One of the forty things to do when you’ve been married for forty years is to take a visit to Coniston. Although it is only about a 45 minute drive from my house neither Mrs. C nor I had ever been. There is a lake there, obviously and there is also the John Ruskin Museum. I thought, before we arrived, that I was a fan of Ruskin (or, that for some reason I should be) but it turns out I’m not. Ruskin was an author, art critic, passable watercolourist, and erstwhile philanthropist of the Victorian era.
This small eclectic museum is fascinating in parts; my contention is that it would still be fascinating if Ruskin’s contribution was removed. A word of caution, payment is required to visit the museum and there is no concession for “seniors”.
Once inside the museum the first exhibit you see is a commemoration of a man called James Hewitson. James was a Coniston man who was wounded four times in the First World War and who returned to the fray four times. This young man had the stomach for the fight. On the 26th of April 1918 at Givenchy Lance Corporal Hewitson was leading his troop against a squad of German soldiers operating out of bomb craters. He and his men cleared out their main objective, Hewitson personally killing six men who refused to surrender. Before he had time for a breather he recognised that a machine gun post was being set up to bear down on his squad. He flanked the machine gun crew, personally killing four of the enemy and capturing another. On the same day he routed a German bombing team that was attacking his Lewis gun position, killing a further six German soldiers. James was awarded the Victoria Cross for his outstanding bravery.
James Hewitson lived his whole life in Coniston until he died in 1963, during this time he had long spells in hospital due to shrapnel embedded in his back; he was buried with military honours at St Andrews Church Coniston. His fully restored motorbike, which cost him £47/17/6, is part of the exhibition. Here is a testament to a very brave and humble man. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I felt a little unworthy just reading about him.
The other “must see” is the Bluebird/Donald Campbell permanent exhibition. Sometime this year or next the fully restored Bluebird K7 will be returned here following its recovery from the lake in 2000 but the fact that it isn’t currently there detracts only slightly from the quality of the other exhibits in this part of the museum. Campbells’ body was recovered in 2001; he is interred at Coniston Cemetery. The space is well laid out and forensic in its detail. I know that many of you that don’t read the articles will be very impressed so I won’t spoil it with rambling on but it is fascinating.
The rest of the museum is okay if you like that sort of thing, there is quite a lot of social history of the area and some reasonable (IMHO) works of art, along with a great number of examples of local craft, including examples of lace making which was a decent cottage industry in the 19th century. There is also some very interesting stuff about the early rock climbing pioneers, a very reckless and courageous breed, and the man that photographed some of their exploits by humping his bulky camera equipment up and down fells in all weathers. All things considered an enjoyable couple of hours.
A stroll (or drive if you don’t fancy the 10 minute walk) to the lake is de rigeur. It isn’t as pretty as Ullswater but, on the plus side, Coniston, thankfully, isn’t as touristy as either Windermere or Keswick although I expect it gets busy later in the year. There are plenty of decent looking pubs, including the Black Bull, which is the Tap house of Coniston Brewery. Their Bluebird Bitter, a 3.6% session ale, was supreme beer champion at Olympia in 1998 and has won a stack of other awards. I didn’t have a pint although I have drunk it in the past, maybe next time.
We’d decided not to lunch out as we knew what we were having to eat in the evening but a snack and a cuppa never go amiss so we decided to try one of the smaller independent cafes, of which there are several. The Green Housekeeper was the one we chose (It stands opposite the Ruskin Museum). This is one of those rare gems that I think only exist in Britain and in ever declining numbers, everything homemade and very reasonably priced, with the bread sourced from the small independent bakery just a couple of doors down. Smiling service, coffee at the strength ordered, tea served in a tea pot with a cosy and two excellent large fruit scones, served with butter and homemade jam (lashings of it) for under a tenner. The homemade soup and sandwich deal was being enjoyed, with obvious relish, by other diners. I heartily recommend this establishment to the house.
We finished our day out with a walk around Tarn Hows, a small lake just 3 miles from Coniston. The walk itself is just short of 2 miles and is simple to follow, weaving in and out of the woods that surround the lake. Lots of evidence of deer can be seen where the bark has been removed from many of the trees although we didn’t spot any (deer, we saw plenty of trees). There was ample parking when we got there in mid afternoon but the road up to the car park is single track and I would imagine it could be a bit of a challenge in the height of the season.
All in all a pleasant day out and another little adventure ticked off our August 2017 to August 2018 bucket list.
Still to come;
Hot air balloon ride (in which I swallow my distaste for Branson and go up in a Virgin balloon), Keswick Brewery tour, Farne Islands when the Puffins are home, Sizergh Castle, The Canadian Adventure and much more.
Watch This Space.
© Coloniescross 2018