‘If you are hooked on the River Hull, there’s a good chance you will be hooked for life’

York City rower Sandy Franklin reflects on her passion for single sculling – from the River Hull and the Ouse through to Australia’s River Barwon


I’d always been a hockey player, a sport which dominated my school days and my first year at university. As a child I’d longingly watch rowers on the canal in Leicester, but thought it wasn’t a sport for me, only for people far wealthier and more privileged than I was.

But at the start of my second year at university, wandering round the students union gazing at all the sports’ notices offering new opportunities. I paused at the rowing club notice. ‘Want to join,’ a voice behind me said. ‘I’ve never rowed,’ I replied, thinking the club would only be interested in those with experience. ‘We’ll take anybody,’ the voice said. To this day, I’m not sure how I took that comment!

I joined.

So, on a late October Wednesday afternoon I sat in the bow position in my first rowing boat, a four. I was hooked. And if you are hooked on the River Hull – a muddy, smelly, tidal river – on a grey, cold, and drizzly day, there’s a good chance you will be hooked for life. As I was. And I have never picked up a hockey stick since.

I rowed through the rest of my university days, but then as work and a family demanded more of my time, I found it difficult to commit to crew outings. But the sport does not let go of you easily, rowing felt locked into my body.

“I loved the idyllic early mornings in a single scull on the River Barwon”

Unexpectedly back in Hull for my job, I joined Hull Rowing Club and started single sculling which allowed me to choose times on the river to suit work and family. There is not a straight stretch of river on the Hull, but despite the endless twists and turns and setbacks once again I was hooked, perhaps even more so as I loved being out alone on the river and the motion of rowing a single scull. I felt a sense of separation from the rest of the world, more a part of the landscape. Dan Topolski, ex-Oxford coach, perfectly describes the feeling: ‘Some find inner calm and peace with yoga, poetry, or painting; I find it through spending a couple of hours daily sculling alone on the river… It creates a delicious sense of wellbeing and contentment.’

Fifteen years of hard training and competing followed, one of those years during a stint working in Australia. I loved the idyllic early mornings in a single scull on the River Barwon in Geelong, Victoria, and a few evenings each week in a double scull when the heat of the day had diminished. I loved the Barwon and the pelicans that landed beside me. I loved the long winter training sessions down to Barwon Heads where the river widens and quietly enters the sea.

I returned to the UK and moved to York. Most people I knew thought I was jubilant because I’d landed my dream job as college librarian, I knew I was jubilant because I’d bought my first sculling boat, a fine wooden George Sims called Wombat, from a member of York City Rowing Club (YCRC) on the day I’d accepted the job.

So on the day I started work in York 35 years ago I joined YCRC and have been a member ever since. Over that time I have developed a huge attachment to the River Ouse. During the early days of my time with York I continued to race in my single scull, and for a while combined this with competing in a double scull with the first friend I met in York, Caroline Sherlock.

“I watch the fox wandering stealthily along the bank, he eyes me as much as I eye him”

I competed in Nat Vets (as it was known then) for a number of years, both in my single and the double. I competed at the first Women’s Henley in June 1988. My life revolved around rowing, and there was a time when I could never imagine not competing, not training hard. But time passes, and we change. A change of job brought with it less time for training. I stopped competing, but I’ve never stopped single sculling, only now it is for pure pleasure.

I love my early mornings on the River Ouse, as much now as I did when I moved to York all those years ago. I love to watch the kingfishers, sometimes goosanders, the skeins of geese in autumn, and once, on one very special occasion, 10 whooper swans, winter visitors from Iceland and Scandinavia, flew straight over my head. I marvel as mute swans take off alongside me; I watch as they fly up or downstream, and I lose myself in the sound of their wings beating, the music of nature epitomised. I pause and watch the fox wandering stealthily along the bank, he eyes me as much as I eye him. I stop and watch the flocks of long-tailed tits flitting from tree to tree, and sometimes I just sit still in Wombat, in the middle of the river, drifting with the flow and enjoy the solitude and silence all around me.

My work often takes me to locations where there is a lake, a loch, a stretch of coast, or other rivers – I have bought a wider Liteboat, and I love her. She will never replace Wombat in my affections nor Wombat’s place of the River Ouse, but Liteboat (Ullswater Lady is her name) is easily transportable on my car and allows me to broaden the places I row and continue to indulge my passion, my way of life, my involvement with rowing wherever I am and wherever I choose to take her.

I am thankful for the part rowing has played in my life; my life would have been poorer without it.