During the summers of the 1970s, one of the abiding memories of my childhood was when one or another of my mates would suggest “going down t’cut”.
This, of course, meant going down to the Erewash Canal to entertain ourselves.
More often than not it was “down Gallows” which was the Gallows Inn lock at the bottom of Nottingham Road where the humpback bridge goes over the canal.
There we would strip down to nowt but cut-offs – usually an old pair of jeans with the legs cut off – and dare each other to be the first to jump into the murky, greeny-brown water.
I was rarely the first one in but often I was the last one out. I loved swimming and had done so since my mum had taught me to swim at the old open air baths at the top end of Wharncliffe Road – she did this before she could swim a stroke herself. Just endless patience and gentle coaxing and before long I was swimming like a fish.
We’d spend hour after hour in those summer months, in and out of the water, diving off the lock gates to the lower reach and being swept further down by the weir outwash then clambering out and running up the towpath, over the road on bare, wet feet for another go.
There were fewer narrow boats in those days as the canal was no longer used to transport freight and pleasure boating was in its infancy so when one did come along it was so exciting to see the lock used for the purpose for which it was intended.
We would scramble to help by opening the sluices on the lock gates to fill the lock for those boats going downstream; then, in teams of two or more we would open the gates themselves to allow the boat into the lock. If we were really lucky a boat owner would let us ride down the lock in his boat – a real novelty.
It wasn’t just Gallows where we swam either. We swam in all the locks from Potters lock near Cotmanhay to Stanton lock. Below Stanton lock was a stretch of water known locally as “hot waters”.
It was on this stretch that Stanton Ironworks emptied the cooling water from its blast furnaces which raised the temperature considerably. It was like swimming in a warm bath – lovely.
About half a mile above Gallows there was a man who used to rent out a few boats.
There were several fibre-glass canoes and a rowing boat. The canoes cost us 2p for an hour – he didn’t really time us - and I think the rowing boat was 5p.
We spent many an hour paddling up and down, exploring the reed beds and any other nook or cranny. One summers day we even found mussels breeding at one shallow part near the bottom of Station Road.
Maybe they still are.