Derwent Island - a unique Lakeland property that recreates the spirit of Swallows & Amazons

PUBLISHED: 00:00 30 October 2013

LAN Nov Island to let

LAN Nov Island to let

Rob Grange Photography

Stars of stage and screen are interested in moving into the north west’s most extraordinary address. Roger Borrell reports

It comes as no surprise to discover that stars of music and show business have been contacting an estate agent in the north west to make inquiries about a very unusual property. After all, who wouldn’t want to be able to tell friends that the milk is delivered by canoe?

Rain or shine, one hardy soul paddles across 150 yards of Derwent Water to the heart-shaped Derwent Island, handing daily pints to the grateful residents of the only house.

After ten memorable years, the current tenants are moving on. Their children have grown up and they have decided to start a new life in the rather less remote surroundings of Torquay in Devon. That means they will be putting out the ‘No Milk Today’ sign while the landlord, the National Trust, seeks new tenants.

The news that this unique location is available to let has sparked international interest and some of it has come from the high profile and the well-heeled. The annual rental is £40,000 and you will be required to take a lease for at least five years.

Questions from potential tenants have included: ‘Is there a landing pad for my helicopter?’ However, this is a no-fly zone unless you are the Royal Air Force.

But having the cash is merely one step in the process of living the life of Arthur Ransom’s Swallows & Amazons. For instance, you will need to be able to prove that you are able to cope with isolation as well as showing real passion for the house, its history and the remarkable contents.

Helen Lancaster, a chartered surveyor for Carter Jonas, said: ‘It is a question of looking for the right person. They would need a certain level of adventurousness but they would also need to be robust. If you were there alone and there was an emergency, you would need the confidence to take a boat out at night.’

In the unlikely event of a blaze, that could mean having to transport members of the fire brigade across to the island by boat. You will also need to be handy when it comes to DIY. Getting a plumber or an electrician to pop around in a hurry isn’t really an option.

And while you obviously need the £40,000-a-year rental money, that is also only part of the story. ‘There will be quite a lot of upkeep and just heating the place will require quite a sum. There’s also boats to be serviced – this is a unique tenancy and it requires constant tweaking.’

You will also need to take a degree of responsibility for the contents of the house. There is a lot of fine furniture, a large collection of antiquarian books and some quite well-known oil paintings.

‘This is very much a custodial role,’ adds Helen. You don’t have to be an expert in picture restoring or the humidity levels for preserving books though - the National Trust has a team of curators who will advise the new tenants on what needs to be done to keep the treasures in perfect condition.

The house must be occupied 52 weeks a year – you couldn’t live there for the summer and shut it up for the winter. You will also be required to share your home on a minimum of five occasions per annum. The National Trust has a small number of days when parts of the house are open to the public, although the tenants don’t have to be present.

Despite the restrictions, the Italianate Derwent Island House really is a dream home. It has a Grade II listing with seven bedrooms, a one-bedroom annexe, five reception rooms, including a sitting room which opens out on to a roof-top terrace, a library and a dining room seating 20. There is also a large garden room with doors onto a patio, cellar and stores on the lower ground floor.

In the grounds there is what was called a ‘mock’ chapel currently used as a workshop, several boathouses and landings. On the mainland there is a dry dock boathouse and garage and two boats are provided. This is where the milkman keeps his canoe.

The property really doesn’t need any hype from the estate agents. The setting has to be one of the most remarkable in the UK. To the north is Skiddaw, to the south is Borrowdale and the nearby slopes of Catbells rise above the lake. There are fabulous views from every aspect and busy Keswick is only half a mile away - by boat.

‘Even though I’ve become very familiar with this property, it still leaves me speechless when I visit,’ says Helen. ‘It’s the incredible views and the sense of majesty you get from being on a island and looking out. Also, the furniture is spectacularly beautiful.

‘The views are ever-changing. Each time I go it’s completely different. Likening it to something from Swallows & Amazons really isn’t that fanciful.’

But as Helen pointed out, the tenants aren’t exactly going to be castaways. There is mains power and water and oil for the central heating as well as broadband and internet connections.

While there are no other inhabitants apart from the wildlife, the National Trust and the former tenants have built up a good network of people such as ships’ chandlers and boatyards.

Just don’t expect a man in a canoe to deliver your weekly shop. One former tenant had to survive for ten days when the lake become frozen, cutting them off from the mainland. And getting all your belongings to the house could test the most resourceful of removal men.

Island paradise

Many famous romantics visited Derwent Island, including Coleridge, Turner and Ruskin.

In ancient times, it was thought to have been called Horse Island as it was used as a refuge for stallions to prevent them being stolen by raiders. It is the largest of the four islands on Derwent Water and during medieval times it was owned by the monks from Fountains Abbey in north Yorkshire.

With the dissolution of the monasteries, the island came into Henry VIII’s ownership in 1539 but it was sold in 1569 to German miners brought to the region by Queen Elizabeth II to excavate for silver, lead, graphite and copper.

In 1778 it passed to Joseph Pocklington, who 

built a large house on the island. Various other buildings were erected, including a Gothic chapel-boathouse and a druid circle

Fifty years later it was sold to Henry Marshall, who added a large dining room wing, and a three storey tower. The interior was given a classical style. Coincidentally, Sir Robert Hunter, Octavia Hill, and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley were entertained there and they became three founders of The National Trust which was gifted the island in 1951 by David Marshall.

The property will be available in December, or earlier by arrangement. Anyone interested should contact Carter Jonas, 01539 722592.

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