One of the joys of reading Swallows and Amazons books, for generations of children and adults, has been to discover places that Arthur Ransome featured in his jumbled geography of the Lake District, from Wild Cat Island to Kanchenjunga.

One particularly elusive location is the North Pole, to which the children in ‘Winter Holiday’ made a successful expedition over the frozen lake.

The inspiration for their Arctic adventure was based on Ransome’s own experience as a school boy in 1895 and later in 1928, when Windermere froze from end to end. Although there are various theories about houses and conservatories on the shores of Coniston Water and Windermere, that might have been Ransome’s North Pole, almost none fits the description or location at the head of the lake ….. except for an intriguing tale about the McIver family and a Dodo!

The McIvers were pioneers of steamship services in the 1830s, and subsequently David MacIver, a nephew of the original entrepreneur, established his own shipping company and became MP for Birkenhead and Liverpool. From 1863 he rented Wanlass Howe as a summer retreat, overlooking land that is now Borrans Park at the head of Windermere.

Launched in 1880, Dodo was the name given to a private paddle-steamer built by David MacIver’s Spanish boatman in the stable yard below Wanlass Howe. It sailed on Windermere for 30 years and was called Dodo because paddle-steamers were thought by then to be extinct! Following David MacIver’s death in 1907 Dodo became a houseboat before being broken up after World War I, and its mahogany and glass cabin was salvaged and adapted as a changing room near the beach.

Paul Flint