A fantastic mix of outdoor sports, activities and live music on the shores of Derwent Water.
This multifaceted event has had several owners and is now in the capable hands of Triathlon Edinburgh and sister company Durty Events. Managing its array of mountain sports activities is not without its challenges, especially when you have blue-green algae to contend with! We talk to event director Nicola Meadley.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
Keswick Mountain Festival is a celebration of mountain sports and outdoor activities. In 2019, 4,300 people signed up for sporting challenges in a programme including four trail runs, two sportives, three swims, one hiking challenge, one triathlon and one aquathon, plus a number of junior events.
For those that don’t want to compete there are guided walks, climbs and water-based activities with local operators as well as the Festival Village. Visitors can have a go on climbing walls, segways, canoes and kayaks, a caving system, take wildlife walks and more, as well as eat food prepared by great caterers and be inspired by talks and exhibiting brands.
As the sun sets, eyes turn to the picturesque music stage which sits on the banks of Derwent Water with views down the Borrowdale Valley. The live music takes place on Friday and Saturday nights and in 2019 featured Peatbog Faeries, UKBlondie, Big Country and Bez & Roweta as well as local acts. Around 10,000 people watch the live music over the two nights.
The Festival Village is based on National Trust, open access land and is open to all during the day. The weekend footfall is approximately 20,000.
Explain a bit about your venue and its history
The Festival Village is on Crow Park, which is owned by the National Trust. The history of the park stretches back as far as 1748 when a plantation of tall oak trees was cut down and visitors from Keswick were able to see the vast new panorama of mountains and the lake framed by woodland and fields. This new vista attracted tourists, artists and writers including poet Thomas Gray who recorded his visit to Crow Park in 1769.
More recently, in 2017, Crow Park was chosen as the official site which celebrates the Lake District’s inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Twelve new slate plaques have been installed which help tell visitors the story behind what makes it (and the English Lake District) such a special place.
What is the event’s history?
The festival was launched by the Keswick Tourism Association in 2007 and started out as a programme of outdoor activities laid on by a number of local activity providers. It has grown over the years and passed into several different hands, each owner bringing their own additions.
The festival is now owned by Triathlon Edinburgh and organised by sister company Durty Events. We had previously been involved in the event, operating the swims, sportives and triathlon events but the decision to buy it came in 2018. We believed the delivery of the sport could be better and that the event be more integrated into the local community, plus running it would be a lot of fun!
How does the relationship work with the venue you hold the event at?
With Crow Park designated as open access land, it is open to everyone during the day. Visitors who buy weekend festival tickets have access to theatre talks and ‘have a go’ activities which are available to non ticket holders on a ‘pay as you go’ basis. Access to the evening concerts is by ticket only and the area secured.
The National Trust also owns much of the land where the sporting events take place and is the event’s official charity. We work with it to promote a fundraising campaign each year and devise different ways to raise funds. In 2019 we invited competitors to raise sponsorship and this is something we will expand going forwards.
How did you find applying for permission to run the event?
This event needs a range of licences! A premises licence exists for the Festival Village in order for us to have live music. Crow Park sits on the edge of the town and we work with noise consultants Joynes and Nash to ensure the festival doesn’t exceed permitted levels. While our license permits us to play live music until 11pm, we close at 10.30pm as this suits the audience of families and sports people, some of whom are starting their activities early the following morning. It is also better for the residents of Keswick.
Of equal importance is our licence from Natural England, which permits us to use the lake and the land around it. We are required to make various provisions to ensure that no pollutants get into the lake and that anything that goes into it (people and equipment) is clean before going in and cleaned again on coming out. These bio-security measures are in place to ensure that there is no transfer of invasive non-native species (INNS) of vegetation and microbes.
How have you planned the layout of the event?
There are three key areas of the Festival Village – exhibitors and caterers, the start/finish line and associated sport facilities, and the stage and audience viewing area. These are all planned to provide the best visitor experience and to maximise the visibility of and interaction with exhibitors and caterers.
We hire in the music stage, the start/finish gantry, exhibitor marquee, sports registration marquee, Lakeside Bar marquee, changing room marquee, bag drop marquee, back stage bar marquee and the Mountain Hut Bar double tipi and catering marquee.
How did you research and source your infrastructure?
Where possible local suppliers are used for the festival and many have been used for some time. Fluid Productions is based in Keswick and has supplied the stage since live music was introduced in 2014. This year it also provided power, lighting and crew.
Square Orange owns a bar in Keswick and operates the bars at the festival. It has been involved in the event since 2007. Fjell Event Tipis is a local supplier and has installed the iconic Mountain Hut Bar at the festival since 2013.
Where local suppliers weren’t available we tried, in the main, to provide continuity from previous years. With a new team running the event, having suppliers who were familiar with it was important. Fletchers Marquees has been a supplier for a while and when the event was purchased in 2018 it was in the third year of a three year contract. Little research into alternatives was done.
What entertainment do you offer?
Entertainment comes in the form of speakers, ‘have a go’ activities and the live music. All this is sourced through personal contacts and agents.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
Admissions are via e-tickets scanned at the wristband exchange. Security is managed by A&G Security and Events which has been involved with the festival since 2015.
What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
Metal roadway is used in key areas for loading exhibitors and for back stage access.
How do you publicise the event?
The main media partner is Bauer’s Trail magazine, with some involvement with Outdoor Swimmer. All other promotion is via targeted online promotion and engagement with local media, clubs, organisations and businesses.
What challenges have you faced?
The festival has changed its dates a couple of times. It had traditionally been the weekend before the end of May bank holiday but in 2017 and 2018 it was moved three weeks to the first full weekend in June. This was not especially popular with the town and for 2019 this date would have clashed with a significant local event. The decision was taken to move the festival back to its traditional May dates and this proved to be the right decision. This is where it will stay, with dates already announced for 2020.
The weather is always a challenge for this festival! If it is too dry and warm in the run up the water level can be very low. If the winter is particularly cold the water temperature can be too low for the swimmers. If the winter is too warm the algae in the lake can bloom. If the weather is too windy that can cause issues as the site is quite exposed!
In 2017 we had very heavy winds on the Saturday night going into the Sunday and consequently had to close the Festival Village on Sunday morning. We were able to operate the sporting events by starting and finishing them in a more sheltered location. This year we had a blue-green algae bloom confirmed 12 hours before the festival opened so we had to cancel the swims.
How have you financed the event?
The event is financed by sponsorship, exhibitor sales and visitor revenue.
What are your plans for next year?
The format of the event will stay broadly the same. We are looking to bring it ‘closer to the mountains’ which is likely to involve the addition of a couple of new sporting challenges as well as tweaking the speaker line up. We are also looking to give the Friday and Saturday nights a slightly different feel from each other which will allow visitors a more distinct choice as to which evening they would most like to attend, if not both.
What other events do you run?
Triathlon Edinburgh/Durty Events operate a number of sporting events throughout the year – Bowhill Duathlon, Hop Run, Celtman, Aberfeldy Multi-sport Festival, The Heb, Go Swim (Loch Lomond), Craggy Island Triathlon and The Dramathon.
What advice could you give to other outdoor event organisers?
Start small, with a tribe you understand, a subject you are passionate about and a clear proposition. Grow from a credible base and your tribe will follow you.
Fjell Event Tipis www.fjelleventtipis.co.uk
Fletchers Marquees www.fletchermarquees.co.uk
STAGE, POWER & LIGHTING
Fluid Productions www.fluidproductions.co.uk
Live Trakway www.livetrakway.com
TOILETS & WASHROOMS
Teesdale Event Services www.rentatoilet.co.uk
Results Base www.resultsbase.net
AW Blake www.awblake.co.uk
Fletchers Marquees www.fletchermarquees.co.uk
FENCING & CABINS
AW Blake www.awblake.co.uk
PLANT & EQUIPMENT
AW Blake www.awblake.co.uk
Harrison Creative www.harrisoncreative.co.uk
15-17 May 2020
Cumbria CA12 5DJ