CONISTON Water was pretty wild when we visited, with waves crashing like a storm-lashed sea.

The rain was hammering down, in that way only Cumbrian rain can, so we sought refuge in the waterside Bluebird Cafe, where photographs on the walls reveal the fateful events of January 4, 1967.

That morning the water was calm and quiet – perfect for Donald Campbell’s attempt to break the world speed record in his Bluebird 7. He’d previously broken the record at Coniston in 1955, and returned to Cumbria’s third largest lake to regain it for an eighth time. He was killed reaching around 300 mph, and the chilling footage can be seen at Coniston’s Ruskin Museum, where part of the Bluebird, salvaged when the jet boat was finally raised from the water in 2001, is on display.

A memorial to Campbell stands in the village, although when we asked a shop assistant where it was she looked blank and consulted a colleague, who wasn’t much wiser.

There is something special about this southern corner of the Lake District. Driving around Lake Windermere, then dropping into Grizedale Forest approaching Coniston from the top, you can’t help but lose your heart to the spectacular landscape and vistas.

We stayed at Crag Cottage, one of the Coppermines properties in the area. Since re-building an old sawmill in the Coppermines Valley in 1989, the company has developed more than 70 cottages, many of them dog-friendly. With log fires, gorgeous views, walks straight from the door and, for added luxury, hot tubs and private lakeside jetties, there’s something for any break, from a romantic retreat to a family adventure.

Nestled in a row of 18th-century quarryman cottages, Crag Cottage stands beneath Yewdale Crag. With an open fire and thick Lakeland stone walls, it was delightfully cosy for our winter break. Perched on the fells, it’s a five-minute walk from the village, but waking up to a splendid view of the Coniston valley, it felt like we were in a hideaway high in the mountains.

Initially serving copper and slate mines, Coniston became popular with tourists in the mid-19th century, thanks to the Furness Railway. With holiday cottages, hotels and two youth hostels, it remains a tourist magnet, particularly popular with hill-walkers and rock climbers, but is refreshingly unspoilt. Although it’s busier in spring and summer, we found it quite low key – there’s not even a cash machine in the village – with a quirky “take us or leave us” charm. Surrounded by beautiful fells and lakes, there are countless walks in and around Coniston, not least Tarn Hows, Furness Fells, Grizedale Forest and the mighty Coniston Old Man, standing over the village like a protective grandfather. For families, the Ravenglass and Eskdale railway – one of the oldest and longest narrow gauge railways in England – offers a fun excursion, along with a rebuilt Victorian steam yacht gondola. And for thrill-seekers, there are off-road adventures behind the wheel of an ex-Army LandRover, as well as gorge scrambling and mountain biking.

There’s a rich cultural heritage too. The adventures in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons unfolded around Coniston Water, and the Monk Coniston estate was owned by Beatrix Potter, whose home, Hill Top, is in nearby Sawrey. Bought in 1905 with proceeds from her first book, the Tale of Peter Rabbit, the cottage and surroundings inspired her tales, and visitors can step into the property pretty much as Beatrix left it. Dove Cottage, home to William Wordsworth.

Heading into the village, we visited the Ruskin Museum, telling the story of Coniston from Stone Age fell-walkers to the speed jet era. Artefacts range from 500-million-year-old rocks to Mavis, the sailing dinghy that inspired the Amazon boat in Swallows and Amazons. The Ruskin Gallery holds an array of photographs, paintings, letters and personal items of Victorian artist and critic John Ruskin, who lived in the area for 30 years and is buried in Coniston churchyard.

Grey clouds circled the skies as we walked to Coniston Water and the heavens opened, as you’d expect in this part of the world. Drying out over coffee in the Bluebird Cafe, we decided it wasn’t the best day to attempt the Coniston Old Man so we retreated to the cottage and its crackling fire.

Behind the cottage is a footpath to Tom Gill, leading to Tarn Hows, a renowned Lakes beauty spot, and we vowed to do some walking on a return visit. But with the rain beating at the window, we made the most of Crag Cottage and its cosy sitting-room, well-stocked with books and DVDs. Another nice touch was the collection of Beatrix Potter books in one of the two bedrooms.

Later, we enjoyed a meal and a pint of Bluebird Bitter at the Black Bull, a 400-year-old coaching inn and home to the Coniston Brewing Company. Standing beside the lively village beck, in the shadow of the ‘Old Man’, it has a large piece of stone known as the Big Toe of the Old Man set in the wall of the lounge. The pub appeared in the film Across the Lake, staring Anthony Hopkins as Donald Campbell. It was a wrench to leave Crag Cottage, but on the way back we stopped at Windermere for lunch at the Lamplighter Dining Rooms, an elegant family-run restaurant and hotel. We chatted over a drink with friendly front-of-house manager James Tasker – whose parents founded the restaurant – who returned to the Lakes after working in London at The Savoy, The Dorchester and Claridge’s.

I started with a bowl of marinated olives followed by sea bass and delicious Cartmel sticky toffee pudding. My partner enjoyed ham hock, chicken, bacon and wild mushroom pie, from the Lamplighter Pie selection, and Eton mess.

Other choices included Lancashire beef suet pudding and drunken bullock pie, black pudding bon-bons and rustic bread with Hawkshead piccalilli, and ‘English Lakes’ ice-cream.

Particularly popular are the Lamplighter’s Sunday lunches, with quality cuts of local meat served whole to the table, allowing diners to carve and serve themselves. Not far from the Lamplighter is Orrest Head, Wainwright’s first ascent which gave him a lifelong love of the fells.

And this is the perfect way to walk off that sticky toffee pudding.