90th Anniversary of the publication of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ celebrated at Windermere Jetty museum

On Tuesday 1st December, Lakeland Arts are celebrating the 90th anniversary of the publication of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ with an online event accessible for anyone in the world.

After a career as a foreign correspondent, which took him to Russia, Egypt and China, Arthur Ransome wrote ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in the hills above Windermere in 1929.

Arthur Ransome portrayed by Dora Collingwood, wife of Dr Ernest Altounyan, on display at the museum

He was inspired partly by his own childhood holidays in the Lake District and partly by the Altounyan children who brought him a pair of red slippers for his birthday to thank him for enabling them to learn to sail on Coniston Water where their grandparents lived.

The first edition came out on 21st July 1930, with no illustrations apart from Spurrier’s maps on the end papers. The illustrated hardback published by Jonathan Cape came out on 1st December 1930, in time for Christmas. It was followed by another eleven (and one unfinished) book in a series that was to be translated and published all over the world.

Sophie Neville with a collection of Arthur Ransome books on display

I paid homage to copies at the Windermere Jetty museum where you can find his desk and typewriter on display with a view looking out over the lake.

Arthur Ransome’s desk and typewriter set under a view of Windermere

Boats, props and film stills from the 2016 film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ are on display, along with a poster of the 1974 movie, depicting Titty in a pink blouse.

Sophie Neville spotting the ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) movie poster at Windermere Jetty museum

I was fascinated to find sketches of Titty in Arthur Ransome’s notebook.

Arthur Ransome’s original sketches of Titty

A number of Ransome’s original illustrations were on display and I came across the first draft of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ in a glass case.

Tickets to, ‘In conversation with Sophie Neville’, an event hosted by Lakeland Arts, cost £5 and can be purchased here.


Sophie Neville with Arthur Ransome’s typewriter and the original draft of ‘Swallows and Amazons’

Where is Rio and were you there in 1973?

A number of people have specifically asked, ‘Where is Rio in Swallows and Amazons?’

The answer is that Rio lies on the eastern shore of Arthur Ransome’s imaginary lake. I have always loved the map in his book, originally drawn by the illustrator  Stephen Spurrier, that was used on dust jacket and frontispieces of the first editions. The Arthur Ransome Literary Estate have given me permission to include a thumb-nail image:

Arthur Ransome
The hardback edition

The Arthur Ransome Trust have made the map into a jigsaw puzzle. You can buy a virtual piece of this map to raise funds for their projects.  If you go to their website and hover your cursor over the jigsaw pieces you can discover a great deal about the locations mentioned in the books with names of all the islands. Please click here and wait for it to load. 

Simon Hodkin's collection
An early letter Ransome wrote a fan of the book

Arthur Ransome told his readers that they would need to go and find the places mentioned in the books themselves. Most people think that if you compare his lake with Windermere there is only one option for the town of Rio.

Rio Bay ~ Steam boat
Photograph taken by Martin Neville 1973 showing Windermere skiffs and George Pattinson in his steamboat ‘Elizabeth’. The old green boathouse can be seen beyond the town jetty.

Bowness-on-Windermere in the English Lake District was used as the location for ‘the native settlement of Rio’ in the film of Swallows & Amazons produced by Richard Pilbrow in 1973 and now distributed by StudioCanal, who have a shot of the town on their website here.

Bowness in 2014 photo John Burgess
Photograph of the town jetty at Bowness taken in June 2014 by John Burgess

Today the Bowness lakeside looks a little different, although the skiffs are still pulled up on the beach.

Martin Neville on Jetty in Rio

 My father admiring the traditional boats

The old green boathouses have been replaced by a modern development but you can still walk along the town jetty, as the Swallows did, and even catch a native steamer down to the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway where the opening scenes of the film were shot.

DSCF9379
MV Swan on Windermere today, seen from Lakeside Railway Station.

The secret known to a few people is that the chandlers shop where the Swallows bought grog and rope for the lighthouse tree is actually in Windermere town.

The Swallows in Woodland Road, Windermere in 1973
The Swallows in Woodland Road, Windermere – now a barber’s shop

This is what the location looks like nowadays:

Woodland Road, Windermere
Woodland Road, Windermere

John, Susan and Titty can then be seen walking past the Stags Head Hotel in Church Street, Bowness-on-Windermere, which was ‘dressed’ with a pony and trap and vintage cars to emulate 1929 when the book was written. Click on the image to see the same view today:

John Susan and Titty walking past the hotel
John, Susan and Titty walking past the Old England Hotel. The Stags Head Hotel lies just beyond them in Church Street

This is how Church Street looks today.  Please click on this image for the source.

Rio - Stags Head Hotel today

If you go to explore the location, do send in more photos.

Rio - walking past the Stags Head Hotel
The Swallows in Church Street in 1973

To read more about filming in Bowness in 1973 please click here.

Rio Bay ~ newspaper article
Evening Post 11th June 1973. Please click on the photo for more news cuttings

Where you there?

We’d love to hear from anyone who took part in the filming. The entire Kendall Borough Band came along, someone brought a pony and trap, others arrived with period vehicles including a motorcycle. A man arrived with three donkeys and a number of local people took part, appearing as film extras. Do contact us in the comments box below.

If a new film adaptation is made,  the producer has told me it may now be too difficult to use Bowness. It’s busy place in the summer months. The village of Coniston might be an alternative. What do you think?

Meanwhile here are the lyrics to the sea shanty Titty loved, Away Rio. The tune was incorporated into the film score.

O, the anchor is weighed, and the sails they are set,
Away, Rio!
The maids that we’re leaving we’ll never forget,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grande,
And away, Rio! aye, Rio!
Sing fare-ye-well, my bonny young gel,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grand!

So man the good capstan, and run it around,
Away, Rio!
We’ll heave up the anchor to this jolly sound,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grande,
And away, Rio! aye, Rio!
Sing fare-ye-well, my bonny young gel,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grand!

We’ve a jolly good ship, and a jolly good crew,
Away, Rio!
A jolly good mate, and a good skipper, too,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grande,
And away, Rio! aye, Rio!
Sing fare-ye-well, my bonny young gel,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grand!

We’ll sing as we heave to the maidens we leave,
Away, Rio!
And you who are listening, good-bye to you,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grande,
And away, Rio! aye, Rio!
Sing fare-ye-well, my bonny young gel,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grand!

Come heave up the anchor, let’s get it aweigh,
Away, Rio!
It’s got a firm grip, so heave steady, I say,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grande,
And away, Rio! aye, Rio!
Sing fare-ye-well, my bonny young gel,
For we’re bound for the Rio Grand!

Heave with a will, and heave long and strong,
Away, Rio!
Sing a good chorus, for ’tis a good song,

Traditional – Lyrics from Iron Men & Wooden Ships, by Frank Shay