1972 – Where it all began
It all started in early 1972.
The Ribble Bus company had ceased to operate a Service over Kirkstone Pass to Glenridding.
Chris Taylor, recently returned to the Lake District from Australia, and looking for a business opportunity to develop, applied to the Transport Commissioners to operate a 5 times a day service from Bowness to Glenridding between Easter and the end of October. Working together with William Hudson from Hawkshead, the Lake District Minibus Company Limited was formed.
Needless to say, the idea created its own news story with support and opposition coming from all quarters.
The end result was a service starting on a wet Good Friday, 31st March 1972. Chris Taylor, at the wheel of a 12 seater Ford Transit Minibus, set off empty on an inaugural run.
The name, Mountain Goat, came from one of his test drive passengers a short while before that famous day. For the first time for many a year, Goats were seen back in the Lake District, all be it mechanical ones this time.
The plan was to extend services, and during the same year, services linking Hawkshead, Grizedale, and Lakeside appeared.
Integrated transport solutions existed even then with the Glenridding service tying in with the departure times of the Ullswater Steamer, thus creating the first Boat ‘n’ Goat service.
1973 - Expansion a pace
Further controversy surfaced as 1973, (season number 2) started with the application to run tours over Wrynose and Hardknott passes. Objections from other operators keen to capitalise on a new tourist facility plus concerns about traffic congestion voiced by the National Park Authority, failed to stop the creation of a service which came to be known as the Wasdale Flyer.
Now operating with 8 vehicles, one of which was a very old Bedford Coach, white Ford Transits with 12 passenger seats, roof racks to carry rucksacks with a rear access ladder, and green Goats emblazoned on the sides, had become a local recognisable feature.
When you have vehicles you need help both in drivers, management and maintenance.
Chris Dobson, a local Windermere car mechanic, joined the business in 1972 and, although forming his own repair garage in 1994, is now just reaching 40 years in 2012 of servicing, repairing, safety checking, and generally keeping in good condition a never ending series of Mountain Goat vehicles. For 15 years, he even built the conversions based on agreed ‘back of envelope designs’ which did the job of satisfying passengers, who wanted a comfy seat, could always see out of a large panoramic window, and had easy access on and off the bus.
1974 – Services, Tours and Holiday Packages
The recipe for tourist travel was established. Passengers liked to get around on a bus and hear stories from the drivers. Many arrivals at hotels were encouraged to leave the car in the car park and explore the area in the care of a driver guide. Private Hire meant that arrivals from all over the UK came by coach, stayed in a number of local hotels and enjoyed a tour package with Mountain Goat. Working in concert with a number of hotels and guest houses, Mountain Goat Holidays and Breaks enticed up to 800 people a year to visit the area, many of them single and looking to return to places they had visited in their youth.
1975 – 1981 The years of growth
Over these years the fleet built up to 14 vehicles in total including a couple of coaches. Chris’s brother Patrick returned to the Lake District in 1975 and joined as company manager coping with the booming demand for holidays.
The business was now split broadly between tours and private hire transport, packaged holidays, and stage bus routes.
The media caught on to the concept and many journalists wrote about this new way to visit England’s Most Beautiful corner – be it a bus service for walkers and campers with rucksacks making exploratory treks, or a packaged holiday where seeing all the Lake District had to offer, or a day’s sightseeing tour, the Mountain Goat became synonymous with Public Service travel in the Lake District. The company was cited by Lord Inglewood in a speech in the House of Lords as an exemplar of how to operate rural bus services, the name and reputation spread far and wide. TV Holiday programmes and travel writers all visited the Lake District to write about and show the area to the wider public away from our core market area of the north of England.
Tours became known by catchy descriptions as titles, - The High Adventure, The Duddon Valley Picnic, Boat n Goat, the Grand Tour, Tarn Hows & the Langdales, the Secret Valley, a Look at Lakeland Life, Past & Present – all conjured up images of what was there to be seen and enjoyed – as long as you were with someone who knew where they were going.
Getting to the Lake District could also be an adventure - occasionally with coaches which sometimes struggled with the distance. 1977 saw the start of Express Coach Services from Manchester Airport and Hull all the way the Ambleside, subsequently followed by a service to and from York. The last one became so popular it was still going in 1993 albeit with its most vociferous supporters living in West Yorkshire Dales who relied upon a Lake District service 4 days a week to provide a link from Gargrave and Skipton through to Harrogate and York.
Cliff Michelmore, hosting the ever popular BBC1 Holiday programme at Sunday teatime during 1977 eulogised about the simplicity and enjoyment gained from being on a 7 day Mountain Goat touring holiday, enjoying all there is to see about a place which had become a mecca for tourism because of its spectacular landscape and the icons of the Romantic Poets (Wordsworth et al) and the childrens’ books authors such as Beatrix Potter and Arthur Ransome. Packaged MiniCoach holidays helped towards solving the problems created by large numbers of people visiting a small area which need to cope with a large influx of tourists.
The 1980’s - The Ups and Downs
1980 marked a time to settle down and Chris got married to Carol who came to the Lakes to become Sales and Marketing Manager fresh from a career in the Travel Industry based in London. Carol used her London contacts and international experience to continue to promote both the Goat and the Lake District to the international market.
Continuing media interest fuelled an increase in visitors to the Lake District. Also, with the ease with which travellers could now quickly reach the area by their own car, made it all the more necessary to create new tours, new walking packages, The increase in personal car usage naturally put pressure on Stage Service buses in the rural area. Sightseeing tours assumed prominence for visitors as locals used their own vehicles more and more. The original Glenridding service still operated as did a bus service from Keswick to Buttermere via Honister and Newlands Pass. This came about as Mountain Goat set up a sales office in Keswick offering exactly the same services as had been done in Windermere for the previous 10 years.
1983 heralded the de-regulation of Public Transport and removed the need to apply for permission to run a public bus service. All that was required was a notification to the Traffic Commissioner. With unlimited potential competition on any profitable service, rural bus services were in danger of disappearing yet again.
1985 saw a change in vehicles. After so many years of Ford Transits with 12 seats, and a brief look at LDV’s, Chris Taylor plumbed for the new boxy looking Renault Master with its potential to seat 15 passengers, have large windows, front wheel drive, and still keep to the specifications of being no more than 2 metres wide to fit down any road in the Lake District. This change lasted from 1985 right through to 2009 when Mountain Goat commenced a change, yet again, to Mercedes sprinters. Conversions started in 1985 and Chris Dobson converted nearly all the fleet over a 16 years period to 2001.
The 1980’s was also marked by the arrival of more and more competition with single vehicle operators seeing a well publicised opportunity to make a career in something enjoyable and being able to work in one of the most beautiful spots in the UK.
1987 saw the first foray away from the Lake District into Scotland with a touring holiday.
1989 saw the departure of Patrick Taylor to form his own bespoke software business. Using his experience and expertise in planning and making reservations for hundreds of holiday packages, he was able to offer a similar service to hotel reservations who were looking for a technical solution to replace handwritten booking systems.
1990 saw the peak and tourism activity and the start of a severe recession with cutbacks in all markets.
In 1993, after 21 years of developing a business from scratch Chris thought it time to move on and retire from tourism and transport.
1993 to 2012
In 1989, Peter Nattrass, who had recently retired from running an Outdoor Centre for School Children, joined Mountain Goat as Operations Manager. Already armed with a PCV licence and having driven a number of tours over the years (he actually bought an old Mountain Goat bus for his centre) Peter’s first challenge was to maximise business in the season, find some work in the winter and work with the Taylors on new ideas.
1991 marked the 2nd away from the Lake District Touring holiday, with the Yorkshire Dales and North Yorkshire Moors based out of Harrogate.
Also, following the retirement of the Finance Manager, Stephen Broughton came to the company as a financial control consultant.
In 1993 Peter, Stephen, and a 3rd partner, Norman Stoller, bought Mountain Goat thus allowing Chris and Carol Taylor to retire.
1994 saw the company revisit the past. The first thing that happened was the renewal for the 2nd time of the original Windermere to Glenridding stage service throughout the season.
A pilot programme of transporting staff to and from work for Lakeland Plastics was agreed on a permanent basis this providing Mountain Goat with a regular core of work during the winter months.
Mountain Goat again visited Scotland, this time right up to the Grampian Highlands with a touring holiday based at Grantown on Spey giving us the opportunity to visit Inverness, Loch Ness, and heart of the Grampian region.
The popularity of holidays in the Lakes was on the wane by this time as visitors made their own accommodation arrangements with familiar hotels and guest houses and just arrived at the office to enjoy the latest tours. So, subsequent years throughout the 1990’s saw expansion using the Mountain Goat package formula to Eire, Wales, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall, Norfolk, Northumberland, the Peak District and even a trek to Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Germany to experience the Christmas Markets.
By combining forces with a Walking Holiday company, Countrywide Holidays Association, specialist holidays of walking, gardens, and other cultural interests followed.
In 1995, Mountain Goat partnered with other local like minded businesses to form the Japan Forum and concentrate on the Far East market which forms an important part of the Lake District international business.
To celebrate 25 years of operation, Mountain Goat decided to try and re find L’ille Billy, the 1949 Bedford OB bus which plied the Kirkstone pass service back in the 1980’s. Research back through the records and a number of telephone calls resolved that the bus had been completely refurbished and exported to a private owner in Japan. This owner was President of an International Company with an office in London. He was delighted to send pictures of the bus in new colours but, strangely, doing the same job of transporting international visitors to an area in Japan.
Corgi, the model car manufacturer, produced a limited edition production of 5,000 Lille Billys in Mountain Goat colours to celebrate the 25 years also.
As part of the Japan Forum Trade Mission to Japan in 1998, Jim Walker who represented all the members, was welcomed the Giken Co and was able to present a Corgi model to the owner of the vehicle in his offices in Tokyo.
In 1998, concentration on the US market saw the development of Educational Walking Holidays for a US Tour Operators.
1998 saw the development of the new Renault Master with room for 16 passengers, and a variety of luggage carrying capacity.
1999, saw us sell the original sales chalet in Windermere and buy the larger premises next door.
Tours continued to develop along with a development of new touring itineraries for large coach companies who wished to add value to their visit by showing their customers places where their coaches couldn’t access.
2001, with Foot & Mouth rife in the area, was time for imagination. Working in close co-operation with Windermere Lake Cruises, the first public bus and boat service from Bowness to Hawkshead restarted after nearly 15 years. Even though nobody could walk in the area, sightseeing tours were still possible.
The Boat n Goat Shuttle (but now on Windermere rather than Ullswater) rapidly generated interest, particularly from the National Park and National Trust who really wanted to promote an alternative travel option to the car. With a partnership of 4 businesses plus NPA, National Trust and others the Bus, Boat, Boots and Bike Network was created providing an integrated link from Windermere Rail Station through Bowness, to Hilltop, Hawkshead, Grizedale, Tarn Hows, and Coniston. In a different guise, the first network set up in 1972, had just started again.
In the same way, there was the start of day trips by Rail from London to enjoy a tour in the Lake District for foreign visitors who only had time for a one day visit out of the UK itinerary to come and see what they had heard was one of the most beautiful corners in Europe.
2003 saw the support for local public transport around Windermere and Mountain Goat ended up running this service for 3 years. Also, the famous Wasdale Flyer restarted for a season in 2005 supported by Whitehaven Borough Council.
In 2005, Mountain Goat purchased Park Tours, a competitive operator with close links to the Far East market and also local timeshare operators in the Lake District who all promote a greener travel alternative to their customers. The proprietor of Park Tours was Graham Wilkinson who had come into the industry originally with Mountain Goat back in 1988. He had returned back to the company which initially trained him into the industry.
Graham rejoined Mountain Goat as a member of the Management Team which comprised Office Manager, Fleet Manager, Cashier, Holidays Manager, and Walks Programme Co-ordinator. Over the last 7 years this management team has assumed control of the ongoing company operation giving Peter, Stephen, and Norman the chance to take a back seat and concentrate on the future.
2006 This year marked a new tour. A joint venture with a Japanese London based operator heralded the arrival of a Japanese Guide,Ms Junko Ishiwata. For the next 5 years Junko looked after arrivals in Windermere from London all on a 48 hour tour of the Lake District. In 2011 Junko returned to Japan and her replacement, Nami, continued the programme. This year, Aru Fukuda continues with this increasingly popular way for Japanese to see the Lakes.
2008 was the year the change to Mercedes started. Passengers need more space and yet still in a vehicle which could travel over the narrow Lake District byways.
2009 – 2011 marked a period of expansion in tours and particularly private hire for a large number of coach operators.
To start 2012, Mountain Goat’s 40th year, the fleet was back up to 14 vehicles, our sales office was modernised, and we had a dedicated team of over 30 driver/guides.
2013 was the year that Mountain Goat was awarded ‘Tourism Experience of the Year’ by Cumbria Tourism and also the Green Tourism Silver Award.
2014 Mountain Goat Ltd successfully won the tender from South Lakeland District Council to run the in doubt, Windermere Tourist Information Centre service. We also refreshed the branding in 2014, with a new logo and livery for the vehicles.
2015 A new website with, live booking availability launches, maintaining the company’s commitment to meeting customer’s needs. Mountain Goat also starts running day tours from York under the name of Yorkshire Day tours.