Coniston Water in Cumbria is a dark, romantic lake which has been the inspiration for everything from Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons children's books to Donald Campbell's attempts on the world speed record. Richard Uridge goes in search of the source of this enchantment.
He's also exploring the theme of dredging up the past, both physically and metaphorically - bringing something up from the depths. Be it the Bluebird, childhood memories, or the memory of a long-dead relative.
Coniston and District Community
Gordon Hall runs cruises on Coniston and takes Richard out to explore. At five miles long, Coniston Water is the third largest of all the lakes and over 180ft deep in places. The Old Man of Coniston looms over the water to the west, and across to the east is the mixed woodland of the Grizedale Forest. And as you travel down the lake, you pass Peel Island, which was Wildcat Island in Swallows and Amazons.
Back on dry land, Richard climbs the fells a little to Torver village. Here he meets Dick Ransome, cousin to the famous Arthur. Dick was born and bred here, and remembers as a child how his much older cousin would come and take him out fishing and to country fairs.
Now he finds himself living in the shadow of the legend, with people travelling from all over the world to shake his hand … which he finds baffling and embarrassing, since he sees no reason to live off his cousin's success. Dick's own life is full of happy memories of his own idyllic childhood and a career he's loved in engineering, including a stint on the steam yacht Gondola on the lake he loves so much.
But Coniston is not only a place for imaginary myths and legends - real legends have been created here too. The lake was the venue for one of the great water speed record attempts by Donald Campbell in 1967. Richard meets Anthony Robinson, whose family have known the Campbells since 1939. Donald, he says, was a huge character, driving round Cumbria in fast cars and the only person to hold both Water and Land Speed Records at the same time.
On January the 4th 1967 whilst trying to become the first person to go over 300mph on water, he crashed on the lake. Anthony was 21 and working as lake marshall when Campbell crashed, and was in the rescue boat first on the scene, and the event has coloured his life...today memorabilia of Campbell's life hangs in the hotel he runs.
Julie McKiernan isn't local - she hails from Manchester. But as a northern playwright, she's won the New Cumbrian Play Competition which asked for a piece of new, local writing, with a distinct Cumbrian theme. She tells Richard that a large part of her life's memories is the holidays she spent with her family around Coniston, and her fascination for the "man under the water" as she thought of Campbell.
Her play Tramping Like Mad is about how dredging up the past, in the shape of the Bluebird, dredges up secrets and destroys long-held beliefs within one family. The prize for the competition is to have the play produced … it opens at the Theatre on the Lake Studio Theatre on 30 July and is in repertoire until 3 November.
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