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Experience Art and Culture in The South Lake District – Brantwood and The Ruskin Museum, Coniston

May 29, 2023


Art and Culture in The South Lake District

Across the whole of The Lake District, art and culture run deep in its veins. We wouldn’t have the passion for the outdoors, preservation of the fells and sport culture without those who led the way. Many names are infamous with the area like William Wordsworth, Alfred Wainwright, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Beatrix Potter.
Perhaps some of the most influential in the modern Art and Culture in the South Lake District are John Ruskin and Donald Campbell. I spent the day around Coniston learning more about their lives and how it has impacted the modern Lake District we all know and love.

Art and Culture in the South Lake District

Brantwood Estate

Art and Culture in The South Lake District isn’t all poems and paintings. Brantwood shows horticultural importance, scientific interest and the geological hobbies of it’s previous owner, John Ruskin. He bought the property sight-unseen and made many additions to it over his time there to make it more like the house and gardens you can visit today.
The whole property is now filled with activities and areas of importance that the whole family can enjoy. There are things to do in the house for children as well as plenty for parents to read and see. The gardens have many pathways with signposted walks of various lengths for different abilities. I visited in early spring and the garden was already beautiful. I imagine that it would highlight differently at other times of the year.

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Brantwood Gardens and House

The Zig-Zaggy was designed as the entrance to the garden and I was pointed in that direction by the staff to start the day. Each Zig or Zaggy represents one of the seven deadly sins and you walk your way through them you can rid yourself of your sins so you can be closer to nature. If you would rather hold on to your sins then admire the artistry and intelligent planting of the different bushes, flowers and shrubbery.
The garden itself is split in to eight very different areas. Each one is designed in a specific way which you can read about on signposts as you explore. My favourites are the Painters Glade and the High Walk. The Painters Glade is so calm and peaceful, with places where you could pause to take it all in and admire all of the greenery around you. The High Walk had amazing views over Coniston Water and beyond to The Old Man of Coniston. They are breathtaking and I don’t know why I never visited sooner.
Lots of the gardens were parts of an experiment in to the land, or how John Ruskin could express his art through planting and landscape. The staff later informed me that ‘Brant’ means steep in Norse, so wear appropriate footwear and take some water for a stop.
There is an option to walk beyond the main gardens around the property and walk to Crag Head. After a walk uphill for around 30-40 minutes, you are rewarded with an amazing view. Uninterrupted panoramas across Coniston water and more. Take it all in and you’ll see why Brantwood was so special to John Ruskin in the 19th Century, and why it is still celebrated today.

John Ruskin wasn’t just an artistic gardener, he was much more. Ruskin was trying to tell people about climate change in the 19th Century and he also led the way in inspiring others. Without him we may not have The National Trust, NHS, women's education or environmental protection. In his house you can explore through each room to learn a bit more about his life, influences and the impact he still has on modern society.
The rooms are each individual and beautiful. The exhibition on sight and many of the spaces feature his artwork of Brantwood and the surrounding area. There was a room set up for young people to learn about the importance of John Ruskin's work, with hands-on activities to do which were fun for adults too. Over Many years, Ruskin added rooms to the building and one of those was perhaps my favourite. The Turret bedroom had the perfect framed view and gave a unique perspective over Coniston Water. I spent a long time stood in that window and understood where some of Ruskin's inspiration came from.
All the members of staff were happy to answer any questions we had and knew lots of information about Ruskin's life. The house isn’t just a place to spend a rainy day, this is a must-visit for anyone visiting The Lake District.

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Lunch and Coniston Villiage

In my opinion, art and culture in The South Lake District should be accompanied by great food. Luckily, Brantwood has The Terrace. The old stables and coach house were lovingly renovated in 2016/17 by volunteers and Ruskin enthusiasts to create The Terrace.
They are open every day 10-4.30pm serving delicious food, drink and cakes. Sit inside and admire lots of original features or head outside to admire the view whilst you eat.
The whole menu sounded delicious and everything is catered for here. There’s a separate gluten-free and vegan menu, plus dished for kids and more. You could easily spend a few hours at The Terrace talking about everything you have learnt in the house.
At Brantwood there are always additional exhibits showing some of the most interesting and thought provoking artwork that The South Lake District has to see. There are courses, guided field trips in the gardens and other shows that you can see there. Find all the information on their website to book and visit on those days.
I drove to Brantwood but that is not the only method of transportation available. Why not catch the Steam Yacht Gondola from Coniston to come across the lake, just like the Victorians did? Nothing can beat arriving at Brantwood in style on one of these boats. They run from April-October and are a great way to see the lake from a different viewpoint.

Coniston may be a small village but it has a vast history that is all documented in The Ruskin Museum, just a short walk front he village centre. This museum has 3 main rooms, one full of history, from ancient to modern, of the community, the geology and the things that have impacted them. The other rooms are The Bluebird wing and the Ruskin Gallery. The whole space is set up for everyone to enjoy, the rooms are all accessible and there are plenty of interactive elements to keep everyone engaged and learning.

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the Ruskin Museum

When back in the village of Conniston, The Ruskin Museum is the home of art and culture here. Lots of influences have led to the community being as stong as it is today however, this museum is a centre for Cumbiran children on school trips, and has been since 1901.
The history on Coniston goes right back to 500 million year old rocks and The Ruskin Museum brings you through lace, farming, copper-mining and right up to the modern day jet age, showing how important the community of Coniston is to keeping this museum in the village.
Everything about the exhibits are there to celebrate art and culture in The South Lake District. You really feel like you are immersing yourself in their culture here and cna even take a self-guided walking tour of the village afterwards so you can see lots of the elements that are shown in the museum.

The Bluebird wing was one of my favorite parts. Learn about Donald Campbell and his quest to become the fastest man on land and water. Coniston has become infamous for his many attempts at the record, was his home whilst practising and many of the local community knew and world alongside him. There are parts of the engine from the Bluebird K7 that laid at the bottom of Coniston water for 34 years. You can also look at his suits, other boats and memorabilia that came out before and after his tragic death.
The Jet age brought a lot of tourism back to that part of cumbria and still attracts a lot of attention today. It has shaped the village as it is now and is a huge part of the culture of Coniston.

John Ruskin was correct when he said ‘Coniston, I noted it as more beautiful than anything I had ever seen, to my remembrance, in gladness and infinitude of light.’ This village, lake and surrounding fells are filled with culture from the past. The artists, scientists, miners and heroes that lived here have shaped the art and culture in the South Lake District and beyond.
You can learn about how important that is at Brantwood and The Ruskin Museum when you next visit to better appreciate how it has shaped The Lake District today.

Happy Exploring and Learning
Ali x

The Culture in South Lakes campaign is
funded by the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund |

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Steam Yacht Gondola

Travel like the victorians and take a steam yacht gondola to your next destination across Coniston.

The Terrace

Local food, done well in a beautoful setting. The lovingly restored coach house and stables of Brantwood House now make for a delicious setting for lunch when visiting the estate.

Support The Ruskin Museum

The Ruskin museum relies on donations to keep the history of Coniston alive. Donate today so that generations in the future can continue learning about Art and Culture in The South Lake District.

Read more of my blogs and articles

May 29, 2023