At the foot of Coniston Old Man, the 2635 feet high fell classified as the seventh highest mountain in England, lies the charming village of Coniston. The side of the fell bear the scars of past copper mining and slate quarrying. Coppermines Valley is the name of the vale beneath the fell, its name confirming its industrial past. However, the Old Man of Coniston is a much more peaceful place today.
There have been signs of habitation in this area since the Bronze Age and the area was mined by the Romans. The original village was built around the 16th Century Coniston Hall, a building with a multitude of chimneys. At the foot of Consiton Old Man is the 400 year old Black Bull Inn, which operates as a local brewery.
Coniston today is very much the Victorian mining village, with a few shops and cafés on its main street. John Ruskin is buried in the churchyard of St Andrew’s Church, beneath a tall, beautifully carved Celtic cross. Not far away there is the Ruskin Museum, which has exhibitions about various aspects of Lakeland life. There is also a separate Ruskin Gallery, containing manuscripts, drawings and many other items associated with the man himself. Ruskin’s former residence, Brantwood, is on the opposite side of the lake from the village.
John Ruskin promoted many of the local trades and examples of these can still be found in the village. He encouraged the manufacture of Langdale linen and produced designs for the lace which was laid over the plain cloth to make such things as bedspreads and cushion covers. This is now known as Ruskin lace.
Another famous grave is that of Donald Campbell, who died tragically on Coniston Water whilst trying to beat his own water speed record in 1967 on his jet-powered boat “Bluebird”. His body was not recovered from the deep lake until 2001. Details of Campbell’s life and achievements are displayed in the Ruskin Museum.
Coniston Water is about half a mile from the village. It is about five miles long and the head of the lake is surrounded by some of the loveliest fells. There is another plaque to Campbell by the lakeside. There is a launch service around the lake and various craft for hire.
The Monk Coniston Estate stretches from the outskirts of Coniston to Skelwith Bridge and includes the lovely spot of Tarn Hows. The tarn was constructed in Victorian times by joining three separate tarns. There are lovely walks around the area. The estate was originally owned by Beatrix Potter but is now a National Trust property.
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