Although today it’s dominated by tourism, Coniston has a very different feel about it than the much more “touristy” central area on the east side of Windermere running up through Grasmere up to Keswick. It’s a little more isolated with the main natural axis of communication being towards the south and it’s roots are very much industrial, centring on farming and copper mining, with the first mines up on the mountainside opening during Elizabethan times. The village’s origins go back much further than this, though. It’s name is derived from the Norse ‘cyninges-tūn’. – “King’s town”.
Historically, Coniston, being part of Furness, was within the boundaries of Lancashire. It became part of Cumbria along with the rest of “Lancashire over the sands” with Local Government reorganisation in 1974.
The main, oldest parts of the village, consists of workers’ cottages nestling on the lower slopes of the Old Man.
The houses are built of local materials, particularly slate, many of them with a white rendering
There are some “Arts and Crafts” style structures, influenced by Ruskin, such as the war memorial which was designed by his “follower”, W G Collingwood
With it’s location on the lake, the area grew in popularity as a tourist location during the Victorian era, following the construction of a branch of the Furness Railway, which opened to passenger traffic in 1859 and made the village much more accessible. Just like today those early tourists came to admire the dramatic scenery, to walk in the hills and along the lake and to “mess around” in boats.
The lake, the third largest in England, was originally known as Thurston Water until the late 18th Century.
Coniston’s main attractions are the hills and lake. Other than the excellent Ruskin Museum and Ruskin and Donald Campbell’s graves, boat trips and Ruskin’s home, Brantwood, over the other side of the lake, there isn’t a lot to see. It isn’t “chocolate box” pretty but is a good base for anyone looking for a bit of peace and quiet and to enjoy the natural attractions of the surrounding areas. Although there are a number of small shops, including a small Co-op for supplies, the major chains that dominate high streets were absent and the small main street wasn’t blighted with lots of tacky gift shops. Internet access is almost non-existent (we found it impossible to connect to wifi even when it was available and you can forget 3/4 G).