fires on “Catchy rock” (Claxheugh Rock) and wonder what our perceived enemy were doing – anyone on the other side of the river was deemed an enemy. Tree houses were built in the thorny woods and slept in. We had a cunning code that parents could not break – everyone would be sleeping at someone else’s house and since there were no ‘phones…………. It was agreed that these cold, scary uncomfortable nights were brilliant that was until some (obvious) informant spilt the beans- to our parents!

Only remnants and memories remain, the Boaty was a wonderous place for most, and if it were still
there, I doubt the occupancy would be the same as there would be no wi-fi…………
B. Fellows.

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