Coniston Water

photo by David Le Masurier

Quite often simply known as Coniston, Coniston Lake in Cumbria, England is the third biggest lake in the Lake District. It is five miles (8 km) long, half a mile (800 m) wide, with a maximum depth of 184 feet (56 m), covering an area of 1.89 square miles (4.9 km²). The lake is 143 feet (44 m) above sea level and outflows to the sea via the River Crake.

Coniston Water is a prime example of a ribbon lake formed by glaciation. It is situated in a deep U-shaped glaciated valley scoured by a glacier in the surrounding volcanic and limestone rocks during the last ice age.

The Old Man of Coniston rises to the north west of the lake, which is the highest fell in the Coniston fells group. As such Coniston holds one of the oldest rocks in the world.

Near the shores of Coniston Water remains of agricultural settlements from the Bronze Age have been found. Romans mined copper from the fells above the lake, and a potash kiln and two iron bloomeries show that industrial continued throughout medieval times. Coniston Water was an important source of fish for the monks of Furness Abbey in the 13th and 14th centuries and they owned the lake and much of the surrounding land. Copper mining was carried out in the area until the 19th century.

The lake has an alternative name of Thorstein’s Water, being named after the Viking invader who took up residence in the valley and subsequently claimed the lakebed. In fact this name was used up until the late 18th century.

John Ruskin, the Victorian artist and philospher owned Brantwood house on the eastern shore of the lake, and lived in it from 1872 until his death in 1900. Ruskin is buried in the village of Coniston, in the local curchyard at the north end of the lake.

Arthur Ransome set his children’s novel Swallows and Amazons and some of its sequels on a fictional lake, but it is generally accepted that he drew much of his inspiration from Coniston Water.

Some of Coniston Water’s islands and other local landmarks can readily be identified in the novel. In particular, Peel Island is without a doubt the Wild Cat Island of the book including the secret harbour.