Steam Yacht Gondola
Tel:- 015394 32733
Important note for National Trust members:
Gondola is a National Trust Enterprise, and you will be charged the full fare.
Originally launched in 1859 by the Furness Railway, Gondola is a fully refurbished steam-powered passenger yacht. 4 times a day throughout Spring and Summer she steams from the pier at Coniston boat landings to cruise sedately across the lake, calling in at Monk Coniston and Brantwood jetties.
Capable of carrying up to 80 passengers in it's luxury saloons, Gondola is the only remaining steam powered passenger carrying vessel still in regular service in the Lake District. As you sail sedately across the lake, further interest is added to your trip by a well informed commentary which points out places of interest.
Coniston Boat Landings
All cruises on Gondola depart from the pier at Coniston boat landings, which is situated half a mile from the main village. There is a pay and display car park, and refreshments are available at the Bluebird Cafe, next to the boat landings. Note that Coniston Launch also sail from the boat landings. You can find more information about Coniston Launch here.
Monk Coniston is situated on the northern edge of Coniston Water. The Monk Coniston Estate is now in the hands of the National Trust, having been bequeathed to them by Beatrix Potter. From the small pier there you can take a pleasant walk through the gardens at Monk Coniston and on to Tarn Hows.
Once the home of John Ruskin, Brantwood overlooks the eastern shore of Coniston Water. A combined cruise and Brantwood ticket can be bought for those wishing to take the boat across the Lake to visit the house. Those that do will be following in Ruskin's footsteps, as Gondola was in service when he lived at Brantwood, and was used by him on several occasions. For more information about Brantwood, click here ..
About Coniston Water
At five miles (8 km) long and half a mile (800 m) wide, Coniston Water is the third largest natural lake in the Lake District. It has a maximum depth of 184 feet (56 m), and covers an area of 1.89 square miles (4.9 km2).
To the east side of the lake lies Grizedale Forest, and to the West and North West, the Coniston Fells, the highest of which, at 2,634 feet (803 m) high, is the Old Man of Coniston. The scenery on all sides is superb.
The village of Coniston is situated at the North West end of the lake. Monk Coniston, is at the northern head of the lake, whilst Brantwood House, home of John Ruskin, is on the eastern shore of the lake.
The Swallows and Amazons Connection.
Coniston Water was the inspiration for Arthur Ransome's novel "Swallows and Amazons". Although the lake in the book has a fictional name, many of Coniston's landmarks can be identified in the novel, in particular, Wild Cat Island, with it's harbour. "Gondola" is thought to be the inspiration for Captain Flint's houseboat in the book.
In the middle part of the 19th century, transport around the mining village of Coniston had become something of a problem. The local population and early tourists had to endure poor quality, rutted roads, which were often rendered impassable by the heavy slate and ore laden carts from the thriving slate quarries and copper mines.
Public transport took the form of a slow and uncomfortable horse-drawn omnibus which spent almost as much time having it's wheels repaired and refitted as it did carrying passengers. It was clear that, in order to continue to flourish, the region needed to improve it's transport network.
In 1849, having noted how successful the Kendal and Windermere Railway had been at bringing visitors to Windermere, the directors of the Furness Railway decided that the answer to Coniston's transport problems, and the key to their future prosperity, was to build a railway joining the main Barrow to Whitehaven line with Coniston, and at the same time launch a passenger cruise service on Coniston Water.
The Railway opened in 1859, and steam yacht "Gondola" was launched in November of the same year, entering service for the following summer season. It became an immediate success, so much so that by the turn of the century a second boat was required. "The Lady of the Lake" entered service in 1907. She was sightly longer and carried more than twice the number of passengers than Gondola. She ran until the second world war, when she was taken out of service, never to return. She was scrapped in 1950.
Gondola had been taken out of service in 1936, meaning that there was no passenger service on the lake from the end of the second wold war until 1980, when she was recommissioned. Her journey in those intervening years had not been without incident.
The cost of returning her to service in 1945 was prohibitive and she was sold and then converted to a houseboat. Little structural work was carried out on her, and by 1960 she had been abandoned and was little more than a derelict hulk, moored at the southern end of the lake. During a violent storm she broke free from her mooring, drifted into a reed bed, and sank. Luckily, the water was not deep, so she did not disappear from view. For the next ten years her half submerged remains were a curious landmark to those passing by.
Salvaging and rebuilding her was no mean feat. Funds had to be raised in order to carry out a feasibility study, and it was found that although the hull and engine were not salvageable, much of the remainder of the vessel was. A second round of fund raising was undertaken in order to have a new hull built, an engine commissioned and the remainder of the boat restored back to it's former glory.
In March 1980, the fully restored "Gondola" was launched by Sheila Howell, granddaughter of Felix Hamill, her first master back in 1859. After final trials she finally entered service for the second time in the summer of 1980.