The train from the south drew in to the junction with the line that led to the hills. We changed, and already there was freshness in the air on a day of azure skies and deep shadows. I went to admire the Puffing Billy that was to haul us on the last leg of our journey, inhaling the intoxicating cocktail of hot oil and steam that engines exude. The whistle blew, I ran back to the carriage, the doors slammed, and we clanked our way west with the setting sun. I hurried from side to side of the carriage.
The narrow green valley with its dry-stone walls, rocky outcrops and black-faced sheep seemed to close around us, the purple fells to rise. There was a flash of silver from the lake far below and the train drew into the terminus to the cry of ‘All change’. In the station yard an ancient car was waiting, almost as old as the Amazons’ Rattletrap. Moments later we were dropping down steeply into Bowness-on-Windermere, the stone village the Swallows and Amazons called Rio. There was the bay with the skiffs drawn upon the shingle, the weather bleached green of the boat-builders’ sheds, a couple of landing stages and the steamer pier. Beyond lay the silver expanse of the lake shimmering in the August sun. I thought of Titty in Pigeon Post:
Far away over the water, glittering in the evening sun, she had seen the white speck that had sent Nancy hurrying back to the car. Two years had slipped back in a moment, and once again she was seeing for the first time the little white sail of the Amazon pirates.
I was 12 and had come at last to Swallows and Amazons country. The journey from the south and into the Westmorland hills to the lake in the north was just as Ransome had described it. So, too, were Rio and its bay and its islands and the high enclosing hills. I looked west across the lake, trying to make out the promontory that hid the Amazons’ home of Beckfoot, to spot the flagstaff that in Winter Holiday
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