It’s so tucked away even some of the local residents don’t know it’s there, but in a watery corner of Yorkshire, Chris Berry finds a thriving community.
There are still some hidden corners in Yorkshire that only a small number of people are aware of and quite often it seems they are usually right on the doorstep of a town.
Boroughbridge Marina is just such a place tucked away from the day-to-day hubbub of articulated lorries, traffic chaos and people speeding from destination to destination.
It’s a different life here where boats tootle along at just 7mph on the River Ure, yet it is only two minutes from the A1 and just a couple more from the centre of the historic town.
Simon Taylor took over the marina in 2006 having run a boat business for a short time at Acaster Malbis alongside the River Ouse where he grew up. He knew very little of the marina before he arrived.
“‘When I took over there was no indication from anywhere that this was here and yet there were moorings for 80 boats.
“Even now we get visitors who tell us they asked for directions when they were in the town and people who have lived there for 25 years still don’t know about us.
“They know about the river of course but not the marina.
“In some ways it is a good thing that we’re tucked away, but we want people to come here to hire boats, try their hand at boating and see what we offer. We run the marina as a business and we’re keen to encourage people who are new to boating as well as those who have been doing it for years.”
Boating is a pastime that sees 35,000 boats on the country’s rivers and canals every year and Boroughbridge Marina is the northernmost of its kind in England.
Rivers and canals in the UK are owned by British Waterways under The Canal and River Trust and all the marinas are leased. The trust is responsible for 2,000 miles of waterways.
The River Ure is the main navigable waterway in the area. Further upstream is Ripon – 10 minutes by car but two and a half hours by boat – which has its own marina and boat club and that’s as far as you can get in that direction from Boroughbridge.
“For our boating community here at Boroughbridge it’s a bit like living in a cul-de-sac,” says Simon.
“It’s a community all of its own and everyone knows each other. Going out the other direction you sail into the River Ouse. The River Swale comes into the Ure about a mile and a half downstream and the River Nidd joins 15 miles on from there but neither of those are navigable.’
When Simon first came to the marina it was only half full. In seven years he has turned it into a thriving enterprise with a three-year waiting list of people wanting moorings. He has also set up a chandlery, boat sales, service and hire, and a new café opened just this year.
“The marina had not been run as a full-time business and was built by private boating individuals in the 1970s, with Ernest Sinkinson being the instigator. Ernest rounded up boat owners and I understand their deposits funded the work. His son Paul ran it for a while too. We still have one or two of those who came here when it opened.
“We are a small marina in comparison to others in the country where at some you will find hundreds of boats, but that small community feel attracts those who don’t want to be somewhere too commercial.
“Some see having a boat as a status symbol, to others it is a weekend retreat or a summer holiday. It isn’t a cheap pastime but we are seeing an increase in those wanting to take part.
“Some don’t have the budget to carry on boating and decide to cash in and go on more foreign holidays, but we also see it the other way around where they cannot afford to go abroad and instead buy a less expensive boat.
“You can buy a boat for between £,2000 to £3,000 and then the sky’s your limit on how far you can go. We have a 28ft boat for sale at just under £80,000 at the moment, but then we have one of a similar length that is up at £7,500. The more expensive boat is six years old whereas the other is 35 years old.’
Simon started a boat hire business last year and it is proving popular at bringing new people to the marina.
“We have a couple of hire boats that can be taken out either for an hour, or two, three or a whole day. We give tuition and then those who come can take the boat out on the river. It’s a 20-foot boat suitable for a party of six to eight people.
“We don’t build boats here but we do repair and refurbish them. We sell both new and used boats and have an import business bringing boats in from Holland and Poland.”’
Trading boats is similar to trading cars, which is another of the reasons why Simon slotted in to boat sales as car sales was one of his former jobs.
His family ties with rivers and family holidays also helped with his decision to take on the marina when the chance came.
“I’m very much an opportunist and I like to take a risk.
“We now have this place running well and fortunately we don’t have much in the way of stress. As a family when I was growing up we always had a boat.
“I remember us leaving Acaster Malbis for a two week cruise that took us down the River Trent across Lincolnshire and out to sea and up the coastline. It was a great experience as a kid.”
It’s not all easy going for Simon as the River Ure is prone to flooding and he is the first to admit that it can cause havoc in the marina, but it has never led to anything more than extra work for he and his team.
“People leave their boats here in good faith and it’s up to us to try our level best to make sure they are okay when the floods come.
“Of course they are boats, so they float, it’s when the flood water goes down that we have to be wary.
“‘When the river gets high the boats that are on hard standing for repair are usually on barrels.
“Ultimately the barrels float off when the floods come so we have to be around when that happens no matter what time of night or day to make sure they don’t end up on the bank.
“Luckily in September last year, which was when we had the worst recorded flood for many years, we had a few empty berths so those that were on hard standing because of work being done on them were moved into those until the swell went down.”
Normally the Ure floods half a dozen times a year, but last year it reached double figures. The water comes out of Wensleydale via all of the becks and streams that run into the river when it rains or snows.
“I’ve taken this on and it is my job to make it work. It’s paying its way, but what I am keen to do is to make sure that more people know about it and the facilities we have here.”
Maybe Boroughbridge Marina won’t be as much of a hidden corner in years to come.