‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Roundhay Park Lake Adventures – Boating, Piracy and a Near Drowning in one of the Country’s Most Beautiful Parks.

David’s Bookshelf Issue 2 Cup of Tea Tales

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://davidmcameronauthormusician.com/2022/10/02/davids-bookshelf-issue-2/ — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/david-m-cameron/message
  1. David’s Bookshelf Issue 2
  2. David’s Bookshelf – Issue One
  3. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Lifetime of Global Successes, Disasters and Wonders! Space the Final Frontier.
  4. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hetchell Woods (Bardsey) and Crags – A Special Piece of God’s Own Country or County! One of my Favourite Places to Visit.
  5. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Wonderful Yorkshire Dales. Trollers Gill, a Place with a Mysterious Legend and the Hell Hole where I Diced with Death.
Waterloo Lake

As a young lad, I spent a lot of time in Roundhay Park and I have many good memories of the wonderful place. In particular, the lakes were an opportunity for adventure and misbehaving. I have spoken about my grandma nearly sinking a little paddle boat on the small lake, but the large lake held more possibilities for fun. Even so, I have very early memories of feeding the ducks and swans on the Little Lake. Bread was not recognised as the bad influence it is today, and the ducks and swans seemed to enjoy it. One problem with discouraging feeding them bread is that many birds are now undernourished, particularly in winter. I remember having my cane fishing net and a jam jar. I would trail it through the water and inspect it to see if I had caught any of the little wonders. Minnows and sticklebacks were scooped out of the lake around the edges and deposited into the jam jar. Minnows were common, but the sticklebacks with their spines were treasured. Usually, we let them go back into the lake, but at least once I took them home, only to find that they died within a day or two. The most fun I ever got on the Little Lake was on the occasions it froze. Often it was only partially frozen, and I used to look with wonder into the water under the clear ice. The ducks and swans would look miserable floating on the small areas of free water. Now I wonder how the black swans in Canal Gardens managed, as they come from Perth in Western Australia and the water never freezes. On the occasions the ice was thick enough to stand on, it was a real treat. Snowball fights and sliding on the ice would take place, but it was the joy of walking on water that has stayed with me. The other amazing thing was throwing pieces of ice across the ice-covered lake. It produced a unique skittering sound and skimmed, almost frictionless, across the ice. It was possible to get a piece to travel from one side to another. I have seen the Big Lake frozen a few times, but rarely was it thick enough to be safe to walk on. The paddle boats on the Little Lake were not challenging once you got a bit older, and that is where the Big Lake (Waterloo Lake) came into its own.

In the late 1950s and early sixties, there were two motor launches that took trips around the lake, and this was a must for families. The boats had names, and I think one was the Mayflower. I think about twenty or thirty people could fit on one and they would take a tour of the lake. At this time the boat area was fenced in and there was a large metal turn-style gate that allowed access. Tickets were bought at a kiosk and you lined up to wait for the boat to arrive back. The people disembarked and then you got on. It was always exciting when you were little.

Waterloo Lake in Roundhay Park takes a major role in my novel, A Trembling of Finches.

As you got older, there were other options, and they were the rowing boats. These were much more interesting. The boats were wooden and sat low in the water. They had a seat with a back at the rear, but the oarsman or woman sat on a bench adjacent to the rowlocks. Courting couples would often hire these and the men would try to impress the ladies with their smooth rowing and ability to steer around the lake. About four adults could fit on, so some families or two couples could share a boat. In this case, two men would sit next to each other and use one oar each. The rules were quite strict, and you were not allowed to stand or deliberately rock a boat. If anyone was seen fooling around, then staff would appear in a small motorboat and give a warning or get the people on the boat to throw the mooring line to them and they were embarrassingly towed back to the quayside and evicted.

You hired the boat for a set time. I think it was thirty minutes and each rowing boat had a number. Every so often, the motorboat would appear and, using a megaphone, let boat numbers know it was time to head back. Because of the size of the lake, this could take quite a time, particularly if you were at the end near the castle and the fenced-off island. The tricky part was getting on and off the boat. The helpers had boat hooks, and they held it firm until you got in and out. They always had a certain swagger as they tried to impress the young ladies.

Waterloo Lake is on the site of an old quarry and was built by returned soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars. I have seen the Big Lake drained on at least one occasion, whilst it was cleaned and repair done to the dam wall near where the outdoor swimming pool, Lido, used to be. There was a rumour that bodies were removed, but I don’t know if that was true, but the lake was deep, as it was the site of an old quarry, and I heard there were drownings. I have also seen both of the lakes frozen in a thick sheet of ice and walked on them. When the ice was thin, people were told to stay off the ice and signs were put up. I am not sure when was the last time the ice covered the lake, but it doesn’t happen often as the climate has changed.

As teenagers, though, the lake offered much more excitement, and our main focus was the Big Lake. We were immortal, or so we thought. We were full of surging hormones and wanted to impress everyone with our skill, courage and bravado. This is not a good recipe for health and safety, and for some reason, we assumed the rules were for everyone else but us. Groups of about twelve of us would hire the rowing boats and, of course, there would be every attempt made to outdo the others in the other boats. Races from one end of the lake to the other would take place and two teenagers on the oars could get up quite a pace and would frighten other rowers and wildfowl as we careened across the water, leaving a wake behind. The no-standing rule was viewed as a challenge, and standing and rocking the boat until water came in over the sides was a usual pastime. Hopefully, you weren’t spotted by the boat workers or you would suffer the ignominy of being towed back to shore.

Roundhay Park Castle folly.

My friend, Peter, was on the lake with others from Allerton Grange School and the usual tomfoolery was taking place. It was a hot summer’s day and spirits were high. I wasn’t there on this occasion, but Peter has recounted the experience many times. One boat with about four lads in was being rocked, but this time it filled with water and the lads ended up in the lake. My friend’s rowing boat headed over and one boy was missing in the water. Peter gazed down into the dark water and caught sight of the boy’s head and he was floating below the surface and not moving. He reached down and grabbed hold of the lad’s hair. Thank goodness for long hair in those days. With a handful of hair, he pulled the boy upwards and got his head above water and manhandled him into their boat. Luckily, there was a lot of coughing and spluttering and the lad was none the worse for the dunk. What I was told was that if he hadn’t been spotted, then he would have drowned, as he was not moving or trying to get to the surface and was just immobile, suspended under the water. I am not sure the boy ever truly realised what my friend had done for him.

Waterloo Lake

You would have thought that this cautionary tale would have modified our behaviour on the water, but not in the least. One Saturday afternoon, we were rowing and there were four of us on the boat and we ended up near the island. The island was about four or five yards from the banks on its nearest side, covered in trees and thick undergrowth. The surrounding water was shallow and more mud than lake. It was fenced off from the lake proper, with a wire strand and we chatted as we rested against the fence. We must have been bored as we looked at the lake, the fence and the boat and seemed to all come to the same idea. We would take the boat under the fence and hide it on the island, so that we could come back the next day and sail free of charge. Now, why we thought this would be a good idea, I have no idea. We didn’t want to damage the boat, and it was just a prank, I suppose. I seem to remember there was Peter, Chris, John L and me, but I could be wrong. Somehow, we manoeuvred the boat under the wire fence and we got onto the island. The lake was covered in boats and I have no idea why no one reported us, but they didn’t. We dragged the boat onto the island and covered it in branches. It wasn’t a brilliantly hidden boat, but from a distance, it was difficult to see. We were watched by a family on the lakeside, but they said nothing as we smiled at them and waded ashore. We put our shoes back on, rolled down our trousers and set off on the walk home.

We had arranged to meet the next day to release the boat from the island and enjoy our prank. It was fairly early when we returned the next morning and there was a light mist over the water. The island was shrouded in it, and we wondered if the boat would still be there. To our surprise, it was, and the mist helped cover up our getting the boat back into the water and under the fence. Once done, we headed out onto the open lake. The fact that we were the only boat on the water at this time was a bit of a problem. We assumed the authorities must have known that a boat was missing, or maybe they didn’t. I would have thought that they would have counted them back in, but maybe somebody was a bit slack and just missed it. If they were aware, then goodness knows what they thought had happened. Anyway, we rowed about a bit and then chose the sensible option. We rowed to the lake edge; put the oars back into the boat and beat a hasty retreat before our misdemeanour was discovered.

Set on the North Yorkshire moors, my new Science Fiction/Fantasy novel will be released soon.

As wicked deeds go, it doesn’t rank very high, but I was very pleased that we had got away with it. I wouldn’t have wanted to face my parents if we had been caught. In the end, no harm was done, and the boat was later towed back by the motorboat. It wasn’t uncommon for boats to be abandoned if the crew didn’t want to walk from the boathouse, as it was a much longer distance. Maybe they thought it had similarly been abandoned. I don’t suppose we will ever know.

Maybe it was these experiences that led me to set much of my recently published thriller novel in Roundhay Park. Waterloo Lake had a bit of a sinister reputation, and I use the location as the site to dispose of bodies. ‘A Trembling of Finches’ uses a lot of my childhood experiences for locations. I am shortly to publish my next novel, ‘Just After Midnight’ and this is a science fiction/fantasy book, set in 1970 on the North Yorkshire Moors. I will let you know when it is available.


4 Replies to “‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Roundhay Park Lake Adventures – Boating, Piracy and a Near Drowning in one of the Country’s Most Beautiful Parks.”

  1. Again very nostalgic read for me, I lived in the apartment block at the top of Hill 60 and walked my dog round both lakes regularly. When the big lake was drained in the 80’s a lot of munition was found that had been dumped there after the war, not sure which one. Also in the 80’s two teenage boys drowned one lovely summer evening, lots more life buoys went up and lots more signs. Like you myself and my friends did lots of very silly things in boats. Also during the time I lived there an early morning dog walker found a hanging body in the castle which gave us all a bit of a scare.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I loved it too and spent hours in the park you tend to be in there all the time if you have a dog though never after dark

        Liked by 1 person

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