Coniston is my favourite destination in The Lake District and I have spent many happy hours wandering along the lake shores and climbing the local fells. The lake and surrounding area are beautiful in their simplicity with a landscape of rolling meadows and woodland gradually rising to the foothills of the dominant 803m peak keeping a watchful eye over the valley. This is the “The Old Man” of Coniston and a very distinguished old man he is too.
Alfred Wainwright, affectionately known to those who tramp the Cumbrian fells as “AW ” wrote about Coniston Old Man in his Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Southern Fells. Forty-five years later, you can still follow his directions today taking you up to the summit via Walna Scar Road, Goats Hause and Dow Crag returning through the fascinating Coppermines Valley all the time pausing to appreciate the breath-taking scenery (mist permitting) and to take numerous photographs.
For a small place Coniston is renowned for a distinguished and disproportionate array of famous people. As well as Donald Campbell and AW, the children’s author Arthur Ransome based some the locations in his books on areas in and around Coniston Water. In Swallows and Amazons Peel Island in Coniston becomes Wildcat Island and the sailing adventures described are based on real-life experiences had on Coniston Water.
Probably the most influential and enduring association with Coniston however was established by the Victorian literary critic, conservationist, poet, artist and social commentator, John Ruskin who bought the imposing house “Brantwood” on the shores of Coniston when he was 52. It is now thought that Ruskin suffered with bi-polar disorder, with symptoms including hallucinations and he became increasingly psychotic up to his death in 1900. His eminent visitors included Charles Darwin, Holman Hunt and Kate Greenaway and he also acquired a fine collection of Turner watercolours and pre-Raphaelite paintings. “Brantwood” is open to the public and you can wander around the extensive gardens which John Ruskin helped todesign. Azaleas and Rhododendrons are a particular feature.
The house and gardens are both well worth a visit and I think that the best way to get there is to combine your visit with a trip on the Steam Yacht Gondola. A rare treat and evocotive of the age.
Coniston is further off the traditional tourist beaten track than Ambleside, Hawkshead or Windermere but is worth the effort of driving along the twisty, narrow roads to get there.
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