If you were lucky enough, as I was, to have read the Swallows and Amazons series of books by Arthur Ransome when you were a child, then they have probably stayed with you all your life. Written between 1930 and 1947, their realistic and vivid descriptions of children's adventures in wonderful parts of the world still enthral children and adults alike.
Five of the books: Swallows and Amazons, Swallowdale, Winter Holiday, Pigeon Post, and The Picts and the Martyrs, were set in the Lake District (and I was interested in tracking down some of the real locations that he used).
Four of the books: Coot Club, We Didn't Mean to go to Sea, Secret Water and The Big Six, were based in the Norfolk Broads and on the East Coast of England. We Didn't Mean to go to Sea is (IMO) one of the finest adventure stories about children ever written, for children and adults alike.
Two of the books: Peter Duck and Missee Lee, set in more exotic locations, were written as romances that the children make up for themselves about themselves - a story within a story, as it were. Arthur Ransome's knowledge of boats, the sea and the wide world make these books every bit as realistic as the others. Peter Duck ranks alongside or surpasses "Treasure Island", and is still one of my personal favourites.
The last book: Great Northern? is set in the Hebrides, where a holiday in a borrowed Norwegian pilot cutter turns into a campaign to preserve a rare bird from an unscrupulous egg-collector.
Having taken several of the books with me on holiday, I worked out that the lake loved by the children is actually a composite of two lakes, Windermere and Coniston Water. The east bank of the children's lake, the islands shown on the maps, and the north end of the lake, all seemed to correspond to Windermere (the children obviously know Bowness as a real place, but call it "Rio" amongst themselves). The west bank of the children's lake, and the fells behind it, seemed to belong to Coniston Water.
When I got home I found out that I was mostly right - if you click the picture to the left you will find more information on the real locations - and check here as well.
The previous two pictures show both sides of the real island on Windermere that is positioned where "Wild Cat Island" is positioned on the children's fictional lake, and looks very similar - but the source for Wild Cat Island was apparently Peel Island on Coniston water (maybe he combined the two?).
This is Coniston Water and a spur of Coniston Old Man (known to the children by its real name, but referred to by them as Kanchenjunga) that could well be Ling Scar in the book Pigeon Post.
In the book they explore the old mine workings around and beneath the spur, discovering in the process that disused workings can be a dangerous place.
This is the beautifully restored Victorian Steam Yacht Gondola on Coniston Water, a great way to view the lake and its surroundings.
The steam engine (now running eco-friendly on reconstituted wood logs) is incredibly quiet and vibration-free - in most parts of the Gondola you can hardly hear it at all when the craft is moving. It's so much nicer than the noisy excursion boats on Windermere - and it makes me wonder why more craft aren't powered this way. Why not?
I didn't realise when riding on it that it gave Arthur Ransome the idea for Captain Flint's houseboat in "Swallows and Amazons" - more information here.
Behind the Gondola in the picture is the east bank of Coniston Water, replaced by Arthur Ransome for the children's lake by the east bank of Windermere.