This book is one of the few Swallows and Amazons books that does not feature sailing. The action takes place in late July - early August 1931, on and under High Topps and the fells surrounding the Lake.
Source and dedication
Ransome made use of the mining and prospecting knowledge and experience of his friend, Oscar Gnosspelius, who features in the book as Squashy Hat. The book is dedicated to him. There is also an acknowledgment As usual I have to thank Miss Nancy Blackett for help with the illustrations.
- Swallows: John, Susan, Titty, Roger Walker
- pigeons: Homer, Sophocles, Sappho
- Amazons: Nancy [Ruth], Peggy Blackett
- the Ds Dorothea, Dick Callum
- Molly Blackett
- Slater Bob
- "Squashy Hat" (Timothy Stedding)
- Captain Flint
- Minor characters (those in parentheses are "offstage"): ("Timothy the armadillo"), Mrs Tyson, Robin Tyson, Beckfoot cook M Braithwaite, Colonel Jolys, porter at Strickland Junction station, Mrs Newby (farmer's wife on train), engine-driver & fireman on train, (guard at station), Robert (porter at Rio station), (boy who brings milk to Beckfoot from Low Farm, presumably Jacky Warriner), boatman at Rio pier, Dick Elleray (hire driver), hedgehog, 3 men from Atkinson's farm, farmhand from Tyson's farm
The Swallows, the Amazons and the Ds are camping in the Blackett family's garden at Beckfoot. The Swallow is not available for sailing. James Turner (Captain Flint) has sent word that he is returning from a prospecting expedition to South America and has sent Timothy ahead. They deduce that Timothy is an armadillo and make a box for him, but he does not arrive. Slater Bob, an old slate miner, tells them a story about a lost gold seam in the fells. As Captain Flint has been unsuccessful in his prospecting trip, plans are made to prospect for gold on High Topps instead.
They move camp to Tyson's Farm to be closer to the prospecting grounds but they find this is little improvement as Mrs Tyson does not allow them to cook over a campfire because of the drought conditions and her fear of fires. Titty eventually finds a spring by dowsing and they move to Camp Might Have Been closer to the Topps. To keep in touch with Beckfoot, they send one of the pigeons with a message every day.
The prospectors explore the area and enter several old mine workings. They notice a rival they call Squashy Hat who is also prospecting. After days of prospecting, gold is found at Golden Gulch and they collect enough to melt down into an ingot in a blast furnace. Unfortunately it disappears when the crucible is broken and Dick Callum recalls that gold dissolves in aqua regia(PP30). Captain Flint returns, and explains to Dick that aqua regia will dissolve almost anything. The point about gold is that it won't dissolve in anything else.... and when he studies the dust says .... this looks to me like perfectly good copper pyrites (or copper ore, not gold) (PP33).
But a pigeon (the unreliable Sappho) arrives with an urgent message about fire on the fells. They alert Colonel Jolys' volunteer fire fighters and rush to help save High Topps. The fire is extinguished, Captain Flint is quite satisfied with finding copper: but it's copper we've been trying for. The reddish dirt Timothy found in the crack or veins that he marked with spots of white paint is "gosson" or decomposed ore .... no good in itself but a sign of good stuff lower down (PP35). Dick was very near the truth when he said earlier that if we clear it away we'd find it was all one crack (PP18).
Squashy Hat turns out to be his friend Timothy, who has been too shy to introduce himself at Beckfoot: there were children popping up all over the place .... It was like a school feast (PP35).
Cross-references and chronology
- Mrs Newby says it was two years since when Mr. Turner had his houseboat broke into, And you were here again last winter, when the lake was frozen over (PP1).
- Roger and Titty had seen it (the bay) last in winter, frozen and covered with skaters (PP1).
- Dorothea told them how she and Dick had been turned into able seamen on the Norfolk Broads (referring to Coot Club) (PP2).
- The SADMC took the path up Kanchenjunga to meet Slater Bob following the path of the year before (PP3); referring to Swallowdale.
- Titty had come down with the charcoal-burner the year before, to ride home on the end of a felled tree pulled by three huge horses (PP7).
- Molly recalls when they were children seeing the hills on the other side of the lake ... where you had your igloo last winter ... ablaze. The fire killed every tree for seven miles each way and left three farmhouses burnt out. I don't wonder Mrs. Tyson's nervous (PP17).
- Dick knew what to do just as when they found the cragfast sheep in the winter holidays (PP24).
- It is two years since they went to the little shop to buy grog for the crew (PP27).
Other cross references
- The writing of Peter Duck: There was talk of other holidays .... of stories made up by lantern-light in the cabin of an old wherry in Norfolk (PP14)
- And trout fishing in Swallowdale: of fishing for trout that other summer when the becks had been full of water (PP14)
- Nancy says that Captain Flint didn't like us letting off the firework on the roof of his houseboat (in Swallows and Amazons), but he likes blasting as much as anyone (PP21).
- Winter Holiday: "Signalling from Mars," said Dick. "Do you remember?" (PP22) and Just as when they found the cragfast sheep in the winter holidays (PP24)
Numbers are days (but not actual dates) in late July - early August 1931, names are chapter titles. The action begins in the very first days of the summer school holidays, after a long day's journey from the south (PP1).
2: Consulting Slater Bob • Mrs Blackett Makes Conditions
3: Pioneers and Stay-at-Homes • News From the Wilderness
4: Trek to Tyson's • High Topps • Two Kinds of Camping Places
5: Prospecting • Fending Off the Enemy
6: Pot of Paint • Can't Anybody Dowse
7: Desperation • Titty Makes Up Her Mind To Do It
8: Sinking the Well
9: Shifting Camp
10: The White Spots
11; Roger Alone • What's Become of Him?
12: Staking Their Claim • Crushing and Panning
13: Jack-in-the-Box • Buried Alive • Hurrying Moles • "We've Got to Do It All Ourselves"
14: A Run on Blowpipes
16: Blast Furnace
17: Disaster • Smoke Over High Topps • In the Gulch • At Beckfoot • The Natives • The End
- Nancy reminds Timothy how .... we came and made you and Uncle Jim walk the plank last summer i.e. after the events in PP (PM2).
- The month is mentioned: ... this August of the drought. The month is said to be August, although being the fourth day at the beginning of the school holidays it may still be late July (PP8).
- Captain Flint has been away in South America (River Plate, according to his postcards; and Pernambuco a week before the action starts in the story).
- Bridget has whooping cough--on the day before the story starts, she was only whooping 2 times a day.
- The Swallows have come straight from school--Roger & Titty both had a long day's journey from the south; John and Susan's schools are not so far from the Lake.
- the Ds were not supposed to be there "for ages yet" because Mr Callum was correcting exam papers.
- The entire group including the Swallows are camping in the Beckfoot garden until Mrs Walker comes to Holly Howe, as Mrs Jackson there has got "visitors for the next two weeks" (PP1). So the Swallows ".... won't have Swallow until then" (PP2; implying that Swallow belongs to the Jacksons).
- Beckfoot is being re-decorated--painters, plasterers, paperhangers, etc.
- Susan got a mincing machine for her birthday.
- Roger has been promoted to able-seaman (from ship's boy).
- Mrs Blackett's father and Slater Bob went to Africa together to prospect for gold.
- The Billies or charcoal burners are away at the low end of the Lake this summer.
- Dundale, Ling Scar, High Topps, Grey Screes, Greenbanks are all locations mentioned; Grey Cap, Slate Crop, Brown's Dog, Jimson's, Giftie, and Old Level are all names of mines mentioned.
- Slater Bob says that the old miners (PP35), the first miners in the area were German copper miners in the time of Queen Elizabeth I; Five hundred year people have been working these fells ... There was Queen Elizabeth had her Dutchies here, and a mort o' folk after that (PP3). The first working they find was a very old one, perhaps one of those left by the Germans who came to these lake-country fells and mined copper in the time of Queen Elizabeth (PP10).
- Daddy (Ted Walker) is in China: Titty had finished one letter to Daddy in China (PP23).
- The matches the kids use come in a box with a picture of Noah's Ark on it, unlike the box they find near their mine left by Squashy Hat, which has a red triangle and eye and foreign (Portuguese) wording on it (PP26).
- On Day 17, Mrs Blackett tells Dick that his parents will be at Dixon's on the day after tomorrow; Mrs Walker and Bridget will be staying at Beckfoot for a day or two before going to Holly Howe (PP33).
- Colonel Jolys's telephone number is Fellside 75 (PP33).
- Bicycles or dromedaries play a significant part in the plot.
|Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series|
Swallows and Amazons | 'Their Own Story' | Swallowdale | Peter Duck | Winter Holiday | Coot Club | Pigeon Post | We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea | The Big Six | Secret Water | Missee Lee | The Picts and the Martyrs | 'Coots in the North' | Great Northern?