At Friar’s Crag in Keswick, the view across Derwentwater towards tree-covered islands and the gently-sloping summit of Catbells can only be described as sublime.
It’s a scene William Wordsworth might have been contemplating when he said the Lake District was a “national property” for everyone “who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy”.
But step away from foreshore and head through winding streets towards Keswick’s old market square and it soon becomes clear that all is not well in this pastoral paradise.
The tranquil town beloved by hikers, with its fudge shops and dog-friendly pubs, is unexpectedly locked in an unholy row amid claims an annual gathering of 15,000 evangelical Christians is killing tourism.
Angry traders say their takings plummet by as much 90 per cent when the 142-year-old Keswick Convention sets up camp for three weeks at the height of summer.
“It shouldn’t be allowed,” says Garry Price, the general manager of the Kings Arms Hotel in the market square.
“This is a nice tourist town where families come to enjoy the scenery, but they can’t visit because everywhere is booked up for the convention.
”The conventioneers take up the accommodation and the parking spaces, but they don’t spend their money in town. We’ve even had people on the street telling everyone they are sinners.
“It’s getting on people’s nerves. You just can’t hear yourself think when the convention is in town.”
The Keswick Convention began in 1875 with a prayer meeting in a tent on the lawn of a local vicarage – and has been growing ever since.
Towards the end of last week, thousands of worshippers in waterproof coats could be seen gathering in the rain at an encampment of large marquees on the edge of town for morning Bible readings and evening celebrations, and at the convention’s headquarters in Skiddaw Street, where the words “All one in Christ Jesus” are etched on the wall.
But tempers have flared among townsfolk over plans to move the convention back a week from this year’s opening date of 15 July to the 21 July in 2018 – the start of the first three weeks of the school holidays in Cumbria and many other parts of Britain.
Dozens of traders crammed into a town council meeting to complain that the convention is “throttling” local businesses and to appeal for it to be moved to a quieter time of year.
The local newspaper, the Keswick Reminder, which has been in print since 1896, told in a front page headline how businesses are warning: “We don’t want you here for half our summer holidays.”
A online petition, which has been signed by more than 1,800 people, says: “Keswick is the adventure capital of England and it is essentially closing its doors to the outside world while the convention is happening.”
There are also concerns about a plan by Keswick Ministries, which runs the convention, to create a £10m permanent home for the event at the town’s former pencil factory, with 60 beds, a dining area and conference centre.
Some traders refuse to speak when i visits town, saying they fear becoming victims of a “boycott”. Myths have even sprung up about conventioneers demanding special treatment in restaurants and even taking their own teabags into cafes.
“I usually get around 60 people per show,” says Tom Rennie, the owner of Keswick’s 103-year-old cinema, the Alhambra, which is showing Sofia Coppola’s new film, the Beguiled.
“But it’s a write off when the convention starts. We only had 11 at one show during the convention. There’s a great deal of resentment in Keswick.
”I don’t think it’s because Christians aren’t cinema goers, but they have events on in the evenings and stay in their tents.“
SOURCE: Dean Kirby