AN ICONIC Lake District company celebrated its golden anniversary in style this week.

Minibus business Mountain Goat marked its 50th year on Thursday, March 31 by recreating the first ever journey its first bus took in 1972 from Bowness to Glenridding over Kirkstone Pass.

In Cumbria: DRIVE: Minibuses drove over Kirkstone Pass to GlenriddingDRIVE: Minibuses drove over Kirkstone Pass to Glenridding

Guests boarded the company’s buses-which transport thousands of tourists and Cumbrians every year-at Bowness Pier before embarking on the journey up through the mountain pass to Ullswater, where they hopped aboard the Lady Wakefield for a sail.

Onboard, cake was cut and bottles of fizz popped as Mountain Goat staff, customers, trade partners and the area’s tourism figures celebrated the milestone.

In Cumbria: CAKE: Befitting the celebrationCAKE: Befitting the celebration

Director Stephen Broughton reflected on the company’s five decades and took the opportunity to thank his drivers- whose local expertise entertains and informs passengers- and customers for their support throughout the years.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to bits to have been involved for so long and that the company is now, hopefully, continuing to adapt for the next 50 years,” he said.

“Thank you to everyone for your support.”

In Cumbria: CELEBRATING: Operations director Robin Tyson, director Stephen Broughton and director Peter NatrassCELEBRATING: Operations director Robin Tyson, director Stephen Broughton and director Peter Natrass

And operations director Robin Tyson spoke of his hopes for the next 50 years.

“It’s fantastic to see how the company has changed over the years and today is such a great feeling,” he said.

“We’ve learned something about our business over the years, speaking to the customers more, finding what they want to do, building on the traditions.

“For the next 50 years it would be great to have some more sustainable vehicles, whether that’s electric or hydrogen, they’re not really available for our market yet but that’s something to look forward to certainly in the next 10 years.

“People start talking about driverless cars but what is unique about Mountain Goat is the driver guide experience, the staff and the knowledge that makes the business, every tour is different.”

In Cumbria: TEAM: Some of the Mountain Goat drivers whose expertise informs and entertains passengersTEAM: Some of the Mountain Goat drivers whose expertise informs and entertains passengers

One of the company’s original employees is mechanic Chris Dobson who joined in 1972 and still works with the company.

For five decades he has helped keep the company’s fleet on the roads - repairing, re-building, servicing and safety checking.

After half a century of hard work the 73-year-old will finally retire in a fortnight.

In Cumbria: MECHANIC: Chris Dobson has been with Mountain Goat from the beginningMECHANIC: Chris Dobson has been with Mountain Goat from the beginning

“It was a full-time job,” he said.

“They used to get damaged on the passes, bangs and bumps here and there and with the terrain they used to go through quite a few clutches and especially tyres, they’d cut them to ribbons.

“I approached Stephen about retiring and he said will you hang on for a year or two? And that was six years ago.

“I’m going to retire in a fortnight, I thought I’ll see it through to 50 years and that’s my fair share.”

It was Mr Dobson who came up with the name for one of Mountain Goat’s most iconic buses, Li’le Billy, a classic 1949 Bedford OB Bus which the company acquired in 1976 to run the Glenridding service.

In Cumbria: ICON: Li’le BillyICON: Li’le Billy

“The bus driver was called Billy,” he said.

“So I just started calling his bus “Li’le Billy” in my Cumbrian dialect and it seemed to stick!”

Li’le Billy went on to become so famous that Corgi Model Toys made replicas of it – and the bus is now in Japan.

The mainstay of the fleet in the early days of business was converted Ford Transit mini buses with roof racks to carry backpacks and other equipment.

The company now has a fleet of around 30 vehicles, mostly Mercedes Sprinters, ranging from six seaters to 24 seaters.

In Cumbria: PAST: Mountain Goat has adapted over the yearsPAST: Mountain Goat has adapted over the years

Initially called The Lake District Minibus Company, the name soon changed when a passenger on an early test run over the fells told founder, Chris Taylor: “Blimey Chris – the buses climbed the mountain like a Mountain Goat!”