Monthly Archives: May 2016

On the scent of a good sport

The man who drags the smelly rag at Ambleside Sports : First published in Cumbria Magazine, Oct 2011

Over the years I’ve been a good sport at Ambleside sports. I’ve run the short and steep guides race. I’ve trudged round the Rydal Round. My kids once won £1 each in the children’s races. But this year I was ahead of the pack – in the hound trail. Not racing against the dogs, of course, but walking their route with one of the men who drag the smelly rag whose scent the racing hounds will follow.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Hound trailing is one of Lakeland’s oldest sports. It developed as a way of keeping the fox hounds fit when the hunting season was over, though the dogs today are a different breed, leaner and lighter, and their coats are clipped to give them extra speed. They race around the fells, not on paths but across the roughest and toughest ground, following a scented trail, a pungent mixture of aniseed and paraffin. (Once upon a time it was a dead cat, or dead fox, according to the earliest records.)

The trails might be up to 10 miles from the slip – the start – to the finish, in a time that should be around 30 minutes – certainly no more than 40 – according to the Hound Trailing Association rules. The HTA was formed in 1906 and established formal regulations governing the events.

The rules make fascinating reading. “The officials of the meeting may refuse to accept any entry, and they may, after the entry, on account of vice, reputed sheep attacking, disease, or sexual condition, prohibit any hound from the competition.”  Sexual condition? “A bitch in season is going to be a distraction for the rest of the pack” says Mike Thornton, who’s laying the second part of the course at Ambleside, for the Senior Fell Classic, one of the most important events on the hound trailing calendar. There will be a Senior Maidens Trail later; not a race for the girls, but for the “maiden” hounds that have never won an open championship trail. Puppy trails as well, alongside the fell races and track races, the cycling races and the wrestling matches of this traditional sports fixture.

cumbria mag page

Mike knows every step of the way that the hounds will run, not just here at Ambleside but at hound trails throughout the district. He laid his first trail at Grasmere in 1969 after being shown the ropes by the legendary Ike Dixon who, with the late Tommy Graves, did so much to keep the sport thriving. (Ike’s daughter Beryl is Mike’s partner; his grandson, Paul Garrity, is an HTA bookie.)

A former member of the Ambleside Sports committee for 25 years, at any sporting event in these parts, you’ll find Mike either in action or behind the scenes. He played both rugby and football for Ambleside, his last soccer game being at the age of 46; now he follows the soccer team, home and away. When the English championship fell race was staged over Loughrigg and Silver Howe this summer, Mike was manning the final checkpoint at Lily Tarn. And when Beryl organised a charity “ladies day” during Ascot week at a local hotel, it was Mike, and his pal Rob Hunt, who ran the bookies’ stall – “Lay em and Fleece em”.

A retired horticulturalist, who’s been a retained fireman for 29 years, Mike is now 59, and one of the youngest trailers. “It worries me that there’s not enough young folk coming through to take it on.” It certainly keeps him fit – this is a task that demands stamina as well as very precise, instinctive navigational skills. “It’s the trailer’s nightmare, getting lost in the mist. If you lose your way, then there’s no race.”

But this is a fine, clear day as we leave the showground. We’re getting a lift in a Landrover Discovery to take us part of the way to the head of the Rydal valley. Our taxi driver is Barry Porter, a project manager who also runs a children’s play centre and learned to drive over rough ground when he was in the mountain rescue team. We follow the north side of Rydal beck to the very limit of motor access, which is a lot further than most mortals will imagine possible. Here Barry turns round and heads back to the showground; I get out with Mike and Gerry Meneaud, a veteran fell runner, who will lay the first part of the trail. We set off together towards Rydal head, then Gerry climbs off left near Calf Cove under Great Rigg, to contour under Heron Pike back towards the showground. Mike and I go round the head of the valley to contour our way back to the finish.

In all it’s  a three hour walk, over the most tortuous ground, heading uphill and down but always contouring over boulder fields, bog and bracken, and several high walls. Mike drags a long and narrow rag on the end of a piece of rope, and every so often he stops to give the rag another soaking, from a plastic bottle of the “mix”. They use plastic bottles now; a glass bottle once fell and smashed as the trailers were setting off, and they had to mop up the spillage to use for the whole trail.

Above us on the ridges, walkers are tackling the Fairfield Horseshoe on well-trodden footpaths, but this is not fellwalking territory. Our only neighbours are a couple of shepherds and a couple of hundred sheep. It’s bleak, inhospitable. The views would be wonderful if I dared look anywhere other than where to step. Mike’s pace never falters, taking every obstacle in his stride.

Eventually we reach Low Pike and the welcome sight of a footpath, down which the Rydal Round fellrunners are hurtling. We cross it – and plunge on down through the bracken and boulders. I’d like to stop and watch the runners. More than that, I want to cut off and follow the path down, like a normal walker, but that’s absolutely forbidden. My feet are carrying the precious scent and any diversion from the route will cause confusion to the dogs.

Sometimes a strong wind will blow the scent about in the air, and the dogs might stop, or run around for a while; this is a “scale”. Any dog that takes a short cut gets a yellow card; four cards and their registration is cancelled. A more serious offence is “flogging”, when trailers show their hounds round a course before a trail to gain an advantage. If trail hounds knows a particular course, they can remember the obstacles and run faster. For a trailer, this offence can bring a five-year, or even lifetimes, ban. Of course, the hounds do have some “memory” of courses from one year to the next, and a dog will run well on a route that it likes.

The stories, of epic trails, and character dogs and their owners, keep me entertained, and eventually we top the last rise and look down on the sports ground. We are being watched from below, and the organisers are now confident that the trail is set, and the hounds can set off. They race around our epic course, the winner – the favourite, Huntsman’s Dazzler – in just 32 minutes. Mike’s now switched roles, and is a hound “catcher” at the finishing line; I’m lying on the grass in a state of exhaustion.

Mike has owned several hounds himself , among them Freedom, Wonder, Dexter, Druid, Crusader, and Mystic Meg, and he has a cupboard full of trophies, hundreds of rosettes. “I’ve had a lot of fun out of it. But I do fear for the future of the sport. There’s only a third the number of dogs and people since I first started. Then there were more than 300 registered hounds every year. Now there’s 100. Same with the bookies. There used to be 30 at an event like this. Now there’s only eight. I can see why – the price of fuel and vets’ bills are so high – but if we don’t get younger people coming through, what will happen?”


One month to go and what have I learned? Ursula’s final training blog


One month to go and I am so happy that I am not injured, have not emigrated, and am still ready to do what is billed as the hardest ironman distance triathlon. A few more days and I will be 50. Everything just gets better!

ursi in running vest

This time last year I had a crazy fear of swimming with my head immersed.  I had just bought a road bike. I had never contemplated doing a marathon. One year on and things are very different.

This is what I have learned:

  1. Swimming is a lot easier with your head under water
  2. Windermere has big scary waves.
  3. Cycling mountains is much easier out of the seat in a higher gear
  4. Sports drinks give you tooth decay. Ouch.
  5. The pain involved in riding up Hardknott is nothing compared to toothache!
  6. Run tall and relaxed….always
  7. Train specific
  8. Relax your shoulders, breath from your abdomen and stay in the moment.
  9. Positive self-talk. Don’t let doubts drag you down.
  10. If it scares you, keep doing it, until it doesn’t.
  11. Train with others for fun but train by yourself to make the biggest progressions so you can stop when you want, eat when you want and pee when you want.
  12. Say thank you for every amazing moment.
  13. Stay away from Mark Blackburn if he comes up with any other ideas for endurance events.
cyclists ascending

“The pain of riding up Hardknott is nothing compared to toothache”

As a Personal Trainer, if I can’t train myself, who can I train? It has been great to see my own progression in things I never dreamed I could do. I genuinely hope this experience will help me improve the way I train others.

Thank you to all the people who have given me invaluable tips along the way. I hear your voices every time I’m out training…

  • “Get really quick at changing gear”. Thank you, Martin Brotherton.
  • “Use the whole of the road when climbing passes”. Thank you, Louise Beetham
  • “Ride as though you are wiping dog muck off your shoes”. Thank you, Paul Dixon
  • “Change up gear when going uphill”. Thank you, Lee Black
  • “Keep your feet together at the end of each stroke”. Thank you, Katie Marston
  • “Bring your head out of the water before your arms”. Thank you, Lee Read
  • “Run tall and increase your cadence” Thank you, Paul Tierney
  • “Don’t peak too soon” Thank you, Chris Stirling (to be honest, I’m not going to peak at all!)
  • “Enjoy it” Thank you, Mike Durkin

There have been many local people who have been amazing. Thank you to Pete from Swim the Lakes for the wetsuit that has enabled me to train in all weathers.

Thank you to Adam Smith for his magic massage hands.

Most of all thank you to all the local people who believe I can do it.

I have decided to raise money for Nurture Lakeland because I believe being in nature promotes health. The Fix the Fells project in the Lake District enables us to walk, cycle, run, gain wheelchair access to many spectacular places that really do improve the quality of our lives.

If you would like to donate, please go to Mydonate pages or on my FB page.

I don’t expect to see you at 4.30am on the  June 25 at YHA Ambleside, but if you are there, can you have a hot chocolate waiting for me when I get out of the water or even better, a pair of flippers and some armbands before I get in!

A better time to be around will be from 3pm at the YHA when 220 Ironmen will be coming back from their epic bike ride. I only wish I was there to see them.

Hope you can be there on the day. I think it’s going to be a fantastic spectacle and everybody likes to cheer on the underdog. So go for it, Paul Davies!






Schoolboy’s poem gets a Westminster outing as the Gap is re-opened

A presentation of a poem on Westminster Bridge in the heart of London marked the end of a long campaign to re-open a road in the Lake District – and celebrate the heritage of William Wordsworth.

The framed copy of the poem The Gap in Life by 14 year old Jacob Currie was presented to MP Tim Farron by Christopher Wordsworth, the great great great great grandson of William Wordsworth whose poem Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 described the view as: “Earth has not anything to show more fair”.

Tm and Christopher

Jacob’s poem was the winning entry in this year’s Rydal Mount Wordsworth Poetry Prize which is open to all school students in Cumbria and is organised by the Wordsworth family and the curators at Rydal Mount where Wordsworth lived for much of his life.

The theme for this year’s contest was “Mind the Gap”, inspired by the huge “gap” in the main road through the Lake District, the A591, caused by flooding last December. The road was only opened again last week after five months of repair, and long detours for visitors and residents.

Christopher Wordsworth and his family judged the entries and he awarded the prizes at a ceremony at Rydal Mount, near Ambleside, last month. Curator Peter Elkington had invited Mr Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and leader of the Liberal Democrats, to that event but he was unable to attend because of the forthcoming local elections.

“We wanted Tim to have a copy of the winning poem because it symbolised the battle that he and all the people of Cumbria have had in trying to get the road open again,” said Mr Elkington. “Christopher offered to take a framed copy of Jacob’s poem to London, and we thought that the most symbolic place to hand it over would be on the bridge that Wordsworth admired so much.”

He added: “The writers could interpret the theme in any way they wished, but we thought that it would be an opportunity for some of them to consider how the winter storms and the Gap on the A591 have affected their lives and their family lives.”

Christopher Wordsworth said: “Jacob’s poem took the ‘Mind the Gap’ theme and developed it into something more universal than just the road.”

Jacob, a student at Furness Academy, was presented with a £50 cash prize, a personal trophy, and his name added to the roll of honour on the plaque at Rydal Mount.

See Jacob reading his poem here, sitting in Wordsworth’s favourite chair at Rydal Mount:





By JACOB CURRIE, 14 (Furness Academy)


Climbing the mountains

The gushing streams flow through your mind

Your feet patter over the moss covered boulders

As you set off on your journey

The jumps you must leap

As you hold your fathers hand

Just in case he’s scared

You bound across the emerald – green fields

The vanishing horizon turning pink, purple, and then black

The stars in the sky glimmer like the excitement in your eyes

Your pace getting slower

Until you come to a stop

Turn around

And see the gap

Between man and nature

The beauty of the little daisy by your foot

Compared to the billowing smoke from the factories

The sparkling night sky covered by fog and smoke

But you know

Above you there’s a whole new adventure

Waiting for your feet to wander over the newly paved paths

Just for you.



Another sporting first for women in the Lake District

The first ever women’s world championship for Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling will be staged this summer at Ambleside Sports.

The traditional sport, at which women were allowed to compete for the first time only ten years ago, will feature the world title event in the “all-weights” division.

And like their male counterparts, women wrestlers will be expected to wear the traditional costume of long leggings with a singlet and elasticated centre-piece. Embroidered motifs are common but optional.

Cumberland wrestling is a key feature of the traditional sports fixtures throughout the Lake District each summer. Thought to have Norse or Viking origins, it was practised in the north long before football and cricket became popular games.

“We are very proud to be hosting the first world championship,” said Jak Hirst, the Ambleside Sports chairman and a former professional juggler.

“We have staged women’s events over the last few years but we are thrilled to have the world championship here in our 130th anniversary.”

The first Ambleside Sports featured wrestling along with the same events which are on the schedules today: fell running, track racing, track cycling and hound-trailing.


Cumberland wrestling has parallels elsewhere in Eastern Europe, in Iceland and in Brittany. In the UK, there are mixed events for juniors under 12, as happens in other sports, and then separate bouts for men and women. “We’ve had plenty of girls and women competing at Ambleside over the last few years,” said Jak Hirst.

Roger Robson, of the Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling Association, said that as with many traditional sports, the regulating body “was a bit backwards at coming forwards” but there had been progressive acceptance of the idea of women taking part.

“At Grasmere sports there have been female competitors for a number of years, and they get prize money commensurate with the men. It’s not like Wimbledon where the women get less.”

Women competed in wrestling by default after the Second World War because there was no mention of gender in the CWWA rules drawn up in 1906. In 1991 the success of a girl wrestler led to claims that her success put off lads from competing, and all mixed wrestling was banned. The onus was then on venues to sponsor female wrestling in their programme and that has slowly grown as an expected part of each event.

One of those hoping to take part in the new world championship is 20 year old Connie Hodgson, a sports coaching student from Dent in Cumbria. She’s competed successfully at home and abroad after inheriting the tradition from her father Trevor. In fact, she has three sisters Tracy, Hannah and nine year old Rosie – and a brother, 11 year old Ted, who also wrestle.

connie pic

Connie Hodgson

“We used to go with dad to the wrestling academy in Kendal,” said Connie. “It’s a quick and nimble sport. And it was something different to talk about at school.”

And her chances in the world championships? “I’ll have to wait and see. I broke my wrist, wrestling, so it depends how soon that heals.”


Ambleside Traditional Lakeland Sports will be held at Rydal Park, Thursday July 28

Alice inspires artists in Lake District garden

A showcase of work by 25 talented Lake District artists will be staged at Rydal Hall at the end of this month.

The Lakes Collective of Artists and Designer Makers includes painters, printmakers, sculptors, woodworkers, ceramicists, textile artists, silversmiths, jewellers, glassworkers, bookbinders, and cabinet makers.


Dormouse by Louise Dorman

Examples of their work will be on display at the Bishop Bulley Barn in the grounds of the Hall, near Ambleside, from Tuesday May 24 until Monday May 30. It’s open every day from 10am till 5pm and admission is free.

The same group is also hosting the Alice Project in the Rydal Hall gardens until the beginning of June, with works of art based on the books by Lewis Carroll.

This coincides with the interactive Alice Experience being staged on May 28 and 29 by the Mystical Magical Theatre Group . The group will perform hour long performances running throughout the weekend.  Just turn up on the day and buy a ticket (£3) for the next performance at the marquee in front of the Hall

The teashop and gardens are open 10am – 5pm every day.

RYDAL HALL. © Steven Barber Photography Ltd

RYDAL HALL. © Steven Barber Photography Ltd


A tale of two landscapes in the heart of the Lakes

From place names to Herdwick sheep, the Scandinavian influence on the north of England has had a profound effect on the Lake District. And one artist par excellence explored that influence, the similarities and the connections, in his art over several decades.

Alfred Heaton Cooper (1863-1929) journeyed from his home in the Lake District throughout Denmark, Sweden and Norway, reaching as far as Arctic Lapland, documenting the landscapes, buildings and people he encountered along the way, and finding parallels between Lakeland lives and landscapes and the ones he found in Scandinavia.

Now a new exhibition, From Fells to Fjords, is celebrating his work at the studio he founded in the heart of the Lakes, in Grasmere.

becky and the fjords

Becky Heaton Cooper and a display of work by her great grandfather

Heaton Cooper loved Northern Europe so much that he shipped an entire log cabin from Norway to Coniston where he used it as his first studio.

Realising later that there were more visitors to Ambleside, he re-located the cabin again, and it stands to this day on the approach to the town where it houses a restaurant, The Log House.

The artist and his dynasty moved to Grasmere, where the Heaton Cooper Studio’s new Archive Gallery now also operates as a centre for landscape interpretation, and is one of the most significant cultural tourist attractions in the North of England.

But while the Studio carries permanent exhibitions of the work of Alfred, his son William Heaton Cooper, his daughter in law Ophelia Gordon Bell, and other members of the family, the new show concentrates on the Fells and the Fjords.

It highlights the artist’s process from sketchbook drawings done from life, up to the finished paintings and then onto the colour plates documenting all aspects of Scandinavian life and landscape in the period from 1890 to 1927, which were used to illustrate a series of guide books.

Those books, The Norwegian Fjords, Norway, Sweden and Denmark were published by A&C Blacks from 1905 to 1927.

But the exhibition also carries a wealth of material – drawings, watercolours and oils – used to illustrate Heaton Cooper’s two masterly and classic books, The English Lakes published in 1905, and Wild Lakeland published in 1922.

“It is a remarkable body of work from a lost era, though one that is not so far back,” said Julian Cooper, the artist’s grandson who is curating the exhibition. “The sketchbooks are crammed full of life and landscape from Sweden, Denmark, Norway right up into the Arctic Circle.

“As well as comparing Lakes with Scandinavia, the subject of the exhibition is also as much about the process leading from ‘on the spot’ sketch book drawings, onto the finished paintings of the same subject, and then their conversion into colour plates as book illustrations.”

The paintings havel come mostly from the Heaton Cooper archive, supplemented by work on loan from Charles Nugent, and from the Gertrude Looi collection.

Alfred Heaton Cooper set off to the Norwegian fjords determined to make his living selling landscape pictures to the well-heeled European tourists who were visiting in greater numbers.

He became fascinated by the rural peasant life of the people of the Sogne and Hardanger regions. He studied them and their language and eventually wrote and illustrated a guide book to the fjords. He married a local girl and built a studio beside the fjord at Balestrand, which stands today and is known still as Cooperhus.

Alfred could not make an adequate living in Norway, but he tried to arrange matters so that he could live partly there and partly in England, where he returned with his bride in 1894. He settled first back in Bolton, moving to Southport and finally to the Lake District, where wealthy tourists promised a better livelihood.

“What he recorded in his work are the remarkable similarities in the two landscapes,” says Julian Cooper. “There is a great deal of interest in the Nordic countries and cultures at the moment, and we know that this exhibition will throw new light on how the Lake District was influenced.”

It was in the tenth century that Norse people who had originally settled in Ireland came to the Lake District to escape political turmoil. They constructed monuments like crosses and earthworks marking significant places.

It’s possible to tell where Norse people lived because of local place names, for example names ending in –by such as Ireby mean village; and those ending in –thwaite, like Satterthwaite, mean clearing. Other words with a Norse origin are beck which means stream; dale which means valley; fell which means hill or mountain; gill which means ravine.

The name of Windermere, England’s largest lake comes from the Scandinavian for ‘lake of a man called Vinandr’.

And the iconic Herdwick breed of sheep, now considered native to the Lake District, is thought to have originated from Scandinavia. The word “Herdwyck”, meaning sheep pasture, is recorded in documents going back to the 12th century. Herdwick sheep are the most hardy of all Britain’s breeds of hill sheep, grazing the central and western dales of the Lake District.

The manager of the Heaton Cooper studio, Alfred’s great grand-daughter Becky Heaton Cooper, has made a study of the Norse connection. She said: “This is a particularly delightful exhibition.  Julian’s intimate knowledge of the Heaton Cooper archive weave stogether a fascinating story of the links our family have with Scandinavia and Norway especially.”

The exhibition runs until June 12

Visitors delighted with tour of Lakes’ most admired gardens

The first visitors on a unique guided tour have been led round two of the country’s most admired gardens.

The “two gardens” tour takes in the totally contrasting formal Mawson-designed gardens at Rydal Hall, and then, adjacent, the Romantic garden at Rydal Mount, in the heart of the Lake District in the “year of the English garden”.

Rydal Hall head gardener Kate Jackson (pictured here with a group of visitors) was joined by Rydal Mount curator Peter Elkington to lead the walk.

two gardens pic 1

“We are great admirers of each other’s gardens and it seemed obvious that a joint tour could provide something really special for garden lovers,” said Kate. “We’re really excited about it.”

At Rydal Hall, one of the most magnificent buildings in the Lakes now used as a conference and retreat centre for the diocese of Carlisle, the formal Edwardian gardens were designed by landscape architect and town planner Thomas Hayton Mawson in 1911. The Italianate terracing includes herbaceous borders and lawns set against the imposing architecture of the Hall.

Nearby Rydal Mount was the home of the poet William Wordsworth who began the work of landscaping the grounds in a natural way in the manner of the Romantic movement. His designs and plans are used by the gardeners there today, to recreate what the poet intended.

“It is remarkable that in a tiny village such as this there should be two prime examples of completely opposite and contrasting styles of gardens,” said Peter Elkington, the curator of Rydal Mount, which is still owned by the Wordsworth family. “There is probably nowhere else in the country where in such close proximity you can see two completely different approaches to garden design.”

He added: “The first group found it rally fascinating and very good value.”

Tours take place once a month, and booking must be made by calling Rydal Mount 0n 015394 33002.

The cost of the tour is £12 per person.