Donald Campbell’s legacy lives on in the Coniston and Power Boat Records Week

PUBLISHED: 00:00 21 October 2014

Donald Campbell in Bluebird K7 (c. Paul Allonby)

Donald Campbell in Bluebird K7 (c. Paul Allonby)

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The 44th Power Boat Records Week takes place this November on Coniston Water. We visit the village to delve into its history with power boat racing and the famous Bluebird K7.

Donald Campbell in Bluebird K7 (c. Paul Allonby)Donald Campbell in Bluebird K7 (c. Paul Allonby)

Donald Campbell once said that ‘the name Bluebird passed from one car to another, from track racing to world speed records, from land to water, from father to son.’ Since his death in 1967, Bluebird has now become much more than a name solely associated with the Campbell dynasty but rather the spirit of Coniston and Power Boat Records Week.

This event was launched in 1970, three years after Donald’s tragic death on Coniston Waters. He was attempting to break his world water speed record attempt for the eighth time. However, barely 150 yards from the end of the measured kilometre run Bluebird K7 soared 50 feet into the air before crashing down into the water, killing him instantly.

Since then, thousands of people have travelled to Coniston Waters from all over the world to attempt to break world records.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Donald becoming the first, and so far, the only person to break both the world land speed record and the water speed record in the same year.

A competitor at Power Boat Records WeekA competitor at Power Boat Records Week

‘Originally, Lake Windermere was used to host power boat record attempts but a speed limit cap was introduced in 2005,’ said Phil Johnston, who owns Coppermines and Coniston Lakes Cottages.

‘However, there is an exception to speed limit rule on Coniston Water due to its history with the Campbells and Bluebird which allows people to still compete here.’

Phil, who moved to Coniston 32 years ago from Congleton in Cheshire, has watched many power boat record weeks and his business also sponsors the event.

‘I just wanted to help out. The event adds another week on to the season which is beneficial to us all in the village.


‘In Britain we are all a bit eccentric and if we didn’t have unique events like records week we would be a bit boring. It’s nice to help people achieve greatness.’

Due to Phil’s support of the records week, in 2013 he was elected to join the prestigious K7 club, and was later asked to become its treasurer.

‘The K7 club was formed by Donald for his friends that helped him with the record attempts. It requires a lot of teamwork and volunteers so he used to take them to dinner to say thank you,’ said Phil. ‘When he died, they wanted to continue the club, and now it is open for people to join when they have driven a boat at over 100mph or are a great help to the event.’

As well as being the finale to the season, records week is the only event in the powerboat racing calendar to bring together all classes of boats.

From small hydroplanes to circuit racers and offshore boats, determined entrants take on a stretch of the famous five mile water in the effort to break records.

‘It is poignant,’ added Phil, ‘Many come here just so they can race on the same bit of water as Donald.’

Donald Campbell’s body, along with the remains of the Bluebird K7 wreckage, was not recovered from the water until 2001. The village came together for his funeral, with hundreds of people gathered outside of St Andrew’s church as there was no more space inside.

The wreckage of the craft is now being carefully restored to its former glory by a team of dedicated volunteers headed up by Bill Smith, the diver who identified and salvaged the wreck from the bed of the lake.

‘The Bluebird Project team are based in Newcastle, formed entirely of volunteers,’ said Vicky Slowe, curator of The Ruskin Museum in the centre of Coniston.

‘They aim for the conservation rebuild to be to an operable order and her appearance to be as she was at 8.30am on January 4, 1967.’

Once the boat is rebuilt, she will then trial on Coniston Waters before being installed in the Bluebird Wing of the Ruskin Museum, a specialist section dedicated to the history of the famous craft and Donald Campbell, along with his illustrious father, Malcolm.

‘The conservation rebuild will take as long as it takes,’ said Vicky. ‘The project relies on the commitment of the extremely expert volunteers. The commercial cost would be well over £1million. This is a true labour of love.’

Power Boat Records Week is November 3-7. For more information visit:

While in Coniston

Things to Do

Steam Yacht Gondola tour

Enjoy an unrivalled sailing experience of the famous Coniston Waters in a Victorian steam-powered yacht, restored by the National Trust. Once luxury travel only experienced by wealthy Victorians, ride in style in her opulent saloon or relaxing on the open-air decks.

Coniston Pier, Lake Road, Coniston, Cumbria, LA21 8AN

Tel: 01539 432733,


Supper Club at The Green Housekeeper Café

This café is transformed into a stupendous supper club of a Friday and Saturday evening. Bring your own drinks and enjoy a tasty two or three course meal from the varied, locally sourced menu. Our picks: the kleftico and the sticky toffee pudding. Scrumptious.

16 Yewdale Road, Coniston, Cumbria, LA21 8DU

Tel: 01539 441925,


Coppermines and Coniston Lakes Cottages

With over 80 holiday homes and cottages in the area, you will be spoilt for choice trying to decide. Located on one of the highest roads in Coniston, Old Quarry Cottage has breathtaking views of the village and water, perfect to enjoy while relaxing on the new sun deck.

Coppermines Estate Office, The Bridge, Coniston, Cumbria, LA21 8HJ

Tel: 015394 41765,

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