Coniston Water, [in mediaeval documents, Turstinii Watra], has served through history as fishery and highway, source of food [charr, trout, sea trout, salmon], and carrier of goods [slate, copper ore] and people [18th century ‘Lakers’, the first tourists, on barges; SY Gondola, The Lady of the Lake]. The Lake has been the race-track for Sir Malcolm Campbell and his son Donald Campbell, attempting ever faster speeds in their Bluebird hydroplanes, and the adventure playground of the imaginary Thorstein of the Mere and the fictional Swallows and Amazons, whose real grandfather, W.G. Collingwood, founded The Ruskin Museum in 1901.
The Steam Yatch Gondola
S.Y. Gondola was launched in 1860 and has proved hugely popular with tourists to Coniston ever since. In technological terms, she was on of the first steel boats to be made in sections; the sections were brought to Coniston via the Furness Railway Company’s new branch-line, originally planned as a goods line to export copper ore and slate, but rapidly evolving into a busy passenger line, popular with tourists. S.Y. Gondola’s elegant lines, the fact that Captain Hamill permitted him to steer her when he was a young boy, and her temporary use as a house-boat, at Nibthwaite, conspired to inspire Arthur Ransome to model Captain Flint’s houseboat on her.
She fell into dire repair, but was acquired by The National Trust, rebuilt by Vickers’ apprentices, and returned to her Victorian opulence, though she is now powered by recycled ‘blazer logs’ rather than steam coal. She runs a regular service from Easter/1 April until 31 October, weather permitting. These days, she visits Peel Island, with its secret harbour, on special Wild Cat Island cruises, [visit: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/gondola]