How did Arthur Ransome influence your life?

Arthur Ransome was born in on 18th January 1884. Those who loved his books will be celebrating his birthday from Giggleswick in North Yorkshire to the Orwell where the Ransomes spent so much time sailing.

Sophie Neville at The Nancy Blackett Day

Pamela Copley has just written from Australia to say:

‘There is a celebration of AR’s birthday in a suburb of Melbourne on Saturday – straight after the AGM. There will be a member from the UK group too.

Cheryl Paget tells me that, ‘In New Zealand members have  met in Auckland for a weekend of Ransome inspired activities. We have sailed under the Auckland Harbour Bridge in a 57ft ketch rigged deck scow, toured the historic naval town of Devonport and walked to the top of the dormant volcano of Rangitoto.’

Mikako Tarashima wrote from the Arthur Ransome Club in Japan to say:

‘We would like to have a small exhibition in this year.’ In 2014, publication of new Japanese translation of Ransome saga was complete.’


I ask the question: How has Arthur Ransome influenced your life? What impact have his classic books, or the adaptations of Swallows and Amazons for film, television or the theatre, had on your family? Do add a line or two to the Comments below.

Arthur Ransome's cutter the Nancy Blackett sailing on the Orwell
Arthur Ransome’s cutter the Nancy Blackett on the Orwell in July 2013

I am guilty of denial. When people asked, ‘How has Swallows & Amazons influenced your life?’ I’m afraid I used not to be that forth-coming, because I had moved on from acting in films. If you had asked me in 2010 I would have shrugged and said, ‘Not much.’

But then I stopped and thought again.

How much time I have spent exploring wilderness areas? I’d forgotten that it was the maps in Ransome’s books that attracted me to reading Cartography at university. I went to draw numerous maps all over the world.

I love living outdoors. I love fell walking, mud-flats, and being out on the high seas. I would drop everything to sail to China or the Caribbean tomorrow. I put this down to the fact that my father took us sailing and camping even before I read Ransome’s books. But who influenced Dad?  Born in 1929, he was an avid reader of Arthur Ransome and would eagerly wait for the next book about the Swallows and the Amazons to be published. It would be a longed-for Christmas present.

It then occurred to me that John’s careful planning, Susan’s packing, Titty’s log and Roger’s humour still steer my life. The food, the phrases, the urge to travel, became part of my life long ago. I’ve lived under Swallow’s flag.


I for one, sail into the year ahead with Titty’s words still singing in my ears,

‘Here we are, intrepid explorers, making the first ever voyage into uncharted waters? What mysteries will it hold for us, what dark secrets shall me revealed?’

Aboard the Nancy Blackett at Buckler’s Hard on the Beaulieu River

‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ by Sophie Neville is available from The Nancy Blackett Trust shop:


Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

41 thoughts on “How did Arthur Ransome influence your life?”

  1. AR has had a huge influence on my life – having met a very nice young man, soon after arriving in Australia from Scotland, he became even nicer when I discovered he has read and loved AR as a child AND still re read them. He was the one who didn’t get away and we still read them 38 years later. Living in a variety of overseas postings, we made annual trips to the UK (though Australia is still home) and had all kinds is AR adventures from staying at Bank Ground Farm to sailing many times on the Broads (including once when we were very nearly duffers on Breydon Water), Lake District and the West Highlands. Our daughter is currently working as a volunteer teacher in Bhutan and is very happy to have the S, A, and Ds for company, both in the written word and audio. Through Better World Books, we have sent all the AR books to her Bhutanese school library. So yes, thank you to Arthur for greatly enriching the lives of our family.

  2. I first “met” the Swallows and Amazons as an eleven-year-old boy living in a small town called Petrusville, deep in the Northern Cape area of South Africa. It was captivation from the first line, and since then I have read and re-read every single one of the books many times.

    Living in a part of the country that was pretty wild in any case, we were used to camping and spending nights under the stars in the veld, but AR and the characters he shared with us, engendered a deep and lasting love for boats, messing about in or on boats and water of whatever description.

    Later I read everything about the Great Man I could lay my hands on, and read just about all his works, too… but it is the Swallows and Amazons and their friends with whom I fell in love.

    Thank you, Arthur Ransome, for bringing lasting magic en enrichment into a young boy’s life, and for all the influences you had on the man I am today.

    1. It is wonderful to hear that Arthur Ransome’s books were so well loved in the Northern Cape. People keep telling me that they re-read them throughout their lives and also re-watch the film numerous times, which seems significant.

  3. I still have all the books from my childhood. I’m 76 and am partially sighted now but have Swallows and Amazons as a talking book and sometimes listen to it and had heard a couple of the other books though I don’t believe all 12 are available as spoken word. I have a video of the film and 3 of my grandchildren loved watching it, over and over. It creates a magical escape to when childhood was free and full of small pleasures. I never sailed though always wanted to.

    1. Oh, you must think of sailing the Nancy Blackett! Do you live anywhere near the Orwell? The Nancy Blackett Trust have a wonderful website will dates of events for next year. I am sure they would make you very welcome.

  4. my father spent years living on banks of Windermere in the late 1930s (see website link) and was brought the books…
    Spent my holidays as a boy sailing on Windermere and the Broads.
    Saturday the 18th will also be my daughter Peggy’s birthday. At the moment we’re Winter Holidaying in a farmhouse just south of Coniston Water.

    Guess there’s been some influence somewhere.

  5. I first read S&A on the front porch of our cottage in Ontario in the 1970s. They were the only books I knew that reflected what my friends and I did all summer – sail! Even better they were my father’s copies and ‘messing about in boats’ was what he and his friends had done as well. When I went off to summer camp in Maine, I took the books with me and I discovered that the camp loved nothing more than loading up the boats and sending kids off to distant lakes to explore – and yes we had to map it. I have read S&A to my son and he has had three S&A birthday parties with the boats tied up at the foot of the garden. He and my father are reading Coots Club together. What more could you ask for.

      1. We have! We watched it on YouTube. My son most identifies with Roger, but that is likely due them being the same age.

        1. Wonderful, the Youtube quality is appalling though. See if you can buy a DVD on eBay or Amazon. The UK format works if you play it on your PC or other computer. I have just bought a DVD issued by the Daily Mail for 50p. The quality is superb.

  6. The influence is great. The stories of Arthur Ransome originally influenced my father to learn to sail and own a small boat. The result gave our family access to a water wonderland that is where my own childhood took place. I naturally learned to sail and identified with books as a pre-teen. The greatest gift of that influence on my father was the trust that permitted me to sail on the river alone and with friends to create my own “map” (which still hangs above my hearth) and adventures. The similarity of my time on our river to the Ransome books was not lost on my father or myself for that matter. I will always be grateful for that time because it built self-confidence, a love of the outdoors, and a trusting relationship between my parents and I. I am now the parent that looks at his children and struggles with letting them have the independence to prove themselves through skill and passion for what they are doing. Ransome is still a voice helping me trust as my father did for me. What a gift it has been.

    Sailing aside, when posed with your question, I have to say that another area of great influence of the books has been the inspiration from the relationships that were forged in the stories. Working together, allowing the ideas of others to have a place and to shape the story. As a musician in real life, the notion that working together we are greater than the sum of our parts is a part of my daily profession. It is, in fact, a basic message of the performance arts for me. This aspect of the idyllic canvass Ransome expresses so well has always stayed with me.

    His influence has warded off loneliness, created excitement and interest where otherwise boredom may have set in. Long live our imaginations to bring that ideal Ransome universe to life – it has not been a half bad influence for me and my family.

    Your web site is great.

    1. Thank you so much for writing – from Canada, I believe.

      I keep noticing that Ransome’s books often result in memorable father-child adventures, deepening relationships. It is interesting, especially since ‘Swallows & Amazons’ is partly about fatherlessness – perhaps a reflection that Arthur Ransome lost his own father when he was only 13.

      1. Sophie, you’ve struck a chord there – I think there is a lot to write about family relationships (and the criss-cross between AR’s real life and his fiction) in the books. Have you seen this short piece? The author, Isobel Laidler, was 12 at the time of writing and I was so impressed by the originality and depth of thought that I helped her to publish it online for other Ransome enthusiasts to enjoy. Isobel is now about to take up a place at Cambridge to read English literature, and I’m ardently hoping that she’ll continue with her insights on AR. Sounds as if you and she could usefully collaborate! She lives near Kendal and has hopes of helping backstage, or indeed onstage, in the impending film.

        1. Yes, you sent me Isobel’s piece before. It will be wonderful if she can work on Nick Barton’s adaptation. I am so glad that she has a place at Cambridge. I am currently researching the exact heights of Mr and Mrs Arthur Ransome – there seems to be some debate over this! It’s amusing but I have been touched – deeply touched by this thread relating to generational influences.

        2. Ah, yes, I thought I might have sent it to you – sorry for the duplication! As for me, the S&A books in my horrible adolescence provided me with a cast of fictional siblings and friends who were so much more ‘my type’ than the reality (my sister gamely followed me round the lawn as we played being Swallow and Amazon, tacking back and forth, but it wasn’t really her thing). I yearned for an old-fashioned childhood, and the books provided it.

  7. Hi Sophie,
    I was 12 when I first read Swallows & Amazons and it seemed strangely familiar as I read chapter after chapter of familiar things, it was only a couple of years later while reading Winter Holiday that I realized that I had lived a little of the story.
    As a boy of seven I had camped with my parents at Monk Coniston and each day would go up to Bank Ground for milk ( often still warm ) we also camped a little north of Brown Howe from where I could gaze across at the Island at that time not knowing that it was Wild Cat Island, a couple of years later we camped close to Wray Castle and would canoe over to Waterhead and once to Bowness, so as I read the books it all seemed strangely familiar.
    It took quite a few years before I realized how Arthur had brought these places together in the books and in 2003 I took my elder son over on a trip that involved a visit to Coniston and just by coincidence while trying to find a place to turn the car around we drove into entrance to “Holly Howe”, I was amazed and thrilled, we visited the farm, then traveled down the east side of the lake to visit the Island, we even found The Dogs Home, Every Trip over from Canada now includes a visit to Bank Ground and my plan is for my Honeymoon to be spent there.
    This last year I was able to bring both my sons over, we spent a week in Coniston and a week in Ambleside, visiting several of the locations and of course taking the Coniston Boat tour.
    In 1966 I along with my lifelong school buddy hired a boat at Wroxam and based most of our holiday visiting locations on the northern rivers from Coot Club and The Big Six, before spending the last few days watching England win the World cup.
    I have read the books many, many times in my life, bringing back those memories of my youth and planning for the next trip back to my beloved Lakes.
    For a couple of years I lived within 6 kms of Rusland Church without knowing that it is Arthurs resting place, and for your followers may I say that a visit to the grave at Rusland is well worth the Journey, The beauty, peace and tranquility is awsome.


  8. I was introduced to Swallows and Amazons when I was about 11 years old, living in San Antonio, Texas, USA. A kindly librarian at the local public library branch did the introduction. I can’t bless her enough for it. It was about this time, or shortly after my father, who was an avid fisherman, bought an 8 ft. pram dingy and after exposure to Arthur Ransome’s works I was off on adventures of my own. There was a small lake in a park a short distance from our house. We (my sister, and some of my friends) sailed often. Boat name “Hawk” following Ransome’s bird name idea. We also sailed that tiny dingy, even fishing from it, in Texas, Wisconsin, even in the Gulf of Mexico off Galveston and South Padre Island. Over the years I’ve owned and sailed on other small boats, even built a few and often had the most fun when relating the current event to those adventures in the Arthur Ransome books. I have also done some hiking and mountain climbing, including one time going through a dangerous old mine to follow a trail on the other side of a spur of a mountain…. Ransome wrote of that too. By happenstance I lived it. I have 2 children, the youngest now at Univ. Though neither are taken by the passion for sailing that I have they both are minimally competent sailors. The older (daughter) had do demonstrate that she could tack up a narrow channel before I allowed her to take automobile driving instruction. My parenting style was to some extent guided by the words of Cmdr. Walker (pater familias of the Swallows) who wrote in the famous telegram “Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers won’t drown.” Perhaps to some others horror, this was part of my parenting ideal. (Ok we did wear “lifejackets.”) The Arthur Ransome books, Joshua Slocum’s works and a Sea Scout manual were the better part of my introduction to sailing, and sailing how-to, and how to react in difficult circumstances as in “We didn’t mean to go to sea.” I re-read them for the joy of it.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to let us know how Arthur Ransome influenced your lives. We loved going out in a borrowed pram as children. It taught us much and gave us a great deal of fun.

  9. Ransome gave my parents an interest in sailing which had not been in the family before (unless you count a host of mariners and fishermen a few generations before who worked out of Great Yarmouth). The result was that a Mirror dinghy and Ransome’s books were a major part of my childhood. It was also reading Swallows and Amazons that made me want to be a writer, and after many years of trying to acquire the necessary skills, I’m now working on a book within the same genre.

    It’s the realism of Ransome’s stories that is most important because it enables them to serve as instruction manuals, teaching people how they can build adventure into their own lives and into those of their children. These kinds of book are needed more than ever in today’s society where so many children are brought up entirely within cages and where the only thing they have that approximates to freedom is within an unfulfilling world of pixels. Ransome’s books are not about mere reading, but about actual living.

    I’m glad my parents understood that, because it transformed our lives from mere existence to being fully alive. There were many occasions when a small boat with red sails returned to the safety of Stonehaven harbour from a sea heaving with rolling waves of sufficient height to hide even the top of the sail from the shore for many seconds at a time, and adults’ jaws regularly hit the ground when they realised that there were only children on board. I always felt so lucky to be one of the two children in that boat, but I also felt deeply sad for all the many children looking on whose parents had never read the manual, or indeed even heard of it. Their idea of a day out was to walk around the harbour and maybe have an ice cream, perhaps daring to let their children off the leash for a while on a little sandy beach by the dinghy park. Maybe they assumed we had money, but all our equipment was picked up second hand at very low cost (the hull of our mirror was given to us for free – it had been due to be burned because it was full of rot, but we managed to extend its life by four years) and we went without other things to acquire all the other parts – for three years I had no bicycle and didn’t think I had any right even to drop a hint that I might want one (which seems daft now that I realise how easily I could have got one for a few pounds of my own money just by looking in the back of a newspaper).

    The lack of a bicycle meant though that instead of going home for lunch (I couldn’t eat the animal feed they served at school), I spent an hour every day on my own exploring the woods (which is something that certainly wouldn’t be allowed today, and may not have been entirely allowed even back then), teaching myself how to identify birds and occasionally encountering red squirrels along the way. I always followed a different route so that no one could predict where I’d be and lie in ambush, and I made my own hidden paths through thickets which no one else would have found easy to follow. Ransome had a hand in all of that – he gave me the key to the world and the courage to try it in every door. After paddling up a burn (stream) one day, I thought of Roger in Secret Water and decided to try walking around barefoot – I immediately found that all the crunching and cracking of things underfoot became silenced and I could move around like a ghost, with the result that I started practically tripping over deer which no longer had any warning of my approach. I was living in the way that children had done for tens or even hundreds of thousands of years, but most of today’s children are shut completely out of that, in no small part by the shackling of their own minds. Ransome unlocks children. He certainly unlocked me, and I will be eternally grateful to him for that. I think every child needs a wood, and a boat, and ideally a bicycle too. They and their parents need to be shown what they’re missing out on so that they can start to steer the world in the right direction and stop allowing the braindead generation that runs the show today to continue to destroy every patch of wild land they can get their hands on while locking children ever deeper into a nightmare of eternal, fake education which is designed to do nothing more useful than squander all their waking hours.

  10. Well done, David – and Sophie for opening the discussion. ‘Unlocking’ is a beautiful image. I learnt to sail from S&A, before I ever started crewing a dinghy. And about needing money, a lot of commentators forget that the Swallows didn’t own a boat – Swallow belonged to the farmhouse they were staying in.

    1. Gosh! What a question! And what interesting answers! I was hooked on Arthur Ransome at a very early age, after hearing ‘Uncle Mac’ read ‘The Big Six’ in Children’s Hour. Books were hard to come by in those days, and I was a teenager before I had the complete set that is now falling apart!
      Like Matthew, the friendship of the Swallows and Amazons has acted as a proof against loneliness throughout my life. I recall trying to keep moderately sane doing fatigues (peeling potatoes for 10 hours) in the RAF by attempting to recite the chapters of ‘the twelve’ in order!
      Arthur Ransome led me to a lifelong love of the Lake District and The Broads, as well to the far-flung Hebrides. I have spent many happy hours with a camera, hunting for the places that may have inspired the fictional lake country in the books. As a teacher, I took around a total of 1400 eleven-year-olds on educational visits to Windermere and Coniston, and until the health and safety stranglehold prevented it, we climbed Kanchenjunga as the climax of the week.
      From Ransome I got my love of wooden boats and I was able to say ‘thank you’ in a way, by restoring his second ‘Swallow’ to sailing condition, that has appeared at Arthur Ransome Society meetings, The Wooden Boat Show and Falmouth National Maritime Museum.
      I have been lucky enough to know the five Altounyans for whom ‘Swallows and Amazons’ was written and lots of delightful people through The Arthur Ransome Society.
      I have had a lot of fun researching among Ransome’s papers in Leeds and producing the books that bear my name. I can only say that Arthur Ransome has been the major influence in my life that would have been so much the poorer had he never written ‘Swallows and Amazons’.

  11. Not much more to add, all the above (and probably below) fits for me. Quote:-Ransome had a hand in all of that – he gave me the key to the world and the courage to try it in every door. Unquote. Made me well up! I will just add that I passed the key on to my kids and they to theirs. I ended up sailing harbour tugs across the Pacific, daughter just done her first 505 Australian National Championship and looking for a suitable dinghy for the grandchildren. What will they achieve?
    Sophie, thankyou for the thread.

  12. It’s a complex question. On a day-to-day basis I might say not that much… but if you think more about it, well really the very morals and values I live by are mostly influenced by the Swallows and Amazons books. My interests are heavily influenced: birds, nature, geology, astronomy, camping. I haven’t had many opportunities for sailing but the handful of chances that have come my way I gobbled up and enjoyed immensely. I always identified with Dick and so I embrace science and technology as well as my love of the outdoors. Perhaps the only passion of Ransome and his creations that has left me cold is fishing.
    Into my fifties, I still go off in search of locations from the books and I simply cannot visit the Lakes without climbing my old friend Kanchenjunga (and it doesn’t get easier!)
    Coniston in particular is a very special place to me and the whole world of Swallows and Amazons seems so much more real when I’m there.
    My two brothers are a fair bit older and I felt more of an only child growing up so Ransome’s characters were like my imaginary friends. And I still find myself in certain situations thinking “what would Nancy do? What would Dick do?”.
    I feel sorry for children now, cooped up in their bedrooms with computer games. I was always out till dusk making dens and things and am at my happiest wandering hills and forests. I wish we could get Swallows and Amazons trending again but the world has changed so much now and the freedoms afforded those fictional children seem alien to modern society. You might think that mobile phones might have enabled parents to cut a bit more slack but it doesn’t seem to be the case.
    So I guess Ransome has influenced my life but I fear I might be amongst a dying breed. I so hope I’m wrong.

      1. Yes Sophie, many times, and I love it. The first time was at the cinema when it came out but I can’t remember much about the occasion – it seems a missed opportunity now since there must have been plenty of other like-minded kids in the audience. It is also odd that I didn’t come across more fans of the books at school. I suspect I didn’t actively promote them – I could be quite secretive then and maybe thought of Swallows and Amazons as my special friends that I wasn’t going to share! I do remember making a young teacher blush once when she asked the class to come up with names and I piped up “Titty!”. I guess if you hadn’t read the books….
        I know I was happy with the casting of the film on the whole. The Swallows were pretty much bang on how I imagined them. Nancy wasn’t quite right for me but she’s such a strong character we probably all imagine her slightly differently. You and Zanna nailed it – I still see your faces when I read the books. My biggest reservation was with Captain Flint. I’m not sure why but Ronald Fraser didn’t seem right at all for me, though I’m hard pressed to suggest alternatives. Since Winter Holiday was my favourite book maybe I see Captain Flint more as Ranulph Fiennes than Ronald Fraser! I now have the DVD edition that it shares with The Railway Children, and personally I believe Swallows and Amazons has aged the better of the two. Now if this new version in the pipeline goes ahead, well, all I can say is I have reservations.
        You’re making me want to join TARS again, Sophie. I was lucky enough to be on the Northern Region committee in the 90s with people like Hugh Lupton (AR’s nephew) and Dick Kelsall (THE Dick), fabulous chap. I also got to meet Taqui and Brigit Altounyan. I had some wonderful times but left when I moved south, not just because of location but also the fact there were very few members of my age at that time – they were mostly quite elderly or young. I’d be interested to know how the membership is panning out these days.
        I recently read your book on the Secrets of Filming and found it an absolute joy. Highly recommended. It really does make me want to get invoved again.

        1. Why not take a look at the TARS website? When I gave a talk to TARS South East at Arundel a couple of years ago they had a good mix of interesting people. We are going to the IAGM at Barnstable in May, sailing out to Lundy Island for the day. I have always wanted to go.

          I am so glad you enjoyed the ebook. Others who worked on the film have sent in more memories which I will post on this blog in due course.

          1. What a lovely invitation! Alas, I am now in deepest Lincolnshire and suspect I’d need the Hubble to spot a fellow TAR around here… Ten years ago I was living in the Richmond area and may well have bitten your hand off, although I was too busy with my career then and as I mentioned earlier had started to feel rather isolated in TARS with the way the age demographic was panning out at the time. This thread has certainly given me pangs again though. I’m going to keep an eye on the TARS web site and if any of the regions threaten to hold an event within a hundred miles of me I may just have to dust off the old skull and crossbones. I used to enjoy the AGMs (even camped in the field at Holly Howe one year!) so would like to attend those again. If I see you at one I’ll come and say hello. Thanks for your message then, I just hope it doesn’t mean you’re struggling for members down there. I’ve no idea how TARS is doing as a whole on that score. I think there were about 1500 or so back in 1998.

            1. There’s some truth, Craig, in your comments about Southern (and probably elsewhere) at various stages. When I lived in London a few of us of ‘in-between’ years and of literary bent therefore got together on occasion in a Chelsea or Bloomsbury pub as ‘the Bohemians’, for literary debate etc, which attracted a younger gang than did the country walks etc. But it did require action by individuals, and by definition we ‘younger’ ones had jobs and limited time, so after some rewarding years it faded.
              Lincolnshire offers different challenges! Your links with lively colleagues may have to be e-ones, as mine are mainly now. But don’t give up; have another go, and make email contact with people (in any region) who seem lively, and you may end up with some new invisible kindred spirits.

            2. Attending TARS events does require a bit of travelling but normally to lovely Ransomish places.

              It’s difficult to know how many individuals belong to TARS because many are ‘family memberships’ but, I guess, above 1600. You could always go on the notice board and ask if there are any members currently living near you.

  13. Hi Sophie,
    I joined your page a few days ago. I read AR’s book at about 9 when I borrowed them from the children’s library in Adelaide. The books encouraged me to do more outdoors activities. I always “had my nose in a book” before that. I did not any until I bought my own copies when in my late 30’s. I am now a little younger than another correspondent on this page and love to see the real sites on the rare occasions I am in the UK.

    There is a celebration of AR’s birthday in a suburb of Melbourne on Saturday – straight after the AGM. There will be a member from the UK group too. Bill is a regular attendee at this meeting. I regularly miss it as I am at a missionary conference in Adelaide each year. I meet Bill at church each year. It’s wonderful to have friend’s all over the world.

    Thanks for this page.


    1. Lovely to hear about the 130th celebrations in Melbourne!

      I was once a missionary with WYAM on the Sunshine Coast for a couple of months over the 2000 millennium celebrations. It was great fun – although we also had poignant moments.

  14. I think Arthur Ransome has influenced many people’s lives, sometimes without them knowing it. He certainly gave me a sense of adventure in my youth which hasn’t altogether disappeared in my ‘older’ age!.

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