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Coniston Jetty in Winter

A Swallows and Amazons kayaking adventure in the Lake District

The Lake District is an inspiring destination for an adventurous road trip or family holiday. Vast lakes offer the perfect opportunity for water-based activities and excursions – and the views are some of the most spectacular in the UK.

For me and my family, there’s nothing quite as exciting as a kayaking adventure to Wild Cat Island.

Motorway gave way to mountains, then to winding country lanes, and finally our first glimpse of Coniston Water. Listening intently to the Swallows and Amazons audio book, we peered through the windscreen, eager as the book’s protagonists for our first sight of Wild Cat Island.

Penny Alexander is a Peak District based freelance travel writer and multi award winning blogger at parentshaped.co.uk. A family travel specialist, she is passionate about adventures in nature and uncovering the stories behind the places she visits. You can also find her work in Family Traveller and Day Out With The Kids.

Banner image credit: istockphoto.com/chris2766

The tiny lake island is the setting for the Walker children’s summer adventure in Arthur Ransome’s children’s novel, Swallows and Amazons. It’s also the perfect destination for an inspired family kayaking adventure.

Kayaking adventure

Image credit: Penny Alexander

I was joined in the Lake District by my 8 year old son, weary from weeks at school, but eager for a summer adventure. Surprisingly, he relished Ransome’s unabridged story where the Walker children seem to take chapter after chapter to plan their camping trip. In the fast moving world we now live in, Swallows and Amazons can be seen as slow living for the kids of today. The soothing audio tape, and rolling hills, beautifully prepared us for our destination.

Kayaking to Wild Cat Island

You have plenty of options once you reach Wild Cat Island. Experienced kayakers arrive in their vans, with kayaks in tow – ready to take on the island. But, you can also hire kayaks by the shore from Coniston Boating Centre. Or, if you want the reassurance of a guide, Joint Adventures offer a half-day Wild Cat Island experience.

15 minutes after parking up, we were in a kayak and on the water. My 8 year old busily scoured out places to stop, while calling out paddling instructions to me – he’s the expert here. We could easily pull the kayaks onto the shore, exploring the lake’s edges and little islands.

There is nothing like the magical feeling of arriving on a tiny lake island, as if you’re stepping into a storybook!

Coniston Water was used as one of the filming locations for both the 1974 and 2016 Swallows and Amazons films. At half the size of Windermere, it has more of a rugged stillness.

Coniston Water

Coniston Water. Image credit: istockphoto.com/BenPW

On reaching Wild Cat Island, real name Peel Island, you can either kayak around it or land at The Secret Harbour, disembark and discover where the story’s children set up their tents and played pirates. If you’re feeling brave you can even do the rock jump into the Lake!

Continuing the adventure

After a hard day’s kayaking, you’ll be ready for some rest and nourishment. The Bluebird café on the shores of Coniston does great cakes. Alternatively, continue the Swallows and Amazons experience with a visit to the fictional home of the Walker children, Holly Howe, which is now the Swallows and Amazons Tea Room. The cake display here made our jaws drop, while the pretty grounds are a lovely place to let off steam – if you have any steam left!

Cakes devoured, we took a little walk down to the boathouse and jetty, imagining the Walker children preparing to launch Swallow, their sailing boat. An idyllic and tranquil spot.

With my son staring out longingly towards Wild Cat Island, our day of adventure and mystery was coming to an end. Swallows and Amazons became the soundtrack to our summer, though, and the adventure hasn’t left us.

Stay and Play

There are plenty of other treks on offer near Coniston such as the scenic walk at Tarn Hows. It’s just under two hours, passing the lake and a waterfall – suitable for all.

Waterfall In Tom Gill, Tarn Hows

Waterfall at Tarn Hows. Image credit: istockphoto.com/violinconcertono3

Camping like the Walker children is readily achievable round these parts – just pack a tent! Coniston Hall and Hoathwaite National Trust campsite both come recommended and are situated close to the lake. Those armed sensibly with a van should check out Pier Cottage Caravan Park, which attracts those wanting easy access to the lake.

Coniston Water and Wild Cat Island provided the perfect family adventure for both of us. Jumping in the kayaks and crossing the water was exhilarating, as was discovering all of the island’s hidden gems. I’d highly recommend jumping in a hire-van, which is getting even easier to do, packing it with camping gear, and heading straight for the Lake District to start your own adventure – whatever that might be.

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