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Swallows and Amazons for ever!

14 August 2020

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories

From his garret in London, your correspondent has been dreaming of summer holidays – and not least, since most overseas destinations now seem about as accessible as Mars, of lighting out for a staycation somewhere on this sceptred isle. Imagine Rakewell’s delight, then, to read this week that Windermere Jetty Museum in Cumbria has launched, as its summer family exhibition, ‘Swallows and Amazons For Ever!’. Not only an excuse for a jaunt to the Lake District, then, but a chance to sink back into some of our favourite books from childhood – Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series.

Courtesy Lakeland Arts

When Ransome came to write Swallows and Amazons in 1929, he was yearning to step off the treadmill of political journalism and write what he called ‘a brat book’. What he conjured was an enchanting vision of the Lakes, of dinghy-sailing, camping, picnics and piratical pageantry set on and around the water of a fictionalised version of Lake Windermere. The exhibition includes a recreation of his study, with Ransome’s original typewriter and desk – though the brats themselves may tack straight for lakeshore, enticed by the  opportunity to ‘[set] up camp on Wildcat Island where you can build a den’.

Courtesy Lakeland Arts

The exhibition also promises early sketches by Ransome. The author spurned the drawings commissioned from Steven Spurrier for the original edition of Swallows and Amazons; although the dust jacket and map were used, the book appeared in 1930 without any further illustrations. Ransome’s own pen-and-ink drawings would later replace those commissioned for the second edition from Clifford Webb – and are characterised by their simple figures (Ransome rarely showed his characters’ faces) and sparse lines that encapsulate the open freedoms of sky and water.

It is time to give chase to Ransome, then, and set out ‘through the big grey archway at Euston that was the gate to the enchanted North’ – was indeed, since the Euston Arch has of course been demolished since he wrote those words. ‘Optional extras: hot or cold picnic,’ says Windermere Jetty Museum. Rakewell is packing enough pemmican and bunloaf to last him until September.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.