Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons

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We’re getting excited about an event that’s happening here in the Lakes later this summer which will stir longings for everyone who’s ever wanted to run away to a desert island.

Well, not exactly “desert”, but in one of our favourite-ever books, Swallows and Amazons, two families of children are allowed to sail away, on their own, and camp on an island in the lake.

So we’re pleased to be involved in a marathon reading of the story which will take place at Coniston in September. In fact, our daughter Elizabeth, will be reading one of the chapters, along with other young people including Hannah Jayne Thorp.

Hannah played the part of Peggy Walker in the new film version of Swallows and Amazons which was released last year. (The screenplay writer, Andrea Gibb, will also be reading a chapter. So will a descendant of William Wordsworth!)

This is a book that was published almost a hundred years ago, so what is it about this tale that still captures the imagination of young people today? Most of them would never, ever be allowed to go off on their own and camp; and anyway, if they made it to Peel Island on Coniston (which is the Wild Cat Island of the story) they would find a National Trust sign welcoming them: “No camping”.

Was it sensible parenting, when the children’s father allowed the expedition with the words “Better drowned than duffers.  If not duffers won’t drown”? Perhaps that’s the key to the appeal of the book, in a world where “health and safety” dominates everything we do, here are children sailing without lifejackets, being allowed to use matches, and sleeping overnight at a jetty in their boat. (Oh, no, that’s the one thing they weren’t supposed to do!)

Whatever the secret, Arthur Ransome’s tale remains popular with every generation. Like Beatrix Potter, who also used the Lakeland landscape for her imaginative adventures, Ransome found the ideal location for storytelling.

So next time you come to stay, why not hire a kayak (and a lifejacket!) and make the short voyage to Wild Cat Island. You can’t camp there overnight – but then, why would you want to, when you’re staying in one of our comfy beds!

The Swallows and Amazons marathon is at Coniston on September 3. For more details see https://ifnotduffers.org/

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