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 Tree which stands in a Lake District wood is the tallest in Cumbria and could be the largest in the North West.
The 57.8-metre giant grand fir in Skelghyll Wood, Ambleside, has also been recorded as the tallest of its species in England, breaking the previous Cumbrian record of 55 metres, which was held by a conifer at Thirlmere.
National Trust ranger John Pring got the idea to get the tree measured and recorded by the National Tree Register charity when driving through Ambleside.
He said: “I’ve driven on that main road (A591) in Ambleside for a long time and I just thought: ‘That really is a very big tree, I wonder how big it is? We were surprised just how tall it was when we measured it. There are some very big trees in the area but we didn’t realise how tall it actually was. This is just one of the thousands of big old trees the National Trust looks after in the area.”
Mr Pring, who has covered Windermere and Ambleside for 20 years, is now encouraging nature lovers to go to Skelghyll Wood and see the true scale of how tall the trees are for themselves and the grand fir, which was planted in 1860, looks set to continue growing and could push the 60-metre mark unless there are any accidents such as a storm blowing it over.
The tree was measured by tree climbers Mark Sigrift and Mick Lupton of Aspen Tree Management in Witherslack by dropping a long tape measure and using a badminton pole to attach a tape measure. “It just shows that the tree is happy with the climate there,” said Mr Pring. It’s only 160 years old so it is still growing.”