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24 September 2014

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The Amazon
The Amazon - previously named Mavis

The Real Swallows and Amazons in Cumbria

The interest of the Swallows and Amazons books also brought interest to "that great lake in the North" as it's described in the book. But what lake was it that Ransome used as inspiration for the Walker children's adventures?

Arthur Ransome - Swallows and Amazons

Arthur Ransome was born on January 18, 1884, in Leeds, and went to school in Windermere.

He spent a great deal of his holidays in the Lake District, together with the Collingwood family. W.G. Collingwood was an artist and writer and taught Ransome to sail his boat, the Swallow - previously called Mavis.

Ransome moved to Low Ludderburn on the banks of Coniston after some years in Russia.

2005 marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of first book in the Swallows and Amazons series. There were 12 titles in all.

Swallows and Amazons (1930)
Swallowdale (1931)
Peter Duck (1932)
Winter Holiday (1933)
Coot Club (1934)
Pigeon Post (1935)
We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea (1937)
Secret Water (1939)
Big Six (1940)
Missee Lee (1941)
Picts and Martyrs (1943)
Great Northern (1947)

Ransome returned to the Lake District in the last years of his life and lived at Haverthwaite until his death in 1967. He is buried at St Paul's Church in Rusland.

The film Swallows and Amazons was filmed at Bank Ground Farm on Coniston Water. It's located between the villages Coniston and Hawkshead and is now a B&B.

When the book "Swallows and Amazons" was first published in 1931, its author Arthur Ransome had spent a lot of time in the Lake District growing up.

The stunning scenery and the children of a close friend inspired Ransome, who had previously made a living as a journalist. He had decided to leave his journalism career behind and had moved from Russia with his second wife. They'd bought a house in Low Ludderburn near Coniston Water.

Ransome's friend, Ernest Altouynan had bought two sailing dinghys which the Altouynan children were going to learn to sail.

Taqui, Susan, Mavis (also known as Titty), Roger and baby Bridget inspired Ransome to write the story as the older children were learning how to sail on Coniston Water under Ransome's supervision

Fact into fiction

It was in the summer of 1928 that Ransome stood on one of the jetties of Coniston Water shouting instructions to the Altouynan children. The year after, they left for Syria again and Ransome began writing what became "Swallows and Amazons".

In the books, the Altounyan children have become the Walker children, and Taqui became John in an effort to even up the sexes, according to the author himself.

The surrounding area was used in the books, albeit under different names.

The lake which the children sail on is only described as "that great lake in the North" and it seems to be an amalgamation of Windermere and Coniston.

Arthur Ransome spent time on Peel Island in Coniston, which becomes Wildcat Island in the initial Swallows and Amazons book.

It’s on Wildcat Island/ Peel Island that the Walker children sail to and set up camp. They settle into a routine of going to shore each morning and picking up milk and eggs and they live a content life full of imaginary excitement.

Coniston Old Man became Kanchenjunga in the book Swallowdale, when the Swallow is run into a rock and sunk. The Walker children then had to leave the sailing adventures for climbing the great Mount Kanchenjunga.

Swallowdale in the book with the same name seems to draw inspiration from  a number of different mountains - the foremost contenders being Beacon Fell west of Coniston Water and Miterdale.

Holly Howe -where the Walker family lived - is in real life the Bank Ground Farm, which was also used for the 1974 film.

(For more information on the real places of Ransome's books, have a look on the Arthur Ransome page, link in the right hand column.)

Silver screen success

In the wake of the beautifully described scenery and the adventures that the Walker children got up, readers all over the world enjoyed reading Ransome's stories.

In the early 1970s, the Swallows and Amazon books were adapted for the screen and the the location for the film was, of course, the Lake District.

The film starred Virginia McKenna and Donald Fraser with numerous extras from the area, young and old, they all took part.

Bank Ground on the banks of Coniston had been a source of inspiration for Ransome's books so it was important that the 1974 film Swallows and Amazons was set here as well. Today, the grounds where most of the filming took place is part of a B&B, so it might be hard to have a look around - unless of course you check-in for a night or two.

The 1974 film is released on DVD in a box set together with The Railway Children, another classic children's adventure.

Small screen follow-up

The follow-up to Swallows and Amazons was the Coot Club and The Big Six, where the adventures continued on the small screen as the BBC broadcast the series under the name Swallows and Amazons Forever.

The series was released on DVD in 2002.

last updated: 08/05/07
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