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A Guide to Coniston Water in the Lake District

By Joanna Roberts
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Introduction to Coniston Water

Situated in the beautiful UNESCO status Lake District National Park, Coniston Water is the third-longest natural lake in England at 5.25 miles long.

Coniston (the lake) and the village of the same name are popular destinations. With a dramatic craggy backdrop, Coniston has an almost film-set appeal. Perhaps unusually, a rich industrial history is intertwined with a powerful natural beauty.

Just a short 10-minute stroll from the village, the stunning body of water running north-south has a variety of ‘beaches’ and ‘bays’ scattered around it.

Quick Access

Looking for lakeside inspiration? Read below for our guide to Coniston Water and its nearby environs.

Coniston Village

Quaint stone houses in Coniston Village

Though a popular place to visit, Coniston is, first and foremost, a thriving local community. With multiple schools and parks, the village thrums with local family life whilst welcoming visitors year-round.

Typical of the region, Coniston has several cosy cafes, pubs, and local shops while retaining that relaxing, ‘small-town getaway’ feel. Coniston village is bigger than wee Buttermere but far smaller than Ambleside or Keswick.

Arthur Ransome

Best known as the author of the famous Swallows and Amazons adventure books, Arthur Ransome, born in 1884, led a full and varied life, well-documented in the Ruskin Museum.

Captivated by Coniston and the surrounding area, Ransome’s brilliant imagination has given immense pleasure to generations of children and adults alike.

John Ruskin and Brantwood House

Brantwood House, once home to the legendary Art Critic, and social reformer John Ruskin is close to the shores of Coniston water. A place which promises a warm welcome, Brantwood has ‘acres of stunning gardens … surrounded by magnificent views.’

Whether visiting the house, exploring the extensive grounds and woodlands, or simply resting in the terrace café, spending time at Brantwood is a total delight.

Travelling on the steam gondola to the small harbour, designed by Ruskin himself, is a truly iconic way to arrive at Brantwood. This idyllic spot is an ideal cycling or walking stop-off too.

Come prepared for all weathers and terrain, though, as the gardens boast some intricate and intriguing paths – and with ‘Brant’ being old Norse for ‘steep,’ the gradients do not disappoint. Learn more here.

Donald Campbell

Speed boat driver Donald Campbell visited the area often, creating a variety of water speed records on Coniston Water in the 1950s. A much-loved local hero, Campbell met his untimely death attempting to break the 300-mph water speed record in 1967 and is buried in the village cemetery.

Well-known at the time, Campbell and his long-submerged boat, the Blue Bird K7, were only re-surfaced in 2001. Its restoration and final resting place have since been the subject of controversy.

Campbell’s legacy is intertwined with local culture and community. The Blue Bird Cafe is named after Campbell’s boat of the same name, and the locally-brewed Bluebird Bitter is named in Campbell’s honour.

Today, a speed restriction of 10 mph makes exploring the lake a bit calmer unless you are planning to launch a British or world speed attempt, in which case the National Park Authority can grant an exemption during records week! Learn more about Donald Campbell here.

The Ruskin Museum

For first-hand information about Ruskin, Ransome and Campbell – along with many other local heroes – the Ruskin Museum in Coniston Village is a fascinating place to visit. Learn about the early copper miners, Lakeland’s pioneer rock climbers and the brave founders of Mountain Rescue. Learn more here.

Coniston Water Ferries

Coniston Launch Boats

Jump aboard a ferry and marvel at the majestic views of the Coniston Fells and the surrounding area.

Based just a stone’s throw from Coniston village are the Coniston Launch Company and the Steam Yacht Gondola. These ferry options offer a wonderful – and more sustainable – chance to slow down and enjoy life in Coniston from a new perspective.

Whether used as a transport link to other parts of the lake or enjoyed as a round trip, discovering Coniston by water is an opportunity not to be missed. Learn more about both boat options below.

Coniston Launch

Coniston Launch offers a full lake cruise and allows for plentiful hop-offs at any of its six jetties. Five are spread along the western shore, and one is at Brantwood (to the east), making for the perfect adventure when linked with a morning or afternoon hike.

Offering both a summer and winter timetable, this makes for a great year-round attraction. Learn more here.

Steam Yacht Gondola

Originally built in 1859 and now fully restored and operated by the National Trust, this seasonal service runs from the Easter holidays until mid-autumn and is a truly unique experience. Offering a full lake cruise – or stops by request at Monk Coniston and Brantwood – this delightful service is run by a team of passionate and knowledgeable crew members.

On specific services, hikers can ask to be dropped off at the south-eastern Parkamoor Jetty to access a plethora of forest trails and higher ground overlooking Grizedale Forest.

Learn more here.


It’s hard to imagine that 460 million years ago, the Lake District was under an ocean south of the equator. Born out of complex volcanic action, the crags above Coniston are a result of millions of years of geological processes moving and shaping the landscape.

As earthquakes tilted and folded the rocks, hot fluids pulsed into cracks, eventually cooling and crystalising into minerals such as copper.

Budding geologists can find more information here.

Copper Mines

Steeped in history, Coniston has a copper mining legacy reaching back to the late 1500s, when copper veins were reached by painstakingly hand-dug tunnels. Succeeded by gunpowder and then dynamite, mining techniques developed, allowing tunnels to be dug deeper and faster.

By the 18th century, processing was undertaken at the stamp mills, where water-powered, iron-clad timbers were used to break up the iron ore. In the mid-19th century, copper mining in Coniston was at its height, and like other hard manual industries of its time became a family affair with men, women and children all playing a vital job. Learn more here.

*Special thanks to Ruskin Museum and Lake District tourism for the information shared.

When is the Best Time to Visit Coniston?

Whilst the Coniston area is of year-round attraction, the volume of visitors increases dramatically during the summer months.

If you are likely to value a little more solitude, then autumn or spring would be a perfect time to visit. Winter can be fantastic too but take heed – the hills are often clad in snow and ice, which requires more attention, care, and experience to venture out onto.

Coniston Old Man

Elevation: 803m | 2,635ft

Rising magnificently above the village, the Coniston range unfolds dramatically on the skyline. The highest summit is The Old Man of Coniston, a popular yet demanding peak more commonly referred to as Coniston Old Man or simply The Old Man.

Venturing onto the tops is only recommended for experienced and well-equipped walkers. And having a map and compass (and knowing how to use them) is essential. Like with all Lakeland summits, the weather can change to freezing winds and rain, even on the warmest of days.

Many hill walkers and climbers choose to drive up the steep, narrow road to park near Walna Scar, an ancient packhorse route. But it’s equally possible to walk up from the village. Enjoy, stay safe, and be prepared.

For those seeking lower-level hikes, there are plenty of more accessible options which give a great flavour of the surrounding area.

The Cumbria Way

Distance: 73 miles | 117 km

Hugging the western shore of Coniston Water, the long distance trail known as the Cumbria Way winds past many iconic and photogenic spots. Starting in the south Cumbrian town of Ulverston, this 73-mile national trail journeys through the Lake District before finishing near Cumbria’s only city, Carlisle.

Emerging into Coniston village via the Lake Road, the Cumbria Way then travels north towards the delightful Tarn Hows, making this section an excellent choice for exploring the area around Coniston Water and its surroundings. Visit the Cumbria Way’s site for more info here.

Southern Loop

Route Distance: 5 miles | 8 km

Enjoy a gentle stroll south of Coniston along an easy-to-follow track that works as a linear route, as there are several turnaround points.

However, for circular satisfaction, a lovely mini adventure is to leave the village on the roadside footpath (B5285) and follow the permitted path which runs along the lake to the Coniston Boating Centre.

From here, the Lake Road links to the Cumbria Way, which the hiker follows south to Torver Common Wood. Picking up a series of footpaths loops the hike back towards the village via Coniston’s disused railway line – ready to finish with a well-earned pint.

Fancy Hiking Out and Cruising Back?

3 miles | 5 km

You might like to link with the Coniston Launch at Sunny Bank Jetty to sail home in style.

Northern Loop to Tarn Hows

Route Distance: 5 miles | 8 km

Heading northeast out of Coniston, the Cumbria Way crosses the gently tumbling waters of Yewdale Beck on the delightfully-named Shepherd’s Bridge. Continue on over rolling hills and pockets of woodland to Tarn Hows. Early on, the hike passes a rather bizarre yet grand-looking building – a former dog kennel – nestled in landscaped Victorian beauty.

While you can admire Tarn Hows, an enchanting small lake created in the 19th century from its southern shore, it is best appreciated as a circular hike. Return to Coniston via a network of paths leading onto the Monk Coniston Estate.

For those not wishing to hike the full distance to Tarn Hows, the Monk Coniston area has a wealth of interlinking paths to happily while away a relaxed afternoon. It is also an option to drive up to the tarn, where there is a National Trust Car Park, toilets and often an ice-cream van for a tempting treat.

Coniston Water Activities


The Lake District National Park offers an amazing number of wild and wonderful places to go swimming. Open water or wild swimming is a growing passion for Cumbrian locals and visitors alike, and Coniston Water is no exception. With plentiful access to these sleek but sometimes choppy waters, any of the lake-side parking spots work well. Gloriously colourful tow floats are a common sight at all times of the year and are a recommended purchase for all swimmers.

For those new to wild swimming or wishing to know more about Lakeland dipping, follow this link for information and safety guidance.

And if you are experienced and keen, why not join the annual Coniston Chill Swim, which covers the full 5.25 miles end to end.

Circumnavigate Coniston Water

17 miles | 27 km
530 ft | 161 m height gain

With plenty of undulating and changing scenery, cycling around the lake on fully tarmacked roads is satisfying. If ridden anti-clockwise, this negates the need to cut across any traffic, and the Brandwood House café (on the eastern shore) is a welcome break before the final stint back to Coniston.

Off Road Biking Adventures

For those wishing to leave the bustling roads behind, ride north out of Coniston to Tilberthwaite and follow gravel tracks to Cathedral Quarry and Hodge Close. This ex-slate mining area has a delightful, re-claimed nature feel, offering a mixture of trails ranging from family-friendly to moderate mountain biking.

Do keep in mind that all cycling tracks are at your own risk and are not waymarked, so navigational skills are helpful to make the most of the area. For keen cyclists with extra energy, a trip over to Elterwater or Tarn Hows is a great extension.

How to Visit Coniston Water

Coniston Water is located in the southern section of the Lake District National Park, further west than Windermere, and just south of the village of Coniston.

What is the best way to visit Coniston Water? By car is certainly the easiest and most direct way to get here.

If you want to keep your carbon impact low and take public transport, there are options. Whilst public transport does connect Coniston with the wider world, it can require a bit of planning. Running four times a day, the 505 bus route links Coniston village to the railway network at Windermere, and also to the 555 bus service (Kendal, Lancaster and Keswick). Alternatively, the X12 from Ulverston also runs a few times a day to Coniston

More information on planning your journey here.

Feeling adventurous? Why not arrive in Coniston Water on two wheels? For those travelling by bike, a fun (but hilly) approach is to take the short ferry service across Windemere (from Ferry Nab to Ferry House) and continue up and over to Coniston via Far Sawrey and Hawkshead.

Parking at Coniston Water

Parking in Coniston Village Read More

Like all places in the Lake District, a sensitive approach to visiting and parking around Coniston is a must. Some areas in the village itself are resident parking only, but there is a small central car park, with toilets next to the visitor information centre. The sports and social centre also offer all-day parking for a reasonable price. For those exploring the higher fells or mines – who do not wish to walk up the steep road out of the village – there is the option to drive up and park nearer the open access land.

Northwest Shore Parking Read More

Shoreside parking is available at various places around the lake. Most notably, in the northwest (adjacent to the village) there is space for visitors at the Coniston Boating Centre.

Eastern Shore Parking Read More

On the opposite shore near Monk Coniston is another good car park, with toilets. This small northerly bay often has quite a tranquil feel and is still within walking distance of the village.

Along the quieter eastern shore are numerous small parking areas owned by the National Trust.

Southwest Shore Parking Read More

South along the lake to the west is the popular Brown Howe carpark. Complete with toilets and a very short walk to the lake, this is a popular launch spot for canoes and kayaks.

Parking General Info Read More

Whilst there are some free laybys around the lake, most of the parking in and around Coniston requires payment.

For a handy map, check out this downloadable version from the wonderful people at Coniston Boating Centre.

Learn more about author and Lake District expert Jo Roberts on her website, Writing Inside Out

Visit the Lake District

Meet the Author: Joanna Roberts

Settled now in Cumbria, England. The Lake District National Park is a place I love for work and play. Originally from Devon and brought up in Wiltshire I also spent time living in the Scottish Highlands, working for Outward Bound Loch Eil. So, Outdoor Education and personal development work is within my very core. Over my career I have worked with both adults and young people helping folks learn and grow in some amazing places; from Nepal and Peru to Norway and Poland. In recent years I have guided a lot in Northern England and love enabling guests to get the very most out of their holiday.

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