England Family Adventure Capital Hiking Jubilympics

Queen’s Jubilee Beacon Lighting in Lake District

Written by Kirstie Pelling
Emergency Flare on Catbells, Keswick

This is no emergency flare, it’s part of a celebration of 60 years of service. On Catbells, Keswick

On the day after we help try and set a world record for the longest street party as part of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, we hike up Catbells Keswick to watch one of over 4000 beacons being lit around the Commonwealth. It’s not the highest in England; that honour goes to the nearby Scafell Pike. And compared to the line of 60 being lit along Hadrian’s Wall, it’s a solitary light in the darkness. But it is a memorable, and very Cumbrian way to mark a unique and royal moment in time. And tick off a Wainwright! 

Queen’s Jubilee Beacon: on Catbells Keswick

Navigating on Catbells, Keswick

8pm and we make a plan. To plant flags on Catbells. And see the beacon being lit.

No one sings the national anthem. There are no crowds waving flags or singing along to pop songs. The pinprick street lights of Keswick are too far to light our way as we round the peak of the mountain. But there are more people enjoying the dusk of Catbells than we thought. Perhaps sixty people; some huddled under a union jack blanket, others munching on muesli bars, or chucking their dog a plastic toy. The last of the sun sets. And then, high on a hill above us, a tiny light comes on. Everyone stands to look.

Sunset on Catbells Keswick

9pm. As the sun sets we wave and weave our way up to the summit.

Look, a beacon

“It’s Binsey. The beacon’s been lit on Binsey!” And then just as suddenly, it seems to go out. The kids scour the landscape looking for Scafell Pike, where one of the last beacons will be lit before The Queen ignites the last with her crystal ball. But what they see instead is a sliver of red light, slowly ascending between two mountains. Soon it has swelled into a full, red ball. The moon has come to oversee the Jubilee proceedings.

Crowd on Catbells, Keswick

10pm. The crowd looks beyond Keswick to Binsey as a beacon is lit in the distance

The Lake District towns have spent the weekend celebrating the Jubilee with fayres, street parties and local events. Pints have been drunk and barbecued food consumed. But what the Lake District does best is the lakes and peaks. And here, above Keswick, lakes and peaks and people have come together to mark a moment in a quiet, reflective way.

Crowd on Catbells, Keswick

Watching and waiting on Catbells. Watches are checked and the countdown begins.


There is some business on the walkie talkies, and a countdown from ten starts.

“Ten, nine, eight,” The crowd draws back as a guy in a red jacket pours petrol onto a heap of wood in a metal grate.

“Seven,six, five,” The dogs pause and drop their toys, sensing the tension as Keswick seems to grow stiller in the distance. A young person lights a match.

10.10pm. The lighter works! Stand back.

“Four, three, two, one,”

Whoosh. Two Cadets and two Queen’s Scouts bring the beacon to life. Due to public interest, the planned 2012 Diamond Jubilee beacons being lit across the commonwealth have become more than 4000, and one of them is here. Hundreds of camera flashes go off in the distance as the people gathered on the beach in Keswick watch us walk towards the light.

Catbells beacon Keswick

Catbells is alight

Under the moon

“When people ask where I was on the Jubilee, I’ll always tell them I was next to the moon on Catbells,” says Cameron.

10.15pm Full moon and beacon illuminate Catbells.

Still no one sings the national anthem. But Cameron’s moon glows brighter and people’s faces are illuminated by light and warmth of The Queen and her fire.

Catbells Jubilee Beacon Keswick

10.25pm. Fire lit, the firelighters warm themselves and wait for The Queen to do her bit.

The Queen does her bit

Almost half an hour later, on a scout’s i-phone, we watch the Queen light her own beacon, the final in the sequence. She doesn’t chuck petrol on the fire, hers is done in a rather more high tech fashion, but no doubt the same moon witnesses the event.

Catbells Jubilee Beacon Keswick

10.30pm. And the people join in too. No camp fire songs. Not even a national anthem!

Our day is nearly done; the kids are fading. We climb down towards Keswick in the moonlight; its reflection spreading across the surface of Derwentwater below. Hannah has never been on a night hike up and down a mountain before. She holds her breath as her feet slide gently in the scree.

11.30pm. Mission accomplished, we light our own beacons and head home to bed.


Have you ever done an outdoor adventure to mark a special moment? We’d love to hear what you did.
This post is part of our Family Adventure Capital Season. We’re exploring different ways families can adventure together in and around Cumbria, sharing ideas and inspiration to encourage families to get out, get active and adventure together.

Got some ideas for things we should try? Let us know.

You might also like these other posts about adventures in Cumbria:

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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