To the south of the busy tourist centre of Coniston are some beautiful and more tranquil places well worth visiting and exploring. The landscape and hamlets have changed little over time, with farming and forestry much in evidence. In Springtime the woods are carpeted with wild garlic and scented bluebells, and away from the noise of the traffic the wildlife and birds song can be appreciated.
Here is fortunately, still something of an undiscovered part of Lakeland, though much beloved by Arthur Ransome in the 1930's. He lived both at Lowick
and Nibthwaite, and was inspired to write the popular "Swallows and Amazons" books for children. He re-named Peel Island on Coniston Water as the much more exciting "Wild Cat Island" and gave the name "Amazon" to the River Crake, which flows from his "Octopus Lagoon" or Allan Tarn at the southern tip of the Lake to the estuary at Greenodd. The river is home to otters, herons, dippers, kingfishers, bats, and much more; it is a designated site of special interest. One of Arthur Ransome's favourite places was Beacon Tarn, near Water Yeat. It was immortalised as "Trout Tarn," where the book's children caught their first fish. Maybe young (and not so young!) visitors might enjoy watching the DVD of the "Swallows and Amazons" film.
There is a really lovely short walk to Beacon Tarn, beginning from the Blawith Commons, and is an ideal spot to picnic at the water's edge, or take a swim. The locals claim it's water is the warmest tarn in the Lake District! This walk can be extended to join The Cumbria Way, which passes along the western shoreline, co
ntinuing past the ancient farmstead at Stable Harvey, and on to Torver and far beyond. More recently Beacon Tarn and Wastwater were jointly chosen by a "Coronation Street" personality in a TV competition in which the viewers voted for the most beautiful view in the whole of the United Kingdom, and they WON!! Which must say something!
This area is a paradise for cyclists of all abilities. The Blawith Loop is a well recommended great ride of seven and a half miles, that uses very quiet, twisting lanes and bridle ways across Subberthwaite Commons gaining spectacular long views over the Woodland
Valley to the west, whilst avoiding the technical hotspots. From Nibthwaite there is easy access to the many Grizedale biking tracks, which cater for a wide range of abilities including the famous North Face route for bikers both experienced and brave! For the horse lovers there is also a pony trekking centre at Crook Barn at Torver which caters for all abilities and uses some interesting routes including the miner's old Walna Scar Road.
The Coniston Launch has various sailings to the south of the Lake, some giving interesting commentaries about the legendary Donald Campbell who raced his boat "Bluebird," on these waters, and also about the "Swallows and Amazons" adventures. The Launch stops at the Torver Jetty, also at the Lake Bank Jetty at Water Yeat, and Water Park at Nibthwaite and at the Parkamoor Jetty. The X12 bus travels west of the Lake for those who would enjoy a car free day. However for drivers there is plenty of easy, and mostly free places to park near the Lake on both the south western and eastern shores, where there are many quiet shingle bays from which to enjoy the water. You can launch canoes and small boats, go paddle boarding or wind-boarding, swim, or just relax in the clean, fresh air and admire the stunning views of the high fells. If the river levels are sufficient the keen canoeists like to paddle the five miles down river, from Allen Tarn through the hamlets of Blawith and Low Nibthwaite,to Lowick, and on to Sparkbridge and Penny Bridge, eventually to the estuary at Greenodd, which in former times was a ship building village. This is hard to believe now as the coastline has retreated, but Greenodd still has a pub called "The Ship."
The history of the Coniston Water Hamlets is particularly interesting. Torver was originally a scattered settlement of Scandinavian farmers, Stable Harvey a place for hiring fresh horses along the old pack horse way, and these Lakeland hamlets were almost completely self sufficient until comparatively recent times. Every hamlet had its own mill but these now are all converted into dwellings, notably at Torver, Sunny Bank, Water Yeat, Low Nibthwaite, Lowick Bridge and Sparkbridge. Some of these are holiday cottages!
As well as milling locally grown grain, some mills, using timber from neighbouring forests, made bobbins for the textile factories of Lancashire and Yorkshire, and some made pill boxes. The area was important industrially and Coniston Water was a vital link for the transportation of goods coming south from the slate quarries, copper mines and gunpowder works to the busy little port of Greenodd. The landing jetty at Nibthwaite was a staging post for goods going south, which continued then by track and road to Greenodd, where imported goods were collected and brought northwards the same way.
The old forestry skills of coppicing and making hurdles and besom brooms have largely died out, though Nibthwaite can boast the only swill maker in England, Owen Jones, who was recently honoured by The Queen. His swills are beautiful baskets for both display and practical uses and make a rare and special souvenir from this part of the Lake District.
If the exploring and outdoor activities work up an appetite this area is well supplied with good pubs serving food. In Torver "The Wilson's Arms" is very popular. At Lowick Bridge is "The Red Lion," which is traditional, small and unmodernised. It was the favoured drinking place of Arthur Ransome and is still a locals' choice. At Lowick is "The Farmers Arms," with its low ceilings and dark beams, and its claim to be the oldest pub in the Lake District, dating from the fourteenth century. Near the River Crake at Sparkbridge, is another traditional pub, "The Royal Oak." Like the other local pubs it has a roaring open fire in the cold weather and they are all very welcoming retreats after a day exploring, walking, pony trekking, playing on the water or simply relaxing in the glorious outdoors in this more tranquil corner of The Lake District.