How Ambleside Together’s Love Ambleside campaign is helping in the aftermath of the floods

Ambleside Town Centre

Ambleside Town Centre - Credit: Archant

Villagers have rallied together in the wake of the floods and have floated several new ideas, writes Mike Glover

Ambleside Waterhead

Ambleside Waterhead - Credit: Archant

IT is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. That is how hotelier Andrew Hewitt describes the reaction of Ambleside to the storms that battered the north of England in the winter. For it has galvanised businesses to create a new organisation and a new campaign to promote the village.

The organisation is Ambleside Together, which is replacing a long defunct Chamber of Trade, and its first campaign is Love Ambleside. The thousands of visitors who flock to the quaint streets just a short walk from some of the most stunning scenery England’s largest national park has to offer, obviously love Ambleside already. As do the residents, students and celebrities who for generations have made Ambleside their home.

But the village of around 2,600 residents did feel a collective chill when the weather made national headlines in the winter. The main blast was Storm Desmond on December 5, with Rothay Park washed out, some homes and businesses flooded and all the main roads in and out of the town blocked.

‘For two days Ambleside became an island, with no way in or out,’ said photographer and film-maker Steve Ashworth. He is busy making promotional material for Love Ambleside. ‘I love living in Ambleside and the ability to go straight out into the mountains from my house. I couldn’t live anywhere else.’

A postcard from Ambleside

A postcard from Ambleside - Credit: Archant

As the relentless roll-call of storms reached Henry, each was accompanied by dire weather warnings meaning the Lakes had the quietest December and January for years. Some businesses had to lay off staff, reporting up to a 40% drop in takings.

The A591 to the north is still being repaired by Highways England and is not due to re-open until May. But Ambleside hasn’t been idle, making use of the unusually quieter months at the beginning of the year to have a spring clean ready for this year’s invasion of eager visitors.

‘We are confident that our regular visitors will come back this spring to enjoy their usual pastimes, walking, climbing, cycling and so on,’ said chairman, Mr Hewitt. ‘But we also saw this as a good opportunity to come together as a community and jointly promote all that’s great about Ambleside, while at the same time looking at new opportunities and new events.

‘We want to attract people who haven’t thought about coming to the Lakes before and show it is not just about walking and cycling.’

Bridge House

Bridge House - Credit: Archant

The group has created a website, printed information flyers and set up social media networks for the Love Ambleside campaign. They plan to apply for grants to fund future projects.

‘This is a really exciting opportunity for Ambleside, for different business and interests to join together and promote our wonderful village, and the landscape around it,’ added Mr Hewitt, whose family has run the Regent Hotel at Waterhead for 37 years.

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Waterhead, the gateway to Ambleside from the south, was badly swamped when Windermere rose eight to ten feet above its normal level. The Regent had waters lapping at its doors, but stayed open. Other businesses were not so lucky.

More fortunately a long-planned £300,000 upgrade of the lake-shore at Waterhead was due to take place in January. After contractors, the Casey Group, repaired the road surfaces damage caused by flood water, they got stuck into the main job.

Dorothy Smith and Derek Hook

Dorothy Smith and Derek Hook - Credit: Archant

The upgrade includes widening the promenade and resurfacing walkways, repairing walls and installing a ‘panorama’ board, developed with Ambleside Civic Trust, to identify key Lakeland landmarks that can be seen from the shore.

There are also dry stone walls to protect planting beds and provide informal seating, as well as cycle stands and better landscaping, along with railings and litter bins more in keeping with the location and surroundings.

Thanks to the co-operation of Windermere Lake Cruises the scheme also includes the installation of a disabled access ramp to the Waterhead Information Centre. The contractors were aiming to complete the bulk of the works before Easter.

Also ready to spring into 2016 season is Ambleside Manor, the former Ambleside Lodge hotel, turned into a vegetarian country guest house by an entrepreneurial local family.

The 19th century property with 16 en-suite bedrooms in two acres of grounds and gardens has been bought and refurbished by Derek Hook, his brother Raymond and their sister Dorothy Smith, who all live locally and own Zeffirelli’s cinema, restaurant and jazz bar in the Lakeside town.

The family also own Fellini’s restaurant in Church Street and Yewfield vegetarian country guest house four miles away near Hawkshead. The non-meat eating empire was started, believe it or not, by former Blackpool butcher Derek Hook, when he moved to the Lakes 35 years ago.

Current managing director, Dorothy, said: ‘We fell in love with the building as soon as we saw it. We got our hands on it in October and wanted to open it in time for Christmas, always the busiest week in Ambleside.

‘Then the floods came and Christmas was a wash-out. So it became a soft opening and the bookings built steadily. All but one room was taken for New Year’s Eve.

‘We know a lot of people come up from Lancashire and Cheshire for Zeffirelli’s and we wanted to give them an option to stay for the night, or longer. That is already happening.’

So Ambleside is ready for the tens of thousands of visitors they are hoping will return this spring.

The spring clean is complete, the roads are all clear from the south and all will be welcome. Just don’t mention the weather.

You can join in the Love Ambleside on Facebook, and on Twitter @LoveAmbleside.

One message of support came from comedian Rory Bremner: ‘I have great memories of Ambleside from teenage climbing trips and recently filming Great British Views in the area. The recent flooding must have been devastating but the recovery is inspiring. Visit soon!’