Something is stirring in Coniston

It's not just a small earthquake that is having an impact on this famous old Lancashire village. Mike Glover reports

When an earthquake hit Lancashire north of the sands a couple of days before Christmas, its epicentre was found to be 8.9 miles underground, directly beneath the village of Coniston.

Buildings wobbled and the ground rumbled after the quake, measuring 3.5 on the Richter scale. Some residents were sent scurrying outside when the tremor struck just before 11pm.

But it lasted less than a minute, and after shaking themselves down, most of the 1,000 villagers slept easily in their beds. Such rumblings happen every three or four years. Happily, no damage or injuries were reported.

It takes more than the odd earthquake to disturb the tranquil peace of the settlement nestling between Coniston Old Man and Coniston Water.But 2011 does have in store stirrings of a different sort, which will hopefully have a very positive impact on the lives and economy of the village.

For this is the year that the long-standing project to bring the speedboat Bluebird back to the village nears completion.

It was in January 1967 that the boat flipped at more than 300 miles per hour, killing water world record speedster Donald Campbell. Now a ten year campaign to commemorate the event is reaching its conclusion.The Cumbria Fells and Dales programme, which administers the Rural Development Fund, has pledged �90,000, after recognising the vitalrole heritage and tourism plays in the local economy.

Most Read

That money will be used to commission artist blacksmith Chris Brammall, who was born and raised across the Lake District in Ambleside, to proceed with his plans for the internal display of Campbell memorabilia in the newly built extension to Ruskin Museum in the centre of the village.

According to the museum’s curator Vicky Slowe, the plans are for ‘exciting and unique’ display cases made of aluminium - the same material used in Bluebird’s bodywork.

The content will show the different models of Bluebird and how it developed into the K7 version used between 1955 and Campbell’s final journey.

Displays will also feature personal items belonging to Sir Malcolm Campbell, Donald’s father who started motor racing before the First World War, broke land speed records and came to Coniston in 1939 to attempt the water world record.

The boat has been painstakingly rebuilt by engineer and diver Bill Smith who found the sunken wreck in March 2001. Donald Campbell’s body was also recovered and was later buried in Coniston cemetery.

His daughter Gina donated the restored boat to the Museum at the end of 2006, on the provision that Bill Smith remained in charge of the rebuild. But the whole project had to be financed and it was only five years ago that the money could be applied for and the work commence.

Early attempts to get the Heritage Lottery Fund to pay the bills failed and so the funds have had to be raised piecemeal. Cumbria Vision gave �250,000, a further �100,000 came from the Garfield Weston Foundation (set up by the founder of the confectionary company responsible for the Wagon Wheel) and �50,000 from the South Lakeland District Council.

With many smaller individual donations, a kitty of �560,000 was reached.This enabled an extension to the museum to be built to house the Campbell collection, including Bluebird herself.

This is a remarkable achievement by a village of 1,000 people, but is typical of their resourcefulness and determination.

True, they have persuaded the public purse and charities that museums matter to the local economy, which after a tough 2010, is even more important.

Vicky Slowe said: ‘Coniston is not on the main route through the Lakes and not a recognised honeypot, but we are hoping for better times in 2011 and for Campbell to bring to Coniston the Miss Potter effect.’ This is a reference to the boost to Windermere from the Hollywood film account of the life of Beatrix Potter, starring Renee Zellweger.

Already Sky and History satellite channels have started films of the story of Campbell and next spring a new book by Neil Sheppard ‘This Rather Stony Path’ - a Donald Campbell quote about the difficulty of beating records - is bound to raise interest by revealing new scientific evidence of what caused the fatal accident.

Already a new sculpture of Campbell by Graham Ball is attracting attention. The Lancashire Life photograph shows Vicky and Campbell’s business partner Graham Adams with the likeness, which Gina unveiled last November.

Mr Adams ran the transport company which carried Campbell’s � boats and  cars around the world, as his father’s business did for Sir Malcolm before him.

There has been a Ruskin Museum in Coniston since 1901 when W G Collingwood, a local artist and antiquarian who had been Ruskin’s secretary, set it up as a memorial to his employer and as a celebration of the area’s heritage.

So as well as a Ruskin collection there are also exhibits relating to the copper mines, slate, geology, lace, farming and, of course, Campbell.But it is fitting that Ruskin Museum continues to lead the village’s fight for economic independence. Ruskin, artist, critic and Victorian thinker, was a great proponent of sustainable local economies, more than a century before it became politically fashionable.

Local councillor Anne Hall was involved in a meeting when the current Prime Minister announced his Big Society to flesh out what it means.‘We have been doing the Big Society in Coniston for years. Whether it is recovery from the floods or saving the public toilets and Tourist Information Centre, saving the local library or schools from cuts, we just get on with working together to ensure they survive,’ she said.

Another pioneering scheme to build affordable homes for local families comes to fruition this month with eleven houses opening on land formerly owned by the church in the village. Coniston’s housing group is being held as a model for other communities in the Lake District and beyond.It seems the people of Coniston have no need of earthquakes to shake them into action to maintain their thriving community.



A walk from Mitterdale over the Wastwater screes ( Whin Rigg and Illgill Head ) and a visit to Ruskin's Brantwood House on Coniston Water. October 2010. (video from youtube)




Five things to do

Visit the award winning Coniston Brewing Company which is home to Bluebird Bitter and other popular ales. The brewery is tucked behind the Black Bull Inn and hotel where you can sample the ales.

The Ruskin Museum celebrates Coniston’s heritage and houses a number of exhibits relating to the local area. The newly opened Bluebird wing displays the life-size statue of Donald Campbell. Check the opening times before you visit as they vary throughout the year.

Book lovers can enjoy a Swallows and Amazons cruise around Coniston Water  and see some of the islands that writer Arthur Ransome used as inspiration for his novels.

Brantwood House was the home of John Ruskin and well worth a visit. There are plenty of activities to enjoy including picturesque garden walks and curated exhibitions. For those looking to expand their creative side, Brantwood also offers day courses in drawing and visual arts.

The idyllic Levers Waters Falls, situated in the upper Coppermines, make for a pleasing pitstop on a walk around Coniston.

Where is it? Coniston is just under eight miles from the popular village of Ambleside. Exit the M6 at junction 36 and follow the A591 to Ambleside. Take the A593 to Coniston.

Where to park? The centre of Coniston Village has parking for both cars and coaches. The car park is open every day including bank holidays.

Where can I eat and drink? There are plenty of cafes, tea rooms and pubs throughout the village. The Blue Bird caf� which sits on the lake’s edge has an array of home made cakes whilst the Jumping Jenny at Brantwood is a licensed restaurant serving home cooked meals all day.