button to main menu  Old Cumbria Gazetteer
included in:-  

 Derwent Water
floating island, Derwent Water
site name:-   Derwent Water
civil parish:-   Keswick (formerly Cumberland)
county:-   Cumbria
locality type:-   island (sometimes) 
coordinates:-   NY265195 (about) 
1Km square:-   NY2619
10Km square:-   NY21

evidence:-   old text:- Clarke 1787
placename:-  Floating Island
source data:-   Guide book, A Survey of the Lakes of Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire, written and published by James Clarke, Penrith, Cumberland, and in London etc, 1787; published 1787-93.
image CL13P073, button  goto source
Page 73:-  "... opposite Cat-Gill we see the Floating Island."
"This Island has its name, from its sometimes being visible for a few days, and then becoming invisible for many weeks, or even months; at which time it is covered by water to the depth of two fathoms. It is worthy of remark, that the island is never visible unless the water in the lake be high, and then it scarcely appears more than a foot above the surface. This island is about twenty yards in diameter, nearly circular, and slopes gradually from the center to the circumference; and from thence, as far as the eye can distinguish the sloping is more sudden."
"The phaenomena of this island are extremely paradoxical, but may I think admit of a very enforced solution. It never appears but when the Lake is swelled with rain, and at that time a very considerable torrent from the adjacent heights comes pouring down Cat-Gill, where it sinks among the loose stones: the bottom of the Lake in this part is all covered by a very fine, close grass, with remarkable strong matted roots, seemingly the same kind with the calomnus aromaticus, and the island lyes but at a small distance from the shore. All these circumstances I had an opportunity of observing, not only when I took the soundings, but at many other times;"
image CL13P074, button  goto source
Page 74:-  "for I have both stood upon the island and caught fish, and caught them when the boat in which I was lay at anchor over it. Let me now endeavour to solve this paradox: The water which, during a violent rain, pours down the Cat-Gill, seems totally lost. It is, however, evident, that it must disembogue itself into the Lake; I therefore think that this torrent, after running among the loose stones to some distance, endeavours to force its way and mingle with the waters of the Lake; the toughness of the superincumbent turf prevents this from being easily affected; the force and weight of the water, therefore, raises the turf into a convex form, and during the continuance of the torrent gives it the appearance of an island. As a farther confirmation of this hypothesis, I once pierced the surface of the island with my fishing-rod; the grass roots embraced the taper-rod so close, that no water could escape; but upon with drawing it, the water spouted to the height of two feet."

evidence:-   old map:- Clarke 1787 map (Der) 
source data:-   Map, uncoloured engraving, Map of Derwentwater and its Environs, scale about 13 ins to 1 mile, by James Clarke, engraved by S J Neele, published by James Clarke, Penrith, Cumberland and in London etc, 1787.
"Floating Island"
item:-  private collection : 169
Image © see bottom of page

evidence:-   old text:- Gents Mag
source data:-   Magazine, The Gentleman's Magazine or Monthly Intelligencer or Historical Chronicle, published by Edward Cave under the pseudonym Sylvanus Urban, and by other publishers, London, monthly from 1731 to 1922.
image G8051122, button  goto source
Gentleman's Magazine 1805 p.1122  "..."
"Towards the Southern extremity of the Lake is occasionally seen what the guides call a floating island. This phaenomenon, which is peculiar to stormy weather, the Keswick philosophers explain by saying, that a torrent is discharged at this point beneath a turf bank, which swells from greater or less upward pressure, to different degrees of convexity."
"Artificial islets, we are told, float upon the Lakes of Mexico and China; and, however Philosophy may solve the problem in Nature, Poetry, less scrupulous ofher authority, has lately wrought the artificial image with peculiar felicity to the hands of the voyager:"
"We reach'd the shore,
A Floating Islet waited for me there,
The beautiful work of man; I sat my foot
Upon green growing herbs and flowers, and sate
Embower'd in odorous shrubs; four long light boats
Yoked to the garden; with accordant song,
And dip and dash of oars in harmony,
Bore me across the Lake.

evidence:-   old text:- Farington 1816
source data:-   Descriptive text:-  "..."
"Not the least curiosity in this Lake [Derwent Water] is the Floating Island, the existence of which has by many been denied. The reality of its existence, however, has been fully proved by various writers of credibility. The spot where it usually appears is on the southern side of the Lake, nearly opposite to the fall of Lowdore: it is occasionally seen for a few days, and then becomes invisible for many weeks, and even months and years, at which time it is covered with water to the depth of five or six feet. the last appearance of this singular phenomenon was towards the end of spring in the year 1815."
"But however smooth the surface of this beautiful Lake generally appears, its waters are sometimes ag[ ]tated in an extraordinary manner, though without any apparent cause; and, on a perfectly calm day, are seen to swell in high waves, moving from west to east. This singular phenomenon, for which no rational account has hitherto been given, is denominated a Bottom-Wind. The time of its duration is various: sometimes the swell continues for an hour or two only; at others it will last for nearly a whole day, though scarcely a breath of air is felt in the vicinity of the Lake. The bottom-wind usually prevails a day or two previous to a storm: and during its continuance it is that the floating island rises to the surface. One feature peculiar to Derwentwater is, that, from its breadth being so considerable a proportion to its length, it nearly retains its form, from whatever point it may be viewed, never assuming the appearance of a river."
item:-  Armitt Library : A6666.15
Image © see bottom of page

evidence:-   descriptive text:- Otley 1823 (5th edn 1834) 
item:-  flowerLittorella lacustrisLobelia dortmannaIsoetes lacustris
source data:-   Guide book, A Concise Description of the English Lakes, the mountains in their vicinity, and the roads by which they may be visited, with remarks on the mineralogy and geology of the district, by Jonathan Otley, published by the author, Keswick, Cumberland now Cumbria, by J Richardson, London, and by Arthur Foster, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, 1823; published 1823-49, latterly as the Descriptive Guide to the English Lakes.
image OT01P018, button  goto source
Page 18:-  "..."
"Besides ... permanent islands, an occasional one is sometimes observed, called the Floating Island: being a piece of earth, which at uncertain intervals of time rises from the bottom to the surface of the lake [Derwent Water]; but still adhering by its sides to the adjacent earth, is never removed from its place."
image OT01P019, button  goto source
Page 19:-  "Within the last thirty years it has emerged eight times; remaining upon the surface for longer or shorter periods. In a succeeding part of this work the discussion of this subject will be resumed at greater length."
image OT01P171, button  goto source
"THE existence of this phenomenon has been doubted by some persons; while others, admitting the fact, have contended that the term Floating Island was improperly applied to this subject, as it never changes its situation - being still attached by its sides to the adjacent earth under water. Its occasional appearance, however, is ascertained beyond a doubt; and Floating Island being the name by which it has always been known, there can be no manifest impropriety in retaining the appellation."
"It is situated in the south-east corner of the lake, not far from Lowdore, about 150 yards from the shore, where the depth of the water does not exceed six feet in a mean state of the lake. It has been said to make its appearance once in seven years, but this is quite uncertain; it generally rises after an interval of a few years, and towards the conclusion of a warm summer. Its figure and dimensions are variable; it has sometimes contained about half an acre of ground, at other times only a few perches: but extending in a gradual slope under water, a"
image OT01P172, button  goto source
Page 172:-  "much greater portion is raised from the bottom than reaches the surface of the lake. Several large rents or cracks may be seen in the earth about the place, which appear to have been occasioned by its stretching to reach the surface. It never rises far above the level of the lake; but having once attained the surface, it for a time, fluctuates with the rise and fall of the water; after which it sinks gradually. When at rest in the bottom of the lake it has the same appearance as the neighbouring parts, being covered with the same vegetation, consisting principally of Littorella lacustris, interspersed with Lobelia dortmanna, Isoetes lacustris, and other plants common in this and all the neighbouring lakes: after remaining some time above the water its verdure is much improved. For a few inches in depth it is composed of a clayey or earthy matter, apparently deposited by the water, in which the growing plants have fixed their roots; the rest is a congeries of decayed vegetable matter forming a stratum of loose peat earth about six feet in thickness; which rises from a bed of very fine soft clay. A considerable quantity of air is contained in the body of the island, and may be dislodged by probing the earth with a pole. This air has been found by Dr. Dalton to consist of equal parts of carburetted hydrogen and azotic gasses, with a little carbonic acid."
"For the last quarter of a century the times of its appearance have been as follows. In 1808 from the 20th July to the beginning of October; in 1813"
image OT01P173, button  goto source
Page 173:-  "from the 7th September to the end of October; in 1815 from the 5th to the end of August; in 1819 from the 14th August to the end of that month; in 1824 from 21st June to the end of September; in 1825 it was above water from the 9th to the 23rd of September; and in 1826 from the 11th July to the end of September: the uncommon circumstance of its appearing in three successive years may be attributed to the extraordinary warmth of the seasons. It rose above water again on the 10th June 1831 and remained uncovered till the 19th July."
"It would be tedious to investigate every hypothesis which has from time to time been put forth to account for this phenomenon - with the arguments for and against each - some assuming water, others air, as the chief agent in its production."
"A small mountain stream which pours down a rock opposite the place, and runs underground before it reaches the lake, has been employed in various ways to account for its rising; and many a supposition has been advanced, of the way in which air might be conveyed or generated underneath it."
"On material circumstance has however generally escaped observation: namely, that the air to which the rising of this island has been attributed, is not collected in a body underneath it; but interspersed through the whole mass: not causing it to float 'as a reversed saucer would in a bowl of water;' but by enlarging its bulk, and thereby diminishing its specific gravity. And the most probable con-"
image OT01P174, button  goto source
Page 174:-  "[con]clusion seems to be, that air or gas is generated in the body of the island by decomposition of the vegetable matter of which it is formed; and this gas being produced most copiously, as well as being more rarified in hot weather, the earth at length becomes so much distended therewith, as to render the mass of less weight than an equal bulk of water. The water then insinuating itself between the substratum of clay and the peat earth forming the island, bears it to the surface, where it continues for a time; till, partly by escape of the gas, partly by its absorption, and partly by its condensation consequent on a decrease of heat, the volume is reduced; and the earth gradually sinks to its former level, where it remains till a sufficient accumulation of gas again renders it buoyant."
"But as the vegetable matter of which the island is principally composed, appears to have been amassed at a remote period, when the lake was of less depth than at present, receiving very little addition from the decay of plants recently grown upon the spot; it is reasonable to suppose that the process furnishing the gas cannot from the same materials be continued ad infinitum: but that there must be a time when it shall have arrived at its maximum: after which the eruptions will become less extensive or less frequent."

evidence:-   descriptive text:- Ford 1839 (3rd edn 1843) 
source data:-   Guide book, A Description of Scenery in the Lake District, by Rev William Ford, published by Charles Thurnam, Carlisle, by W Edwards, 12 Ave Maria Lane, Charles Tilt, Fleet Street, William Smith, 113 Fleet Street, London, by Currie and Bowman, Newcastle, by Bancks and Co, Manchester, by Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh, and by Sinclair, Dumfries, 1839.
image FD01P054, button  goto source
Page 54:-  "... Of the Floating Island, or rather rising and sinking Island, the account given by Mr. Otley is perhaps best and most plausible; as an object of interest, however, it is worth nothing to the tourist."

evidence:-   old text:- Martineau 1855
source data:-   Guide book, A Complete Guide to the English Lakes, by Harriet Martineau, published by John Garnett, Windermere, Westmorland, and by Whittaker and Co, London, 1855; published 1855-76.
image MNU1P075, button  goto source
Page 75:-  "... The Floating Island, whose appearance is announced in the newspapers at intervals of a few years, has obtained more celebrity than it deserves. It is a mass of soil and decayed vegetation, which rises when distended with gases, and sinks again when it has parted with them at the surface. Such is the explanation given by philosophers of this piece of natural magic, which has excited so much sensation during successive generations. Sometimes it comes up a mere patch, and sometimes measuring as much as an acre."

The island was 25 x 88 yards when it rose in 1815, the largest ever recorded.
It rose and stayed up for more than 14 weeks in 1831.

button to lakes menu  Lakes Guides menu.