17 October 2012
The real-life inspiration for the famous boathouse in the classic children’s book ‘Swallows & Amazons’ has been restored to its former glory thanks to the enthusiasm of a Lake District farming family and a helping hand from Natural England.
For more than 50 years, Bank Ground Farm at Coniston has been run by Mrs Lucy Batty and her family and is a sixty acre working farm raising livestock, including a herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle. Located in a stunning setting overlooking the lake, Bank Ground is famous as the inspiration for the fictional ‘Holly Howe Farm’ of Arthur Ransome’s 1930 novel, Swallows and Amazons.
It was the old boathouse at Bank Ground and the boats on the lake that provided Ransome with the idea for his story. The young heroes of the book set sail in their dinghy ‘Swallow’ from the Bank Ground/Holly Howe boathouse at the start of their summer holiday adventures.
However, despite being the most famous boathouse in children’s literature and an attraction for fans of the book, until recently the traditional Lakes building was in danger of collapse and in need of urgent repairs to its rotting timbers, collapsed roof and perilously bulging walls. The building was further damaged in 2009 when it was submerged up to the roof line by flood water. After the floods subsided it was feared that the building, which is regarded as of significant historic and literary importance, might fall down.
But, thanks to the enthusiasm of the Batty family and the support of funding from a Natural England environmental scheme, the building has since been saved and sympathetically returned to its former glory using traditional Lakeland building skills. Oak beams have been replaced and repaired, the stone walls have been stabilised and the roof re-slated with olive-green Westmoreland slates. Local materials and traditional lime mortar have been used throughout the project.
Jonathon Batty of Bank Ground Farm, said: “The enduring appeal of Arthur Ransome’s books attracts large numbers of visitors from home and abroad to the Lake District every year to enjoy the spectacular scenery and trace the locations featured in the stories. Following their careful restoration, the boathouses can again take pride of place at the heart of Arthur Ransome country. We are grateful for the traditional skills of the local builders for helping us restore the buildings to their former glory and for the financial support from Natural England’s environmental stewardship scheme.”
Joe Wilson of Natural England’s Cumbria team, said: “The tourists who flock from as far afield as Canada, Australia and Japan to see the Ransome locations make a valuable contribution to the area’s rural economy and I’m sure visitors will be delighted to see that these iconic boathouses have been sympathetically restored. Jonathon, his father Ken and the builders Watson Bros have done an excellent job of restoring the boathouse and landscaping the adjoining lakeshore. This is a great example of how we work in partnership to conserve the heritage and natural beauty of the Lake District, while also supporting food producers, rural businesses, and tourism enterprises.”
The 15th century Bank Ground Farmhouse has been providing B&B accommodation for over 50 years and in the 1980s some of the farm’s original buildings were converted into self-catering holiday cottages to cater for visitors and today holidaymakers can enjoy the hospitality of ‘Holly Howe Farm’. Special maps of the locality identify the various sites described in Swallows & Amazons and are especially popular with Japanese tourists following in Ransome’s literary footsteps.
Jonathon adds: “Arthur Ransome has a huge following in Japan and we regularly have Japanese visitors arriving at the farmhouse asking to see the locations mentioned in their favourite books. It’s amazing that such essentially English novels are so popular throughout the world, but it’s certainly good news for boosting tourism in this part of the Lakes.”
As well as the restoration of the historic boathouses at Bank Ground Farm, the Batty family are also carrying out a wide range of wildlife conservation work on the farm, including planting new hedgerows and native species of trees.
Swallows and Amazons was first published in 1930 and the film adaptation, starring Virginia McKenna and Ronald Fraser, was filmed at Bank Ground in 1974 when the boathouses were used as locations in the movie. The buildings have also appeared in various television adaptations of the novels.
In April 2011, the boat used in the film as the ‘Swallow’ returned to Coniston for the first time since 1974, having been acquired and restored to sailing condition by two members of The Arthur Ransome Society.
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About Arthur Ransome and Swallows & Amazons
Arthur Ransome was born on January 18, 1884, in Leeds, and went to school in Windermere.
Ransome moved to Low Ludderburn on the banks of Coniston after returning to the UK following several years working as a journalist in Russia.
Taqui, Susan, Mavis (also known as Titty) and Roger Altouynan inspired Ransome to write the Swallows and Amazons. Ransome's friend, Ernest Altouynan had bought two sailing boats which the older Altouynan children were going to learn to sail on Coniston Water under Ransome's supervision. In the books, the Altouynan children have become the Walker children, and Taqui became ‘John’ in an effort, according to the author himself, to even up the sexes. The book was first published on 1 December 1930.
The lake which the children sail on is only described in the book as ‘that great lake in the North’ but is now identified with Coniston Water. Arthur Ransome spent time on Peel Island in Coniston, which becomes ‘Wildcat Island’ in the book. Coniston Old Man becomes Kanchenjunga in the book Swallowdale.
Ransome returned to the Lake District in the last years of his life and lived at Haverthwaite until his death in 1967. He is buried at St Paul's Church in Rusland.
First established in June 1990, The Arthur Ransome Society has its registered office at the Abbot Hall Museum of Lakeland Life in Kendal. The purpose of the Society is to celebrate Ransome’s life and works. The Society has Overseas Groups in Australia, the USA, Canada and New Zealand. The Society has close links with the Arthur Ransome Club in Japan which was founded in 1987.
As well as the restoration of the historic boathouses on the farm, the Batty family are also carrying out a wide range of wildlife conservation work on the farm, including planting new hedgerows and native species of trees.
The original proposal to renovate the boathouses was prepared by Joe Wilson and Martin Sowerby of Natural England and the restoration work on the buildings was carried out by Watson Bros builders of Millom.
By coincidence, Natural England’s Joe Wilson first learned about the Swallows and Amazons story while studying at Newcastle, when he met Pete Altounynan, the son of Roger Altounynan who was one of the children that the book is based on.”
Environmental stewardship schemes are administered by Natural England, on behalf of Defra, and fund farmers and land managers throughout England to deliver effective environmental management on their land.
The objectives of Environmental Stewardship are to:
Promote public access and understanding of the countryside
Maintain and enhance landscape quality and character
Protect the historic environment and natural resources