Top UK players heading to the Lakes for backgammon contest

The annual Lake District backgammon championship will be staged in March at Windermere’s Cedar Manor Hotel and is likely to attract top players from around the country.

The Lakes event is being staged for the fourth time and now has the backing of the UK Backgammon Federation and the British Isles Backgammon Association.

One of the world’s oldest board games, combining skill and chance, backgammon is played in cafés across the Mediterranean and in the most exclusive of London clubs, with world championships staged in exotic locations.

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Last year the contest attracted 16 top players from around the UK. The winner, Edinburgh’s Ian Hesketh, took the top prize after beating British UKBGF team captain Tim Cross in a nail-biting final game. Ian was the runner-up in 2014, when the first Lakes tournament was held.

The championship is organised by Cedar Manor owner Jonathan Kaye who learned to play backgammon when he was manager of Raffles nightclub in London. His dream is to see backgammon established as part of the café culture of the Lake District, as it is in Mediterranean countries, and he hosts a regular local backgammon club.

“The response to the championship has been fantastic and we are now recognised as one of the major tournaments on the UK calendar,” he said.

“But while we attract the top players, we also welcome people of all abilities. We’ve had some great surprise results in the past, and we will be very pleased to hear from any local players who want to take part.”

He added: “We have the best location, the best hospitality, and a great prize – the winner gets to come and stay here.”

Anyone interested in taking part should ring 015394 43192. The championship will be held on Sunday March 19.

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Swallows, Amazons and the need for escapism

The world of the Swallows and Amazons, so permanently close to the hearts and the cartography of those in the Lake District, is likely to come under further scrutiny this year, the 50th anniversary of the death of Arthur Ransome, master storyteller.

We’ve seen two film versions and a stage musical, but return time and again to the treasure islanded in the stories, set both in the Lakes and – with the young heroes of the Coot Club and their friends – in the Norfolk Broads.

Now comes the first critical book devoted wholly to the series of stories, a scholarly work in which enthusiast Julian Lovelock delves beyond the narratives and the landscapes to examine the text and the context of Ransome’s work.

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Lovelock argues that to be properly appreciated today, the Swallows and Amazons novels must be read as products of their era, “not as dead period pieces, but as exciting and relevant adventures which propound a strong personal morality and a love of nature and outdoor life, turning to advantage their setting in an increasingly distant past”.

Certainly Ransome was one of the last Romantics, conscious that the countryside he describes so lovingly and in such intricate detail, was under threat; as too was the age of innocence portrayed in his characters. And there’s much scrutiny here of how that world was transfigured through the games that the children played, and through their imaginations.

There’s examination, too, of the complex gender stereotypes, of Nancy Blackett as the ultimate tomboy, but Titty too complex to be labelled as the young sister, thanks to the power of her imagination. Susan, on the other hand, is “nothing less than a domestic goddess” says Lovelock,  organising the camps, cooking wholesome food, insisting on teeth being cleaned, and worrying about bedtimes. So if she is at times “an almost comic parody of a wife and mother of the period” is it any wonder that few young readers would want to BE Susan when playing their own games?

Much is made of the young adventurers as imperialist colonisers, particularly in the first book where they  discover Wild Cat Island. (But let’s not spend too much time seeking out the locations, says Lovelock. However realistic that world appears “too much can be made of the possible connections between real places and people and their fictional counterparts”.)

This is fascinating scrutiny and an account which will be enjoyed by Ransome fans as well as scholars, but one point is particularly poignant now, as we seem to be heading into a dark age politically, perhaps more so than at any time since the end of the Second World War. Lovelock writes of the optimism of Swallowdale, a story full of things that go wrong – the wreck of the Swallow, the loss of Roger in the fog – where there is, nevertheless a sense that everything will be all right in the end, as it is.

This sense of optimism runs through all the books, and might well be one of the reasons for their longevity. Just as readers living in a depressed economy and the stirrings of Hitler’s Germany found happy escapism in the “gentle tales of camping and sailing in an untroubled world”, might we not all be glad of that chance to escape from a world reality which has strong elements of nightmare?

There is, after all, only one universal rule for survival that we need to worry about here: “Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers won’t drown.”

Swallows, Amazons and Coots: A Reading of Arthur Ransome (Lutterworth Press £20)) by Julian Lovelock

Double accolade for award-winning Windermere hotel

Windermere’s Cedar Manor Hotel is listed in the top 20 in the UK in two different categories in a ratings chart published this week.

The boutique hotel owned by Caroline and Jonathan Kaye comes in at number 9 in the Travellers’ Choice Most Romantic hotels list, and at number 19 in the best hotel for customer service awards.

The accolades come from Trip Advisor based on customer recommendations. Two other Windermere hotels, Applegarth Villa and the Gilpin Hotel, are also listed in the top 20 for Romance.

Cedar Manor is a popular choice for anniversaries and, increasingly, engagements, says Caroline Kaye. “Our restaurant has witnessed some proposals,” she said.

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The Coach House suite, a popular choice for romantic breaks at the Cedar Manor

“We are thrilled with this award, but also very pleased for all our staff who work so hard to make every guest’s stay special. The award for service is a tribute to them.”

The Cedar Manor, just a few minutes’ walk from the town centre, has a restaurant with two AA rosettes which is open to non-residents and this year Caroline and Jonathan are hoping for recognition for their chef and their distinctive menu. “We want local people to experience what we are offering here. Our visitors love the restaurant, and we want locals to realise what a gem this is on their doorstep.”

The Cedar Manor has won a number of awards in recent years and was chosen as the first European hotel to join the list of a prestigious American-based register.

Select Registry is a collection of independent, boutique lodging properties which has recommended hotels and inns to travellers across the USA for 45 years.

Come and join us say festival planners

Every business in Ambleside is to be invited to take part in this year’s Festival of the Fells.

The festival, due to be staged in the autumn, was a huge success when it was staged for the first time last September.

An independent survey showed that around £250,000 extra income was generated for the town over the four days.

This year’s event is supported by a new headline sponsor, Heart of the Lakes, the leading holiday cottage company which has been based in the town for more than 40 years, and has more than 150 properties in and around Ambleside on its list of 300 holiday homes.

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Now the organisers, Ambleside Together, are to contact every business, large and small, and offer them the chance to be involved.

Last time festival events were staged at major venues such as Zeffirellis cinema and the Parish Centre, as well as small cafes including the Copper Pot and Mr H’s Tearoom.

Secretary Mr Paul McDougall said: “Shops or cafes might want to host a talk by a writer, climber or walker, to which members of the public could come along free of charge.

“Others might have a venue – perhaps a room above your cafe or restaurant – where they could charge an entry fee, perhaps for  a short film, a recital, a music concert or an exhibition.

“It’s a chance to be part of this great celebration of all that’s great about life in and around Ambleside, and  everyone can benefit. All participating businesses and organisations last year reported great enthusiasm for the events they staged, and which were loved by visitors.”

The Festival of the Fells will be staged from September 21 – 24, and will include a series of guided walks for all abilities, guided swims talks, films and live music.

Mr McDougall said that every business in town would be contacted, either personally or by email. “If you’d like to know more, or if you have an idea you’d like to discuss , please contact loveambleside@gmail.com”, he said.

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Rock around the Clocktower as Dire Straits help June win a prize

Retired art teacher June Rodick has collected a new microwave oven thanks to the rock band Dire Straits.

June won the oven in a competition organised by domestic appliance specialists Clocktower who are based at Milnthorpe.

All they wanted to know was, which rock band sang a song about microwave ovens.

Yes, I’m a Dire Straits fan so it was easy,” said June, who lives at Holme village near Lancaster.

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The song was Money for Nothing from the 1985 Brothers in Arms album:

We got to install microwave ovens custom kitchen deliveries

We got to move these refrigerators we gotta move these color TV’s

Said Clocktower MD Tom Harvey: “We wanted to have some Christmas fun and organised the competition because so many of our customers start humming that song when they come in here.”

Clocktower is marking its 35th anniversary this year, proving that there’s still a place for local independent specialists in a world of anonymous online trading. It is the area’s biggest independent retailer of kitchen appliances, with a vast range of everything from kettles and blenders to free-standing and built-in washers, fridges and ovens.

But they have also built a 35-year reputation as experts who can advise, fit and repair electrical goods, trusted as an honest company with wide-ranging knowledge of what their customers need.

Tom Harvey’s parents began the business , initially at nearby Haverthwaite. The company moved to its current, extensive roadside home on the A6 at Milnthorpe 30 years ago.

In that time Tom, who is also a South Lakeland district councillor, and chairman of Cartmel Cricket Club, has seen the inexorable rise of online retailing while his own business has continued to grow, with a customer base that ranges from Grasmere to Lancaster, and from Barrow to Kirkby Lonsdale.

It’s clear evidence that people want individual attention, genuine advice and knowledgeable service,” says Tom.

Work under way at historic Lakes tourist attraction

Building work has started on a new extension at an iconic Lake District tourist attraction.

A new gallery area and café are being developed at the Heaton Cooper Studio in Grasmere, an extension to the village-centre building which was opened by William Heaton Cooper in 1938. The project will create extra local jobs, and it should be open by Easter.

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There will be new exhibition space, room for artists’ workshops, and a stylish café at the Studio, one of Cumbria’s most distinguished galleries and the pre-eminent centre for landscape art in the Lake District. A huge window will look out onto Stone Arthur and the fells above Grasmere.

The family art business was originally established by Alfred Heaton Cooper, in 1904. Now the current managing director, Becky Heaton Cooper, is supervising the expansion plans. “It’s very exciting to see work under way,” she said. “There will be more space to run workshops for artists and we want to create somewhere really inspiring for them to work.”

In recent years the scope and range of the studio has been extended considerably with the opening of the archive gallery, which has hosted a number of high-profile visiting exhibitions, showcasing the work of local, regional, national and international artists, and significant additions to the goods sold in the art and gift shop. The studio sells fine art prints – framed or mounted – and books about the Heaton Coopers and other Lakeland artists, as well as books about Cumbria and mountains generally.

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The studio also celebrates the work of other artists in the family, notably William’s wife Ophelia Gordon Bell, the sculptor famed for her head of Everest pioneer Sir Edmund Hillary, and their son Julian Cooper, the internationally renowned painter whose recent work has been concerned with finding a relevant contemporary language for painting mountains and rock.

“The studio is a lively centre of artistic excellence and activity, representing a tradition of artistic continuity in the village centre,” said Becky. “We hope that our new extension will make it an even more attractive place to visit.”

 

  • The Heaton Cooper Studio in Grasmere was opened by William Heaton Cooper in 1938. The Lake District Centre for the Interpretation of Landscape, the Heaton Cooper studio was one of the original stakeholders in the LDNP bid for World Heritage Site status.  It is a hugely popular tourist attraction, with more than 90,000 visitors last year. It features work by the Heaton Cooper family and guest artists, with the Lakeland landscape at the heart of the gallery’s displays.

 

  • The Heaton Cooper family tree is a pictorial essay on the development of art in the Lake District and beyond. There are 10 artists represented, including the sculptor Ophelia Gordon Bell, (herself the daughter of the animal painter Winifred Gordon Bell) and Julian Cooper, the internationally renowned painter whose recent work has been concerned with finding a relevant contemporary language for painting mountains and rock all over the world. The most well known works are by Alfred and William, each distinctively capturing the magnificence and beauty of rock and fell, stream and lake.