From out of the mist came the steady, thumping beat of a drum as the dragon boat slowly slid through the water to join us on our stately progress towards the shore. Another paddled into position on the far side of the ferry and our escort was complete.
With dozens of small craft protectively surrounding us, the Olympic Torch had been carried along England’s longest lake aboard the MV Tern, one of the lovely Windermere Lake Cruises ferries that daily sail in the heart of the Lake District. As we turned towards Bowness we could hear the crowd cheering – an estimated five thousand people had turned out to greet this wonderful symbol of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Local girl Stephanie, who had untiringly posed for almost an hour on the boat, looked awestruck as she held the flaming torch high up in the sky for everyone to see. Then it was the handover to Jan, who was to take it on to Bowness Glebe to light the enormous cauldron set up on the stage. As the two gold cornets met for the ‘Olympic Torch Kiss’ another delighted cheer went up – an incredibly emotional moment for all involved.
The excitement had been building all day as the proud Torch Bearers jogged, ran, walked and strolled their way through south Cumbria. In Grasmere it had passed beside Sarah Nelson’s little shop, doing a brisk sale of the extremely addictive Grasmere Gingerbread. People lined the streets near one of the Lake District’s most famous visitor attractions, Dove Cottage - what on earth would Wordsworth have made of it all? On past lovely Rydal Water and down into Ambleside where school children squealed excitedly and walkers in fleeces took their eyes off the hills to watch a piece of history pass by.
It seemed as if half the world’s press were on the Tern to capture the moment the Torch came aboard, with its entourage of Olympic bodyguards, those carrying the second Torch and the tiny Davy Lamp that keeps the flame alight throughout its journey around the UK. With a hoot of its horn, the ferry set sail down the lake with dinghies, canoes, motor yachts, rescue crafts and myriad other boats keeping us company. I gave a wave to the Briery Wood Hotel, where I was staying, hidden amongst the trees, not far from Brockhole Lake District Visitors Centre. All along the shore people were waving and shouting as we passed.
The weather was typically Cumbrian – low level mist weaving its way lazily through the trees and across the water. The air was damp with the rain that had been forecast but miraculously held off until we had completed our journey. But nothing could dampen the jubilation of everyone who came within sight of the Torch. One group of school children had made beautiful golden cones – they had rushes to represent the Ambleside Rush Bearing Ceremony which happens every year on the first Sunday in July. Their faces shone with pleasure as they had their photos taken with the ‘real’ Olympic Torch.
That evening there was a huge party on the Glebe, celebrating not only the Torch but also the start of the London 2012 Festival. There’s always plenty to do in Bowness (The World of Beatrix Potter is very popular with all ages) but on that night it was party, party on the grass. The rain came down heavier and harder but there were still a couple of thousand left to enjoy the firework, drum and dance spectacular that Les Commandos Percu put on to finish off a truly memorable day.
For more information on things to see and do, places to eat and accommodation in Cumbria and the Lake District, visit Cumbria Tourism’s site Go Lakes. Zoë Dawes lives in NW England and her favourite place in the world is the Lake District. She shares her lifelong love of travel on her popular blog The Quirky Traveller, on Face Book and Twitter @quirkytraveller