Escape dreams: island adventures in the Lake District | Lake District Holidays

TThe idea initially was to find a bunk, a shelter, a place to ride out the pandemic – or would it be a nuclear exchange courtesy of a disgruntled Russia? Whatever the disaster was, it was coming. I grew up watching The war Game, The Day of the Triffids, Survivors and The good life. My preference was by Lake District author Anthony Greenbank Survival for Youthalong with that other Lake District writer, Arthur Ransome, of Swallows and Amazons reputation, so it’s no surprise that this dream of escaping and evading the victim has always featured islands.

I knew I also wanted to write about childhood and Arthur Ransome and what better place to do it than on an island in the Lake District? This was combined with a real desire to find a wilderness experience in this overcrowded country. The Lake District has been a tourist magnet for 200 years. Wordsworth wrote in his guide in 1835: “The Lakes were now celebrated: visitors had flocked hither from all parts of England… the Isles of Derwentwater and Winandermere [sic] they were the first places seized and immediately disfigured by the invasion.’

But since then the islands have become somewhat neglected. Keswick, Bowness and Ambleside can be heaving, Scafell and Helvellyn can require queues, but the Lake District islands are mostly uninhabited (34 of the 36 I visited were so) and almost always empty of people. . I found that just by getting into a canoe and out on the water you somehow entered a strange zone where you no longer felt like a tourist, and you were also, even on the ‘busy’ lakes like Ullswater and Windermere, definitely not part of a crowd .

Rydal SwanRydal Water, The Lake District, Cumbria, UK.  October 30, 2014. The image shows a dawn scene, a simple image of a lone swan gliding over water.  The image of the swan is reflected in the water, but its presence is so soft that it barely makes a ripple on the surface of the water as it moves towards the small island with a lone tree.  In the background we see the surrounding landscape of trees and bushes.  Low fog on the horizon blending into the cloudy sky.
Golden reflections: some islands are no bigger than a pile of rocks, like the one in Rydal Water. Photo: George W Johnson/Getty Images

All islands are visitable (except the two private ones with big houses). most do not encourage camping or campfires. If you’re a trackless camper, you should be fine. Everyone I met who was paddling, fishing or just visiting islands for the hell of it was very encouraging.

You can boat, swim or walk (I did this to get to a small island in Rydal Water). I met a woman whose plan was to swim to every island (there are about 36 in the main lakes and a few more in smaller ones). Swimming has many advantages, but it is easier to carry food and kit in a canoe or even better, a small boat called a Packraft. These are originally from Alaska and are extremely light (mine weighs 1.5kg) but so tough that when inflated you can use them as a sled. With Packraft in your pack you can hike to remote lakes carrying your tent and sleeping bag to camp wherever you want.

Packraft, combined with a devotion to the works of Arthur Ransome, drew me to the idea of ​​camping on Peel Island, the model for Wild Cat Island in Swallows and Amazons. For Ransomaniacs, this is the number one attraction. It has a secret harbor – just like in the book – with a straight canal that you could climb at night if you had lights to show the way.

Rocky outcrop: looking south from Peel Island, Coniston Water.
Rocky outcrop: looking south from Peel Island, Coniston Water. Photo: Peter Smith/Alamy

I watched the sun set from the Swallows lookout and listened at night to the tawny owls screeching in the trees. In the morning I woke up and heard someone swimming to the island, which is what the 12-year-old captain John does in the book. I was transported…

I went to these islands looking for a hole, but I found something better – the sheer joy of approaching an uninhabited island. What will I find? What animals and birds and mushrooms is it hiding? I got closer, more and more hopeful, and was often surprised but never, ever, disappointed.

Robert Twigger’s Top Five Lake District Islands

Hawes How Island in Thirlonly
Hawes How is one of the larger islands – about 150 meters long and only 30 meters from land, depending on the height of the reservoir. Tall pines and fly mushrooms abound, this island bears a striking resemblance to the island in Lord of the Flies. There is a castle-like stone rock, lookouts and a hill. William Golding loved the Lake District, so this was probably an inspiration.

Watness Coy at Devoke Water
A very small island just 9 meters long – it’s really just a pile of rocks with some oak bushes – about 80 meters from land and a favorite with cormorants. Getting to an island so remote – Devoke Water is high in the Western Fells – requires some ingenuity. The water can be rather chilly, so swimmers should expect a challenge. I used my Packraft. Watness Coy only has enough space for a small person to camp I would say.

Grasmere Island in Grasmere
Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy would have rowed to this island – quite large at 150 meters long – which is about 100 meters from the nearest land (although it is a shallow lake and you could walk part of the way). There is a sort of cape at one end of the island and a long wooded ridge with magnificent beech trees. They are all very pleasant and both can protect you if it rains.

St Herbert Island in the Derwentwater
Saint Herbert was a monk who lived on an island and the ruins of his hermitage still attract people today. It is the furthest from land of any island – more than 500 meters from the road that surrounds the lake, and it is large – perhaps 250 meters long. If you start from Keswick expect a 3km paddle. With magnificent beeches, horse mushrooms and a few woodpeckers, the island was also the model for Owl Island in Beatrix Potter’s book The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. A big island with lots to explore.

Crusoe’s Island in Rydal Water
On this island – a strait about 100 meters long and about 100 meters from the shore – there is an impressive Victorian tomb commemorating Crusoe, a Newfoundland dog, whose owner had buried him here in 1859. It has a stone jetty for swimmers or boaters go up. Many rhododendrons make it pleasantly jungly. A nice and slightly wild island.

Robert Twigger’s book, 36 Islands: In Search for Hidden Wonders of the Lake District and a Few But Things Also released by Weidenfeld & Nicolson at £20. Buy it for £17.40 from

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