Winter Holiday is the fourth novel in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome, and takes place, as I recall, six months after the events of Swallowdale. The story initially focusses on Richard and Dorothea Callum, alias Dick and Dot, or 'the Ds'. The Callums' parents are both archaeologists, a situation which reminds me somewhat of Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan. Appropriately enough to that comparison, Dick is a multitalented young scientist, while Dot fancies herself as an historical novelist.

Young Dick and Dot are sent to stay for a winter break at Dixon's Farm, beside the Lake well known to followers of the series, while their parents are working overseas. Before long it becomes apparent that we are outside a Swallows and Amazons holiday, looking in. Dick and Dot use ingenious means to make contact with their neighbours, and the former group of six swells to eight. But not for long, since Nancy contracts mumps and is quarantined, leaving the friends without their natural leader. Nancy does her best to direct events from her sick-room, including one communication which may remind readers of Conan Doyle's story 'The Dancing Men'.

In a bitter mid-winter, of course, the Lake is hard to navigate at best, and the only movable boat in the story is a rowing boat. The South Atlantic names given by the children to the area in Swallows and Amazons are replaced by references to the history of arctic exploration. Captain Flint's houseboat is re-dubbed the Fram after Fridtjof Nansen's vessel, and Wild Cat Island becomes Spitsbergen. The fells behind Holly Howe and Dixon's become High Greenland, and Dick distinguishes himself as an unlikely hero on a Peggy-organised expedition there. As the lake progressively freezes, the children start looking toward the top end of the lake, and the rumoured 'North Pole' - allegedly a folly or summerhouse. Sailing sledges are constructed, and plans put in motion. But as stormier weather sets in, there seems a risk that the young explorers will be following not in the footsteps of Nansen or Roald Amundsen, but those of Shackleton or even Captain Scott.

This is one of my favourite of Ransome's novels. I love the wintry atmosphere that the story so beautifully conveys, and Dick Callum was my role model for many years. The ice-bound 'Fram' and the signals to 'Mars', Dorothea's perpetual romancing and the mysterious Tall Dutchman all come together to build a vivid, exciting and lovable story of childhood adventure.

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