English Lake in the Lake District

"I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
And as I rose upon the stroke my boat
Went heaving through the water like a swan"

    - William Wordsworth

It may not be the biggest lake in the world. It's not even the biggest in England; that honour goes to Lake Windermere. At five miles long and half a mile at its widest, it's an unremarkable body of water by global standards. Even so, this wee pond can boast along with the best of the rest of the world's bodies of water, and not just for its romantic prettiness.

It is pretty, I grant you. The peak of the Old Man of Coniston rises to the north-west, all shale and tuff, and there are gentler hills nestling in all about. In the Spring and Autumn, there are plenty of chocolate-box pictures to be had, and when tired of the beauty, the village of Coniston itself is nearby, quaintly full of winding streets, ancient stone pubs and that sort of tea shop one imagines to be full of tourists crooking their little fingers and snapping happy photos.

This being England, the whole area is full of public footpaths through the countryside. Valley walks, hill walks and pretty picnic places are everywhere, and there are hidden landscapes scattered about for anyone brave enough to actually get out of their cars and away from the boats.

Yes, of course there are boats. Oodles of boats. And boat trips. Meals on boats, storytelling on boats, yachting bores on boats. You have to like boats, and boaters. But there are also countless bed-and-breakfast places to be had with both local families and old souls up from London to retire and eke out a peaceful living.

One such landlord, when I visited, would row his little wooden dinghy across the lake early each day for fresh farmhouse cheese. It was a real labour of love, even though it was a narrow bit of the lake. The night I stayed it fair pissed it down, and in the morning he dripped his way into the breakfast room bearing omelettes made with home-grown vegetables and the faintly-rank cheese. It was heavenly to be there by the fire, watching him steaming gently as he told his tales of the area, and the many walks to be had.

I knew the lake by name as a small boy. One of my childhood heroes, Donald Campbell, made his water speed record-breaking runs here, and I was entranced by the name. When he died on the lake in 1967, I was eleven years old, and vowed to visit the place. It was just after Easter when I went for the first time,and typical English Spring weather, chill, blustery and with a sky alternating pale sunshine and blustery showers. In my young imagination, the lake had been much bigger, and after my initial disappointment with the size, I realised that it was an ideal location for his feats. Pretty, fairly sheltered and above all, straight. I stood at the ferry and just imagined the dashing hero strapped into his wonderful blue boat, and was saddened by that loss. When I go back, I will visit his grave at Saint Andrew's church.

The lake was one of the places Arthur Ransome took as inspiration for his Swallows and Amazons books, and it is clear to see why. Eyots abound, and wee bays and landfalls ideal for small boats. I could well imagine his between-the-wars children scampering about the lake in search of adventure, treasure and pirates. The latter are no longer to be found, unless you count those who would rook you of every tourist penny, but treasure and adventure are still everywhere.

Up My Street (A Quest for Local Knowledge)
The B&B was briefly described as "cuntless", an interesting typo for "countless".


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