When I was last in the Lake District, I grabbed the chance to climb to the top of Gummer’s Howe to look down on the ‘Great Lake in the North’. Arthur Ransome, who once lived at High Nibthwaite, must have gazed at this exact, same view. ‘Native shipping’ was passing a wooded island and a bay where I could see a yacht was moored. It was like looking down on the chart I once drew for the original film of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ first screened in cinemas forty-seven years ago in April 1974.
Looking to the south, I could see Lakeside Station and the Haverthwaite steam railway running alongside the River Leven where we began filming back in May 1973. The renovated line had only been running for two weeks but we were instantly transported back to 1929, when Ransome wrote the book in a grey barn nearby.
Michael Johnson left a comment on the Arthur Ransome Group Facebook page saying, ‘The Lakeside & Haverthwaite is a lovely line, but frustratingly slow. It’s such a short line that the journey would be over within a few minutes even at a modest speed, like 25mph. Drivers are under standing instructions to drive at little more than walking pace so the journey takes at least 15 minutes. That way everybody thinks they’ve got their money’s worth!’ I hadn’t noticed when travelling on the line myself a few years ago.
Ransome wrote: ‘Windermere is the lake, a bit disguised’ although he used many locations found on Coniston Water that perhaps he wanted to keep more secret. However, it is clear that Rio is his name for Bowness-on-Windermere, which I was able to explore recently. This was the jetty where the Boy Roger was left guarding Swallow.
Charles Elliot from Bowness remembers us, “filming in the bay with some actors in a rowing boat. There was no security so I walked down the jetty right behind the camera.” Was this captured by the Guardian newspaper here?
It’s possible find some of the locations and even some of the traditional boats that appeared in the movie. The natives may be able to help you. Brian Salisbury said, “The village store was my grandfather, Tom Kirkbride’s cobblers shop from mid-1930s to mid-1950s.
Stan Cropper took it over and added the LH extension.” He said of our set designer, “They did it up with the original red wooden finish.” The cat was called Rusty.
After he posted this photo on Facebook, Harry Hodgson wrote to say, “I remember looking at all the 1930’s products in the windows.”
This behind-the-scenes cine footage shot by my father in 1973 shows the film extras getting off the coach at Bowness and a scene being shot on the jetty:
Stephen Newton and Phil Procter would go and watch the filming in their dinner break from Borwicks Aquatics. “There was a band playing in the bandstand and a bloke on a pushbike with a front box selling ice cream. You can see this in the film when the kids are on the pier in the background.”
In many ways, the 1974 film ‘Swallows and Amazons’ has become a touchstone to re-set our lives. Nigel Young writes: “On arrival back from touring, I’d get to Oxenholme station and rush home, change into my boots and head to the hills passing through Bowness…. I’d look across the lake and count the trees on the small beach, seven in all? and in my mind’s eye try to place the bandstand which features in the film so prominently. I’d look for the jetty where Roger was confronted by a blazered gent in whitened shoes asking him about his boat and think… ‘What have they done with it?’
“Then I’d look at the landscape and note all the changes since the making of the film before heading home where I’d immediately put the film on, grab a glass of white wine and just sit and watch it, getting transported back in time to another way and another space, but that space still exists in some strange dimension for me, and I feel in touch with the lakes and in touch with a past I can totally relate with. John wears one of those stripy S buckle belts on his shorts. I had one too!
“You were well cast, almost as if you were a family before you all started and the cinematography, especially where the sailing sequences are concerned, is something out of this world. Whoever shot and edited the footage for the film were totally at one with the story and the locations….. And Ronald Fraser !! …well I would say he really did ‘Swim’ …… I was Principal of an Outdoor Education Centre on Windermere for over a decade and I am aware of just how cold the lake can be in winter or summer….and there goes ‘Ronald’ getting thrown off the plank by you guys into Coniston or Windermere which ever, they are both as cold as each other!”
To read a previous post on finding the film locations and taking the Lakeside and Haverthwaite steam train, please click here
You can read more about the film locations used in ‘Swallows and Amazons'(1974) in ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’ published by The Lutterworth Press who can send you a copy.