Cumbria Way in Pieces (part 6)

The main final part of the Cumbria Way was the stage from Ulverston to Coniston (or vice versa). People who run the entire route in one go start at Ulverston; although we did this stage last, we also started at the sculpture which marks the beginning. The wiggly line on it is apparently a ‘map’ of the route.

There was a lot of stopping and starting along the route as the waymarkers varied from being clear to being non-existent, so we went a longer way around some fields than we needed to, and there were also many stiles and gates: some a little wonky. The overall run was only about 20km/12 miles, but took us ages with all the stopping and starting: fortunately most of it was runnable, but not all of it.

The best part of today’s run was probably the bit up to and after Beacon Tarn, by which time we were within the Lake District National Park and on ‘familiar’-feeling Lakeland fells, with paths which were alternatively stony and muddy. It was also slightly easier to navigate than when crossing fields and farmland.

We had decided to leave the route at Sunny Bank, because we’d run the rest of the way, along the lake shore, into Coniston village itself previously, when we’d run around Coniston Water. We’d had to park in a layby slightly further south so the last bit of the ‘run’ was a walk back to the car: where we’d left our swimming stuff, intending to drive to Water Yeat and walk to Beacon Tarn. However the weather wasn’t great so instead we had a quick dip in Coniston instead before driving back to Ulverston where my car had been left.

This wasn’t my favourite leg of the Cumbria Way. There were some good views of Morecambe Bay as we climbed away from Ulverston, and we went through some pretty villages and past some lovely houses – Gawthwaite was perhaps the prettiest – and the part past Beacon Tarn and to Sunny Bank was attractive in a proper ‘wild’ way, apart from the telegraph poles alongside the path. The bog area just past Beacon Tarn was really interesting (Penny said something about it being called a high level mere or something). I think it’s called Stable Harvey Moss, or Mere Moss: looking at the map there are several ‘mosses’ in the area, but this one had a lot of water on it and water lilies (Beacon Tarn also had water lilies in it).

The weather wasn’t brilliant, which perhaps didn’t help: but we can now say that we have done all of the Cumbria Way other than the part from near Bowscale to Caldbeck – that was delayed due to extremely bad weather on the day we had thought of trying. We now need to think of another challenge, although in addition to the Bowscale to Caldbeck section we also need to finish cycling around Cumbria (Melmerby to Brampton) and swimming in various lakes and tarns. But I think I might look up the Lakeland 100 course and do it in 10 sections of 10 miles each…

The big smoke

One of my best friends, Caroline, and her husband made the decision to move back to London – the opposite to what most people do, especially of ‘mature’ years, but I looked forward to going to visit them with excitement, and to revisiting old stamping grounds.

I’ve probably only been to London once or at most twice a year since moving to Cumbria, and didn’t at all for several years when I first moved up here and then had a baby. The train journey is only 3 and a bit hours and public transport in London has always been good: what struck me this time was that it’s now even better. When I lived in London, Battersea Power Station was an enormous empty building which nobody knew what to do with: now it’s been redeveloped and the Northern Line has been extended to it. The DLR now goes down to Deptford/Greenwich instead of just stopping at Island Gardens; and the day after I left the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) was about to open.

I still find London exciting, and it was great not only to catch up with Caroline but also with my aunt and another friend who also has just recently moved back to London. I had plenty of time to walk around and the weather was great. Ros (my aunt) and I had a walk over Hampstead Heath and passed one of the swimming ponds (nothing like the lakes…); I looked at the Gherkin from the other side of the river (I love the way it’s lit up at night); I wandered through Temple Chambers; spotted a building which stated it was one of the few on Fleet Street to have survived the fire of London; browsed the shops in Covent Garden; enjoyed the design of the seats at Liverpool Street station.

Caroline and I went to the opera at Covent Garden, which was only the second time I’d ever been there: the last time was when I was still at school and before it was redeveloped. It has a massive amount of circulation space now, which is great (the redevelopment was probably carried out about 20 or 25 years ago!). We also went running in Greenwich Park and up on Blackheath, close to places I had lived. I was shocked to realise it was half a lifetime ago.

We also went out to dinner along by the river, at a restaurant which again hadn’t been there when I lived in the area or previously had friends living in the area. It made me feel young again: there’s a, possibly unique, energy to London – I loved looking out of my bedroom window at night and seeing the lights and hearing the hum. I’m looking forward to going down again sometime!

Bonnie Scotland

It started, as a lot of good ideas start, while out on a run. I was talking to Anne about taking people – especially the over 50s – running locally, perhaps when they’re on holiday (I could also offer AirBnB). She mentioned that her daugher’s sister-in-law runs a business doing exactly that, in Scotland, and that perhaps we should go to visit her.

The long and the short of it was that Anne, Penny, Tricia and I all booked into Glenmore YHA in the Cairngorms and excitedly set off on a Thursday morning for a walking and running mini-break. After a coffee and a chat at Anne and Mark’s house we bundled our multiple bags into Tricia’s car, stopping at Dobbies in Perth for lunch (and a visit to Lakeland). We arrived at the YHA at about 4pm, in time to unpack the car and go for a run round Loch Morlich before doing yoga on the beach in the evening sun. The others then swam in the Loch – I got in up to my knees but it was VERY cold.

It was about 12 years ago I was last there. David, Alex and Bella and I had gone to the campsite with some friends. I was pregnant with Edward and one of the friends we were with found a 4-leafed clover which she gave me: it seemed to be good luck for my pregnancy, still in its early stages and I was by then 48 years old.

I can’t remember exactly what we did that time as we’d visited the area at other times as well: we’d taken the children to Aviemore a couple of times and I have a lovely photo of them at the side of Loch an Eilein, which has a castle on an island. Arriving in the area with my friends so many years later felt quite poignant, and in fact all weekend I alternated with feeling incredibly joyful at being in this amazing place and having such a fab. time, and slightly tearful.

Anne’s daughter’s sister in law turned up the next morning and after a brief chat she drove us to the Sugarbowl car park, from where we started running. There are lots of reindeer (caribou) around this part of Scotland, and we crossed a stream and went past a deer enclosure. They’re quite a problem (they eat young trees for a start), so it’s not only in Scotland but also in England that you’ll see deer fences in order to try to control the various types of deer which roam around. I was surprised that reindeer were white, as I’d expected them to be brown, Father Christmas-style.

Ahead of us we could see a pass called the Chalamain gap – nothing whatsoever to do with the Emperor Charlemagne, and I haven’t managed to find out what the name means (if anybody knows, please let me know). This leads over to the Lairig Ghru, something David had mentioned walking several times in snow as a teenager. Today we weren’t heading up through the gap but instead crossed in a southerly direction and to the top of a hill from which there were panoramic views. We then bounced down a lovely path through trees, coming across a hut hidden in the woods, before getting back to the woods surrounding Loch Morlich. Tricia and Anne jogged back around the eastern end of the Loch while Penny, Jenny and I went a slightly longer route back, all meeting back at the YHA in time for lunch in the garden.

Tricia knows the Cairngorms well – she’s a keen walker and camper, and we benefitted from her knowledge. That afternoon she had a walk planned for us up a hill behind the YHA and then down to the ‘green loch’ or An Lochan Uaine. There was a fairly long climb up, with sculptural trees and heather, and then a strong breeze at the top which almost knocked you off your feet. We then came down the other side and ended up at a bothy before walking along a track to the green loch.

Here it was my turn to stand in the freezing water so Penny could take a photo, but we all agreed it would be a great place to come to for a swim when the water was warmer. We walked to the other end and found a bench erected in memory of a guy, Jim, whom Penny had met many years ago and been impressed with: he worked for the Forestry Commission and ran a B&B near here. She’d mentioned him earlier in the trip so to find a memorial bench to him felt really special.

The track then led back to Glenmore mountain centre, the reindeer centre, and the National Park centre – where there is a memorial to Norwegian soldiers who trained in the area in the second World War (there were also Norwegian links in the YHA).

That evening there was more yoga on the beach, before returning to the YHA to cook dinner and discuss plans for the following day.

I fancied walking some of the Lairig Ghru, and Tricia had some thoughts about a route too. The name of the track – which means nothing more than Hill Pass – had stuck with me ever since I had heard of it from David all those years before – and in fact one day I’d like to do the whole thing from end to end (one end is at the Linn o’ Dee – another memorable name and somewhere else I went many years ago with two very small children. There’s a link here to a blogpost by a group who ran/walked the entire thing in 5-6 hours).

The path is varied: having started on quite wide forest trails, we were soon on single track paths which wiggled through the trees with a springy pine needle surface. Later we came out higher up and were stepping over rocks and through streams. By lunchtime I was getting a bit bored of the path and wanting to know when we were going to stop, but it was well worth the wait as we found a spot by the river, the valley sides reaching far above us and the pass beckoning us to go further over the hills.

We didn’t have time to go further today, and the way back involved re-tracing our footsteps to start with. I jogged ahead of the others a bit, partly to test out how easy or not the path would be to run. It wasn’t dissimilar in some ways to many lake district routes, and having a full stomach definitely put me in a better humour.

After Rothiemurchus Lodge we were back on the forest track, and as Tricia and Penny bonded over trees, plants and wildlife generally, Anne and I chatted about more psychological things (some people might say we were gossiping). We then had a break from being on our feet as Tricia drove us up to the Cairngorm ski lift area to have a look around. Ski areas are so sad in the summer, when there’s no snow and the equipment looks like scars on the landscape rather than the lovely white playground that a ski resort is at its best.

That evening was a lot cooler, so we did yoga in the garden of the YHA before dinner, then went into Aviemore for dinner, and only went down to the beach for post-dinner drinks, well wrapped up.

All too soon our final day had arrived. We managed to have breakfast and pack in surprisingly good time, and Tricia suggested running around the Uath Lochans near the River Feshie. This proved to be an excellent idea: again we all felt it was too cold to swim, though we’d happily go back there sometime, but it was a pretty, wooded landscape with 4 small lochs to run around and a view over towards Loch Insh from one of the higher points.

The excitement hadn’t yet finished, as we stopped to take photos at a stunning gorge, to have a look round Ruthven Barracks (incredibly cold), and then visited the Dalwhinnie Whisky distillery (we didn’t go on a tour, but in the shop I bought some presents for people back home). Our final stop was near Pitlochrie for a drink before completing the final stage of the journey home.

It had been one of the best holidays ever, with a lot of laughter and chat, both light-hearted and serious (Tricia’s question about whether anybody’s watch had the time made me giggle for days after, and highlights the fact that we were all using our watches (Fitbit, Garmin, Polar Flow) to track our steps and route rather than to tell the time (other than Anne who is notoriously bad with IT and whose battery was flat: she was wearing her watch as a fashion accessory); I fell out of the top bunkbed having insisted that I wanted to be at the top; and when we saw the photos of ourselves doing yoga on the beach we all fell about laughing for some inexplicable reason). We all agreed we’d love to go again, and meanwhile Penny and I were talking about possibly changing my ‘swim Snowdon at 60’ challenge to a trip to the Orkneys. I love Scotland.

Whilst a lot of the photos are mine, I must credit Penny, and also Anne, who took the yoga-on-the-beach photos on Penny’s phone (and then joined in with us in the following days).

Cycling in Cumbria

I have, basically, cycled around the whole of Cumbria now – over a period of time (several years, to be honest). However of course whichever road you take there are always alternatives, and there is still plenty of this enormous and varied county to explore.

I’m one of those people who collects leaflets and pages from magazines. I had a collection of ‘interesting-places-to-visit-at-some-point’ (I like to think of it as my tourist information point) which I gave to a woman and her husband having met them in the woods nearby while I was out running one day. I should perhaps add that I wasn’t carrying the leaflets with me – she mentioned that she volunteered in a local charity shop, so I dropped them off there.

That left leaflets and magazine pages about runs and cycle rides. These are mostly left in a neat(ish) pile along with the relevant maps, partly as I’m going to turn them into a book one day (!) and partly as I want to try out some of those alternative routes which I haven’t yet done. They’re not all in Cumbria: I really want to explore more of southern Scotland, which lies just to the north of the Solway Firth (and which has sandy beaches rather than muddy marshland) and also Northumberland – which is, of course, another huge county.

Alston is allegedly the highest town in England, and sits close to the Northumberland/ Cumbrian border. It’s about 18 or 19 miles from Brampton, where I live, along a wiggly but interesting road (you even pass the remains of a Roman fort). As the ride I’d decided to do was about 20 miles and hilly, I thought I’d drive to Alston and park in the middle – especially as by the time I’d decided which route I wanted to do it was getting into mid-afternoon. Alston has a reputation for being a bit weird and the home to lots of hippy-types who moved there in the 1960s and never moved away again. I’m not a hippy type, but I do like Alston, but other than a steam railway it suffers from a lack of public transport (I’m sure there’s a bus service, but like so many rural places I would think that you’re basically reliant on having a car and being able to drive).

The start of the bike ride took me downhill out of Alston and then out along a minor road going in a southerly direction towards Garigill (or Garrigill). I was cycling more or less alongside the river South Tyne, which starts up in the Fells to the south of Alston, and passed or crossed several burns or becks which also come down off the fellside into the south Tyne – including one called Dry Burn, which was as its name describes.

The road drops downhill into Garigill and the river valley, and the routemap showed that I should now turn to the south towards Ashgill to go around Flinty Fell. However I decided not to but to follow the Coast to Coast cycle waymarks. This took me up a very steep hill out of Garigill to climb up to a crossroads with the B6277. The lovely weather (sunny, with a bit of a breeze) had brought the boy racers out and three small sporty cars zoomed past before I could get across the road.

It then continues to climb up Nunnery Hill between Middle Fell and Flinty Fell, albeit more gently. The wide open landscape is absolutely stunning and I stopped to get a panoramic photo and to soak up the views. No long after that a male cyclist overtook me, commenting that the hill seemed to go on for ever. I kept him in my sights for a bit (but not long – he was going a lot faster then I), until I stopped again, this time to look at my map.

There then followed an incredibly steep downhill into Nenthead. I was extremely glad to be on my Cannondale Synapse, which has disc brakes and where my feet are not clipped into my pedals!

You’re in real ex-mining country by now: I didn’t pass any mines but nearby Nenthead mines are open to the public a few times a year, and Killhope Mine (County Durham) is not far away.

Today I cycled back along the A689 to drop back down into Alston. A man was singing and playing the guitar outside the pub with a small audience of people enjoying a drink in the late afternoon sun. It was tempting to join them, but I don’t have the confidence to walk up to a group of people out of the blue and introduce myself, so instead I headed home after soaking up the atmosphere for a bit and taking some photos.

The following weekend I decided I’d go out on a slightly flatter ride, and opted to do the one I’d done over the Solway plain but in the opposite direction. It was sunny again, but what I hadn’t factored in was the wind, which was coming from the south/south-west. For most of the ride I was heading straight into the wind, so despite the lack of incline, it was still more effort than it might have been! Never mind – it was worth seeing the Lake District fells from a different angle, and when I arrived at my parking place the tide was in, making the Solway look blue and attractive as it glistened in the sunlight.

I find it hard to believe sometimes that I once thought living in London was the be-all and end-all and that I couldn’t bear to live anywhere else. The countryside is definitely not boring (and I have more friends than ever, I think), and whether you live in a village, town or city it seems that if you want to try out new cycle routes and new runs you often have to drive to get there, unfortunately. At least there are plenty of routes I can do from home as well: ones I rarely write about in this blog as I do them so often, but in between blogpost adventures I am out running around the Tarn, and Gelt Woods, and up on the Ridge. I’ll end with some photos from a springtime but slightly damp run in and around Gelt Woods yesterday.

Cumbria Way in pieces (part 5)

Looking at the map (but not in much detail), the next stage of the Cumbria way looked shorter at around 16km, as if it was going to be a bit wiggly and potentially trickier to navigate, but also very pretty.

Whilst the weather had got a lot colder – we’d had snow mid-week – it was at least dry and the forecast for Sunday was also dry, at least until about 5pm. Penny and I met in the car park at Old Dungeon Ghyll, from which we’d started our previous 25km run to Keswick, and drove down to Coniston in my car. The car parks weren’t as busy as they had been previously, which was a bit surprising considering that the Easter holidays have just started – but which also made it far easier to park.

Leaving the centre of Coniston we turned on to a footpath which led across part of the former Monk Coniston estate, and soon saw a folly. Fortunately there was some great interpretation inside it, which not only told us about the estate generally, and how much of the landscape had been created by the family who owned the estate in the 19th century, but also that this particular folly had been created to mimic medieval dog kennels.

We dropped down towards Low Yewdale from where the path crossed fields and went through woods towards Tarn Hows, again man-made but one of the prettiest tarns in the lake district. Penny and I have both run the Coniston half marathon a couple of times (and she has done the full marathon) so we’ve run around Tarn Hows before, but we hadn’t approached it and left it on the same paths as today. The Cumbria Way leaves the tarn near to its northernmost point and after running past a field of Belted Galloways, we were on an old county byroad: and having to jump on to the verge to let a convoy of 4x4s go past.

We were truly in the heart of the Lake District today, mostly on glorious rolling gravelly paths which undulated through woods, or on grassy paths crossing rolling fields. Whereas going from Langdale north to Keswick had meant crossing stunning but quite isolated land, today’s route was chocolate-box-lakeland prettiness.

At Hollin Bank we didn’t follow the road but crossed through Tongue Intake Plantation before realising our ‘mistake’ and doing an extra loop to take us past Colwith Force – a waterfall on the beck which runs from Little Langdale tarn to Elter Water. Before long the path brings you out near to Skelwith Bridge, where a modern metal bridge crosses the river Brathay. For a time now I was on familiar ground: I can’t remember the number of times, when the children were young, that we’d bring visitors down to Skelwith Bridge and walk from there along to Elterwater, or vice versa: at least if they’d comply. I do remember one day when Isabella refused to walk and after a bit David and I ended up carrying her on our shoulders, before turning round and going back to the cafe!

I love the lakeland slate: it has a greeny tinge to it (especially the Honister slate) and makes the water have a similarly clear, greeny tinge. You can see it above in the water under the bridge in Elterwater village, but it was even more obvious when we again took an unintended detour up to the Burlington Stone quarry. Here I was acutely conscious of the industrial side of Cumbria: much is hidden nowadays but the entire county would have echoed with the sounds of quarrying and mining at one point. This is still a working quarry, which you don’t notice as you pass your touristic way from Elterwater and Chapel Stile up to Great Langdale: now I know it’s there I can imagine I shall be looking out for the huge hills of stone every time I drive that way. For all that it’s man made, it’s rather stunning, and a direct connection with the old quarries and mines which you see on walks or which have become visitor attractions. It also feels like a deep-rooted link to the Vikings and even earlier peoples, who created axe heads from the stone in the Langdale (‘long valley’) valley which were possibly traded at Castlerigg Stone circle, outside Keswick over the hills to the north (I wonder if some of those traders followed the route that Penny and I had run a couple of weeks ago?).

Although we had managed to veer off the Cumbria Way, I’m glad we saw this. We had an option of following this other footpath on further towards Great Langdale or dropping down past a campsite to rejoin the Cumbria way as it ran alongside the Great Langdale Beck, and chose to rejoin the Cumbria way. After some undulations up and down the lower slopes of Oak Howe Needle, at the foot of Lingmoor Fell, we finally dropped down the hillside and crossed the river to come out at the New Dungeon Ghyll (Stickle Barn). Once again we detoured slightly from the Cumbria way and followed a path through fields and back to Penny’s car.

We’d completed almost 20km along a lovely route which I would really like to do again sometime. It had all that is prettiest about the Lake District: views of the fells, woods, stony paths, clear-watered streams, and plenty of Herdwick sheep to look at. I didn’t take any photos of the herdies unfortunately but I love their sturdy legs, the curly hair on their thick tails, and their friendly, smiley faces. No wonder ‘Herdy’ has become such a popular brand: and not only does the Herdy website sell all their fab. stuff, but it also tells you about contour lines: https://www.herdy.co.uk/did-ewe-know/contour-lines-mysterious-squiggly-lines-on-maps/.

Next time: Coniston to Ulverston.

The Cumbria Way in pieces (part four)

I’d had a week or so of feeling quite tired and low, and hadn’t got outside much. After the run along Hadrian’s Wall the weather had reverted to being a bit wet and miserable, and my mood matched it. I was also out quite a lot for work, which is enjoyable but does limit how much time I get for exercise – especially as the evenings are still dark and I don’t find it easy to motivate myself to run alone in the dark.

Anne told me it’s because we were in Pisces and that my mood would change after 21st March: which also happened to be Alex’s 18th birthday. Yes, my oldest child is now officially an adult. I cooked him and 6 of his friends a 4-course meal in celebration. They must have enjoyed it as he said he’d like to do it again, perhaps in the summer. Just for the record, the menu was:

Blini with a mix of smoked salmon, cream cheese, smoked trout mousse, trout caviar

– served with champagne

Roast beef with roasted root veg., roast potatoes, green veg., yorkshire puddings and gravy

– served with red wine

Berry Pavlova

– served with dessert wine

A selection of cheese and biscuits

– served with port

There was also a chocolate birthday cake, which didn’t get eaten on the day but taken into school the following day.

The weather turned warmer and sunnier and Penny and I decided it was time to do the next stage of the Cumbria Way: she suggested Langdale to Keswick. We again needed to leave one car at one end and one at the other, and the best bet looked like leaving one near the A66 just outside Portinscale and Keswick, and the other at Langdale. Having found a space for the first, what we hadn’t anticipated was that Langdale was heaving: however we were lucky and someone left the third car park, next to the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel, we tried just as we were circling it for a second time.

There’s a nice clear sign indicating that you’re on the right path at the start. I have to say that after this however, waymarking was sadly lacking. Every time I run part of the Cumbria Way I think of David (my ex) doing the entire thing a few years ago, some of it in the dark. It’s just as well he’s good at navigating.

The route wends its way along the Mickleden valley, the river bubbling away next to you, before you get to a junction. The righthand (western) leads up past one of the Angle Tarns (one I haven’t been to) before heading along/over Esk Pike and ultimately, if you want, to Scafell. The path we were taking was one which goes up the side of Stake Gill (ghyll?) and over Stake Pass towards Keswick. Once you’re at the top, High Raise is on your right and Glaramara on your left (if you’re going north). There are absolutely no roads up here, and you get a real sense of remoteness even though we saw quite a few walkers out and about.

A zigzag path leads down from Stake Pass: I loved running down this, but people with vertigo might not be quite so keen. And, of course, if you want to admire the view it’s better not to go too fast – get to the bottom too quickly and you miss out on the enjoyment. You can just see me in the photo (below) which Penny took.

Something I hadn’t appreciated – and didn’t get a photo of – is that once we were in the Langastrath valley at the bottom, we ran past Black Moss Pot, one of THE places to have a dip in terms of wild swimming in the Lake District. We saw plenty of places where we said ‘it would be nice to have a dip in there’, but didn’t take any photos of them. Am I becoming a little complacent about being able so easily to access these stunning locations?! I’m certainly not bored by them – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve thought or said ‘we’re so lucky to live here’ – but I do end up with 100s of rather similar-looking photographs. The wonderful landscape makes me all the more determined to stay fit and active as I get older, however: Penny and I had both had stressful weeks, and being out in this luscious scenery and running and feeling alive was the perfect antidote.

The path isn’t that easy to run as it’s quite rocky and uneven (we did wonder if the other side of the gill would have been easier) but it eventually comes out where the Langastrath Beck – the one we’d been following – joins either (according to the map) Greenup Gill or Willygrass Gill. I did take some photos here as the water bounds over the rocks. It’s obviously a bit of a tourist destination: only a short-ish walk from Stonethwaite or Rosthwaite and therefore fairly accessible from Keswick.

At Rosthwaite we found some public toilets, which is always useful, and ran past a barn serving tea and cake. It was tempting to stop but we’d already taken far longer than we expected and still weren’t at the bottom of Derwentwater.

We’d previously run a loop round this area from Grange and back, passing Castle Crags. The Cumbria Way uses a slightly more easterly route, which means not needing to go quite so far uphill again. There’s a short section on road in and just after Grange, before the path drops down towards the lake. This southern end of the lake is clearly quite marshy but also quite well-trodden, as it’s criss-crossed with boardwalks. It brought back memories of our ‘miles for Matt’ when we had run around Derwentwater as one of the 16 lakes for Penny’s 50th birthday: not long after the floods of 2015, as some bridges had needed rebuilding, including a footbridge over the Derwent where it flows into the lake at this end.

We didn’t need to cross that bridge today as we were already on the western side of the lake, and we were soon running along grassy paths, the lake gleaming on our right. It was getting late however, and we still had a few miles to go.

With tired legs we finally came out in Portinscale and walked round to Harry’s coffee stand. We had covered 25km (15.5 miles). It was good to get a drink and something to eat before getting in Penny’s car and driving back down to Langdale to fetch mine.

It was one of those days when it would have been lovely to have stayed out and relaxed into the evening: but Penny needed to get home to help Tim with their campervan and motorbikes, and I needed to get back to Keswick to take Alex to a friend’s party, to fetch Bella and to get home in time for a Sainsbury’s delivery. I made the Sainsbury’s delivery but Penny was late for Tim and I was about 10 minutes late dropping Alex off.

It had taken longer than we’d expected and we’d had all the extra miles to drive because of doing a linear route, but in terms of ‘headspace’ it was well worth it: as I said to Penny, if we hadn’t got out then we’d still have felt stressed from our working weeks. As I write this I’m at the Sage in Newcastle-Gateshead: it’s great to hear music and to be in a city (I had a lovely wander around the Quayside market earlier), but to really sort your head out nothing beats being out in stunning countryside in beautiful weather. I think next time we’ll aim for a shorter stage though!

Another bit of Hadrian’s Wall

One of my favourite lengths of Hadrian’s Wall is the area around Housesteads: I’ve previously posted photos of Broomlee Lough, one of my favourite places to swim (unfortunately the NT has now said that swimming isn’t allowed as the area is ecologically too sensitive), taken from the Wall astride the Whin Sill.

I’d been saying for a while that it would be good to run from Housesteads to Wall Town crags, and the opportunity presented itself a couple of weekends ago. It had been the music festival on the Friday evening and Saturday, and Penny’s husband was away, so she came to see the festival and then stayed at mine. As it’s a linear run we needed two cars, and left one at Wall Town crags before driving along and parking near Housesteads. We didn’t actually go through the fort itself but instead took the path which is just to the west of the fort area (it’s worth noting that there are public footpaths which cross the National Trust land surrounding the ‘playing card’ area, but I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of explaining that we weren’t going to pay as we weren’t visiting the fort) and which leads across the fields and up the hill to the wall path.

Obviously navigating the wall trail is relatively easy – mostly. This section in particular was easy: not only does it literally follow the remains of the wall itself, which are above ground in most places, but also there were plenty of other people out and about (for some reason they seemed to be going in the opposite direction to us, which meant they were going into the wind rather than having it behind them).

As it turned out, this is my favourite section of the wall. There is plenty to see, and perhaps a visual guide is the best way of representing it.

This is a view I’ve taken photos of several times before: that’s Broomlee Lough in the background, and we’ve just come across the field from the left of the picture and gone up the slope you can see. There are plenty of paths criss-crossing this area: we could have chosen to stay lower, but why stay low when you can go high and get a better view?
This is Crag Lough. I was keen to see whether there might be somewhere else to swim: unfortunately I think the only suitable entry point for this lough is at this end, and I’m not sure how accessible it would be: I don’t know if the track up to the farm is a private track, and have a feeling it may be. The other end is not too far from Steel Rigg car park, but is very weedy/grassy.

The path goes through the woods, though there were signs up advising people not to go through it at the moment as there are trees down due to storm Arwen (the evidence of Arwen is still clearly visible on both sides of the country up here). However as some people were coming through the woods we checked with them and they said it was fine, and that you just had to skirt round some trees. I guess for people who are a bit nervous about slopes and uneven ground it wouldn’t be such a great route: but we’re trail runners and uneven ground is our natural habitat.

Before arriving at Steel Rigg car park we came out at one of the best-known features of Hadrian’s Wall: so well known that I don’t even need to mention it’s name. I have to say that it’s far more distinctive from a distance than close up!

This photo, like the first, I think captures the essence of this part of the wall. It goes up and down constantly along the Whin Sill – some of the ascents/descents are quite steep – with stunning views in all directions. I love it.

The history of the area isn’t all Roman, either. I had never been to Cawfields quarry before, and the interpretation there showed industrial buildings from a far more recent era than the romans. It’s a pity that swimming isn’t allowed in the quarry, as the lake looked enticing: but I guess there could well be the remains of industrial kit under the water.

A quick google indicates that the romans may well have mined here, but that the more recent mining was from 1902 until 1952 – when people started to want to protect the older heritage more. It reminds me of Bath – apparently it was only in the 1960s, when a lot of new development was proposed, that people began to realise that actually Bath, with its Roman baths and beautiful Georgian houses, should be protected rather than destroyed. It’s interesting how some ruins, such as some of the ruined castles, were visited and (to a certain extent) protected during the 19th century, because they were viewed as romantic: but it took until the late 20th century for some other parts of our heritage to be protected.

One of the things I loved about this part of the wall, however – and I noticed this again yesterday, when I was out on a bike ride along part of the wall nearer to home – is that you spot all sorts of bits of roman ‘stuff’ which, not being in public or charitable ownership, doesn’t get commented on much. For example I had not been aware of Great Chesters Fort and milecastle 43, located in farmland to the west of Cawfields. It’s clear on a google maps satellite view from the air, but on the ground you’re running along navigating a farm, when first you see an arch and then what looks like the remains of rooms (barrack blocks?). But that’s what I also love about Hadrian’s Wall generally, and have done ever since I first visited part of it, many years ago: there it is, in a field, and you can just go up to it and touch it, and try to imagine what it would have been like almost two thousand years ago.

There’s some more up and down, and a turret (44b?) where you can sit and have a few minutes’ shelter if you need it, balancing your cup of coffee on a fallen archway, before seeing another lake, shaped a bit like a glass flask (a wider bottom and a narrow entrance) and then dropping down to Wall Town turret (45). From here you then drop further down, away from the wall – which more or less falls off the Whin Sill – and down to Wall Town quarry and country park. I wrote about this a while ago when I ran from Gilsland to Wall Town and back: it’s worth having a quick look on the Northumberland National Park Wall Town website as well as there is a stunning view of the crags at night. In fact it’s probably worth saying that the Northumberland National Park has invested quite a bit in visitor centres and so forth along the Wall in the past few years, and in my view have done a really good job.

This was possibly one of my favourite stretches of the Wall trail: although I also love the bit from Walltown to Birdoswald. I think it’s partly because of the quantity of roman remains there are to see, but also because the geology just makes it so stunning: whatever the weather.

The Cumbria Way in Pieces (part two)

One of the reasons for doing some fairly lengthy runs recently was because Penny and I had both entered the Northumberland Coast half marathon. It’s a run I’ve been wanting to do for years: there are various different organisations which arrange one, and various different distances (the Castles and Coast half is, however, a road race rather than off-road).

The run starts at Craster, just south of Dunstanburgh castle, and finishes at Bamburgh Castle. Both – especially Bamburgh – are visible from the east coast mainline railway, but I’ve never actually visited either (and still haven’t). Bamburgh is an impressive site, perhaps the more so because it’s been extensively restored rather than just being some ruins falling into the sea. Don’t get me wrong – some ruins are really impressive, but I was really impressed by Bamburgh even if some of it is ‘modern’ (VIctorian) and not the original. The site is incredibly historic as it was a fort in the time of the ancient Britons and possibly the capital of the kingdom of Bernicia; Bernicia and Deira became Northumbria. I seem vaguely to remember reading that it’s possible King Oswald was born there, and lived there until his Uncle Edwin took over the Kingdom: Oswald came back later having grown up on Iona.

I didn’t see any references to any of this on the day we arrived early at Bamburgh to get the coach down to the start line at Craster. A wide open swathe of grass sloped gently above the North Sea, the sun shining brightly and highlighting the white horses on the waves. The bunch of runners eventually set off in a northerly direction, Penny and me somewhere towards the back. I have learnt from hard experience not to start too near the front – I optimistically then get swept up into going far too fast at the start.

Unfortunately around Dunstanburgh Castle it was single file and a lot of people had slowed to a walk, but we soon managed to pick up our pace again. I can’t remember exactly where the first sand dunes of the day were, but they were slidey soft, dry, sand before we got on to the firmer sand of the beach. I made the mistake of running too close to the water, thinking the sand would be firmer there: I was quickly wet up to the tops of my legs (it didn’t take long to dry out).

We ran past some rather ugly beach huts, commenting that they wouldn’t get planning permission nowadays, before coming out at Beadnell where the 10km run had started. The path took us on and off the beach and over rocky foreshore, and then through Seahouses on the road before dropping back on to a wide open stretch of sandy beach. We could see Bamburgh castle ahead of us, but I was starting to flag: keeping going along the beach just felt like hard work. And even when we saw a flag marking the exit off the beach, there were still several 100m to go through the dunes before finally running over the finish line.

I was tired, my feet were sore and my knee ached, but it had been a great run. And a few days later I found out that I had come first in my age group, by a margin of about 16 minutes. Very gratifying.

A busy week followed, with several days out of the office, Head Teacher interviews, and giving blood. There was only time for a short run Wednesday lunchtime, and even so I felt sluggish. That evening I gave blood so I didn’t even think about trying to run on Thursday, when I was in York for work anyway. So when Penny suggested a long run on Saturday I wasn’t sure how motivated I felt. I also had a singing lesson (Music Festival) and had to my car tyres checked (MOT) so wasn’t sure whether my arrangements would fit in with Penny.

As it turned out my car tyres were fine and so I got down to Penrith to meet Penny a lot earlier than expected. We decided to do a one-way leg of the Cumbria Way, leaving cars at either end. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and rather than starting in Keswick and having to find a parking space and then run uphill out of Keswick to Latrigg, we drove up past Underscar hotel and stopped at the top of the hill. I’d last run down past here during the Keswick trail race, and really enjoyed the long, fast downhill into Keswick. Today we were running uphill, but the scenery was stunning, with snow on top of the highest fells under a clear blue sky.

Today our route took us in a northerly direction towards Skiddaw House. A sign told us that it was originally built as a shooting lodge in the 1800s; now it is a Youth Hostel. From here the path led downhill, badly eroded at times as the mix of wet peat and mountain bikes/people doesn’t seem to have been a happy one. It was one of those times when I was really enjoying running just for running’s sake, and enjoying being alive: the weather could not have been much better, and both Penny and I kept stopping to take photos.

Although we had not run fast it seemed hardly any time before we were back on a track we’d run on before, in very different weather. We’d been thinking of doing a loop around Bowscale about a year ago, but it had been rainy and wet and cold and we’d ended up turning round and going back the way we came (https://runningin3time.blog/2020/12/20/running-and-rain/). The puddles weren’t as big today, and despite a chilly northerly wind, in the sun it felt warm. We ran past a hunt and then down the road into Mosedale and back to the car, talking about getting some of our other running buddies to do this run with us and to then swim in the Caldew or down at Keswick.

I haven’t mentioned Ukraine, as what can one say? There is nothing I can do about it other than pray that the madness ends soon. I love this world we human beings call home: and I want it to carry on being somewhere beautiful. The situation over there has made me appreciate what I have here more than ever, and the beautiful Cumbrian countryside which I am lucky enough to call home.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.

The Cumbria Way in pieces (part one)

New year, new running routes… having run round the 16 biggest lakes in the Lake District for Penny’s 50th, and then done the entire Lakeland Trails series for my 60th, the question was what the next challenge would be.

A book which I was given a copy of last year was Over the Hill at 60 Something? https://www.inspiredbylakeland.co.uk/products/over-the-hill-at-60-something. Finding a copy in Booths, I bought Penny a copy and then also, for Christmas, David and Jo. It’s a beautifully illustrated and inspiring book of runs throughout the Lake District, written by the author as he ran 214 Wainwrights to celebrate his 60th year. Definitely something to emulate, and as we run around Whinlatter doing the 10km route ‘backwards’ (which seems to be hillier, but ends with a blast back to the car park) and then a new route which takes us up into bits of Whinlatter which aren’t on the maps you pick up at the visitor centre, Penny informs me there are about 3 routes in the book which take in Whinlatter. She’s always wanted to go up Grisedale Pike, which beckons temptingly (or not, on wild days) from one of the corners of the forest route.

The new Whinlatter route brings us back down to familiar territory but from a different angle: we’ve run past the ponds above several times when doing the ‘official’ 10km route, but not come up to them after running down the side of a beck before. We discover all sorts of new and lovely bits of forest which we hadn’t seen before, and I love the textures in the photo above left. I commented that it would make a good cushion cover: years ago I wrote a feature about a woman who created exactly those sorts of cushion covers, from wool (I think she knitted them but I can’t remember now: every time I drive through Armathwaite I go past her house and wonder if she’s still selling the kits and making the covers).

At the moment we’re both training for a half marathon however, and with time being limited because the evenings get dark and commitments such as children, work, etc., I thought it would be useful to find somewhere that was approximately halfway to meet to run. I wondered about Dalston, as it looked as if there were footpaths along by the river: and having started running some of them, we then remembered that we wanted to run the entire Cumbria Way. This is a 70 mile route which goes from Ulverston in South Lakeland to Carlisle in the north of the county (or of course, the other way round). A few years ago my ex ran it, and Bella and I went to meet him in the early hours of a summer morning at Carlisle Castle. We waited and waited and wondered why he didn’t turn up – it turned out he’d had a sleep of about an hour at Caldbeck. These ultra-runners take it easy – they stop for sleeps, long meals……… (I have no aspirations whatsoever to be an ultra-runner, partly as it’s not something you can do without doing any training, but also because it’s just gruelling).

The first time we ran from Dalston along the dual use cycle route/footpath towards Carlisle. At Denton Holme we turned round and headed back before following a lesser-used footpath through some woods. This turned out to be more of a scramble and a mystery tour, as the path clearly had not been used by many people recently. What had started off being quite a quick run ended up being a slow one, and we eventually got back to the car park in Dalston as darkness was falling.

A week or so later we did a quick out and back run, but then started thinking about the Cumbria Way to the south of Dalston rather than the north. I checked out the map – if we did nothing more than just run south for 5 or 6 miles and then back, it would be great half marathon training and should be easy to navigate along by the river.

It was, and we were lucky that there hadn’t been much rain and so the river wasn’t running too high and the path wasn’t too muddy. We could see where the river was undercutting the bank: it looks as if it’s being allowed to flow naturally now, and its meanders are being reformed. Banks of large stones are deposited by it on one side, as it undercuts the other and the path, fence and grass fall into the water! At one place there are the remains of a kissing gate, which leans at a drunken angle out over the water – it wouldn’t surprise me if next time I run that way I have to go through the large gate on the farmer’s track which crosses the middle of the field, rather than squeezing through the gap created between the end of the fence and the lopsided hanging post of the kissing gate.

We ran through the grounds of Limehouse school and past Rose Castle, the home until recently of the Bishops of Carlisle and now some sort of conference centre/events venue (https://www.rosecastle.com/). At one point it was going to be some sort of peace retreat for all faiths, but I’m not sure whether that’s part of their ethos still or not. It looks as if the place has been redecorated and smartened up: I sang in a concert in the chapel once, which had a glorious acoustic – but everything seemed a bit worn at that point.

We ran to Bell Bridge, then turned round and ran back to Dalston, again arriving back at the car park as dark was falling. I promised to trust Penny’s navigation in future as I would have taken us the wrong way a couple of times: just as well I haven’t done any walk leading for HF holidays…

Previously when we’d been up Bowscale Fell to run – in December 2020 – (https://wordpress.com/post/runningin3time.blog/6313) we had said we would one day do a longer loop and go along the Cumbria Way further; last summer we ran a loop from Caldbeck to Hesket Newmarket and back, which took in parts of the CW. So, we thought we’d try running from Bowscale to Bell Bridge: probably about a half marathon distance and it would take us up over High Pike or around its slopes.

When I woke up I checked the weather forecast. The Met. Office said that it was going to be minus 2 and snowing heavily at Caldbeck. Texting each other before we left, we agreed we’d meet at Bell Bridge as arranged, take one car to Bowscale, and then start running and see how we got on.

As we drove down the side roads (ones we’d previously cycled), there were big puddles and it was rainy or sleety and the trees were blowing in the wind. In places the road was slightly slippy, where the water was slushy. We arrived at Bowscale and parked: I got out of the car and the wind blew the door closed. It was cold and gusting strongly. We jumped back in the car to discuss what to do, and decided that going up over the fells on a day like this was not a good idea: so I drove up the motorway (fewer large puddles) and back to Caldbeck.

We started running the same route as we had previously, but this time instead of turning off to go to Hesket Newmarket, we went straight on. Through the woods was great and fairly sheltered, but as I took off my hat sleet started coming down (so I put it back on). It was fairly undulating and very slippery underfoot, and the river was a lot livelier and fuller than last weekend: but it was a great route, and would be fantastic on a dry summer’s day.

There was a short section on road at Sebergham, until we turned on to a track again opposite the cute church. It wasn’t far then back to Bell Bridge, where we decided to retrace last weekend’s footsteps – until Penny’s leg (an old injury) started hurting and we turned round and went back to the car. As we did so the sun came out, and a patch of snowdrops by the river gleamed white.

Driving back to my car at Caldbeck, the fells were still under thick cloud and there was a coating of snow on them; as we drove down into the village there was slush on the road. We went into the Oddfellows Arms and each had a delicious bowl of their homemade Jerusalem artichoke and thyme soup (I must find a recipe…). Feeling warmer we came out to blue skies and sunlight, only to see the cars were covered in snow – it had snowed while we were having lunch! It then snowed again when I got home: goodness knows what weather will greet us tomorrow morning. And next weekend for our long run we’re going to have 3 options, so we can decide which to do according to the weather. Meanwhile Penny’s off to the physio again to check out her leg, hoping that it was just the cold weather that sparked it off.

Look out for our next foray along the Cumbria Way!

Hello 2022!

Happy New Year everyone! As I haven’t written since November this is a bit of a retrospective as well as looking forward.

Advent is one of my favourite times of year. I love singing carols, and the way that the winter nights are brightened up by Christmas lights. However for the first three weeks of December I had a massive amount of assignment-marking to do on top of my normal job: a great way to earn some more money (I’m saving up to take Bella to Paris after her GCSEs next summer) but when I still had 30-odd to mark and only 2 weeks left to do them in, I was getting rather stressed.

I bought my tree at Whinlatter forest the first weekend of Advent: it was a lovely fat tree but a day or so after I’d decorated it fell over. After that it lent against the wall rather drunkenly. But the build up to Christmas, for me, does not start – and should not start – until 1st December.

I was also singing the soprano solo, Pie Jesu, in the Faure Requiem with choir – possibly one of the most difficult pieces I have ever sung, as it’s so sustained and exposed. The good news was that the concert took place at Lanercost Priory (and still went ahead, despite increasing scares about Omicron – the entire audience had to wear facemasks). Lanercost has an amazing acoustic, which is really kind to the singer; and singing accompanied by a really good organist also helps the nerves. The organist playing for the concert plays at Carlisle Cathedral, and will also be Musical Director for the choir as this (January 2022) term. I felt I hadn’t sung it terribly well as I was so nervous, but the recording doesn’t sound too awful.

Once I’d got the solo out of the way, I then sang in two local carol services. Bella came to one of them and played the piano, which was lovely: it was also nice for her to see Andrew, a friend from school who is now studying singing and music in Wales. They were able to have a chat about classical music, which she says none of her other friends know anything about! On the way home she said “Christmas services are almost enough to make you feel you could be Christian”: I knew what she meant.

By 21st December I’d finished all my marking and although I was still working, I felt I could really relax and begin to enjoy the final lead-up to Christmas, and to having a holiday from work for the best part of two weeks (I’m conscious that in the States people are lucky if they get more than two weeks’ holiday for a whole year – I wonder if it makes people’s stress levels higher?). I watched Lucy Worsley’s history of Christmas carols (I’m not sure if this link will work for anyone abroad, and I think it’s only available on the iPlayer for about a year), which was fascinating, watched some silly Christmas films, and generally was in a joyful and excited mood. I really don’t think it matters whether or not you believe in the Christian god – for me the fab. thing about Christmas is having some joy at the darkest time of the year, and to end the year with a celebration: but I also think it’s important to be reminded to be kind to each other. I tried not to buy the children so many presents this year, as they have plenty of ‘stuff’ already: I love buying presents for people but we really don’t need thousands and thousands more Things.

Penny and I met up for a run at Whinlatter on Christmas Eve: it feels as if it’s becoming a bit of a tradition (I hope it is – it’s a really good one). Having had a bit of time off from running after doing the Dirty Double in November, it was good to do the 10km route with her when we bought the christmas trees and then again on Christmas Eve. We also had lunch in Siskins cafe, though we did wonder if we should have gone to the fab. cafe at Dodds Wood or the Threlkeld community cafe (both previously mentioned in this blog).

Christmas Day was spent at David’s house – my ex, with my three children, his new partner and their 5-month old daughter (who is cute), his parents, his sister and her three children, and one of his friends who I hadn’t seen for years. I ran in the morning before going down there, and after getting home in the evening went round to Mark and Laura’s for a drink and to play a new card game they’d bought. I can’t remember what it was called but it was really good – each card has a question on with a choice of answers, and you each have to guess which is right. It engendered some interesting discussions!

On Boxing Day Bella and I drove down to my sister’s, stopping off to see my parents en route. Bella was keen to spend her christmas money (and mine…) and we went to Sherborne, although a lot of the shops were closed. That evening we went to see the lights in the grounds of Killerton House – rather overpriced but really impressive. No prizes for guessing what my christmas cards next year are going to be…

As Ross works at King’s College Taunton, he sorted out being able to go in so Bella could practice on one of their pianos. Unfortunately she now wants to go to the school… It did sound good but unfortunately I can’t upload that particular file type (I think it’s probably been recorded on an iPhone so won’t talk to my laptop).

We also went up to stay with my parents for a day, and went shopping in Bristol, where Bella bought a new violin. The shop was fab. – it was serendipitous that they happened to have time to see us, despite us not having made an appointment, and that they had a few violins in stock which were perfect. She needed some new pointe shoes as well but unfortunately none of the ballet shoe shops were open: however we found one in Newcastle who fitted her in today (2nd Jan.). Again, a fab. shop which we’ll recommend to everyone we can: https://thedancerspointe.co.uk/

I’ve already run both days of this new year, my heart singing and the countryside I live in looking glorious. My immediate goal is a half marathon at the end of February. I’ve also started practicing singing again, working towards Carlisle Music Festival in March and then, I hope, taking my ATCL (Associate of Trinity College of Music London) later in the year.

And meanwhile it’s back to work on Wednesday. The festive season has been great.