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Rowing, riding and roars

PUBLISHED: 09:36 17 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:18 20 February 2013

Club captain Craig Allan, National Masters Sculling Champion, with Adam Ridler, category winner of Scullers Head of the River

Club captain Craig Allan, National Masters Sculling Champion, with Adam Ridler, category winner of Scullers Head of the River

Olympians, big cats, wolves, and sideways motorbikes – all part of the fascinating social life of Hoddesdon and Broxbourne. Richard Young goes in search of people with a passion...

Put your oar in

HOME to the only rowing club in Hertfordshire, Broxbourne draws in athletes from across the county and beyond.

Founded on the River Lee in 1847, Broxbourne Rowing Club is also one of the oldest in the country and a central feature of sporting life in the town.

Trustee Neil Fryer joined the club in 1972 and has been coach, treasurer and captain in his time. The 76-year-old says the beginnings of the club date to the birth of the railway when visitors came to mess about on the river.

Shortly after the railway opened people started coming here. It was a day out. They used to have boats, punts, and skiffs out on the river. From that developed the idea for a rowing club.

The first boathouse was destroyed by fire a decade after it was built, as was a second Victorian building in 1965. After that the club used what Neil described as a shed, until a new boathouse was completed this year officially opened by reigning Paralympic champion and four-time world champion Tom Aggar at the beginning of October.

Neil says their new home reflects the clubs growing popularity. Following the success of Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent British rowing has been the best in the world for the past five years. That has been reflected in the club.

Its more popular now than ever. You go down on a Saturday and the place is packed out. We have 12 to 80-year-olds rowing. Most clubs tend to specialise, but being the only rowing club in Herts and Essex it has a very big catchment area and it caters for everyone. Weve got youth rowers and seniors and the veterans have always been good. They have won gold medals. Weve got guys who have won the Boat Race, guys who have won world championships. A lot of people have started rowing at Broxbourne and end up rowing in the Olympics.

He adds that success is paired with a renowned friendliness. Everyone knows its a very friendly club as well as a successful club. Weve got a relatively small river - a very safe river and a very pretty one. It stops us becoming one of the giants of the rowing scene. But we are doing very well.

The clubs next available learn-to-row sessions start in January. To book a place go to

An adrenalin rush

TAKE a seat at the Rye House racetrack in Hoddesdon on a Saturday night and you will see one of the most exhilarating motor sports going.

Thrilling crowds here since the 1930s, The Rockets speedway riders carry on the tradition of power sliding round a shale track at high speed with no brakes.

Team manager John Sampford says he fell in love with the sport the first time he came to a race meet in the late 1970s.

For me its the most exciting sport I have ever seen. You are close enough to see it all. You dont miss anything, the 58-year-old says.

The bikes do nought to 60 in 30 yards. They are on 500cc single-cylinder bikes one hell of a powerful machine. On some of the bigger circuits they are doing 80 miles an hour down the straights and thats with no brakes.

The Rockets are made up of a junior and a senior squad with seven riders in each team, who race in matches against clubs across the country.

The juniors range from 15 years old upwards and they turn senior when they are good enough, John says.

Kids are brought along by their parents to watch. They say "I like that, can I have a go?" We have a training school on a regular basis. You can come along and hire machinery and equipment.

After a while you want to learn how to slide into the turns. On your left boot you wear a steel shoe with a special metal on the bottom which allows you to slide.

John adds the sport is expensive, and also dangerous, with injuries and even lives lost.

Its four guys all racing for the same line. Your life is in their hands and their life is in yours. Its a dangerous sport, no doubt about that. They respect that and there is no room for stupidity.

The 3,000 capacity Rye House Stadium hosts 30 meets a season which runs from mid-March to the end of October. Visit

Another day in Paradise

BEAUTIFUL killers are an animal keepers passion at Paradise Wildlife Park.

Ian Jones has been the full-time big cat keeper at the 26-acre site on the edge of Broxbourne since March, in charge of the general welfare of 20 powerful predators.

The 28-year-old says looking after the lions, leopards, tigers and cheetahs and helping them to survive and thrive is his lifes ambition, born of a visit to Africa as a boy. And at Paradise he is also especially privileged to care for two special sisters wolves Misha and Tatra.

Ian says unlike wild wolves and the other animals in the carnivore section, the 10 and 11-year-old accept him as one of them.

They are what we call socialised wolves you are able to go in and interact with them. You are basically an extension of the pack, Ian says. Its possible because they came here when their eyes were closed as cubs and we reared them. We stay on the same level. There is a pack structure. We dont want to be above them because we will have to keep that going 24 hours a day, and we cant be below them.

He adds that every interaction with them is on their terms however.

We never go up to them in the enclosure, we let them come up to us. We dont fuss them like a dog. They come up and lick our faces its how they behave with another wolf, it is a sign of ultimate trust.

He says being so close to the wolves enables him to diagnose illnesses and treat them without the need for general anaesthetic, which can be dangerous for the animals.

They do tell you when something is wrong. They can be a lot more clingy or whine a lot. Recently we were able to put sun cream on their ears to stop them being burnt, that is not something you would normally be able to do to an awake wolf.

Ian adds that although the hours are long and it is not a well-paid sector, he would not do anything else.

You fall in love with the animals. If they are ill you will come in on your days off and stay up with them all night. Its like a family member.

Its been a passion my whole life. To get so close to some of the animals here its an absolute joy.

Visitors to the park, which is open all year round, can take part in various activities including feeding the animals and shadowing a keeper as well as adopt an animal to help the parks work in protecting vulnerable species. Visit


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