Wednesday, 18 April 2012

It's not just Wainwright

Wainwright is one of the most famous "sons" of the Lake District, and rightly so.  His books have inspired millions of people around the world to visit and explore this wonderful part of England, but there are so many other worthy people with links to the area that today I have decided to write about a few of them.  The main reason I'm inspired to do this is because on Sunday we took a rather wonderful walk along Coniston Water and there are few spots with more interesting histories than this one.  We parked in a lay-by just before Beckstones and picked up the Cumbria Way, following it along the lake to Coniston town.  We planned on finding a different route back but enjoyed the stroll so much we just came back the same way.

Peel Island/ Wildcat Island
First up let's start at the south end of the lake with Arthur Ransom.  He was born in Leeds in 1884 but holidayed in Nibthwaite at the south end of Coniston.  In 1930 he published Swallows and Amazons, the first of a fabulous series of books based on real locations in and around Coniston and Winderemere.  If you never read them as a child then it's time to start, and if you did read them as a child then maybe it's time to take another look.  The first book charts the adventures of the Walker children and the Blackett children as they dispute ownership of Wildcat Island.  The book is set in 1929 and recounts an era when life was very different and the main thing the children had to worry about when crossing the road was the odd horse and cart - and of course being seen; good pirates should never be seen.  I grew up in an urban area and always longed for the freedom to roam and play in the fells - who knew it would only take me 30 odd years to make it here.

Next up as you head north towards Coniston town is Donald Campbell and his famous water speed record attempts on the lake. He is still the only man to hold both the world land and water speed records at the same time.  It's heartbreaking how close he came to succeeding during his final attempt; his boat flipped at the end of his final run killing him instantly.  Amazingly he reached speeds of over 300mph, almost unthinkable when looking at how choppy the water was on Sunday.  Each year in early November Coniston once again echos to the sound of high speed boats during the Coniston Power Boat Records week where all classes of boat whiz up and down the lake over a measured kilometre chasing records.  There are many excellent vantage points to be had along the lake and of course it wouldn't be complete without a trip to the harbour area to see the boats up close.  Due to the conditions within Coniston it wasn't until 2001 that Donald Campbell's body was recovered and buried in Coniston cemetery.  There are many references to Campbell throughout the town but perhaps one of the most well known is the Bluebird Cafe down on the lakeside.  It's newly restored now since it was flooded in 2009.  It's a lovely looking place and we admired it as we sat munching our sarnies on a bench outside.

A nice pier in honour of Ruskin
Lastly for today we're going to get literary and talk about Ruskin.  Now I have to be honest with you, my Comprehensive education wasn't and certainly didn't stretch to Ruskin so I've been reading up on him.  I've also bought one of his books in an attempt to get to grips with him properly.  John Ruskin lived in Brantwood, the large cream looking building on the far side of the lake to the town and wrote an awful lot about art and architecture during the middle of the 1800s.  I could try and bluff my way through and tell you more about him but everything I know about him I'm learning from Brantwood's home page so you'd be well advised to cut out the middle man and head straight there.  If you're visiting Coniston and want to learn all about the place then you absolutely must visit the inaccurately named Ruskin Museum.  It's tucked away off the main street but clearly signposted.  I say "inaccurately named" because there is so much more to the place than Ruskin; it's basically an entire history of the town and has some fascinating stuff in there - including Arthur Ransome's boat Mavis - the original Amazon.

So there you have it; hiking and history all coming together in one little blog.  The hike itself is a lovely easy ramble with many picnic spots along the way - perfect for those with kids or less of a head for the high fells. The other benefit of parking at Beckstones and walking to Coniston is that the parking is free.  Money saving tips too, think I'm going to quit while I'm ahead!