Beautiful mountain scenery, the third-longest lake in the Lake District, plenty of activities, a fascinating history, and shops and cafés in which to relax, Coniston is a perfect holiday destination boasting plenty of its own attractions and within easy reach of the rest of the southern Lake District. Browse all our Coniston Cottages here.
Coniston, in the Southern Lake District, is perhaps best known as the place where Donald Campbell was killed in 1967 whilst attempting to break the water speed record. As he was trying to reach 300mph, his hydroplane, the Bluebird, shot up into the air and disappeared into the lake. His body wasn’t found until 2001, when his remains were raised from the lake bottom and buried in the village churchyard.
Donald Campbell’s story is told in the Ruskin Museum, which celebrates Coniston’s heritage with exhibits on John Ruskin, slate and copper mining as well as the lace and farming industries.
The Lakeland Motor Museum at Backbarrow has the Campbell Legend Bluebird Exhibition, with replica hydroplanes and photographs.
John Ruskin and Brantwood House
The Victorian thinker John Ruskin was another remarkable man with links to Coniston. Artist, critic, philosopher, economist and conservationist, with a huge influence on the Pre-Raphelite painters, he bought Brantwood House overlooking Coniston Water in 1871 and lived there for over twenty years.
The house and gardens are open to the public and well worth a visit. The gardens have wonderful views over the lake and fells and 250 acres of woodland. The house holds Ruskin’s collected writings and has regular exhibitions, concerts, courses and special events.
Swallows and Amazons
Arthur Ransome, the children’s writer, was inspired by the lake and the mountains that surround it, basing many of the locations in his famous Swallows and Amazons series on them.
Ransome was a keen sailor and fisherman who loved the Lake District, and he spent many childhood holidays at Nibthwaite on the southern shores of Coniston Water. During the First World War and Russian Revolution, he worked as a political journalist, acted as a spy for MI6, and spent the late 1920s as a foreign correspondent and angling columnist for the Manchester Guardian.
Exploring the water
At 5 miles long, Coniston Water is the third longest lake in the Lake District and there are many ways to explore it.
You can take a cruise on the Heritage Steam Yacht Gondola, an elegant Victorian, steam-powered yacht owned by the National Trust that sails between March and November, stopping off at various points including Brantwood. The Coniston Launch offers regular cruises as well as special ‘Swallows and Amazons’ and ‘Campbells on Coniston’ tours.
The more energetic can hire their own boats from Coniston Pier, choosing between rowing boats, sailing dinghies, canoes and kayaks. Coniston Sailing Club is on the west side of the lake and organises races throughout the year, which you can either watch or take part in. It offers various types of membership, including a day membership.
“Mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery.” - John Ruskin.
There are many walks to be had in Coniston, from easy strolls around the lake to challenging mountain climbs, including the Old Man of Coniston at 2,600 feet. Alternatively, get out the mountain bike and explore some of the many bridleways and high road passes in the area. The well-stocked Tourist Information Centre in Coniston village gives details of many routes, including a 53km ride around the lake. Bikes can be hired from Coniston Boating Centre.
Other outdoor activities include horse riding, paragliding, boating and ghyll scrambling.
Take it easy
Coniston also offers plenty of opportunity to relax with its many cafés, tearooms and pubs, both in the village itself and nearby. The Coniston Brewing Company welcomes visitors and uses only natural products. Its range of beers includes the famous Blue Bird and Old Man ales. Beatrix Potter, the famous children’s author, set up a tea room at Yew Tree Farm in 1933, which continues to serve tea and cakes to this day.
On the shore of the lake, the Bluebird Café is popular, partly because of its perfect location, but also because of its mouthwatering cakes and summer salads. It also has a bar and much memorabilia of the many speed record breakers that have been on Coniston Water. There are also a number of pubs in the village with good food and real ales, including the Ship Inn, a cosy oak-beamed bar, and the 16th-century Sun Hotel and Inn.