Sunday, 14 August 2016

Coniston and the English Lake District

Jackie, Brian and Pauline with the Old Man of Coniston in the background

Our two week housesit for Tim and family in Derby fell through after he ruptured a lung at the gym so couldn’t fly, opting instead for a staycation (he’s going to be OK apparently), Pauline (Jackie’s mum) had a positive meeting with her IFA, Jackie got frustrated looking for last minute housesits with people not replying (‘yes, we understand you are desperate as you’ve been let down by a housesitter at the last minute, are going on holiday and need to find someone quick, but it works both ways, we have also been let down at the last minute and need to know where we are going to go, so if you’ve found someone else have the decency to let us know after you’ve read our application, we don’t want to apply for lots, get lots of offers and then have to let people down, so we’re waiting to hear from you before applying for others!’ Moan over). In the absence of anything positive, Pauline said ‘Why don’t we all go away for a few days, my treat! What about the Lake District?’ Why not indeed!

The view from our lounge window of Coniston water
Jackie and Pauline in the kitchen
Sometimes late breaking decisions work out well and our trip with Pauline to the Lake District was one of those. Despite being in the middle of the main holiday season where prices are usually very high and availability scarce, after a few hours searching on the internet we found a really good deal: a two bedroom self-catering cottage in Coniston village, high up on a hill with superb views over Coniston water (they call them ‘water’ up there, not lakes), 3 minutes walks from the famous Sun Inn pub and with walks straight from the cottage, including one to the summit of the Old Man of Coniston. The owners had had a late cancellation so offered us a very good discount for a 5 day break starting the day after tomorrow, so on Sunday morning we packed and headed up the M6 motorway, arriving at 3:00pm.

Heading out for our Coniston Water cruise
Coniston Water and its surrounding are both very picturesque and historically interesting, so here are a few facts:

  •  The lake is the third largest in the English Lake District at 8km long, 800m wide, has a maximum depth of 56m and is 44m above sea level
  • The Old Man of Coniston rises to a height of 803m, towering over the lake and immediately to its west. It is a straightforward walk to the summit, usually starting from the Coppermine valley, so named because of its history of copper mining in the area and still littered with old mineworkings, slag heaps, rusting mining equipment and gravel access roads and bridges in the valley and halfway up the summit path route (See: Old_Man_of_Coniston).
  • The Victorian artist and philosopher John Ruskin owned Brantwood House on the eastern shore of the lake and lived there from 1872 until his death in 1900. The house is a Grade II listed building and is now a museum dedicated to John Ruskin and is open to the public. Access to it is either by road, round the lake from Coniston village or by taking the Coniston Cruises ferry, as we did one day. (See: John Ruskin). 
  • Arthur Ransome lived in a cottage on the eastern shore of the lake and wrote his novels Swallows and Amazons in the 1930’s, which were set in the area (see: Swallows and Amazons). Near to his cottage in the lake is the small Peel Island with its secret harbour, which has been identified as Wild Cat Island in his books. The Coniston Cruise we went on took us past Peel Island, but we couldn’t land as the water is too shallow. We could see a number of kayaks in the secret harbour and youngsters scouting around the island though which all looked very exciting! A new film of the same name has been made, filmed on location on Coniston Water and Peel Island and is due for release on 19th August, perhaps we should go and see it…. (see:
  • The lake is also infamously known as the place where Donald Campbell lost his life trying to break the water speed record in his craft Bluebird K7. On 4th January 1967, almost 50 years ago, approaching his goal of exceeding 300mph his craft became airborne, somersaulted and smashed itself on the surface of the lake killing him instantly and taking him and most of the craft to the bottom of the lake. The main part of the fuselage was recovered by divers in March 2001 and Donald Campbell’s body was recovered in May 2001 and is now buried in Coniston Cemetery. The body of the craft survived for 34 years underwater mainly as the engine acted as sacrificial anode, meaning the engine corroded in preference to the body due to its electropotential difference (See: Galvanic corrosion).  The craft is now being rebuilt using as much of the original structure as possible and it is hoped that it will eventually will be used on Coniston Water again for some speed trials (see:   
Peel (Wild Cat) Island on Coniston Water

The weather in The Lake District can often be wet, sitting as it does in the North-West of England surrounded by mountains, but we were fairly lucky, only having rain on a couple of days, cool, cloudy weather on others and even some sunshine, allowing us to get out and about exploring.

A boat trip on the lake was high on our list, but first we had an afternoon in Coniston village followed by an evening out in the Sun Inn on Sunday and then a trip to Ambleside on Monday, followed by a drive over a small part of Wynrose mountain pass. Ambleside is famous for its outdoor gear shops and with our forthcoming year long trip to South America rapidly approaching we have plenty of outdoor gear to buy, so it was a perfect opportunity, but perhaps not for Pauline who we dragged along as well! New approach shoes for Jackie and lots of looking at backpacking rucksacks, but there’s a lot more work to be done on that!  

A little robin sitting on the fence at Brantwood House
Old mine workings on the Old Man of Coniston walk
Tuesday was our day on the lake with Coniston Cruises, which has about 5 stops at various points where you can get off and on, waiting for the next one to continue, plus a close encounter with Peel (Wild Cat) Island. We made just one stop and that was at the Brantwood House stop, not to visit the house (we’re not really John Ruskin fans), but to stop at the cafĂ© for lunch and enjoy the superb views of the lake framed by the Old Man of Coniston in the(brief) sunshine. A nice amble along part of the lake edge afterwards and then back for afternoon tea and cake at our cottage!

View of Low and Levers Waters from near the summit of the Old Man
On Wednesday we left Pauline to explore locally while Jackie and I took a walk to the summit of the Old Man of Coniston. It was pleasant but relatively steep walking in partly sunshine (but no rain) and always good views, particularly as we approached the summit to enjoy expansive views across the Lake District with views of Scafell and Coniston and Windermere waters. It’s a popular walk for people of all nationalities and we heard many different languages from people going up that we passed (and passed us) and people on their way down. 
On the summit of the Old Man of Coniston
Not far from the top, on a particularly steep part above a small lake Jackie stopped a couple on their way down as they were about to pass us ‘Are you Wendy’ she said, ‘yes’ came the reply ‘and you must be Sion’ Jackie said to her partner, ‘yes’ he said. It turns out she is ‘friends’ with them on Facebook but has never met them, Abi (Sooty’s owner in Hall Green) having suggested she ‘friended’ them sometime ago. An amazing coincidence, but even more amazing that Jackie recognised someone she had never met. Nice couple and a welcome break on our steep uphill section.

The summit shelter
The final moments of Bluebird K7
It only took us 3 hours door to door to do it and we were back down before the forecasted afternoon rain, to settle down to do the 1000 piece jigsaw Pauline had brought. With the 3 of us working at it we had it done in 3 hours in time for wine and dinner, not bad eh!

Thursday was wet so we went into Coniston village to the John Ruskin museum which featured not only John Ruskin but a section on Swallows and Amazons and a whole wing devoted to Donald Campbell and the Bluebird K7, with one section of a crushed air intake and the corroded engine on display. I remember the original crash in January 1967 as an 11 year old and can remember my mum waking up my brother Tony and I with the news that Donald Campbell had been killed. I was only dimly aware of him at the time but can remember those images of the caterpulting craft and feeling quite shocked at seeing someone killed in that way and it brought all those memories back to me. We finished the day off with a drive round the lake, returning home the following day down a very busy and slow M6 back to Pauline’s house in Alvechurch for the night.  

A photo from the John Ruskin museum of the recovered Bluebird K7 in March 2001
It’s now Sunday afternoon and we’re now back in Hall Green in Birmingham looking after Sooty the cat, having taken Abi off to the airport yesterday afternoon for her holiday in Jersey.

We’re here for a few weeks now, probably until we head off for our South American trip. We are now in the final stages of planning that and will be booking flights within the next few days, probably heading out of the UK around 14th September and expecting to be away for about a year. Exciting times!!
This crushed component is an actual air intake from Bluebird K7 and was too corroded to use for the rebuild. Apparently it originally extended as far as the beam by the person in the white jacket. The impact with the water crushed it to this length
This is the original engine from Bluebird K7 and is heavily corroded. It saved the body by being the sacrificial anode
Walking up to the Claife panoramic viewing station on Windermere
View through one of the stainglass edged opening in the viewing station
Back with little Sooty in Hall Green....
She seems quite happy her staff are back!

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