The film version of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons was released on Friday 19th August. At the start of the summer, 7yo Mr G and I were invited to the Lake District to see the film’s world premiere and have our own Swallows and Amazons themed adventures courtesy of Visit England. It was truly magical: canoes to a secret island, a boat trip to see Wild Cat Island where Ransome set the adventure, a stay at Waterhead, a luxury family friendly hotel on Lake Windermere, tea and cake and a walk to the place where the Walker children launched their boat.
The Lake District is bursting with stuff to do as we discovered last year, but we packed in loads of new stuff in our 18 hours. I wasn’t sure if I was mad to travel all that way for a one night stay, but this will be etched on our minds forever.
If you don’t know the Swallows and Amazons story, go see the film, it’s the perfect summer release and completely epitomises all our burning desires for a childhood unplugged. To appreciate the original we downloaded the audio book for the car journey and were soon utterly hooked, it made the three hour drive completely evaporate, we couldn’t bear to stop at the motorway services.
The Walker children seem to spend forever preparing for their unaccompanied trip to sail to, and camp on, Wild Cat island, whereas nowadays kids’ books seem to jump into action and never stop jumping, we absolutely relished the delicious slowness of the events unfolding in Ransome’s unabridged writing, think slow living for kids. Mr G is now on the fourth audio book, he is so entranced by the world of the Swallows and Amazons, he loves pirates and adventure and did some sailing last year, so the Walker children’s world is paradise to him.
For me, it was like listening to a calming mix of the shipping forecast – there are loads of sailing references – and the old fashioned adventures I loved as a kid in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five (once I had navigated the lashings of stereotypes my mother warned me of).
Motorway gave way to mountains, then to winding roads and suddenly there was a glimpse of Coniston Water. We peered through the windscreen desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of Wild Cat island – a book has never ever felt so alive for me, or for him – it actually brought a tear to my eye seeing him so engrossed in a story and so desperate to see the island.
So that’s where we began – well, we were a little early so he convinced me to hire a kayak and have a little paddle ourselves first – before the experts came in a bigger boat to take us to Wild Cat Island.
We took the Coniston Launch cruise, Robert was our guide, a member of the Arthur Ransome Trust, which encourages rediscovery of the books and the kind of adventures the Walker children had. You can see Beckfoot, Holly Howe, Kanchenjunga, Wild Cat Island, the Amazons’ boathouse, and a host of other spots that Ransome used to create his fascinating world. Coniston Water was also used as one of the filming locations for both the 1974 and 2016 films “Swallows and Amazons”, it is much quieter than Windermere and has a beautiful calmness. I loved seeing Ransome’s home, and watching people who had kayaked to ‘Wild Cat’ island paddling to the secret beach and leaping off the rocks.
Robert suggested we might like to see the fictional home of the Walker children, Holly Howe, which also happened to be the Swallows and Amazons Tea Room, we were absolutely ready for a treat, the cake display made our jaws drop.
After our feast we took a little walk down to the water, to imagine the Walker children preparing to launch Swallow, their sailing boat. Although the film wasn’t shot here, it was lovely to see similar boat house scenes, in the film the next day. Such a tranquil spot, and so lovely to see where Arthur Ransome imagined it all beginning.
On the way home we stopped at picturesque Tarn Hows, we’d run out of steam for the 1 and 3/4 mile walk by now, which is also buggy and wheelchair friendly and passes the lake and a waterfall, but we sat and enjoyed the view until Mr G pleaded to collapse at the hotel.
Waterhead Hotel, Ambleside
Above is the incredible view from our room at the Waterhead Hotel, overlooking Lake Windermere, which was only 20 minutes away. Mr G liked his Sam’s Club pack from the hotel’s doggy mascot – a ballon, chocolate, orange squash sachet, colouring pencils and activity booklet, but most of all he loved the Sam sheepdog soft toy sat on his bed, which I agreed to buy him as a souvenir of our little adventure together.
We ended up taking long baths listening to more Swallows and Amazons, and eating dinner via room service in our PJs. The hotel were brilliant about delivering our meal – dining with an overtired 7yo is no fun for anyone – Mr G had his own tray with special Sam yellow plates. We both really enjoyed our dinner.
I loved the little touches in our room, free local gin and tonic with big goblet glasses, local Grasmere gingerbread, coffee machine, hot chocolate, binoculars for checking out the view of Lake Windermere.
We enjoyed a lovely breakfast together, sat in the window bay overlooking the jetties on Lake Windermere. It’s a hotel I would love to come for a romantic getaway with Mr A, but it is also perfect for families and we had a giggle watching the excited toddler next to us anticipating his brekkie. The hotel is full of gorgeous views of the lake.
Derwent Island House, Derwentwater
The National Trust Derwent House Open Day adventure is only possible a handful of times a year, you should definitely try and plan your visit around this as it is the only inhabited island in the Lake District which opens to visitors!
We climbed excitedly aboard a rafted canoe on the shores of Derwentwater with National Trust guides, and paddled across to Derwent Island for a 45 minute tour of the house and a chance to explore the island on our own. Derwentwater seemed different again to Windermere and Coniston, ethereal and magical, quite lost in time. The mist hid much of its beauty from us, but we caught some breathtaking glimpses from the island itself.
Paddling out was great fun and there was a real sense of camaraderie in our 6 person rafted canoe (essentially two canoes stuck together with planks for added stability).
7yo G prides himself on exhausting most museums in 10 minutes flat, so I wasn’t sure how he would manage a 45 minute guided house tour, he was the only child on the tour and I could tell he was going to be a bit restless. But the guides engaged with him and gave him a list of things to spot in the house, he wasn’t keen on that either which they completely understand (it even says they know it isn’t every child’s cup of tea on the laminated list), so they explained they could lead us out into the garden where there was croquet to play and even a makeshift tea room. Once we got going though, he managed the whole tour, it had plenty of fascinating detail to distract him, I was so pleased as it meant we got to take in this stunning view from the house’s balcony (and to pretend we lived here).
After that I spent my last scrabbled-around-for-50p on some sweets for him in the unexpected tea room – note to self, even inhabited islands have tea shops, but not card machines! Then we walked around the island, which is really easy to do, it is only small, but very satisfying.
At the end of the island the views are breathtaking. It was a rainy, grey day but the mist made it more magical somehow. I think these are my favourite photos, especially the one of G contemplating the next little island…
We came full circle back to the jetty next to where we landed and imagined what it must be like to live on an island, like the Swallows and Amazons, all those little journeys back and forth for milk and bread in a boat.
Rowing back we were more confident, and I jumped out of my flip flops and out of our kayak to pull our team ashore – not necessary at all, as there are lots of guides on hand to do this – but lots of fun! We looked back at the island, it was hard to believe the little adventure we had just had.
Next a quick wander around Keswick, I loved how the mountains and misty lake leads to green sheep dotted fields, then into formal wildflower strewn park and on to winding roads of beautifully quirky colourful shops and lots of street sculptures. We had a pasty and visited some outdoor clothing shops – a new bag for me and a carabiner for him, you never know when you might need another one of either of these!
The World Premiere of Swallows and Amazons
It was so exciting and humbling to be at this very special, out of London film premiere at the Theatre by The Lake, what a beautiful place for a theatre. We watched excitedly as the actors lined up, Mr G trying to work out who was playing which character. Having taught Women in Film as part of A Level Media Studies, I was really moved by the speeches by scriptwriter Andrea Gibb and Director Philippa Lowthorpe – women in film are hugely underrepresented and this is a gorgeous example, a humorous, skilful script and poignant and fun direction.
I have written a full review here, it’s different to the book but in so many ways it it the book’s absolute essence, perfectly translated for a modern day audience. We loved it, you must go see it! Seeing the characters come alive on film was the perfect end to our unforgettable Swallows and Amazons weekend. We’d love to return to the Lake District and do some more sailing or kayaking and maybe get brave enough to visit an uninhabited island on our own steam next time! We’re on Team Swallows, although the Amazons are truly cool girl pirates too – how about you?
See it all in glorious technicolour, including go pro footage of our kayaking adventures!
Plan Your Swallows and Amazons Adventure:
For more inspiration on how to have a Great Swallows and Amazons summer check out www.visitengland.com/great-swallows-and-amazons-summer
To plan your Swallows and Amazons adventure in Cumbria visit www.golakes.co.uk
A 90 minute Swallows and Amazons cruise with Coniston Launch costs from £16.50 per adult and £8.25 per child.
The next Derwent Island House Open Day will take place on 24 August from £14.25 per adult and £4.00 per child (over 8’s only) including a canoeing trip to the island and a 45 minute tour of the house.
Stay: The Waterhead Hotel is family friendly with a warm Sam the sheepdog welcome.
Swallows and Amazons is in cinemas nationwide on 19 August. More information on the film is available here:www.swallowsandamazonsforever.co.uk
Pin to your travel bucket list!