Make a map
Swallows and Amazons begins with a map. The first edition had a map of the lake (which many modern editions reproduce) printed before the start of the story. The map shows the names given by the children to features such as Wild Cat Island and Rio (their name for the town on the lake).
By the time Swallows and Amazons was published, there was already a tradition of printing maps to accompany stories of children’s adventures. Richard Jefferies’ novel Bevis, for example, includes a map of the lake around which the story takes place. Like the map in Swallows and Amazons, it includes the names Bevis adopted to create a sense of adventure. The map uses names of exotic places (it calls part of the lake the ‘Straits of Mozambique’) and records spots where important events happened (a cross on the map is labelled ‘Moorhen shot here’).
Treasure Island is another important inspiration for these maps. That book was printed with a map supposed to show the island where Captain Flint had buried an enormous treasure trove. Treasure Island is a story of real adventure with pirates on the high seas, but it is narrated by a boy called Jim Hawkins whose story is very like the adventures the children pretend to be having in Swallows and Amazons. They even call one of the adults they meet ‘Captain Flint’.
You might like to make a map of your own. It could be of a place you’ve been on holiday to, or of home, or of somewhere else you know well. What events and adventures would you record on your map? And what names would you use to capture your own sense of what the place means to you? Your map will be a record of your own unique understanding of a place which no-one else knows quite like you do.
Have you had a go? Share your maps in the the comments at the bottom of this page.
Set sail for Wild Cat Island
The location in Swallows and Amazons is not named in the book. However the landscape around the lake most closely resembles Coniston Water in the Lake District which is a place Ransome knew well. If you visit Coniston today you can see Peel Island – the inspiration for the book’s Wild Cat Island, where the children camp – and Bank Ground Farm, known in the book as Holly Howe, where they stay on holiday with their mother.
A tour of the lake on the Steam Yacht Gondola passes by Wild Cat Island’s secret harbour and the Amazons’ boathouse along with other local landmarks. The Steam Yacht Gondola is operated by the National Trust and tickets for a full lake cruise are £20.50 for adults, £10 for children, and £51 for a family (2 adults, 3 children). You can find full details on the National Trust website. Coniston Launch run a Swallows and Amazons-themed cruise, or you can even hire a boat and land on the island itself.
Whilst visiting the Lake District, you can also see Arthur Ransome’s desk along Captain Flint’s trunk at the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry in Kendal. Admission is £5 for adults and free for children under the age of 16 and for full-time students. You can find full details at the Lakeland Museum website. Please check details of opening times before you travel.
Share your adventure by writing about it in the the comments at the bottom of this page.
More about Swallows and Amazons
Island adventures: Hear about the children's books which inspired Swallows and Amazons.
The real Swallows: See the draft of Swallows and Amazons and hear about the children’s characters.
The Secret Life of Books: Find out more about the other books in the series.