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Exploring Arthur Ransome’s Lake District

Sophie Neville, President of the Arthur Ransome Society, explores some of the “Swallows and Amazons” locations as revealed in a letter by Arthur Ransome himself…

Letter from Arthur Ransome
An illustrated letter from Arthur Ransome, 1955

I have been sent a copy of a letter written to a reader by Arthur Ransome in June 1955, revealing where some of his locations can be found. I was interested to read that “the lake is mainly Windermere with some things stolen from Coniston.”

This summer we spent a long weekend with the Arthur Ransome Society, celebrating their International Annual General Meeting in the village of Coniston, when we managed to find quite a few of the locations that are featured in the books around Coniston Water.

Low Yewdale Farm, near Coniston

The curator of the John Ruskin Museum took us on a walk around the village of Coniston and under the Yewdale Crags towards Tarn Howes. We passed Low Yewdale Farm where Arthur Ransome stayed as a young man. It is just as I imagined Swainson’s Farm in “Swallowdale”. The footpath takes you down to the beck where Ransome fished for brown trout. I could imagine Roger attempting to tickle trout there.

The beck where Ransome fished for brown trout

If you follow the path on south, then branch left up the East of Lake Road around Coniston Water, you will find another footpath leading to Bank Ground Farm.

This way to Holly Howe

A hand-painted sign guides you through fields, where Galloway cows maybe grazing. Look up and you will literally find yourself at Holly Howe, the long white farmhouse where Mr and Mrs Jackson live in “Swallows and Amazons”. You can imagine the Walker children running down the meadow to the Peak of Darien.

Dr Ernest Altounyan rigging Mavis on Coniston Water

It was here that the Altounyan children, Taqui, Susie, Titty, Roger and Brigit spent one summer holiday in 1928, while visiting their grandparents who lived next door at Lane Head. They learned to sail on the lake in two dinghies: Swallow and Mavis, later re-named Amazon, which can be visited at the John Ruskin Museum in Coniston.

Bank Ground Farm in Cumbria where the movie ‘Swallows and Amazons’ (1974) was made

The barn, inside which we filmed some of the night sequences for the original movie of “Swallows & Amazons”, has been converted into self-catering holiday accommodation that can house a number of families quite easily. From here you can run down to the boat shed where John, Susan, Titty and Roger found Swallow and imagine them setting off on their voyage to Wild Cat Island, leaving the Fair Spanish Ladies on the stone quay.

The boatsheds below Bank Ground Farm, on Coniston Water

Wooden jetties have been added recently and it is possible to either launch your own boat or hire a kayak from Bank Ground Farm.

The northern end of Coniston Water

We had a bedroom in the barn that looked north towards the Langdales. If you walk up the farm drive, you can look back towards Coniston Old Man, Kanchenjunga, which the Walkers and Blacketts climb in “Swallowdale”.

Bank Ground Farm with the village of Coniston beyond

Arthur Ransome was taken up the Old Man of Coniston as a tiny baby. You can climb it today but wear more than sand shoes. Stout walking boots are called for. The task of reaching the summit should not be underestimated.

Climbing Kanchenjunga should not be underestimated

We were able to get out on the lake to find a few more locations. This red-sailed dinghy, named Peggy Blackett, is a copy of Arthur Ransome’s Coch-y-bonddhu, used as the model for Dick and Dorothea’s boat Scarab.

Sailing Peggy Blackett on Coniston Water towards the village of Coniston

It is a long way down Coniston Water to Peel Island, but it is there that you will spot the Secret Harbour, instantly recognisable as belonging to Wild Cat Island. We went there in the SY Gondola that now belongs to the National Trust. Ransome knew the steam launch as a boy when he made friends with the captain.

The Secret Harbour on the southern end of Peel Island, Coniston Water

In the cemetery of Coniston village I found the grave of Titty Altounyan, the girl who inspired Arthur Ransome’s well-loved character. I never met her, but was with her niece Barbara that long weekend in Coniston, when we both thoroughly enjoyed walking, sailing and steaming along in Ransome’s footsteps.

Sophie Neville visiting Titty Altounyan’s grave in Coniston

For details of more locations at the southern end of Coniston Water that are featured in the Swallows and Amazons series of books, please click here.

Do think of joining the Arthur Ransome Society and come looking for locations described in his books. You will find the details here.

Originally published by Sophie Neville in September 2018.