We still have stubborn snow drifts that refuse to shift in the sub-zero temperatures that we’ve had to endure all week. Snow is a pain in the a**** when you need to get to work, do the shopping and get the kids to school without mishap but when you are on holiday as we were at Easter 2008 in the Lake District, snow can be amazing! I can’t believe that it was 5 years ago that I was walking up Orrest Head in virgin snow above Lake Windermere taking advantage of the peace and quiet with not a soul in sight at 6am! I remember returning to the B&B and waking up Feri & Will for breakfast, then doing it all again as a threesome! They thought I was completely mad but the views were spectacular.
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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I have always loved hills and mountains. The Malverns, the Lake District, The Austrian Alps. I was even persuaded to look out of the aeroplane window when flying over the various mountain ranges between here and Iran! Here is a very brief tribute;
“One ceases to recognise the significance of mountain peaks if they are not viewed occasionally from the deepest valleys ”
[Dr Al Lorin]
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”
“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”
January 4th-On this day in 1967, Donald Campbell was killed on Coniston Water trying to break his own water-speed record whilst travelling at more than 300mph. His daughter Gina, herself a water-speed record breaker is quoted ” He always said that Coniston would get him some time, and that the lake used to wink at him…and say “I’ll get you one day”, and of course, she did”.
Not many people realise that Donald Campbell suffered with severe bouts of depression and wrote in his dairies;
`Life, the future, seemed a pit of unending depression. All we had worked for, aspired to, just a mangled twisted metal. Now there was nothing, only debt and despair. ”
`There was much to be done. My capacity for work, pathetic, I couldn’t sleep; the bouts of nervous fear, frequent and exhausting. ”
`Until now I had always had an utter contempt for suicide . . .”
There are some who now believe that Donald’s fatal crash on Coniston Water was in fact suicide. We will never know for certain but what we do know is that he was a tortured soul for many years, living life on the brink and in the end, he paid the ultimate price.
Campbell’s body was only recovered from Lake Coniston in May 2001 and he was interred in Coniston cemetery on 12 September 2001 after his coffin was carried around the lake.
You will find a memorial to Donald Campbell on the Village Green in Coniston as well as photographs and memorabilia as part of the Campbell exhibit in the Ruskin Museum situated near the town centre.
RIP Donald Campbell