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.
A MAN who discovered a 48-year-old bar of Kendal Mint Cake in his loft believes it may be the oldest-surviving bar of the famous confectionery.
Peter Truelove, 68, of Windermere, bought the bar of Robert Wiper’s Original Mint Cake when he and a friend visited Kendal as 21-year-olds in 1964.
The pair were on a ‘boy’s adventure’ which took them from their homes in Kent to John O’Groats, the most northerly point on the Scottish mainland.
“We travelled the distance in an Austin 7 and it took us a week,” said Mr Truelove, of Hill Top. “The car only did 35mph at best and it was blizzard weather – the snow was coming into the car.
“We called at Kendal on the way back and we’d heard about the mint cake, so when we saw some we thought we’d buy a bar.”
Mr Truelove said he was not sure why he had kept the bar in a box in his loft.
“It was on a shelf as a memento of the trip but it’s been in the loft since we moved to Windermere 16 years ago,” he said. The bar is still in reasonable condition although some of the sugar is seeping through the wrapping.
Although the original Wipers recipe is still used, the company was sold to Romneys in 1987.
Managing director John Barron said: “We have been making it all these years and I don’t think we have any that old – it’s impressive.
“It wouldn’t do him any harm to eat it now but I don’t expect it would taste very nice.”
Mr Truelove said what was also interesting to discover was the journal he wrote while travelling, which documented the stop-off in Kendal. He said: “I had to record everything we spent because my friend and I were splitting the cost of the trip. It’s funny now to look back and see that someone offered to sell us a car engine and gear box for £2.50, and that 15 litres of petrol was 60p.
“Unfortunately, the price of the mint cake wasn’t included, although I did write that we’d visited and purchased it.”