I want a turret. Not just any old turret, but a turret with a view. Somewhere that I can have a desk, old and preferably with a leather inlay, a chair, comfortable obviously and I want the turret built on to my library, the one I hope to have with walls of bookshelves, floor to ceiling with a ladder to reach the top shelf. I know exactly what my turret should look like because I have a model to work with.
That turret belonged to John Ruskin, 19th century visionary and advocate of free schools and libraries, amongst other things. He built it onto his bedroom at Brantwood, overlooking Coniston Water in the Lake District, after he bought the house in 1871. I felt perfectly at home in that turret when I visited but, unfortunately, I don’t think it would quite work on my modest suburban home.
It did fit perfectly at Brantwood though where Ruskin, a regular traveller throughout Europe, settled for the last three decades of his life. Set on 250 acres on the banks of Coniston Water, Brantwood began life as a modest farmhouse. What the visitor sees today is Ruskin’s creation of a grand home where visitors would arrive by coach and enter through a glazed doorway. The dining room that they would have been served in had a magnificent seven arched window providing a magnificent view of the Lake.
Coniston Water has a long and varied history. The Fells above the lake were a source of copper for the Romans and, during medieval times, it was owned by the monks of Furness Abbey. Just over five miles long the lake was the setting for numerous attempts on the world water speed record and in 1967 Donald Campbell tragically lost his life attempting to exceed 300 miles per hour. He actually managed 320 miles per hour on one run but the return leg saw his vehicle Bluebird somersault and crash killing Campbell instantly. Campbell’s was not the only body to end up in the lake either, in 1976 a local school teacher was murdered and her body dumped in it.
Whatever its associations, today Coniston Water, the third largest lake in the English Lake District at almost 5km², is a drawcard for tourists from all over the world. Many come to see the famous lake that took Cambell’s life, some come to see the places that Arthur Ransome put into his famous children’s book, Swallows and Amazons, while many others come simply to admire the sheer beauty of the place.
Whatever your reason for visiting, you should not miss taking a trip on the lake with Coniston Launch www.conistonlaunch.co.uk. The engaging commentary by the skipper provides information about the history and surroundings of the lake and special cruises on the solar-electric powered launches are also scheduled that will take you more deeply into the world of Swallows and Amazons or the history of the world water speed record attempts on the lake.The view from the launch is the best view that you are going to get of Brantwood and if John Ruskin was still around today he would probably be sitting at his desk in that turret watching you and the world go by.
Every writer should definately have a turret.
“Morning breaks as I write, along those Coniston Fells, and the level mists, motionless, and grey beneath the rose of the moorlands, veil the woods, and the sleeping village, and the long lawns of the lake-shore.”
Notes by Mr Ruskin on his drawings by J.M.W.Turner, 1878.