Swimming Above Stepping Stones Weir At Bothal

A Memory of Bothal

Our Mam being an Ashington lassie, we returned to her birthplace when Mam divorced my father who she met before the Second World War - that was when Mam was in London and working in 'service'. We were dragged from pillar to post from Watford to south Wales (father's birthplace) and eventually on divorce nisi Mam got custody of us 3 kids.

We arrived in Ashington in 1948 and for a time we stayed with my grandma Shields at 99 Poplar Street, near to the Hirst North School. The lower floor flat had one bedroom only and me and two younger sibling sisters would sleep top to tail - this lasted a while until our Mam could get us farmed out to relatives (my mum's sisters initially). Now my memories of Bothal were when my Mam would take us there, either by United bus (if she had the bus fare!) or we walked the 3 or 4 miles to the village of Bothal. Mam would make a picnic of whatever she could glean but memories suggest it was mostly jam and with a loaf of uncut bread at 4.1/2d (a little over 2p) from Donnisons the corner shop on Second Avenue.

Before being able to swim our venue would be the Bothal stepping stones near the castle, later when more confident and able to support ourselves in the water with the doggy paddle we would go above the weir - the water here was anywhere from 3' to perhaps 10' deep. Many local guys would be there, some already working in the pits - they would be strutting their stuff for the delectation of any the young girls viewing. Names remembered were the Routledge brothers, Alan Scott, Andy Longstaff among others, all of whom I became familar with, when at 15 years old I went down Ashington colliery and was based at Coneygarth drift - this was surface access to the oulying coal seams of Ashington colliery and the pitmen were bused or cycled along the mineral line waggonway or on the non surfaced road midway between Ashington and Bothal near to Coopers Shop and Coneygath Farm.

I remember sneaking out from the underground workings and walked along the  mineral line that at one time must have taken the coal by 40 ton wagons onto the main London-Edinborough railway line - I would do this this to watch the steam trains hauling the likes of the Flying Scotsman etc on their fast journeys north and south. On one such occasion I saw the steam engine called the Sir Nigel Gresley flash past and would you believe it, but 55 years later (this year!!) I saw the same engine hauling a heritage train south at Christon Bank station while waiting at the crossing gates over the road to Beadnell in north Northumberland.

Bothal village with its castle, stepping stones, the weir etc, figured further some 10 years later (c1959), this was when I was sweet on a young girl called Valerie Robinson who was 15 years old - we would walk to Bothal and she would always be with her good classmate friend called Brenda? Freeman - I eventually worked with this girl's dad Sammy Freeman at Coneygarth drift. These times are now in memories that excite, yet many of us had little in the way of paying for fun and most enjoyment had to be found with the simplest of pleasure, such as spending time at the lovely village of Bothal.      

A memory shared by Wullie Harries , on Sep 22nd, 2009.

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