Posted by: docdenbow | September 9, 2013

My Terror Across The Lake

When I was a kid I wasn’t scared of the dark or the bogeyman. No nothing like that at all.There was fear that I had and it all began on 4 January 1967. It was the day that Donald Campbell died whilst making an attempt at the Water Speed Record. It ended with his Bluebird K7 somersaulting and then cartwheeling down Coniston Water and something like 300 mph. The boat was smashed to pieces and sank almost immediately.

In spite of the efforts of divers from the Royal Navy no trace of Donald’s body was found although what was left of Bluebird was apparently seen. Donald Campbell had died making what some would consider a reckless and foolhardy attempt on a World Record in what was essentially an old, albeit heavily modified, craft. Yet to my nine year old mind there was a nagging question. Something that no adult could answer to put my mind at rest.

It was simply this –

Without a body how could everyone be sure that Donald Campbell was dead? Perhaps he was thrown clear, injured and wandering around with no memory of the accident or of who he was. How could everyone write him off. He was a Boy’s Own hero and I was one of those Boys. I was too young to accept and perhaps understand that a boat taking to the air at an estimated 328 mph would give the driver absolutely no chance of survival. Perhaps I did understand that; yet I refused to accept it. I had dreams/nightmares about this. The dreams were always a variation on the same theme. That theme being me encountering a battered and bruised man in a blue overall with a crash helmet under his arm coming up to me and asking for help. He could be knocking on the door, or interrupting a game of football or flagging me down when I was on my bike. At worst he’d be upstairs in my bedroom or ready to come out of the airing cupboard. The dreams really did bother me, but I knew they were just dreams, but they scared me just the same.

As I got older the Bluebird K7 crash intrigued me and I was always keen to try to discover what exactly caused it to flip. I read magazine articles and got books from the library and read quite a bit about the life of Donald Campbell. There was a suggestion that due to his financial situation Donald was forced into the record attempt in order to earn money from personal appearance and sponsorship deals knowing that the K7 was being pushed to above and beyond what it was designed for. It was obvious to the older me that Donald Campbell was dead and had perished in his cartwheeling craft, yet there was still a lingering doubt.

I theorized as a young teenager that Donald Campbell was alive and the crash was staged with the help of his mechanics. This would allow him to escape his debts and live a new life abroad. Of course that’s absolute unmitigated bollocks as there is no way that the Bluebird drove itself and at 300 mph getting out would be fatal. Of course now the Bluebird K7 has been raised from Coniston Water, and in May 2001 Donald Campbell’s body was found and he was finally thirty four years later given a burial a hero deserves and any lingering doubt that I may encounter a dazed and confused Donald Campbell was finally gone.

Yet, I still wonder why this event had such a deep impact on me. I recall seeing the film of the cartwheeling K7 on the TV at the time on the BBC News. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks, but I’m sure that this was the case. Was it because it was my first encounter with death? I can’t answer that, but what I do know is until that moment death for me was something that only happened to baddies in cowboy films and such like. Death wasn’t real, was it? Perhaps it was the realization that death was real was the reason that the young Denbow was haunted by K7 and Coniston Water.

Ciao For Now,




  1. […] My Terror Across The Lake ( […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: