The Steam Yacht Gondola was built 1859 by the Furness Railway Company as a tourist attraction. Sir James Ramsden, director of the railway had been to Venice in 1850, and had travelled on the large wooden barges (burchiello) used to carry wealthy tourists. He recognised an opportunity to link a pleasure cruise to the Coniston railway line and was wanting something a bit different to the steamers found on nearby Windermere.
The Steam Yacht Gondola incorporated a state-of-the-art boiler and engine borrowed from railway locomotive technology and one of the new screw propellers as adopted by Brunel for the SS Great Britain. The hull was made from mild steel. It was designed to carry 200 passengers in a luxurious 1st class saloon with outside seating fore and aft.
The Illustrated London News described it as “ the most elegant little steam vessel yet designed, and is especially suitable for pleasure excursions on lake or river.” The Gondola was an immediate hit and the visitors arrived in droves.
The Gondola was ‘retired’ in 1936 and used as houseboat (Captain Flint’s houseboat in Swallows and Amazons was inspired by this, before being abandoned in the 1960 and sunk. The National Trust raised enough money to restore her in 1970s, when she was given a new hull, engine, boiler and most of the super structure was replaced. She began to carry tourists again in 1980 and is the oldest steam yacht in the North of England. She is no longer coal fuelled but burns logs made from compressed sawdust.
The Gondola now runs “cruises”:https://nt.global.ssl.fastly.net/steam-yacht-gondola/documents/steam-yacht-gondola-2021-timetable-and-information.pdf along the lake stopping at some of the small jetties at request.
I did the cruise in July and we travelled anticlockwise south along the lake. It was asunny day and there was hardly a ripple on the water. I was lucky and managed to get one iof the few outside seats. There were about 40 passengers and the boat felt comfortably full. It must have been really crowded in its heyday with 200 passengers.
The cruise passes the house lived in by Arthur Ransome and Peel Island, which was used as Wild Cat Island in the Swallow’s and Amazon Books.
“Brantwood,”:https://nt.global.ssl.fastly.net/steam-yacht-gondola/documents/steam-yacht-gondola-2021-timetable-and-information.pdf home of John Ruskin is hidden in the trees. It is now a museum dedicated to Ruskin and has extensive gardens as well as a restaurant and craft shop. It is a popular wedding venue.
The Gondola was built in the days before DDA and is not wheelchair friendly. There are steps down into the Gondola and restricted space once on.