Art competition for Lake District schools

CHILDREN in South Lakes schools are being given the chance to paint or draw their way into literary history with a new competition.

The Burn How Garden House Hotel at Bowness is asking youngsters to paint or draw their own vision of the characters from the children’s classic Swallows and Amazons, still a favourite more than 90 years after it was published.

The story, along with several sequels, was set in and around the Windermere area by the author Arthur Ransome and features two families of children who are allowed to sail to an island in a lake and camp there.

The Burn How team are organising a special weekend for fans of Swallows and Amazons, with tours of locations thought to be the settings in the book. Guests will also be taken to the Old Laundry Theatre at Bowness where a new stage production of another of Ransome’s books, Winter Holiday, is being performed.

“We know that every generation brings new fans to read the stories that Ransome set here in the Lakes,” said hotel proprietor Michael Robinson. “Here where we are based, Bowness is referred to as Rio by the characters in the books, and when a film version was made, locations here and at Coniston were chosen.

Bowness Bay

“So we decided to see how today’s children picture the Swallows and the Amazons in their adventures on the lake and on the island.”

Paintings or drawings  should be delivered to the hotel no later than Friday March 3, when guests will arrive for the special weekend. Each should be clearly marked with the child’s name, age and school, and a prize – a giant Easter egg and a book token – will be awarded to the best one. The competition is open to all pupils in South Lakes primary and secondary schools.

Meanwhile, a marathon reading of another Ransome book featuring the Swallows and the Amazons, Swallowdale, will take place at the Windermere Jetty Museum on the weekend of June 24/25.

Further information:

For more information about the contest, please call Nicolle Evans at the Burn How Hotel, 015394 46226


The real meaning of escape to the Lakes

Getting back in touch with nature is the theme of a new series of well-being breaks at a luxury Lake District hotel.

The Burn How Garden House Hotel at Bowness is offering a complete escape from routine and stress with the short holidays which can include forest bathing and lake swimming.

Guests can also choose to try Pilates or yoga, have a massage, hire a bike, take a guided walk …or just sit in the garden and do nothing for a few days.

“When visitors come for just a few days, they don’t always have the time to find out what’s available if they want to be pampered or take some exercise,” says proprietor Michael Robinson.

“We have wonderful hills to walk in, and we are the nearest independent hotel to Bowness pier, from where you can explore Windermere, England’s largest lake, by boat. But today, guests want something more, and something different, and that’s where we can help.”

The hotel is set in beautiful grounds, surrounded by mature trees, and most of the accommodation is in garden rooms, each with its own outside space or balcony. In the main building is the breakfast dining room, a well stocked bar, and comfortable lounge areas where guests are offered complimentary tea or coffee and cake every afternoon.

It’s also just a few minutes’ walk into the centre of Bowness where there are now more than 50 restaurants to choose from for dinner.

The team works with experts who can take visitors on local walks, or go swimming in Windermere or Rydal, or hire a bike to explore the bridleways and quieter roads. Pilates and yoga teachers will arrange sessions on request, and there’s the chance to book a luxury massage in the comfort of your own suite with therapist Penny Irvine.*

“The Lake District is a very special place, and here at the Burn How  our guests enjoy a very special experience,” says Michael. “It’s a unique opportunity to enjoy peace and tranquility in the heart of this tourist hot-spot in the most beautiful corner of England, close to the landing stage for cruises on the lake, close to cafes and bars, and the town’s individual shops, but set apart in its own lovely, private grounds and our prize-winning gardens.”

*Penny Irvine holds a VTCT  qualification in Swedish Massage and Sports Massage Therapy, and also offers No Hands Massage.   She is fully insured with the FHT (Federation  of Holistic Therapists. Treatments Include:

  • Swedish Massage: Back Neck and shoulders/full body massage
  • Deep Tissue Massage – aimed at the deeper tissues of the muscles
  • Aromatherapy Massage – blending essential oils to suit the client
  • Sports Massage Therapy

For more information:

All aboard for Swallows and Amazons weekend in the Lakes

A SPECIAL weekend dedicated to the Swallows and Amazons world of Arthur Ransome is to be staged in Bowness this spring.

The Burn How Garden House Hotel will welcome fans of the timeless classic children’s stories written by Ransome and set in the Lake District.

Visitors for the weekend will be taken on a bus tour of some of the sites on which Ransome based his locations in the stories. This will take them past Wild Cat Island, otherwise known as Coniston’s Peel Island, and the farmhouse which was the model for Holly Howe in the novels, as well as glimpses of the ‘North Pole’ and ‘Kangchenjunga’.

The hotel has also arranged for visitors to attend a new stage production of Ransome’s Winter Holiday, which is being performed that weekend at the Old Laundry Theatre in Bowness.

Swallows and Amazons Boathouse, Coniston

“We know that the stories are still very popular with new generations of readers,” said hotel proprietor Michael Robinson. “We are based in the heart of Bowness which was re-named ‘Rio’ by the children in the books. And we have experts who will lead the guided tour around our lovely Lake District which was Ransome’s inspiration.”

First published in 1930, Swallows and Amazons tells of two families of children who sail to an island in a lake and have many adventures. It was followed by others set in the Lakes: Swallowdale, Pigeon Post, Winter Holiday, and The Picts and the Martyrs. The first story has been made into a film (twice), a TV series, and there have been stage and musical productions.

More details and booking:

The hottest challenge on the Lakeland fells this winter

THE record has been tumbling this month for a fell-running challenge based at a Lake District hostel.

The route known as 23 Before Tea starts and finishes at the Elterwater Independent Hostel and already this month there have been at least six attempts, with the record falling  twice in three days.

Taking in 23 of the Wainwright fell-tops, the route has 4109m (13,481ft) of climbing in the 56k/35 miles.

First completed in 2020, the record stood at 11 hours 23 minutes, set by Pete Faulkner in October, until Sunday (Dec 11) when Penrith’s Jack Oliver ran round in 10hrs10 mins. “I just fancied a long day in the mountains to see if all my training was paying off. This ticked the boxes,” he said.

Jack Oliver

Three days later on Dec 14, that record was smashed when Kendal’s Josh Wade galloped round in 7hrs 43. “It was the best day out in the Lakes ever,” he said at the finish. “Conditions and visibility were perfect. There were 35mph winds forecast, but it was only about 15.” The temperature on the summits was around minus 6C, but the ground was frozen solid so there were no bogs to negotiate. Josh also included a rock climb up Middlefell Buttress as the shortest way to the summit of Loft Crag in the Langdale Pikes;  the challenge lets runners chart their own path between the peaks.

Josh Wade

A day later (Dec 15)  Ambleside’s Gavin Dale made an attempt on the record, and finished in an amazing 8hrs 28: “Had a great first half but ran out of food and suffered massively in the second half, pace went out the window. Most importantly – a beautiful day out in sublime surroundings.”

Meanwhile, on Dec 2, Angela Wilson and her husband Paul established what was to be a short-lived winter record of 11hrs 52, with Angela becoming the first woman to complete. Just four days later, Carol Morgan running with Steve Rhodes bettered that by four minutes (11hrs 48).

Angela Wilson, first woman to complete the round

The challenge developed in the aftermath of Paul Tierney’s record-breaking run around all 214 Wainwright tops in 2019, and hostel owner Christine Thomas wondered how they might pay tribute to his achievement. A friend who was a member of Paul’s support team, Eileen Jones, had a large scale map of his entire route on her wall. “Eileen took a close-up photo of the map, with Elterwater at its centre, and then counted the number of summits within the frame of that picture. There were 23.”

Christine’s son Adrian then made the first attempt at completing all 23 within a day, but injury proved a barrier – along with the fact that those particular 23 involved four valley-floor-to-summit ascents and descents. The route was then modified by Dave Cumins, known to everyone in the running world as Little Dave. An altered and more efficient route, with a slightly different list of 23 tops, was researched during 2020 when Dave couldn’t get to the Lakes (he lives in Brighton). He and James Harris tested that route in September 2020, and got back in time for a rather late tea in 14 hours 50. “I’m not the fastest of runners, and I didn’t have the distance, or the climbing, in my legs after a six-month lay-off from the mountains. But I did reckon decent Lakes runners could do it in eight hours.”

Lakeland sunset, pic by Jack Oliver

The route has been modified again since, with some fells taken off the list and others added, to create a more coherent circuit. “We’re thrilled that this is taking off now,” Christine said. “Everyone who has a go tells us what a terrific route it is. It took a little while to capture the imagination of the running world, but now it’s really exciting to see so many enjoying it.”

Josh Wade, who is also an experienced rock climber, was this year’s winner of the 100k Ultra Trail Snowdonia race, and was first in the 100 mile Spine Challenger event. He has raced throughout Europe including the Ultra Tour of Mont Blanc, and the 100k La Palma island ultra-marathon.

The hostel team also hope that walkers and “mere mortal” runners might tackle the route over two days, two slices of cake, as Christine calls it.

The leader board at the moment looks like this:

Josh Wade: 7hrs 44 (winter)

Gavin Dale: 8hyrs 28 (winter)

Jack Oliver: 10hrs 10 (winter)

Pete Faulkner: 11hrs 23

Carol Morgan and Steve Rhodes (winter) 11hrs 48

Paul and Angela Wilson (winter round) 11hrs 52

Richard Bolton: 12hrs 18

Paul Wilson: 12hrs 41

Little Dave Cumins and James Harris: 14hrs 50

Walking on Christmas Day for Maggie’s Manchester

Three Northern blokes are pulling on their walking boots this Christmas Day to raise funds for Maggie’s Manchester – and they’d like you to join them.

Colin, Dan and Gabe are a Dad and Sons combo who like to be in the great outdoors whenever possible – and particularly on a day when the alternative might involve a turkey, some cracker-pulling and possibly standing-to-attention for a King’s Speech.

The trio are heading to Malham in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales on December 25 and are hoping that lots of people will join them on their walk,  and help raise funds for Maggie’s.

Maggie’s offers the best possible support free to anyone with cancer, and their families, who walk through their doors. Their amazing centres are based alongside NHS hospitals and they also support online.

On our patch we are very lucky to have Maggie’s Centres in Manchester, Newcastle, Oldham, Wirral and Yorkshire. The support that teams at each of these centres provide for anyone experiencing cancer is second-to-none. But Maggie’s does so much more, and they do it in a way that has had a positive impact on many thousands of lives.

Colin said : “This time of year of year can be wonderful, but it can also be difficult for lots of people. We’re aware that if you don’t have a network of friends or family,  a Christmas Day alone, watching TV might not be appealing, so we’re ready to welcome anyone to get outdoors with us. Absolutely anyone: single people, families, groups – and if you don’t celebrate Christmas, that’s cool too.”

At this stage the boys don’t want to put an upper limit on numbers, so  there is definitely a place for you. Led by an experienced Mountain Leader and with lots of stops for seasonal foodstuffs (but no turkey) you can be part of something very special and toast Christmas in limestone country with the trio’s famous Mag North Boozy Hot Chocolate.

Gabe explained why they’d chosen the location: “We love Malham, and it’s right in the heart of the country,  about an hour-and-a-half from York and the same from Manchester. Malhamdale has some of the most amazing scenery in the North, and our walk is set to take in special places like Janet’s Foss, Gordale Scar and Malham Cove.”

The planned circular route is 6km, but there is also an option to take part in a shorter 3.5km route if preferred. Both walks start and finish at the National Park Centre in the village. 

So: if you’re keen to do something different this Christmas Day – and you love being outdoors – this could be just the thing for you. To enjoy The Maggie’s Christmas Day Bimble, a suggested donation of £20 (made via Just Giving) will secure your place and provide you with all the seasonal snacks and hot chocolate you can manage – together with a Tote bag of goodies at the end which holds a Maggie’s T Shirt, even more food and some extra treats to say a big THANK YOU.

Email to Walk The Walk for Maggie’s this Christmas Day and still get home in time for the Strictly Christmas Special.

For further information please email or contact them on Twitter @magnorthmag or Instagram @magnorthmag.

Murder on the Lakeland fells

WHEN there’s a murder on the Lakeland fells, guests at a Lake District hotel  will be stepping in to solve it. But this isn’t the plot of a new thriller. And there are no actors or ilm cameras involved.

Guests at the Rydal Lodge County House B&B near Ambleside will be taking part in an action-packed murder mystery weekend, and they  will be playing character parts for the entire weekend until the murderer is revealed on the Sunday.

Helena Tendall, who runs Rydal Lodge with husband Mark, has created the themed weekends with a gruesome plot where the  fictional owner of a Bowness guest house is found dead in a septic tank.

Rydal cave: could this be the murderer’s hideout?

“No one is above suspicion as dark secrets emerge,” says Helena. “Illicit affairs, fraud, suspect sausages, plots for revenge and drug addiction are all intertwined in the life and death of our victim.”

It’s an elaborate plot in the Weekend to Die For, but Helena has form; she used to run a business called To Die For…Murder Mystery, writing her own plots, and providing every guest with a separate booklet with their script for each scene.

A member of Ambleside Players and a woman of great imagination, Helena’s previous “murders” have included entire days with ramblers searching for clues in the countryside, a poisonous blowfish dropped into a coffee cup, words written in blood on the floor, riddles that provide clues, and a top chef imprisoned for poisoning wedding guests at the Ritz.

The garden at Rydal Lodge

This time, along with clue hunts in the countryside around Rydal, there will also be a pub lunch included, a wine tasting game on arrival, and dinner at Rydal Lodge during which subsequent acts will be revealed,

“It’s great escapist fun, and we have a fantastic location here for our guests to do some sleuthing in the countryside,” says Helena.

For details of the next themed weekend see

Furniture star Tom’s work goes global

A START-UP fine furniture  business that makes hand crafted wooden and silk boxes inspired by the wonders of the dark skies, currently being celebrated in the Yorkshire Dales, has had a stellar first year.

Talented Tom Addison has had a meteoric first 12 months creating furniture in the workshop attached to his home, near Askrigg, and footage of him at work on the Buckden boxes has had an astronomical 2.8 million views and more than 56,000 ‘likes’ on his Instagram platform @tomaddisonfinefurniture.

The number of online followers he has got since launching in August 2021 has gone into orbit after he shared clips of himself showcasing his carpentry and chiselling skills and Tom his over the moon about the interest being shown in his fledgling business from across the globe. His work is regularly seen by more than 30,000 online followers in the USA, Asia and Europe.

For the popular Buckden box Tom took inspiration from the inky night sky and some of the awesome heavenly events he can see from his Wensleydale home on a clear night. He has collaborated on the keep safe box with textile designer Rachel Stirr of Bernie & Blue.

Tom and Rachel with the Buckden boxes

The luxury handcrafted boxes that will light up any home feature a shooting star design on the lid. The silk interior is inspired by the aurora borealis and some of the natural forms, textures and patterns that can be seen from outer space along with polished solid brass fittings.

Tom, a father-of-two and a former English fell running champion, said it was crazy to think how many people had viewed him at work in his humble workshop. Another video of him hand-planing the curved surface on the pedestals of a one-of-a-kind dining table with benches has been viewed by 3.8 million people and had 45,000 likes. The table has been delivered to a client who lives in central London.

He said commissioning bespoke handcrafted furniture can be expensive and he wanted to share videos of the intricate working processes that goes into creating unique pieces that have also been inspired by the landscape surrounding his home.

”It is great to know that people worldwide enjoy watching these traditional methods in practice,” said Tom, who learnt his trade at the prestigious Peter Hall & Sons workshop in the Lake District village of Staveley.

”I am so fortunate to live and work in the Dales. I think most natural and man-made landscapes can inspire fresh contemporary pieces of furniture. It is a pleasure to work with customers to bring in recognisable features into their very own pieces such as the Ribblesdale Desk and the Barbican Dining Table. It brings so much joy and memories to my clients which means a such a lot to me as a furniture designer and maker.”

The Buckden box collection are available for pre order at and 

The Yorkshire Dales National Parks’ Fringe Dark Skies Festival runs 21-30 October 2022. 


The swimming doctor’s invitation to her book launch

A doctor who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the start of the Covid pandemic is launching her book about the experience.

The event will take place at Kendal Library on Saturday November 12, starting at 10 am, and Marisa hopes that all those affected by cancer in some way will call in for a chat.

Marisa, who lives at Natland,  is a consultant psychiatrist for older people, and runs the psychiatry programme for medical students at Lancaster Medical School.

But she’s also an open water swimmer, climber, runner and adventurer – along with being the author of a truly uplifting and occasionally very funny book.

Marisa swimming in Angle Tarn

Marisa documented the ups and downs of her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer during the Covid pandemic initially in a blog, before publishing the whole story in Cancer, Covid and  Me.

“In April 2020 doctors revealed I had breast cancer, just two weeks after the Government initiated a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus,” she says.

“I was told that I would need mastectomy surgery but this was delayed indefinitely due to the pandemic.  I was going into work with the knowledge that I had cancer growing in my breast which was a very difficult and stressful thing to have hanging over me.”

At Sam Read’s bookshop in Grasmere

Marisa eventually had her surgery later that year. She says that writing gave her a focus at a time when she was not only feeling poorly but was also denied access to her beloved Lake District mountains, due to pandemic restrictions.

She decided to publish the book in the hope that it will provide inspiration and insight for others.

“I hope that reading my book might help some women, their loved ones and maybe even their doctors, to realise that they are not alone and to laugh and cry with me over the horrors and the funny bits of having breast cancer. I also hope it’s informative on what to expect post-mastectomy with immediate implant reconstruction and the mental processes we go through as survivors.”

Marisa is donating a percentage of the sales to CancerCare which supported her with counselling during her treatment and Breast Cancer Now.

“I can’t speak highly enough of CancerCare. Just having that listening ear and someone to tell you that it is completely normal to feel the way you are feeling really helped during my treatment,” she said.

Everyone is welcome to come along to the library, where Marisa will be signing copies of the book, but will also be happy to chat with anyone affected by cancer. Or anyone who shares her passion for the outdoors!

The event is at Kendal Library (Stricklandgate, Kendal, Cumbria, LA9 4PY) from 10-12 on Saturday November 12. All welcome.

Addicted to gambling

This week families who lost loved ones through gambling addiction took part in a protest march from Manchester to Liverpool via the cities’ famous football clubs to demand reform of the industry.

Journalist Lewis Finney, who works for the Bolton News, became so concerned about the problems of gambling in sport that he dedicated a masters degree thesis to the subject. Lewis, a Leeds Utd supporter, who did an MA in Multimedia Journalism at Manchester Metropolitan University, created a podcast which made the top twenty in the football world. He explains why it matters and what’s at stake.

Lewis Finney

DID you know that, in the UK, 86 per cent of online betting profit comes from five per cent of customers? We call this minority ‘problem gamblers’.

Did you know that there are over 400 gambling-related suicides every year nationwide, the equivalent of over one every day?

Did you know that there are over 55,000 children in this country that are addicted to gambling?

Did you know that the Government pledged as part of their manifesto for the 2019 General Election to review the 2005 Gambling Act, with a major focus on sponsorship and advertisement within sport – specifically football?

Did you know that in the last couple of weeks as I’m writing this in early July 2022, there are now rumblings that Tory ministers are looking to dial back on how the reviewed Gambling Act will look?

I’m not a problem gambler, and I never have been. I place the odd bet on the football and have been known to go to the races and flutter some money away in the name of enjoyment. I have no issue with gambling as a concept.

I entered, and became sensitive to, the debate around the reform and re-regulation of the gambling industry for a somewhat selfish reason. In early 2020 I was searching for a topic for my dissertation project for my Masters in Multimedia Journalism – a podcast I eventually published under the name ‘Gambling and Football – A Complicated Relationship’.

Sport was my obvious go-to – football has been a part of my daily life for as long as I can remember. Scrolling through Twitter one day, I noticed a report by the excellent Martyn Ziegler at The Times – ‘The biggest shake-up of gambling laws in Britain for 15 years could lead to restrictions of football clubs’ shirts carrying the names of betting companies’.


Gambling adverts in sport had been bothering me for years. Mostly because I found them annoying – interrupting every possible gap in a broadcast that did not contain people kicking a ball. And then when you start to look closer, even the kicking part is one huge advert. The rapid growth and insidious strengthening of the relationship between my beloved football and betting companies has been all to evident and noticeable for someone who grew up and gained a social consciousness during, and in the aftermath of, Tony Blair’s government – the less said about that administration the better, but it was they who deregulated the gambling industry, ultimately allowing it reach the point we are at now, with the gambling being ubiquitous within the game. You cannot separate one from the other.

Betting firms sponsor matchday shirts, training gear, stadiums and leagues. They advertise on television and radio broadcasts, on podcasts and social media, throughout stadiums and on pitch-side advertising hoardings, on post-match interview walls and in matchday programmes, on websites and on billboards. If you engage with football in any way, shape or form, there is quite literally no escape from the greedy, tempting arms of the gambling industry.

Now think for a moment – imagine, if you can, that you are addicted to an illicit drug. Let’s say heroin. Imagine your every waking thought is about how you can find your fix for that day. Imagine the dangerous and illegal lengths you might have to go through to get that sweet release that allows you to hold your demons at bay for a short while. Now imagine that heroin is not only legal, but it is readily available in your pocket, and you are actively encouraged to take it at every available opportunity. What do you think you would do? Because I’m pretty sure I’d be chasing that dragon.

While researching for the podcast, I spoke to various former problem gamblers, and this is the picture they painted. They call it the invisible addiction. There are no noticeable symptoms. No tell-tale signs that someone is suffering, and it’s extremely easy to hide it from even your closest friends and family. There is also a lot of shame attached to gambling addiction, which something that young men – the dominant demographic affected by this issue – often struggle to deal with. Thankfully, this sort of stigma is beginning to be addressed, but there is still much work to be done.

The more I researched and the more people I spoke to connected with both industries, the more I understood just how unfair it is. Not on me. Not on the vast majority of football fans. Not even on the vast majority of bettors. But on that 5 per cent, where the vast majority of the money is being made. The people who are borrowing money they cannot afford to pay back to fund their habit. The ones who, despite deciding to self-exclude themselves from betting apps, are still getting emails tempting them back in with a free bet. The ones who cannot simply switch on the game they love for a bit of escape from whatever stresses they have in their lives without being accosted by the gluttonous gambling gods.

I haven’t even mentioned children yet. A 2019 study found that just under half of young people (46 per cent) were able, unprompted, to name at least one gambling brand. I can use myself as a case study. My club, Leeds United, have had a succession of betting sponsors – previously 32Red, a name that most football fans and bettors in the Britain will recognise, and in the last few years SBOTOP, a gambling company that operates predominantly in Asia and is not even active in the UK – there’s a huge debate with regards to this there but that is for another time. Back when I was a child, Leeds’ shirts were sponsored by Strongbow cider, and subsequently by Whyte and Mackay whisky. I have a distinct memory of asking my parents what Whyte & Mackay was, and despite never touching a drop of Whyte & Mackay in my life, as far back as I can remember I could have told you that it was whisky, before I even really knew what whisky was.

There are some meagre attempts to protect children these days. If fans of football teams with betting companies sponsoring their playing shirts buy one in a child’s size it will display a different, non-betting sponsor. Forgetting for a second that a child wearing a shirt different to the adult version being worn by their immediate role models will likely feel othered and long for the betting clad variety, they will still be seeing all the same pushy advertising that everyone else sees on match day in stadiums or on the telly. They are being taught that betting and football are one.

My podcast goes into detail about the financial side of the relationship. The initial question I was attempting to answer was whether lower league clubs, specifically those in the Championship – at the time 17 of the 24 clubs in the league had their shirts sponsored by and gambling firm, in a league sponsored by a gambling firm – would be able to survive without the money from advertising and sponsorship from the gambling industry. Here’s a spoiler – they would survive. Many people are addicted to cigarettes. Some are addicted to alcohol. There once was a time that these industries ruled the advertising space within sports. Where are they now? That’s right, they have been banned. And guess what? Football clubs in England are richer than ever, mostly.

I don’t want get into the complex world of football finance, however, because this is about people – and you get that by listening to the podcast. When  Blair’s government came up with the legislation for the Gambling Act in 2005, they did so with the intention of making lots of money, pure and simple. However, that legislation was put in place with an eye on safety, and they had three aims – (1) to prevent gambling from becoming a source of crime and disorder, (2) to ensure gambling was being conducted fairly and openly, and (3) to protect children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited.

Although the government did not make the sums of money it may have liked seen as the majority of these gambling companies are based in tax havens like Malta and Gibraltar, those first two points can be considered a success. There is very little crime associate with gambling, and gambling is being conducted fairly and openly.

That final point though, the one about protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited. Well, it’s been an unmitigated failure.

With the announcement of the Gambling Act due imminently, and with reports suggesting that the overhaul that so many are calling for will not cut the mustard, I hope the above has reached at least one person as in love with football as I am and has helped them to re-evaluate the relationship between gambling and football.

The holy grail of parkruns

Off the southern tip of the Beara Peninsula in south west Cork, there’s an island called Bere. Eileen Jones went there to run her 300th parkrun

If you’re not captivated by the notion of a parkrun on a tiny island of the southern coast of Ireland, there’s no romance in your soul.

I’d never heard of Bere until late autumn in 2019, after the parkrun at Cliffe Castle in Keighley, when we were chatting to a woman who’d spent the summer touring Ireland in her campervan. Bere, she said, was her favourite, and having a fair sprinkling of romance in MY soul, I was hooked. I’m going there next summer, I vowed.

Only there was no next summer, nor the summer after, and sometimes I wondered if Bere was a dream, a mirage. But the urge grew ever stronger, and when I mentioned my quest, my holy grail, to my friend Eithne, she insisted on coming along. Not for the parkrun, but to trace her mother’s family, who came from Bere. Little did we know then that around 75% of the island’s population are O’Sullivans, and my quest was going to be a lot easier than hers.

Family history

Plans were made. And altered at the last minute when our first choice of accommodation was cancelled because the hosts tested positive for you know what. We flew to Dublin, picked up a hire car, spent the first night in an exotic yurt somewhere in the Glantee mountains, and eventually made it to Castletownbere, from where I could see that the island actually existed. On the Friday we made our first crossing, for the launch of a remarkable exhibition, The Hold, curated by artist Mary Sullivan, who had gathered a remarkable group of creative women during lockdown to provide photographic evidence of their favourite “things”, and a tapestry of individually embroidered squares reflecting their lives on Bere. One of them featured parkrun; it was already clear that parkrun is a very prominent part of life on the island, and that it’s also dominated by amazing women.

1656 parkruns between us:   Anne Marie Harrington the latest member of the 250 club (2nd from left) with Eileen, John Walsh (the only male Bere Islander in the club) joining Sheila Walsh, mother and daughter combination of Joanne Sullivan and  Finola Crowley.

(I’d been told from On High that we would have a wonderful time. Paul and Joanne Sinton-Hewitt had been here a few years ago, and said that we would fall in love with Bere. They sent their best wishes to all the friends they’d made here; at the moment they’re cycling to Rome, to St Peter’s from St Paul’s, Dome to Dome. Sorry, Bere parkrunners, I got it wrong, they still have another three days to go.)

Where’s that ferry?

Saturday. I was awake at 5.30, we were at the pier at 8.30 for a ferry not due to leave till 9. This was more than disconcerting for someone who lives in fear of Being Late for Anything, and often arrives at a parkrun before the team of course setter-uppers. I know Irish parkruns start at 9.30, but there was a bus to catch at the other side, too?

And sure enough, our “bus driver” was on the ferry, Colin Gleeson, a retired GP in the over-70 category (no secrets with parkrun, sorry folks), who subsequently came fifth. In an event where the first finisher was a woman, and so was the third finisher, with a schoolboy in second place. Also on the ferry was Maureen Power who had done her 100th the previous week. And by the time we got to the start at Rerrin village, the numbers were starting to add up. And up. Joanne Sullivan was about to run her 303rd. Ann Marie Harrington was doing her 250th that day. And Edel Murphy was about to run parkrun no 284 then dash back to serve teas and breakfasts in the Bakehouse Café.

For all the stats, see the results page, but this report is all about the people. They were the warmest and most welcoming ever experienced anywhere, and this was my parkrun number 300 in location number 123. (Eithne, having abandoned family history for the day, was doing her ninth, and was just as warmly embraced.) There was love abounding, for their island, for their parkrun, for their friends, for their visitors. Their warmth more than compensated for the lack of time to “warm-up”; here you get your second wind after the first hill.

It’s a fabulous route on a fabulous island. Tarmac-ish, on narrow tracks which sometimes had grass in the middle. Awesome views. Some of it’s actually on road, but at that time on a Saturday morning the only drivers among the island’s resident population of 168 would be either running the parkrun or volunteering. We came back down past the Military Drill Hall where Mary Sullivan was opening up her exhibition for the day, and then turned a tiny corner beside Murphy’s shop which houses the Bakehouse Café. I loved every single step of the way; PSH, you were right.

But it’s possible that I’d never have got there without Proinnsias O’Keefe. A man of considerable running ability with a facebook profile that looks like a Smurf. I’m not sure how we first made contact, maybe via the facebook parkrun tourist group, but Proinnsias knew the answer to every question. What time does the ferry run? How will we get to the start? What’s the weather forecast? Where should we go for dinner? A million thanks for your help, your kindness, your welcome, your lift back to the ferry when we wanted to stay on in the café after the mini-bus had gone back.

And thank you to all on Bere Island. So many of you told me your stories, about how parkrun had changed your lives; I promised I’d come back to the island for my 400th, so I’ll be back in another couple of years or so. But probably long before then.

Eileen Jones is the author of How parkrun changed our lives , Gritstone Publishing (