Thank-You to all the Marathon Readers

A few days have passed now since the marathon reading, and I thought I would write a post to thank all the marathon readers for their great good humour and powers of endurance on Sunday. I had a really wonderful time, and I hope you all did too. We might have had more passing audience had the weather been better, but the atmosphere round the “campfire” was probably more intense as a result of the huddle. I am immensely proud to have been part of it, and to have met such a wonderful group of people.

In case you haven’t seen it already, the Nancy Blackett Trust put together a great collection of tweets from the day itself, which is well worth a look:

The Nancy Blackett Trust is organising the second Arthur Ransome marathon read of 2017 (or possibly ever?). This time We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea is the book, and the marathon takes place on Saturday, October 21st at Pin Mill Sailing Club in Suffolk. Some of our readers, including Christina Hardyment, and Sophie Neville, will be there, along with some other well known names. If you fancy a trip to Suffolk to do it all again, here’s the link:

Many thanks again to everyone for making the day so enjoyable.

Swallows and Amazons forever!


Captain Rick and the Swallows and Amazons Tearoom


Just across the lake from the Coniston Boating Centre is Bank Ground Farm, Ransome’s inspiration for Holly Howe, and one of the locations for the 1974 film of Swallows and Amazons. Bank Ground Farm is now home to the Swallows and Amazons Tearoom, so when we began organising the marathon reading, we hoped we could arrange to get our readers and visitors over the water to sample their excellent cakes and cream teas. And today, thanks to Jonathan, the owner of Bank Ground, and Captain Rick, the most dastardly pirate who ever sailed the oceans, we can announce free boat rides across to the cafe from the public jetty on the Coniston side.

The boat is small–just six people at a time, including the skipper–so it will be first come, first served, but space permitting, if you show the Captain your bookmark (pick one up at the reading) he’ll take you across the lake and bring you back again when you’ve been to the tearoom. If an ocean voyage isn’t to your liking, Bank Ground is walkable from the Boating Centre, round the top of the lake, or just a short drive away. The cakes are lovely however you choose to travel.

Bookmarks and Arthur Ransome’s House


This afternoon I took a trip to Hill Top, the house in Cumbria, where Arthur Ransome settled with his wife Evgenia in 1960, and where they lived together until his death in 1967. Stephen Sykes, the current owner, lives at Hill Top and is a huge Ransome enthusiast. Next door (and part of the house itself) is a luxury self-catering cottage with wonderful views over the Rusland valley, Grizedale Forest, and the Coniston fells beyond. Visitors have access to a brilliant games room with pool and table tennis tables, and a lovely patio surrounded by flowers. It’s a real gem of a place. You won’t do much better for a self-catering cottage in the Lake District. Stephen has very kindly allowed If Not Duffers to piggyback on the bookmarks he’s produced to promote the cottage, making a useful, double sided bookmark for reading Swallows and Amazons, and the rest of Ransome’s books. They’ll be around at the Chill Swim (Coniston Water end to end) on Saturday, and the marathon reading (Swallows and Amazons end to end) on Sunday, so drop by and pick one up if you can. Thanks Stephen!

More about Hill Top at

A Note on Sophie Neville’s ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)’, by David Banning

makeswal.gifA fitting second edition of The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974), by award-winning author Sophie Neville, has just been published by The Lutterworth Press. The glossy re-packaged book boasts a new filmography along with even more memorable diary extracts and insights into the cast and crew’s life behind the scenes. After being cast as Able-seaman Titty Walker in director Claude Whatham’s adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s book, it was Sophie’s mother who encouraged her to record what has now become “a little bit of film history.”

Originally released as an eBook, it first came out in paperback (published by Classic TV Press) to coincide with the 40th Anniversary Special Edition re-mastered DVD and Blu-ray of the movie, distributed by StudioCanal in August 2014. A couple of years later, plans for an updated version started to gather pace after a number of new stories began floating to the surface. Reading the book had stirred her mother’s memory, as well as those of many people Sophie had never met, who wrote to her with amusing anecdotes and details. These details included names for the credits such as John Foster the ‘snake wrangler’ from Cumbria – the man who provided a live adder. Among others was Lesley Bennett (who played Mate Peggy), who’d been living in the Netherlands, and working in Dubai, when Sophie first began to type up the diaries. She met her future publisher on the publication of Swallows, Amazons and Coots (Lutterworth, 2016) written by Julian Lovelock, editor of The Arthur Ransome Society’s journal Mixed Moss. Sophie provided an engaging introduction for the book drawing on her role as the current President of the society and a foreword to Albatros Media’s new edition of Arthur Ransome’s novel Swallowdale in the Czech Republic.

Interest in Ransome’s work, especially Swallows and Amazons has remained strong since his death 50 years ago, and in recent times Sophie has been in demand as a speaker. She has maintained strong links with the Lake District, performing signings and Q&As after the 40th anniversary screenings of the film. During one such event at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal, all 250 seats were quickly filled and queues of people had to be turned away. She has further illustrated talks lined up this autumn and at the Tavistock Festival and Books East in 2018. After attending the Arthur Ransome Society Literary Weekend in Edinburgh, Sophie will be dashing to Coniston to take part in the marathon reading of Swallows and Amazons on September 3rd. Other celebrity readers signed up to read chapters include Hannah Jayne Thorp, who played the part of Peggy in 2016’s film version of Swallows and Amazons, and Christina Hardyment, author of several Ransome-related books, and senior executor for the Arthur Ransome Literary Estate. Meanwhile, next year The Arthur Ransome Society (the UK’s second largest literary society) will return back to Coniston for a long weekend of events from 25th to 28th May 2018, where they will be welcoming new members.

By David Banning (@theArtBagger), author of An A-Z of Cumbria & the Lake District on Film (Hayloft, 2016), with a foreword by Sophie Neville.

A wonderful summer to be a Swallow or an Amazon

It’s been a remarkable summer so far for an old-fashioned story about some children who were allowed to go off on their own and camp on an island…without their parents!

Arthur Ransome’s classic Swallows and Amazons has featured prominently in the celebrations of World Heritage Status for the Lake District, recognition for his contribution to the area’s cultural treasury.

At the same time, the 2016 film version of the story has been released in America where it’s been received with great acclaim…and some health and safety puzzlement.

Now a new generation- and older fans – can join in the celebrations of the narrative when a marathon reading of Swallows and Amazons will be staged on the shore of the lake where the tale was set.

The event, to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Ransome, will take place at Coniston on Sunday September 3.

A number of celebrity readers have already signed up to take part and it’s expected that the book’s 31 chapters will take around nine hours to read.

The event is being organised by Dr Chris Routledge who is head of Continuing Education, English Language and Literature, at Liverpool University, in association with the Lake District National Park and the Arthur Ransome Trust. Also supporting the reading are Stephen and Janine Sykes who live at Hill Top, Ransome’s last home in the Lake District.

It will mark the end of a summer-long exhibition at the Ruskin Museum in Coniston about Ransome, Russia and storytelling;and a further exhibition and series of activities at Blackwell, near Windermere.

Dr Routledge, a great fan of Arthur Ransome, previously organised a marathon reading of Moby Dick at the Merseyside Maritime Museum; a much longer novel, that event took three days.

“It seems an appropriate way to celebrate the life and work of Ransome,” he said. “We are delighted that the Lake District National Park  has offered their site at the Coniston Boating Centre on the lake shore. And our partners at the Arthur Ransome Trust are providing marquees to keep our readers and visitors under canvas, in true Swallows and Amazons fashion.”

Dr Routledge’s 13 year old daughter Caitlin will be one of the younger readers, along with Elizabeth Kaye, the 11 year old daughter of Jonathan and Caroline Kaye, owners of Windermere’s Cedar Manor Hotel, who are avid fans of the Ransome stories.

Also taking part is Becky Heaton Cooper, director of the Heaton Cooper Studio, who is currently reading Swallows and Amazons to her six year old twins Alfie and Ophelia. “They love the book. They’ve not yet sailed, but we’ve paddled in a Canadian canoe to ‘Wild Cat Island’ on Coniston, so they identify with all the adventures,” said Becky.

“We have a remarkable literary and artistic heritage here in the Lakes and it is a pleasure to connect our family of artists with one of the great writers.”

Among the celebrity readers who have signed up are 14 year old actor Hannah Jayne Thorp, who played the part of Peggy in last year’s film version of Swallows and Amazons. The screenplay writer of that film, Andrea Gibb, will also read a chapter, along with Christina Hardyment, author of several Ransome-related books and senior executor for the Arthur Ransome Literary Estate. Also reading will be Ransome fan Christopher Wordsworth, great great great great grandson of the poet William Wordsworth.



(part of the LakesCulture calendar

Arthur Ransome at the Ruskin Museum, Coniston

Sailing Boat, Amazon.

The sailing boat “Amazon” (formerly “Mavis”) at the Ruskin Museum, Coniston. Arthur Ransome and his friend Ernest Altounyan bought two boats, “Swallow” and “Mavis” (another name for Song Thrush) in 1928.

The exhibition,  From Coniston to the Kremlin: Arthur Ransome’s Russian Adventures opened at the Ruskin Museum, Coniston, on June 3rd, exploring Arthur Ransome’s involvement as a political reporter in Russia as the country went through the bloody transition from Tsarist state to what later became the Soviet Union. Ransome spent a decade, between 1914 and 1924, studying and writing about Russia and its complex, and often dangerous politics. The exhibition contains a fascinating collection of artifacts, letters, notebooks, and photographs from Ransome’s time in Russia, and in the Lake District. I highly recommend a visit to the exhibition, and to the Ruskin Museum, if you’re in the area over the summer. There is more about the exhibition, and about Ransome, over at the Arthur Ransome Trust website.

The exhibition ends, of course, on Sunday, September 3rd, when we celebrate Ransome’s best-known novel, Swallows and Amazons, by reading it aloud on the lake shore at Coniston. There are still a few spaces for reading volunteers–get in touch using the contact form if you would like to be part of the marathon reading.

Choose your chapter of Swallows and Amazons if not a duffer

Fans of Arthur Ransome who want to take part in a marathon reading of the classic Lake District story Swallows and Amazons can now volunteer via a new website launched this week.

The site, , invites readers to choose from a list of chapters for the event which will be staged on the shores of Coniston in September.

Organised by the University of Liverpool in association with the Lake District National Park and the Arthur Ransome Trust and sponsored by Clocktower of Milnthorpe, the literary marathon is expected to take all day on Sunday September 3.

The name of the website comes from the telegram sent by the father of the children in the story who want to sail and camp on an island. He replies:  “Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers, won’t drown.”

A number of celebrity readers have already signed up to take part including actors from the 1974 and 2016 film versions of Swallows and Amazons, Sophie Neville and Hannah Jayne Thorp, the screenplay writer Andrea Gibb, the director of the Heaton Cooper Studio in Grasmere, Becky Heaton Cooper, and Christopher Wordsworth, the great great great great grandson of the poet William Wordsworth.

not duffers sketch

Better drowned than duffers: Arthur Ransome’s own sketch for Swallows and Amazons, published by Jonathan Cape

Tom Harvey, the owner of Clocktower domestic applicances is going to be on duty on the day brewing tea and coffee for the reading team.

The organiser Dr Chris Routledge, head of Continuing Education, English Language and Literature, at Liverpool University, is hoping for some young readers to join the team – along with his 13 year old daughter Caitlin, and Elizabeth Kaye, the 10 year old daughter of Jonathan and Caroline Kaye, owners of Windermere’s Cedar Manor Hotel.

He said: “Swallows and Amazons still appeals to all ages and all generations, and we’ve been delighted with the response to this event. It will mark the 50th anniversary of Ransome’s death, and is a celebration of reading, the Lake District and being outdoors.”

You can sign up as a volunteer here: