on December 2, 2012
Steam Yacht GondolaOnce I saw this advertised in the national Trust book and leaflet about things to do in the Lake District this went to the top of the list for me. What a very strange vessel and something unique so i had to have a ride in it.WHERE IS IT AND HOW MUCHThe steam yacht gondola sails on Lake Coniston and the trips depart from Coniston pier and then depending on the length of your cruise they can call at Brantwood and Monk Coniston.Although this is owned by the National Trust it is chargable even for NT members because of the running costs in the trips.This was not a cheap trip at £19 per adult but well worth it in my view as there is no other boat quite like this and the scenery is great as well as the knowledgeable guides on board who point out places of interest to you as you steam around the lake.You can book on line which is 10% cheaper BUT getting a refund is complicated if the gondola does not sail because of weather being inclement so personally I would buy the tickets on the day unless you know what the weather situation is.The sailing season runs from early April to November so check if visiting near the end of those months.There are different options for sailings so I would suggest if you fancy doing this to check the NT website. FINDING THE PIERTake the A593 from Ambleside. The pier is at end of Lake Road which leads to the Bluebird cafe and that us where we parked and enjoyed a drink before our cruise. You need to turn immediately left after petrol station if travelling south from centre of Coniston village.OTHER FACTORS TO BE AWARE OFParking is not free either it is pay and display but there are quite a few spaces which is good. The carpark is about 50 yards from the boat and there is a ramped gangway as well as steps to get into the 'Gondola'.Once on the gondola there are three steps to entrance with handrail to get down into the seating area.There are disabled toilets at Coniston Boating Centre but a pretty basic one on board which I didn’t testIf you want to get off and visit Brantwood House (not National Trust) there is a steep path and the jetty to climb on to.Push chairs and babies in back carriers are welcome aboard as are well behaved dogs but they have to stay outside on the deck and not come inside to the red velvet chairs!There is a chance the sailing will be cancelled if the weather is not suitable. We had to wait some time to see if our sailing was going and the girl would not sell us a ticket in case they cancelled so we bought our fares as we got on board.There are public toilets at Coniston Pier (50 yards) and Monk Coniston jetty (150 yards) and also in the Bluebird cafe is you have a drink or eat there.You can hire the gondola for groups but you need to contact them to make prior arrangements for this.If you choose to get off at Brantwood jetty then there is a cafe there called ‘Jumping Jennys’’ and you can get discount vouchers for Brantwood House and Ruskin Museum when you buy your gondola ticket.A BIT OF HISTORYThis steam yacht gondola is exactly what is sounds like, a gondola shaped boat that is powered by steam but despite the yacht in the name we saw no sails.It was originally built by the Furness railway Company in 1859 and is the oldest steam yacht in the North of England. In the Victorain days people would come by train to Coniston then take this boat across the lake.The gondola was retired from commercial service in 1936 and was left to rot until a group of NT enthusiasts decided to raise the money and restore her in the 1970s.This beautifully restored vessel was relaunched in 1980 to offer trips around Lake Coniston. The trip usually heads towards Coniston Hall then heads northwards towards Brantwood where you can choose to get off and visit the home of John Ruskin and then it returns back to Coniston Pier. The day we took the trip the weather was very dodgy and the jetty underwater at Brantwood so we just sailed past without stopping.According to our guide this gondola was the inspiration for Captain Flint’s houseboat in ‘Swallows and Amazons’. As we steamed around the lake the guide pointed out the island that was the one the children sailed to in ‘Swallows and Amazons’OUR TRIPAs I said we bought our tickets from the guide on board as the weather was touch and go. They did tell us that they would not be stopping anywhere as the water and waves were so high and choppy that they couldn’t get to the other jetty.You get on via a jetty and then climb around the engine room and down some steps into the cabin part of the gondola. There are two sections, one was first class and the other second class but both were pretty smart. It was the same price where ever you sat as you are encouraged to move around and explore the boat. We were lucky as there were only two other couples on our trip so we could explore easily and go out to see then quickly hop back in the slightly less windy and warmer insides. The insides were beautifully restored to the Victorian glamour, a bit like an old fashioned cinema or theatre with plush red velvet seats and a red patterned carpet. In the front section there was also a polished wooden table in the middle. It really was most impressive and not easy to tell which should have been first and which second class seating as they were both very sumptuous.The front of the gondola has wooden bench seats along each side leading up to the prow which was the most wonderful gold serpent. Had the weather not been so unpleasant we would have stayed out here but it was too chilly for me.On the walls of the insides were photos of the gondola in its heyday and its low day too and it is pretty incredible what they managed to salvage as it was a wreck.In one corner was a tea urn which used to be used by the people who worked on the gondola back in the day but it was there for interest and decoration only. It was so nice to be able to walk around and also ask the guide questions personally as there were so few of us.The gondola was surprisingly quiet considering it had an engine. We were invited to go and see the engine room and it was immaculate. Every bit was sparkling and painted beautifully, a joy to behold. The engine used Blazers fuel logs instead of coal and it went through quite a few in the trip so no wonder they have to charge NT members as well as others as it is not cheap to feed. These logs have reduced the carbon footprint of the gondola by 90% which is a big plus.We also passed by Donald Cambell’s boat house where he stored ‘the Bluebird’ but couldn’t really see much. We did however make good use of the cafe named after his boat and enjoyed a nice hot drink there while waiting for our trip. The views over the lake are perfect through the huge glass windows. You can enjoy a full meal, alcoholic drinks or just coffee/tea and cakes . Also on sale are a few souvenirs and postcards and the toilet facilities are clean and pleasant.If you are in the area I would thoroughly recommend a trip on this unique vessel. I have never seen anything quite like it. It has a fascinating history; you enjoy beautiful scenery with an interesting commentary from knowledgeable guides. We thought it was quite expensive but both really enjoyed the experience and it was something we could do without getting too wet in the miserable weather too.it .
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