Butley: Maggie makes history to become ferry’s first female oarsman
Since the 16th century, Butley Ferry has carried passengers across a stretch of Suffolk river near Orford – saving them a five-mile walk to reach their destination.
But for the last 500 years, only men have ever been entrusted with the oars – that is until Maggie Scorer stepped up to become the first female to row the boat in its history.
The 65-year-old makes the journey across the River Butley seem a relaxing cruise for her passengers, but controlling the heavy boat in high winds and strong currents can be an exhausting task.
Tim Dudgeon, a local GP with the Peninsula Practice, took over as ferry chairman from Simon Barrow last November and also rows about six times a year. He invited Maggie to become one of 17 volunteer oarsmen who operate the service, sponsored by the Alde and Ore Association.
Maggie, a mother of four and grandmother of seven – with another on the way – said: “Tim asked me if I’d me interested and I thought ‘why not?’
“I have rowed and sailed for most of my life and keep a boat here – I’m an outdoor person and a bit of a water baby.”
The ferry, which travels between Capel St Andrew and Gedrave, can collect up to £150 on a busy day and makes an average of £2,300 annually – about £800 of which goes on upkeep and expenses, with the rest generated for the Alde and Ore Association.
Oddly enough, the £2 fee for adults taking the ferry makes it more expensive per inch to travel on than Concorde, but both Maggie and Tim agree its still fantastic value.
It can accommodate up to four adults or two adults and two bikes, and by the end of July this year had carried 472 adults, 24 children and 192 bikes.
Operating on Easter Saturday and every bank holiday, Saturday and Sunday until the end of September, it is one of four foot ferries in the Suffolk Coast and Heath Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, along with Harwich Ferry, Bawdsey Ferry and Walberswick Ferry, which is also operated by a woman, Dani Church, the fifth generation of her family to ferry passengers across the River Blyth.
The river at Butley, a tributary of the Alde and Ore, is also a haven for wildlife. In the space of only half an hour yesterday, sightings included a marsh harrier, a tern, three avocets, a pair of kestrels and a seal.
Anyone interested in becoming a ferryman can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteers currently range in age from 50 to their late 70s. To become a ferryman you need to be physically able, with some knowledge of the water, boats and tides.
A ferryman of the year award is presented every year, with the winner getting to keep a painting of the ferry for the next year.
Next spring, Maggie will be swapping paddle power for pedal power as she embarks on a 5,000-mile fundraising bike ride around the coast of Britain in aid of the Anthony Nolan blood cancer charity and bone marrow register, and for the stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands.
She will be joined on the journey by seven-year-old golden retriever Oscar, who will be towed along in a carriage by the bike.
Maggie, whose son-in-law was diagnosed with bone marrow disorder myelofibrosis but received a transplant in March, said: “The more money one can give to improve research, the better.
“I’ve got an adventurous spirit and Oscar has already been sailing half way round the world with me and crossed the equator.
“He is a true man’s best friend.”
Maggie and Oscar, who sets off next March, will be covering an average of 30 miles a day, over the course of about five months. She will soon be launching the website dogontour.co.uk, where updates will be posted on preparations and the journey itself.