Cyclists needed for traditional contest

It’s one of Britain’s most venerable and exciting of spectator sports. But are the thrills of grass track racing proving too daunting for cyclists today?

The tough guys and gals who are prepared to sit in the saddle for ultra-marathon distances like the Lake District’s Fred Whitton sportive may not have the sprinters’ muscles – or nerve – for a mad dash around 300 metres on “knobbly” tyres.

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

That’s the view of one of the elder statesman of the sport, Bob McLean, of Border City Wheelers, who says he’s struggling to get senior riders into some of the traditional cycling events.

A sprightly 75 who still rides his bike, Bob is the cycling manager for events such as Ambleside Sports. He first came to that event 60 years ago, cycling from Egremont in West Cumbria over the Hardknott and Wrynose passes.

“It’s grand to see youngsters coming into the under-12 and under-16 categories,” says Bob. “The crowds really appreciate that. They really warm to the young riders. But there’s not so many seniors taking part now.”

Grass track racing was once a very popular discipline in Britain and northern France, and in some areas, it still is. The format is simple. On a field such as a soccer field or cricket pitch, on a 300 or 400 metre grass oval that’s marked with chalk and wooden stakes, riders race each other on fixed wheel bikes that are fitted with knobbly cyclocross tyres to provide a bit of traction in the corners.

Races are short, so riders can have a go at a number of different races at any single event. There are sprint and endurance events, but arguably the most exciting is Devil Takes the Hindmost. This is a bunch race which sees the last rider to cross the finish line on each lap being eliminated from the race; when there are only three riders remaining, the race becomes a flat out sprint over the last lap to declare the winner.

“Many events with our type of location have switched to mountain cycling,” says Ambleside Sports chairman Jak Hirst. “However here at Ambleside we have retained track cycling around a 300m circuit which ensures that the sport remains exciting for the spectators. Both the Senior and Junior events are also handicapped which helps to ensure that every race is closely contested.”

There’s modest prize money, but lots of glory at stake. Cyclists who want to have a go should talk to Bob McLean on 016973 61392. Entries for Cycle Events close 12th July.

More details:

Ambleside Sports is on Thursday July 27. There’s a food court, beer tent, craft marquee and trade stands as well as track and fell running, Cumberland wrestling, and hound trails.


Foot and mouth outbreak recalled in new crime novel


A new crime novel based in the Lake District will be set against the backdrop of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak.

Burning Secret by Ruth Sutton is a vivid reminder of the tragedy of epic proportions that afflicted so many lives.

But first funding to publish the book has to be raised, with the author now represented by an unusual new publishing venture, Unbound.

The organisation was set up to help authors who would otherwise self-publish, and they help writers with crowdfunding schemes to get their books into print.

Ruth Sutton, who lives in West Cumbria, has already successfully self-published a family trilogy and two crime novels.

ruth portrait

Ruth Sutton

“Unbound are part of a new wave of publishers who work with authors on a 50:50 basis to get their books out. The first run is paid for by a kind of ‘crowd-funding’, hence the lower risk and ability to split profits with the author. It’s an exciting development.”

Her new novel looks behind the scenes in Cumbria in 2001 when millions of animals were slaughtered, families torn apart, farms barricaded, communities paralysed, and businesses lost.

“Many individual lives were changed forever, and Burning Secret is about some of those. At the heart of it are the innocents, threatened by events they could neither prevent nor control, and those who try to protect them.”

The book also introduces two female detectives who look set to get the pages turning, reflecting the prevailing ambivalence in policing as old methods and attitudes give way to new. DS Anna Penrose’s career has been unusual, with a degree and army service in Bosnia before she joined the force. Her promotion is rumoured to be about gender, not merit. She is hot on budgetary efficiency, performance targets and painstaking evidence gathering.

Her sidekick, DC Maureen Pritchard, by contrast, was a hairdresser before she joined the force. She has little patience with trendy ideas about gender, thinks of herself as ‘one of the lads’, and prefers intuition to fancy forensics. For Maureen, ‘targets’ are to be shot at.

Unbound publishers say: “We believe that everyone should be given the chance to seize their own success, and that great ideas shouldn’t fall between the cracks because they don’t fit the mould. And that’s what we’ve built – a better way of doing things. It’s a community, platform and a publishing model that shift the balance of power to you, people and communities that champion underserved ideas and voices.”

Anyone who wants to help get Burning Secret published can make a pledge at

Ruth Sutton’s earlier books can be found at

Expert coaching in the heart of the Lakes

Runners of all abilities are being offered the chance of a training day with experts in the heart of the Lake District.

The “Run Well” workshop  is organised by Paul Tierney and Dr Sarah McCormack of Missing Link Coaching and will be held in Ambleside.

paul and sarah

The workshop is designed for runners who want to make the most of their available training time.  It focuses on improving running performance through smarter strength training, running efficiency and injury avoidance.  There will be some indoor theory and then outdoor practical training on local trails and hills.

Paul and Sarah are both accomplished and race-winning athletes. A certified biomechanics coach and ITEC Level-3 certified Sports Massage Therapist, Paul has represented Ireland twice at the World Ultra Trail Championships and was the 2015 Lakeland 100 Mile Race Winner.

Sarah has won the  European Cross Country Championships team gold medal (2012), Scottish 5000m title (2012, 2013), Scottish 10k title (2012), Irish Inter-Clubs Cross Country  title (2014), and Snowdon International Mountain Race (2014, 2015) and has two top-ten finishes in the World Mountain Running Championships (2013, 2015).  She is a certified Health and Performance Coach.

The workshop is on Saturday, 17 June 2017 in Ambleside, with an “early bird” rate of £60 if enrolled before May 17. Tickets are £70 thereafter.  Paul and Sarah also offer an optional one-to-one appointment for running technique analysis and coaching on Sunday, June 18. Spaces for these 60-minute sessions are limited on a first come, first served basis.



Leading London gallery takes a view upstream in the Lakes

An exhibition by Britain’s foremost mountain artist, and the Lake District’s most eminent living painter, Julian Cooper, has opened in London.

Titled Upstream, the exhibition at Art Space Gallery shows Cooper’s new paintings of the high fells above Crummock Water and Buttermere, close to his home in Cockermouth.


It’s one of a trio of exhibitions this year to mark Cooper’s 70th birthday. A major retrospective opened earlier this month at Abbot Hall gallery in Kendal, and this will be followed by the final exhibition, Full Circle, on home territory at the Heaton Cooper Studio in Grasmere.

It was in the new studio there in 1969 that his father, the painter William Heaton Cooper, had just built, that he put on the first exhibition of work by Julian who had just graduated from Goldsmiths Art College.  Almost 50 years later, his work will be the first to be shown at the re-opening of the Archive Gallery at the Grasmere studio.

In London, with Upstream, Cooper explores the surface of a land shaped by the mountain streams that feed the region’s lakes. In painting after painting he traces the tributaries upwards beyond the last stone walls into the wild country where the becks and the streams originate.

He also sees a once familiar landscape ever more threatened and inadequately served by those who use it; a landscape now made political by contentious claims that the widespread flooding that has twice devastated Cockermouth is a direct result of poor water management and the traditional hillfarming practices.

Cooper’s paintings almost always involve close encounters with barren and inhospitable places and for more than four decades he has visited some of the most hostile and awe-inspiring terrain on the planet: the Andes, Himalayas, Alps, Tibet, Carrara and Tasmania and made paintings that do justice to nature at its wildest.

But his native Lake District is the bedrock of his practice; his true territory. He was born there, and has a strong desire to reach beyond mere appearance and uncover the underlying structure and the essence of the place: paintings that tell a particular story about the history of its appearance and the processes of change.


Art Space Gallery in St.Peter’s Street, London was founded in 1986 by Michael and Oya Richardson and is recognised as one of London’s foremost venues dedicated to showing and promoting serious painting.

Julian Cooper studied at Lancaster School of Art (1964-65), Goldsmith’s College of Art (1965) and in 1969 was awarded the Boise Travelling Scholarship and was resident at the British School in Rome (1994-95).

Cooper’s father,  William Heaton Cooper (1903-1995) was a successful painter of the Lake District, as was his grandfather, Alfred Heaton Cooper (1863-1929), and his mother was the sculptor Ophelia Gordon Bell (1915-1975).

He has work in public and private collections worldwide, has exhibited regularly in London since 1998, had a major retrospective at Museo Nazionale Della Montagna, Turin and was included in A Picture of Britain at the Tate.

Meanwhile, the Grasmere exhibition will open in June, marking Cooper’s birthday on June 10, and will run throughout the summer. This will include previously unseen work covering a range of time and subjects, including, people and urban scenes as well as mountains.

Upstream runs until May 26.




Tips from the top as leading triathlete teams up with swimming experts

ONE of Britain’s leading triathletes has joined forces with Swim the Lakes to pass on advice to swimmers and SwimRun newcomers.

Chris Stirling, a multi-sport athlete who competes in the toughest races around the world, will join the Ambleside-based experts for a wetsuit try-on event.

The try-on gives swimmers the chance to learn more about wetsuits, how they should fit, and try them out  in the water, under guidance of experts, to ensure they get the right fitting wetsuit. “The wetsuit fit is crucially important as it affects a swimmer’s performance and comfort in the water,” said Swim the Lakes director Andrea Kelly.

chris swim run pic

Chris Stirling leads team mate into the water at a SwimRun event in Scotland

Stirling won the Ben Nevis Braveheart race last year, has placed 2nd at the Celtman races and completed the mighty Norseman extreme triathlon in which participants start by jumping from a car ferry into the waters of a fjord. This summer he will be tackling the inaugural CanadaMan event, where he’s been invited to be a participant reporter. He has also represented Northern Ireland for Mountain Running.

SwimRun events are becoming increasingly popular in the UK. They started in Sweden with the concept of teams of two navigating around the Stockholm archipelago without stopping for transitions, swimming and running carrying everything needed. The SwimRun ethos is based on team work, each member of the pair being responsible for their team member and their progress as they travel trough the landscape. SwimRun appeals to runners, swimmers, endurance athletes and triathletes alike.

There are already a few SwimRun events in the Lake District and this year it will feature for the first time at the Great North Swim

Stirling, who lives in Ambleside, uses a Zone3 Evolution SwimRun wetsuit which will be available to demo on the day. He will be sharing his advice for SwimRun events and kit.

Swim the Lakes Wetsuit try-on event with BlueSeventy and Zone3 Evolution wetsuits is on Sunday May 14 at Ambleside YHA. Booking is advisable; please see more information or ring Swim the Lakes on 015394 33826.


Retrospective from a great height: the wonderful mountain art of Julian Cooper

A trio of exhibitions will mark the 70th birthday this year of Britain’s foremost mountain artist, Julian Cooper.

Major shows in London and Kendal will be followed by an exhibition,  “Full Circle”, on home territory at the Heaton Cooper Studio in Grasmere.


It was in the new studio there in 1969 that his father, the painter William Heaton Cooper, had just built, that he put on the first exhibition of work by Julian who had just graduated from Goldsmiths Art College.

Almost 50 years later, his work will be the first to be shown at the re-opening of the Archive Gallery at the Grasmere studio.

The London exhibition, “Upstream”, at Art Space Gallery, who regularly show Cooper’s work, opens on April 28.  It is devoted to new paintings on the theme of going upstream from Cockermouth, Cooper’s home town, following the rivers Cocker and Derwent towards the high fells around the lakes of Loweswater, Crummock and Buttermere, and exploring the channels and sidestreams in what Cooper sees as a “contested landscape”, looking at visual traces of the tensions between the various uses of the land, including between farming and ideas of wilding the landscape.

In Kendal, the Abbot Hall Art Gallery is showing over 30 monumental paintings from Cooper’s extensive output over 45 years and reflecting the artist’s travels. While some are of the Lake District, others were inspired by journeys to South America, the Alps, the Himalayas and the quarries of Tasmania and Carrara. It will run until July 2.

Meanwhile, the Grasmere exhibition will open in June, marking Cooper’s birthday on June 10, and will run throughout the summer. This will include previously unseen work covering a range of time and subjects, including, people and urban scenes as well as mountains.

Great Gable

Great Gable, by Julian Cooper

Cooper’s father,  William Heaton Cooper (1903-1995) was a successful painter of the Lake District, as was his grandfather, Alfred Heaton Cooper (1863-1929), and his mother was the sculptor Ophelia Gordon Bell (1915-1975).

He studied Fine Art at Goldsmith’s College School of Art in the late 1960s. In a career spanning three decades, his work has ranged from narrative paintings based on Malcom Lowry’s novel “Under the Volcano” to a series of paintings about the assassination of the Brazilian union leader and environmentalist Chico Mendes in Amazonia, in 1989.


Museum, by Julian Cooper

His more recent work has been concerned with finding a relevant contemporary language for painting mountains and rock. In 2001 his “Mind has Mountains” exhibition at the Wordsworth Trust and in London showed paintings made after an expedition to the Kanchenjunga region of Nepal, noticeable was an absence of sky and a concentration on selected areas of terrain.  Whilst on-site paintings captured a superficial likeness, these paintings touched a deeper psychological one.

His solo exhibition “Cliffs of Fall” in 2004 at Art Space Gallery  showed work based on a comparative study of the North Face of the Eiger in Switzerland and the Honister Slate Mine in the English Lake District.

A clean sweep with help from the web experts

It was a clean sweep when one of the north’s top cleaning service companies teamed up with the leading web experts.

Smart Cleaning Services have been providing top quality commercial cleaning throughout Cumbria, Lancashire and the North West, including Kirkby Lonsdale, Casterton, Lancaster and the Lake District for more than 13 years.

But business really took off when Kendal-based SYPO developed a website and Facebook page for the company.

The Smart team, led by MD Gary Carr, has become recognised as the experts for window and upholstery cleaning,  gutter clearing, high pressure outside cleaning, sign and steam cleaning.

They also developed a name for prompt attention and professionalism with recent flood restoration work.

“This is an organisation with a wide range of expertise to meet all the possible needs of industrial and commercial customers,” said SYPO’s Alan Jewitt.

“One particular and important development was their use of the environmentally-friendly Pro-Jet washing service which is ideal for patio cleaning, driveway cleaning, decking, roofs, walls, paths, pavements, car parks and much more, without the need for harsh chemical solutions.

“What they needed was a platform to explain all this – and more – to potential clients and that’s where we were able to help.

“They now want us to do some more work on the website to improve further their visibility.”

SYPO is the north’s leading web development and online sales expert, with more than 200 large and small companies relying on their help to gain customers and maximise the internet sales experience.

Smart’s Gary Carr said: “It’s made a big difference for us since SYPO did the website. Alan and the team did a great job.”

Like a duck takes to water

Ducks will take to the water in Ambleside again this year as part of the Festival of the Fells.

The charity duck race, organised by Ambleside Kirkstone Rotary club in the river in Rothay Park, will be one of the highlights of the final day of the festival in September.


On your marks, get set…..

The organisers will once again be raising money for Alzheimers Research, for whom they netted a mammoth £2000 last year. They are hoping that local businesses might sponsor the event this time.

Tickets will be on sale at a stall in the Market Cross on the Friday and Saturday of the Festival, which is being staged for the second time, organised by Ambleside Together.

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.

A number of events have already been added to the calendar including open water swimming sessions, and talks including a lecture by the festival’s patron, top mountaineer

Alan Hinkes.

Veteran fellrunner Wendy Dodds will also be giving a talk about her long-distance running exploits, at the Golden Rule.

The festival will be staged from Sept 21-24. Every business in the town has been invited to take part,  after an independent survey showed that almost £250,000 extra income was generated for the town over the four days last year.

Drama takes to the stage at YHA

There’s drama afoot in the world of youth hostelling…and where better to tell the story than in one of the country’s most spectacularly sited hostels.

A new play, Best Foot Forward, will be staged at Ambleside YHA in May, bringing music and humour to the tale of a fictional hostel, Pearling Manor.

The Manor has been threatened with closure  to make way for a new golf club, and the warden is determined to rally the troops and fight the plans.

Best Foot Forward is a production from the Yorkshire-based Mikron theatre company who spend some of their time touring the canals and waterways of England in a narrowboat, “reaching audiences that other companies cannot”.

So they are used to performing in unusual venues and director Marianne McNamara will be taking this show to church halls and pubs as well as the YHA.

Best Foot Forward is written by Maeve Larkin who spent her younger days happily hostelling, so she’s brought some of her own experience of the YHA into the drama.


“We know that movements have to evolve to survive,” she says. “Our hero warden Connie has a heart as big as her rucksack and takes us on a journey through the YHA’s past in the hope of securing its future.”

As Connie says:

“Through thickets and thin we’ve managed to keep

Our promise of somewhere cheap to sleep

If that’s threatened we must defend it

Looking to the past in order to transcend it”

Ambleside YHA manager Damian Parker said: “This is a very funny and delightful story, and we know that it will be loved by our guests staying here. But the play is open to everyone….just turn up on the night for a very entertaining show.”

Best Foot Forward is at Ambleside YHA on Thursday May 11. There’s no need to book; a pay-what-you-will collection will be taken after the show.

For more information contact YHA Ambleside on 015394 32304

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Ambleside YHA: photo by Steve Ashworth, Lake District Images

Good neighbours needed to help emergency planning in Ambleside

Would you be ready to keep an eye on your neighbours when there’s a flood or other disaster?

In Ambleside they’re looking for volunteers who are prepared to watch out for others in their street or neighbourhood.

The Ambleside Community Emergency Planning and Response Group is building a list of names and phone numbers who can be contacted when something serious happens locally. The aim is for volunteers to cascade information…by phoning the next person on the list … and by stepping outside their own front doors to see where help might be needed.

The group is run by volunteers with help from the Environment Agency…and they hope they’ll never be needed.

“But we know that flooding is likely to be more than a once every hundred years occurrence now,” says co-ordinator Andy Caple. “We also want people to be on standby for other  situations..adverse weather, power outages.

“The people on our list need to look out for just their immediate neighbours, and to ring others on the list. The more volunteers we have, the smaller the area that each will need to cover.”

Andy makes it clear that no one is being asked to take on the roles which will be undertaken by the emergency services and by the mountain rescue teams. “It’s more about passing on information, perhaps alerting older people and others in their street.”

Anyone who can help or wants more information should call Andy on  07747 024691 /