Swallows and Amazons
Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons and its sequel, Swallowdale were two of my childhood favourites. They hark back to a time when children enjoyed rather more freedom than they do now (although even in those times surely not a lot of them was allowed to camp alone on an island). If you want your children to get outdoors to enjoy fresh air, if you want them to develop their imagination, if you want them to have interest in other things than just owning the latest iPhone… get these books for them and let them expand their horizons.
In terms of age, we’re talking about age ten and about, both boys and girls – because although these books treat adventure (adventure of the kind that’s actually believable), the girl characters are just as strongly drawn as the boys. A cut above Enid Blyton.
Swallows and Amazons The Walker children go on holiday to Lake Coniston, in the Lake District in England, staying at a local farm with their mother and baby sister. They soon discover that there is a sailing boat, the Swallow, in the boathouse and an uninhabited island in the lake - the perfect place for camping. Mother of course cannot take the baby to an uninhabited island but she lets the older children, aged between 7 and 14, to camp on the island on their own. Now add in some rival children - the Amazons - plus a retired pirate who lives with his parrot on a houseboat nearby and suddenly you have rather more than just a simple camping holiday... Swallowdale A year has passed and the Swallows are back on their island but only to suffer a shipwreck in the very beginning of the holiday. While their boat is repaired they are left ashore, camping in a well hidden little valley, while their friends and allies, the Amazons, suffer from the curse of the visiting Great Aunt... None of this stops the kids from having a great holiday of course!
In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons
Now two years ago we had the good fortune to spend a short holiday in the Lake District, in the course of which we visited some of the locations of Swallows and Amazons. The holiday to the Lake District came about quite by accident – my father-in-law chose the location – but once there, we simply had to explore the places mentioned in the books. Including sailing on the original houseboat of the retired pirate, now a beautifully restored steam yacht doing the rounds on the lake, and climbing the Old Man of Coniston, aka Kanchenjunga…
You can read the resulting posts, complete with photos, here:
All this was two years ago.
But last weekend, we visited another Swallows and Amazon series location, so a third and – somewhat belated – part III is coming to be added to this particular mini-series of posts shortly.
This time the setting is not the Lake District, however; instead we’re going to visit Secret Water.
Secret Water is the eighth book in the Swallows and Amazon series and follows immediately the story of We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea. Of all the Ransome books, I think these two must be my favourites* – and I was in my twenties when I first read them! The location is the neighbourhood of Harwich in Essex on the North Sea coast.
We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea The Walker children are on holiday in Pin Mill, a small village near Harwich, where they make friends with a young sailing boat owner who invites them on a trip down the river and around Harwich harbour. Leaving his boat safely anchored in harbour with the Walkers on board, he goes ashore to get some petrol for the engine - but fails to return. In the meantime fog descends on the harbour, the tide turns, the boat drags her anchor and the Swallows find themselves drifting out to sea... To tell more would be spoiling the story. :) Secret Water The First Lord of the Admiralty puts a spanner in the Walker family plans when he cancels the holiday of the children's father. Captain Walker has to go back to work instead of taking his children sailing. The children therefore get marooned on an island in Secret Water with a blank map which they intend to fill in by exploring the neighbourhood... The baby of the family, Bridget, goes on holiday with the rest for the first time, the Amazons turn up and a new group of children, the savage tribe of the Eels, make their appearance to spice up the life of the explorers. And then they (try to) cross the Red Sea...
⇒ In the Footsteps of the Swallows and Amazons: Crossing the Red Sea
Notes: * In addition to Swallows and Amazons that hooked us in the first place. Young Friend of the Elephants (currently aged 14) swears by Winter Holiday and Peter Duck.