Devils Tails from the Riverbank 5

How the Leopard got its Spots.

Time for another . . . err . . .exciting episode.


We’ve had a great response for our Learn to Row course with twelve participants signing up for it this year. We had the swimming test and cap-size drills on Saturday 27th April in the swimming pool up at Trent College and we’ll have had our fourth session by the time you read this. The first session always takes a while with introductions, safety instruction and a land-based introduction as to what to do with all your arms and legs when you’re in a boat. Everybody managed to get out on the water for a quick flip up the river past the scout hut and back on that first session but it was dark by the time the last crews came off the water. Nobody died though, so that’s all pretty good isn’t it? We’re at the stage where our learners are getting more of a feel for it now and we can take some of our experienced hands out of the boats and put more learners in. We can all get out on the water at the same time using our two ‘Explore’ boats (4 oarsmen and a cox) and our octuple. Octuple is rowing shorthand for an eight person sculling boat (plus a cox). In the right hands it’s the fastest boat on our stretch of the river, but it’s also potentially the most stable, having eight blades sticking out each side to stop it from falling over, and is therefore pretty good for learning in. The weather’s been really kind to us recently on Tuesday evenings, so let’s hope it continues that way.


Last time, I was going to tell you a bit about how our club was founded, but the Vikings gazumped that theme before the Easter break. We’ve been to a couple of regattas in the meantime but since we didn’t come home with any pots I don’t really want to talk about it, so I’m going to put that theme off for a bit, unless there’s a little bit of room left at the end for it.


I’m sure somebody will correct me if I get this wrong. Devil’s Elbow Rowing Club was formed in 2011, by three members of Loughborough Rowing Club, our nearest and dearest neighbours, who found that they had a need for a little more room to spread their wings. If we were ever to mount a plaque on the wall of our boathouse with the names of our founding fathers and mothers, I think Nicola Cheeseman, Neil Martin and Julie Paillin would be the three names immortalised in traffolyte thereon. Loughborough Rowing Club has its boathouse on the River Soar just off the A6006 near Zouch. If you follow the river downstream from there for about 1000m (that means Northwards – or up, if you’ve got Googlemaps open by now), you’ll come to a bit where the river has been canalised by some of my Irish ancestors, to cut off a fiendishly tortuous bend in the river and forming a little island between the two channels.  It’s level with Sutton Bonnington, so if you get as far as ‘The Otter’, you’ve missed it. This bend has been known locally as the Devil’s Elbow for generations, presumably because of the number of vessels that have come to a sticky end there. On that bend is an old boathouse, owned by Lord and Lady Crawshaw as part of their Whatton Estate, which is where our intrepid movers and shakers moved to along with their boats in 2011. So, our club’s name came from their new home, which I think is a great stroke of luck, or genius, or both. Without it, we’d be called ‘The Fiendishly Tortuous Bend Rowing Club’ which doesn’t really blow anybody’s frock up much.


If you were to take a look at our club emblem, you’d see a flat open expanse of water and a rowing blade crossed with what looks like a devil’s tail. It just goes to show how deceptive appearances can be, because if you take our emblem and overlay it onto ‘Googlemaps’, you’ll see that what appears at first to be a tail actually traces the flow of water through our bend in the River Soar, ignoring the canalised bit of course, which is far too practical and unpoetic to be worth immortalising on our coat of arms. So, our three intrepid heroes set about establishing a new identity in their new home just down-river from their old one. Nicola, being the charismatic soul that she is, trebled club membership at a single stroke by making one visit to her local pub in Ashby on a Friday night. They replaced the timber decking in the boathouse and moved their boats in, then set to, to hack, saw, dig and dredge a navigable channel for their boats out of their little backwater onto the main, if unpoetic at least practical, canalised river channel. It wasn’t this that prompted them to move on though.


The need for some sort of all-year-round vehicle access to get their boats off to race events put the mockers on this romantic little backwater. Getting across two fields with a boat trailer was manageable in the summer, but not practical through the winter months without messing up the fields. A hard-core track was needed, but getting the access for it off that dual-carriageway stretch of the A6 was more than the Highways Department could stomach. A loaded boat trailer can have a good long over-hang, which means the back end can swing out very wide on a sharp turn and the last thing you want when you’re tooling along the Queen’s highway on your motorbike is a casual bow-ball from one of our boats between your eyes. It would probably have needed a new roundabout and a brown sign at the very least, so the council were probably right on that score. Anyway, by the summer of the following year, our founders had made friends with Trent Valley Sailing Club and between them they’d organised the building of the big boatshed that you see today alongside Cranfleet Cut, and moved in. You see the sort of people they are. They don’t hang around.


Neil rows with Loughborough Rowing Club now, but he comes down from time to time to see what’s going on. Julie has lots of contacts on the rowing scene along with a lot of drive and she’s currently training with a ladies’ crew at Derwent Rowing Club in Derby amongst other things, which I’ll tell you about next time. I’ve no idea where Nicola’s disappeared off to, but I wish she hadn’t. You can tell I’m rushing now can’t you, cos I’ve missed the editor’s deadline.

Ed Sinfield

Devil’s Elbow Rowing Club – Recreational Captain