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One Man and His Dog

Robert Swain

There are three types of people who come to Bolton le Sands

Those who discover it accidentally , passing on the A6 on the way somewhere else. They return for  a holiday , to raise their children , to retire peacefully and enjoy the local interest.

Those who are defined by the village , the ones who are themselves moulded by the local interest  They’ve lived a large part of their lives here . They don’t move away because the climate , the views  , the walks , the canal , the history , the community , makes it the best place in the world

Those few individuals who are not so much defined by the village but define it themselves. They are  not the observers of the local interest but are the people who have written and interpreted it so others may enjoy it.

Robert Swain belonged to the last category

Apart from a few years on Broadland Avenue , where his mother ran a private school in her home which he attended , Robert spent most of his life in the Ancliffe Lane house . The name of his house  had a mystery about it. Many of us must have tried to unscramble the anagram , wondering if  Robert was playing a crafty trick on us, but in fact was named after an Australian city where Robert’s  father had worked , and to where Robert made what he called a ‘pilgrimage’ a few years ago. His  relationship with the URC church in Bolton -le- Sands goes back to his childhood in youth and scout  groups, and he served as treasurer for a decade. He was active on behalf of the URC in our  ecumenical efforts 25 years ago and became a regular member of the First Friday service , as well as  a regular visitor to Holy Trinity events.

Robert worked for local accountancy firm Towers and Gornall before going into business on his own  from home. He had many local private clients but he will be remembered by most of us as a traveller, an observer of local history and a writer of it. He had some 10 books published , some of  them self published by Yan Press, a home based enterprise which he set up set up decades before  Amazon made DIY publishing fashionable . His best known ‘555 Walks’ describes the detail of walks  involving travel along the length of the bus route. The detail in which he describes his walking tours  rivals that other local guide, Wainwright.

Robert also published a number of photographic histories of places all around the Bay and explored  the mystery of the churchyard and the ancient graves at Heysham . He could be relied upon as a  speaker to community groups, talking with knowledge and passion about his subjects. His travels  and subjects of expertise included many stately homes in Scotland where he would holiday in  accommodation that offered welcome to his ‘companion’ . The companion we all got to see was of  course his greyhound , or rather a succession of retired racing greyhounds whose temperaments  and physical demands were well matched to what he could offer – the fruit garden of his childhood  being turned over to a dog run and enjoyment of bus travel being an essential ingredient to the  mutual relationship.

Robert did not limit himself to writing about his subjects. He was active in the small organizations  which championed the work of which he wrote. His book on the Lancaster canal is enriched by his  knowledge of the location of coke ovens , where coal barges offloaded their dirty cargo for  processing into the cleaner fuel coke for Carnforth furnaces , discharging coal’s most noxious gasses  into the local atmosphere . We might wonder what he thought of government plans for industrial  coking in Cumbria. But we might wonder in vain , for his political views were not expressed – friends  who are local politicians never knew whether they had his vote. The nearest anyone saw to an  interest in politics was his enjoyment of the 1970s sitcom ‘ Yes, minister’ which mocks the  inefficiency and corruptibility of the ruling classes.

When Robert ‘did politics’ it was as a campaigner , something which he did in forensic detail . Home  owners threatening a right of way , landowners converting a historic bridle way into a country road ,  or a railway company refusing to consider a proposed service had to contend with Robert  championing the public interest. His analysis of historical precedents and covenants concerning  usage was delivered with quiet determination, without fear or favour , and he was not intimidated  by those who had contrary views . In support of a campaign for better main line trains Robert kept  records, based on observations of rail traffic along the line from Preston, to demonstrate that the  line does have capacity to include a stop at Carnforth

Many speak of Robert’s personal generosity. He would contact a charity speaker after an event and  offer financial assistance to the charity . He donated speaking fees to other causes. He provided  funding for legal representation to people whose interests he had championed.

Robert was a unique person, a gentleman of a bygone era, self sufficient and complete, with the  exception of a single unfinished manuscript, which he has entrusted to a friend , and an unclaimed  raffle prize from the Parish Advent Fayre , at which he bought a ticket and enjoyed the company of his many friends.

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