SINGING schoolchildren joined thousands of flag-waving revellers as the Olympic Torch’s Cumbrian odyssey reached Ambleside.
Crowds began gathering from mid-afternoon as anticipation mounted ahead of the historic moment.
Greeted by cheers and applause, torch bearer Tom Wright, 15, of St Bees, passed the Olympic flame onto Windermere’s Stephanie Booth as it reached Borrans Park at around 6.20pm.
The beaming 14-year-old Lakes School pupil, nominated by her head teacher, told the Gazette it was the ‘best moment’ of her life.
“I was quite nervous but very excited,” she said.
“Everyone was really friendly and happy.
"It’s been the best experience.”
Sports-mad Stephanie is a keen swimmer and participant of triathlon and cross-country events and will compete alongside her sister in this weekend’s Great North Swim.
Her proud mother Christine said: “I didn’t sleep last night, I was so excited for her.
"I’m just really unbelieveably proud of her.
“The last week has been a little bit overwhelming.
"She was determined to be involved in the Olympics and this could be the closest she gets.”
Spectators Gordon Allatt and Norma Pearson made the trip from Northampton especially to see the torch.
And Mr Allatt was thrilled when he got to touch it.
“I’ll never wash this hand again,” said an emotional Mr Allatt.
“The Olympics is one of those things that brings the country together and makes us feel good.”
Mrs Pearson added: “I think it’s absolutely great and I shall be watching the Games every day while they're on.”
Children from Ambleside, Hawkshead, Langdale and Coniston primary schools performed a song especially-assembled for the occasion as the torch made its way to Waterhead to board the Bowness-bound vessel, the Tern.
It was helped on its way by a flotilla, christened Brathay’s ‘whalers’, as other boats sounded their horns in tribute.
Marj Waddecar, of Ambleside, who was looking on, said: “I was born in the year Britain last held the Olympics so I thought I ought to come down and see the torch this time.
“It’s good we have got the Olympics and let’s just hope there’s a bit of a spin-off for tourism in areas like this.”
Visitor Julianne Harlow, of Brighton, added: “It’s a really big event that we won’t be seeing in this country again and, rightly or wrongly, a lot of money has been invested in it.”
People were invited to write goodwill messages about the Games for inclusion in an eye-catching yellow ‘balloon tree’.
The Kendal Windows on Art project was led by Pam Williamson, who said: “I have worked with older people, schoolchildren and members of the public, asking them to send their messages to welcome the torch from Ambleside to London and the rest of the world.”
The balloons were given to children after the torch passed through and the messages will now go on display at Ambleside Library before featuring in a special opening ceremony at this year’s Ambleside Sports.
The Borrans Park festivities were organised in part by Barry Porter, of Rufty Tufty’s, Ambleside.
Mr Porter said: “I thought it would be a really positive thing for Ambleside - it really profiles the area.
“Anything that builds up Ambleside is great for local businesses and local people. The kids are really enjoying it.”
An Olympic Torch relay celebration, titled On the Night Shift, presented by Kendal Arts International, takes place on The Glebe, Bowness, tonight.
ORGANISERS of the Lake District's 11th annual air extravaganza, taking place on July 23 and 24, have revealed their display line-up.
The Windermere Air Festival kicks off on the Saturday with the breathtaking acrobatics of the Breitling Wing Walkers, performing a sequence of manoeuvres and handstands whilst strapped to the top wings of the team's Boeing Stearman biplanes.
First day visitors will also be treated to the RedHawks' air show act with a slow, gentle and graceful four-minute, three-dimensional aerial ballet performed to soothing music by a pair of 42 year-old, wooden, high-efficiency aeroplanes, designed by French musician, artist, ceramicist and sculptor Réné Fournier.
Another Saturday highlight will be the RAF Falcons parachute display team, now in their 50th year.
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight will grace the skies above Windermere on both days with special flights from the Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster Bomber.
The RV8tors will be flying their remarkably fast Vans RV-8's with powerful smoke systems, performing an exciting and memorable display.
Combining close formation aerobatics with speeds up to 230 mph, the display makes large manoeuvres that fill the sky and leave big smoke trails.
Also appearing at the festival will be the RAF Tucano and the RAF Hawk.
Both spectacular in their own right the Hawk display team will demonstrate the professional excellence of the RAF while the Tucano display consists of 21 manoeuvres including an offset barrel roll, stall turn, oblique loop and reverse wingover.
On Sunday, the Twister Duo will create a display of formation barrel loops, rolls and gravity defying zoom climbs.
The highlight of the weekend is set to be the renowned ambassadors of the RAF and everyone’s favourite – The Red Arrows.
Having missed last year's Lakeland air show, the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, have been confirmed to headline 2011's festival.
Appearing at the air festival is a welcome return for Squadron Leader Graeme Bagnall.
Graeme, who is Red 10, is the team’s commentator and on the ground safety supervisor.
He was educated at nearby St Bee’s School, in Cumbria.
Mr Bagnall said: “We are really looking forward to displaying at Windermere.
"It’s a stunning location and will definitely be a highlight of the display season for me.
"I can’t wait to meet the crowd when I’m on the ground at the show doing the commentary for the Team.
"You get a real buzz from seeing how the audience reacts to the displays.”
The RAF Red Arrows have been wowing audiences since their first season in 1965, they have flown over 4,000 displays in 52 countries.
Today the Red Arrows are renowned throughout the world,acting as ambassadors for Great Britain when displaying overseas.
They also support UK industry by demonstrating the capabilities of British equipment and expertise.
Lucy Bennett, a director of the air festival, said: "It’s such a coup for us to host the Red Arrows this year.
"They put on such a fantastic display and really add some excitement to the programme.
"The highly acclaimed displays are filled full of twists, turns, drama and excitement - they are definitely not one to be missed."
Attractions on the ground at the Air Base include the military village, battle re-enactments and flying simulator, new kids have-a-go activities plus face painting, circus skills, music and great local food stalls.
The Windermere Air Festival 2011 takes place on Saturday, July 23 and Sunday, July 24. The Air Base is located on the Glebe in Bowness-on-Windermere. For further information, click on the website below.