Monster plan to save the Lakes’ environment

A nature trail to encourage children to care for the environment has been launched – with the help of a mythical Windermere monster.

Bownessie will be leading youngsters and their families along the lakeside trail pointing out areas of eco-concern and natural history.

The project has been developed by a Windermere businesswoman assisted by two conservation interns attached to the University of Cumbria.

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“We want to engage with children so we can nurture passionate environmentalists and encourage them to influence the people around them,” said Ffion Beavis, a marine conservation undergraduate at the University’s Ambleside campus.

She and Louise Mercer, who has a Masters degree in environmental science from Utah in the USA, are working with Naz Craig, who created the Bownessie toy and children’s brand. Families can download trail details, a quiz, and a rainy-day pack from the website, with the chance for children to win virtual badges with their suggestions of ways to protect the lake environment.

Said Louise: “Children are naturally curious about the world around them. As we’ve seen with the Greta Thunberg environmental movement, children a have huge impact on vital messages and actions.

“We don’t want to burden them. They should enjoy the lakes, mountains, woodlands and wetlands as we did, but learning through initiatives like Bownessie, which includes activity and information packs, there’s a lot of fun to be had too.”

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The scheme is part of the ambitious £2.3 million European Regional Development Fund’s Eco-Innovation project in Cumbria, which aims to help small and medium sized businesses reduce CO2. It provides fully financed internships to eligible companies through student researchers and graduates, supporting a wide range of projects, including waste reduction and improving efficiency.

The myth of Bownessie started 15 years ago with reported “sightings” of a large creature in the northern waters of Windermere. Scientists have found no evidence, but the legend grew following the televising in Canada and the USA of an hour-long documentary about the Windermere monster.

Naz Craig developed a cuddly toy and other items in her Bownessie brand – tee shirts, key rings, colouring books – and is seeking financial backing to develop the range further. She is delighted her brainchild is being used to such a good planet-saving effect. “It’s a chance to give every child a vital insight into how small actions can make a massive difference. This way, there’s a fun element, as well as the educational impact.”

Louise, an international fell-runner who hails from the Scottish borders, grew up with stories of the world-famous Loch Ness monster and admits nobody knows for sure what lurks beneath Windermere’s deep, dark water. “What I do know is that millions of visitors come here each year. If we can reach them and show the benefits of making slight tweaks to everyday lives, there’s real potential to create a sustainable future.”

Ffion, originally from Gloucestershire, said: “Adults hear the news, know we have to cut CO2 emissions, but remain disconnected. This way, with children looking out for items along the trail, there’s a chance for whole families to become involved.”

Both Ffion and Louise hope to make careers in education and promoting sustainable behaviour change.

Find out more on:

Help fund the project here 

Eco-Innovation Cumbria is led by University of Cumbria in partnership with Lancaster University and the University of Central Lancashire.





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Handy decoration from the fells brightens up health centre

Patients arriving recently at Ambleside Health Centre were treated to a cheering sight for sore eyes – a fairy-tale Christmas tree with not a glitzy bauble or hint of tinsel in sight. Instead, the novelties hung on its branches used nothing more than dried orange slices, pine cones, twigs and paperchains made from recycled brown paper.

The super-sustainable festive decorations are hand-made by Ann-Marie Verner and Jo Jackson, and make full use of anything they can recycle. Both of them enjoy hill walking and tackle a different  walk with friends each week, stopping only to gather up discarded litter and plastic – and dropped gloves.

Every year a surprising number of fell walkers, including many little ones with very small hands, don’t notice they’ve dropped a glove or mitten. Quite a number of these end up, in true Blue Peter style, as ones that Ann-Marie (who is is medical secretary at Ambleside’s Central Lakes Medical Group) and Jo found earlier, and were strung up round the Health Centre foyer, adorned with jingle bells and tiny wooden star buttons on their woollen fingers, and pegged between recycled pages of Wainwright walks. The cost of it all was nil, with the added bonus of days spent out-of-doors on the hills as the Wainwrighters gathered their ‘finds’.

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The pair completed all 214 Wainwrights a few years ago and are now ticking off the Birketts, of which there are 541,  including 209 of the 214 Wainwrights, and 59 of the 116 Wainwright Outlying Fells. Ann-Marie and Jo are up to number 311 so far. Ann-Marie also notched up 365 fell summits last year, not all different ones, some as local as a quick dash up Todd Crag, others day-long multi-top hikes. She started and finished with Wansfell, and is now on the journey again this year.


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Author wins Lake District competition

An author who loves the Lakes has won a competition organised by a top Windermere hotel.

Katharine Norbury was one of several hundred people who entered the online competition to win a free stay at the award-winning Cedar Manor.

Her name was pulled out of a hat by hotel owner Jonathan Kaye.

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Katharine Norbury is an author, audio-book reader and regular contributor to the Guardian.  After training as a film editor with the BBC she studied Creative Writing at UEA and has a PhD in creative and critical writing from the University of Huddersfield.

Katharine spent 20 years in the film and television industry before writing her first book The Fish Ladder: a Journey Upstream (2015) which combines travelogue, memoir and a celebration of the natural world. Said Jonathan: “Anyone who has read it will know that Katharine loves the Lake District, so we will be very pleased to welcome her here.”

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Katharine Norbury. Photo by Robin Farquhar-Thomson

The Fish Ladder: a Journey Upstream, which was published to great critical acclaim in 2015, was shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize 2016, longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2015, awarded the Telegraph Book of the Year 2015 and Katharine was selected as the Observer Rising Star in non-fiction for 2015. The book is now being developed into a feature film for which Katharine is writing the screenplay.

Katharine is currently working on an anthology of women’s writing about nature in the archipelago of Britain and Ireland, Women on Nature with Unbound and a second work of creative non-fiction about the idea of home.

The Cedar Manor has just  been given the AA Gold award and five stars for their guest accommodation, along with a coveted breakfast award.

Based on the outskirts of Windermere, the Cedar Manor has ten luxurious rooms including a self-contained suite, and has won a host of top awards over the years since  Jonathan and his wife Caroline took the helm. They have been prize winners for design, customer service, and green credentials, taking the sustainability award at the Cateys, the Oscars of the hospitality world.

Five stars means awareness of each guest’s needs with nothing being too much trouble. AA Gold Stars are awarded to the very best properties offering excellent levels of quality throughout and outstanding levels of hospitality and service.


Lakes hotelier joins the national judges

Windermere hotelier Jonathan Kaye joined the judging panel for the hospitality industry’s top award event in London.

Jonathan was invited to be a judge at the Hotel Catey Awards at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge hotel in London. The presentation dinner was attended by 750 guests, representing the best of the British hotel industry. Jonathan was there with his wife, Caroline.

The Cedar Manor has regularly featured in the finals, and last year was judged to be the UK’s top hotel in the sustainability category.

Since they started in 1984 the Cateys have become established as a celebration of UK hospitality, showcasing innovative brands and trail-blazing individuals who are nominated, selected and rewarded by their peers.

Jonathan and Caroline Kaye

Jonathan and Caroline Kaye

Jonathan said: “It was a great honour to be asked to join the judging panel after Caroline and I have attended many ceremonies as finalists and guests. The UK has the best hotels in all the world, and our association with the Cateys has helped us develop and improve our own hotel to be a world class establishment in the Lake District.”


Cumbrian film festival awards top movie

The extraordinary true story of the teenage Arab prince sent to London on a high-stakes diplomatic mission was voted the best feature film at Ambleside’s Inward Eye film festival.

Born a King took the honours after a showing on the final night of the three-day inaugural event, organised by Hopscotch Films at Zeffirellis cinema, and Rydal Mount. The festival was deemed to be a great success and is likely to become an annual event.

Four years in the making, Agustí Villaronga’s Born a King, starring Ed Skrein (Deadpool) and Hermione Cornfield (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) and produced by Andrés Vicente Gómez, is a true events-based historical drama.

Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia, aged just 14, was sent by his warrior father to London in 1919 to negotiate the formation of his country – dealing with Lord Curzon and Winston Churchill among many other eminent political figures. His job was to persuade the great powers, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire with WWI, to adopt a policy of non-interference towards Saudi Arabia.

A Spain/UK production, filmed mostly in Saudi Arabia, the screenplay is by Henry Fitzherbert, co-writer of the 2018 Simon Pegg/Nick Frost comedy horror Slaughterhouse Rulez, along with Bader Al Samari and Ray Loriga.

Ambleside audiences judged that it was a beautifully-shot portrayal of a fascinating and deeply moving little-known story.


Screenwriter Henry Fitzherbert and actor Simon Paisley Day with the best feature film plate awarded by Zeffirellis

Charlotte Wontner of Hopscotch Films said she was thrilled that the film’s screenwriter and one of the actors were present at the festival. She said: “The festival was a great success and we hope that Inward Eye will now become an annual feature on the film calendar.”

Alongside the festival, the very first Inward Eye Writers Workshop took place at Rydal Mount, which is the home of the poet William Wordsworth, and still owned by the Wordsworth family. Charlotte Wontner is a great great great great granddaughter of the poet.




A friendly Lakes sheep and a running shoe join forces to support international races

A partnership between two iconic Lake District brands will enable the International Under 18 Mountain Running Cup to be staged in Ambleside next summer.

The Herdy Company, with its world famous smiling sheep, and the running shoe specialists inov-8 are to be headline sponsors of the event which will bring young athletes from across the globe to the Lakes.

Herdy at Blea Tarn

The IUMRC is the world’s premier competition for young runners, and is being held in England for the first time, organised by Ambleside AC. The runners will tackle a typical Lakeland fell-race course on Loughrigg as part of a weekend festival of running, with a flag-bearing parade through the streets launching the start of the event.

Event director Duncan Richards, the England team manager, who has been negotiating to bring the event to the Lake District, said that the organisers were thrilled to be working with two of the most important and exciting brands in the region, after needing to raise £30,000 to stage the races.

“We have inov-8, who are the technical specialists who are synonymous with fell running, and Herdy is the welcoming face of a character that symbolises the Lakes,” said Duncan. “One enables runners to tackle all levels of fell terrain, while Herdy is inspired by the Lakes’ native Herdwick sheep who know the fells even better than the best runners!”

Spencer Hannah, co-director and founder of Herdy, said: “The fit couldn’t be better. Herdy was born in the Lakes 12 years ago and the Herdy face is all about spreading smiles and sharing happy moments. We’re here to welcome the runners, their families and all the visitors to this fantastic event and the spirit of Herdy is here to inspire friendship, shared adventure, the freedom of the Lakeland fells and communities coming together.

Michael Price, COO of inov-8, said: “inov-8 was forged in the fells of the Lake District 16 years ago and we are supremely proud of our heritage. Loughrigg and the surrounding fells form part of our testing ground where we go to test the grip of our running shoes, so we know it well and will be out there in force to support the world’s best junior mountain runners when they come here next June.”

Their sponsorship is joining other local and national partners who are contributing to make the event happen. They include Epic Events, retailers Pete Bland Sports and Kong Adventure, the wealth management company Atkins Ferrie, and Love Ambleside, the local organisation that was founded to promote the town in the wake of Storm Desmond.

Other companies, including McClures of Windermere, and the Grasmere Brewery, are providing items for the athletes’ goody bags.

Alongside the international race, Ambleside will also host an uphill time trial race to the summit of Wansfell on the Friday evening after the opening ceremony.

On the Saturday, (June 20) the FRA English Junior Championships will take place in the morning, followed by the international races, and then an open race for all runners over Loughrigg and Silver Howe the following day.

The youth event has been a stepping stone for under-18 fell and mountain runners to race internationally since 2006.  Olympic triathletes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee are among those who have started their international racing careers at this championship, and for the last 12 years teams from across the world have converged annually at mountain locations in Italy, France, Ireland, Bulgaria and Czech Republic to compete for the trophy.

The visiting athletes will be accommodated at Ambleside YHA over the weekend, with a few youngsters staying at Windermere and Coniston YHA hostels on the first night.

“This is a fantastic accolade for our local club and will bring the international spotlight on Ambleside,” said Duncan.

“This event is all about developing and inspiring young people, be it international athletes, local athletes, local schools, clubs and communities.”

Duncan, who has been the England team manager at the last six Youth Cups, added: “I have seen the benefit such an experience can bring to young athletes, the confidence born from the shared experience of international competition.”

More details:


Top actor heading for Ambleside film festival

The acclaimed actor Tom Conti is to make a surprise visit to the Ambleside Film Festival on Friday.

The screen and West End favourite will be in conversation with the audience at Zeffirellis Inward Eye festival on Friday afternoon. (Screen 1, 4.30).

Famous for playing Charles Bovary in Madame Bovary, the Jewish novelist Adam Morris in The Glittering Prizes, and Norman in Alan Ayckbourn’s Norman Conquest trilogy, Conti has had a wide-ranging career on the stage, in the cinema and on TV.

Born Thomas Antonio Conti in Paisley in 1941 to a Scottish mother, his father was an Italian immigrant.

Conti initially trained for a career as a classical pianist at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, but switched to acting. He began in repertory theatre in Glasgow and London, and then had a number of successful TV mini-series roles before hitting the headlines as the paralysed sculptor in the right-to-die play, Whose life is it anyway? in London and on Broadway.

American audiences loved his starring roles in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, and Reuben, Reuben for which he earned a leading actor Oscar nomination.

with Pauline Collins in Shirley Valentine

With Pauline Collins in Shirley Valentine

He starred in Shirley Valentine opposite Pauline Collins, Someone Else’s America, and Blind Revenge.

And he earned glowing reviews for his performances in Jeffrey Barnard is Unwell in several different stage productions, and One Helluva Life.

He’s also a writer, and has published a thriller novel. Conti is married to the Scottish actress Kara Wilson, and his daughter Nina is an actress and ventriloquist.

Zeffirellis managing director Dorothy Smith, who is organising the festival along with Hopscotch Films, said: “We are very excited that Tom Conti is joining our list of actors, writers, producers and directors who will be talking to our audiences here. We love his work, and we know that he has appealed to a wide range of cinema and theatre audiences.”

To book tickets for this talk, and for any of the films at the festival, go to

or call 015394 33845.

Practical help for small business in Cumbria

A series of practical workshops to help small businesses identify their next innovation is being staged in Cumbria.

The Coaching for Innovation mini-series has been organised by Cumbria Innovations Platform and The Harrison Network to help business owners identify changing customer needs and to explore how they can meet those needs.

The workshops aim to help find creative solutions, while designing and testing ideas, and will look at the need for continual innovation to keep a business moving forward.

The first workshop (November 14) at the People First Conference Centre in Carlisle will look at the challenges faced by a businesses from the customer’s point of view, and examining the competition. It will be driven by the needs of individual delegates to explore what customers really want, how to overcome barriers to innovation, and if you are focusing in the right area.

The end result will be a “problem statement” to take through into the second workshop (December 12) where ideas to solve problems will be explored and ways of unlocking creativity will be discussed. Each delegate will come away with at least one innovative solution to test out with clients.

The third workshop (January 16) will follow up the process and examine what worked – and what didn’t.

“We want to give small businesses the opportunity to see how they can stay ahead of the competition by continuously innovating,” said Cumbria Innovations Platform project manager Sarah Allison.

“What does innovation mean for your business now? What value does it create? How do you motivate, influence, plan, and communicate your innovation? How do you know it’s working?

“These workshops are designed to create step change in approach to innovation and a network of people with the will, ability and relationships to support one another into the future. In addition to the workshops we will be providing each business with a 1:2:1 coaching session to support them in taking forward their innovation goals.”

Venues for the second and third workshops will be chosen to suit the delegates who attend from the outset of the series.

Cumbria Innovations Platform is open to small and medium sized enterprises based in Cumbria, to facilitate business innovation and commercial success.

Further details and booking form:

Bownessie set to make a new appearance

The brand character based on the Bownessie legend of Windermere is set to make an impact on Chinese visitors to the Lake District.

Marketing graduate Xiaohui He was recruited as an intern by the Cumbria Innovations Platform on a project to research the buying behaviour of international visitors.  Her research will inform innovative product development of the iconic toy created by Bowness businesswoman Naz Craig and the further development of the existing range. It will also help with the company’s marketing strategy.

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Bownessie makes an appearance in the office of Cumbria Innovations

“The aim of hiring a Chinese intern was to use her cultural knowledge to help shape the market research I was conducting to gain a better insight on what the many Chinese tourists do in the Lakes and how Bownessie could reach the Chinese market and improve brand positioning,” said Ms Craig. “The ultimate aim is to collate visitor information to help raise funds to take the Bownessie brand from a pilot phase and use the investment to develop the products, services and new partnerships.   The next phase is to find investors.”

The Bownessie toy, and associated items for children including colouring books and “appearances” at events, was conceived following speculation about a “monster” said by some to be living in the lake. The appearance of a mysterious creature in the water was first reported in the Westmorland Gazette following a sighting by a university lecturer, Steve Burnip. It subsequently featured in an hour-long documentary about lake monsters made by a French Canadian film company.

Sarah and student

Sarah Allison and Xiaohui He

Naz Craig said: “The idea is to build an amphibious character synonymous with the Lake District (akin to Peter Rabbit, but like the Loch Ness monster) and create a range of characterised products based on the unidentifiable creature in the lake.

“We want to develop a ‘Hide and Seek’ theme so that the we can take Bownessie around the Lake District on the basis we are looking for him.”

She added: “There have been several sightings of a mystery monster on Lake Windermere. We want to create the Bownessie brand with a range of products and activities that can be used to introduce people to the beautiful natural environment of the Lake District and show the exciting places and adventures they can have in the area.

“That’s everything including nature walks, cruising in the lake, or even having a Bownessie themed event and then taking home a memento such as a cuddly toy or other merchandise.”

Cumbria Innovations Platform project manager Sarah Allison said that the internship was an excellent example of how graduate students could help small businesses to develop ideas and products. “This was a very specific piece of market research which has enabled the client to address the needs of a target audience.”




Lake District venue for trail run weekend

The team who introduced hundreds of Cumbrian beginners to running have launched a trail-running weekend in the Lakes.

Kendal-based Jogging Pals are organising a weekend of action based at Brathay Hall at the head of Windermere, with the chance to try Pilates, stand up paddle boarding, and perhaps a dip in the lake, as well as trail running.


Wayne Singleton

Named Cumbrian community group of the year in 2017, Jogging Pals organise inclusive events such as the mental health mile in Kendal, and the Torchlight 3k run, as well as one-to-one coaching for every distance from parkruns to multi-day endurance events.

But their biggest impact has been on the lives of hundreds of previously sedentary people who have been encouraged to take up running with their couch-to-5k fitness programmes. Success stories include people who say that their lives have been changed since joining Jogging Pals; one woman completed a mountain ultra race two years after starting running with the group (see  below).

Now they plan to take runners into the heart of the Lake District with a weekend of guided runs ranging from 10 to 20k.

The weekend is aimed at runners with little experience of trail running, or those who don’t want to tackle the trails on their own.

“Our aim is to have social runs where we all enjoy each other’s company and take in the amazing environment of the World Heritage Site that is the English Lake District,” said co-founder Wayne Singleton. “This may mean that, if you’re a faster runner, you’re waiting a bit for others to catch up – but this will offer plenty of opportunity to take some awe inspiring photos. All of our runs will have two leaders, to ensure that we’re kept together, and everyone is supported.”

His colleague Glyn Rose – both are England Athletics coaches – explained: “The important part of what we do is to make sure everyone’s supported, particularly the person at the back of the pack. Our runs are gentle, moving at your pace, stopping often to take in the views, take a few snaps and to re-group.”

The running routes will take in lakeside paths, open hillside and woodland, accessed from the weekend base at Brathay Hall. Guests will be met at Oxenholme station, and the deal includes breakfast, dinner and packed lunches. There will also be an evening programme of running films and talks.

“We have seen how the lives of our Jogging Pals members have been changed by taking up running, and we felt the time was right to add something more sociable into the mix, along with the chance to experience the best trail routes that the Lake District has to offer,” said Wayne.

“We hope to offer further dates later next year, and possibly an overseas running holiday to Romania.”

The first weekend event is May 1-3, and details and further details can be found here


Penny’s story

Penny Pullinger has no doubt that joining Jogging Pals changed her life. The former CEO of Age UK in South Lakeland, Penny was encouraged to take up running after the death of her husband.

penny pullinger

“I still had professional confidence, but in the rest of my life, I had lost it all,” says Penny, who now lives near Norwich. “My son, who is a runner, came to visit and was concerned for me. He took me along to the parkrun at Fell Foot and from there I met people who were members of Jogging Pals.”

Penny says that at first she was much slower than everyone else. “But they were all so supportive, and I’ve made lifelong friends.”

She’s also moved on from the 5k distance, competing in trail races and three half marathons, the most recent one just the day before her 60th birthday. Now she has plans to enter a full marathon.

“I’ve gone from someone who didn’t run at all to this. I might not be built for speed, but this is me now. It has changed my life.”


Debra’s story

Penny’s story is echoed by 40 year old accountant Debra Jones. She started on a couch to 5k training programme solo via her phone, but when she joined Jogging Pals, she was motivated more – and met a group of people who are now her best friends.


“I was petrified at first but soon realised it was much more enjoyable running with other people,” she says.

“I’m not sporty, but I knew I had to get fitter.”

She graduated to Jogging Pals’ group running 10k and then 20k, took part in trail races, and has run two half-marathons. “It’s so inclusive, the way that old and young, fast and slow, are all welcome. I feel regenerated and happy when I’ve been running with the group.”

Debra took part in the Torchlight 3k event running with her disabled daughter Hannah in a buggy. “That was hard, but a great sense of achievement.”


Francesca’s story

Perhaps the most remarkable of all Jogging Pals’ “graduation” success stories is that of Francesca Higgins, from Kendal. Francesca, 51, only started running after being registered partially sighted five years ago. She joined the Jogging Pals 5k to 10k group after being persuaded to tackle a New Year’s Day run following a night of partying.


She has now just completed one of the UK’s toughest ultra distance races, the Lakes in Day, a 50 mile run from Caldbeck to Cartmel taking in some of the Lake District’s highest mountain ridges.

“It was brutal,” admits Francesca, who works for the Outward Bound Trust. “It was my first ultra race. I set off in the summer on a 55k trail race but didn’t finish.

“I would never have got running without the Jogging Pals. They are such a good social group.”

She decided to raise money for the Henshaws charity. “I decided to run Lakes in a Day as a challenge that would stretch me to the very edge of my abilities and beyond. Henshaws is a charity which has supported me throughout my experience of sight loss by encouraging me to believe that most of what I want to do is still possible. They’re great enablers, and it’s important that the continue this important work with other people learning to live with sight-loss.”


You can contribute to her cause here: