A long-serving ferryman is stepping ashore for the last time after being forced to retire due to his cancer battle.

John Cleasby has run the ferry service between Barrow and Piel Island for 35 years, starting when he was 23, but the 58-year-old has made the heartbreaking decision to retire after he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in October 2019.

After undergoing gruelling treatment, the Barrovian said he no longer has the fitness to run the vital ferry.

He said: “I feel that I am not fit enough to run the ferries.

“I am still well enough to do small things, but if I don’t feel 100 per cent in myself then it wouldn’t be safe if I had to dive in and pull someone out of the water, which we have done at times.

“I never wanted to give up and retire, but due to health problems it is time I let somebody else have a go instead.

“I never thought I would have to give it up, but then nobody thinks they are going to get poorly.”

Mr Cleasby went under the knife just before Christmas in 2019, with the operation deemed essential as he adversely reacted to chemotherapy.

It was not until he was discharged on New Year’s Eve that Mr Cleasby realised how serious the operation was.

“When I got diagnosed, I had no idea what was going to happen and was told if I didn’t have the operation then I wouldn’t make February," he said.

“I thought I was just going in for a small operation – it wasn’t until I got home and saw all the stitches that I saw how bad it was."

Mr Cleasby said he has loved every minute of steering visitors to and from the picturesque island.

“It becomes a way of life,” he said. “I always wanted to work on boats.

“Up until I joined, the previous ferryman only worked weekends and holidays, but I decided I wanted to work six or seven days a week to support my kids.

“I look at the comments on the Facebook page and it makes me feel proud that all these people have left the area knowing they have had a really good day.”

Despite retiring, Mr Cleasby still plans to visit Piel Island on his own yacht and is looking forward to relaxing.

He added: “I will still be around, but I just won’t be running the boat.

“I will miss the job, but I am still going to be on my yacht enjoying the island, sailing and just having some me time.”

Roosecote councillor Derek Gawne has wished Mr Cleasby a happy retirement.

“I have spoken to John and been on the ferry a few times and I really hope he has a long and happy retirement," he said.

“I hope we get someone as good as John to run the ferry as he has done a good job.”

The ferry is expected to return with a new operator on May 17, with the country’s restrictions set to relax even further.