Paris

I’ve now been to Paris about 4 times; but the first 3 I didn’t fall as much in love with the city as many people do. I think perhaps when I was younger I was less clear about what I was interested in; and also I didn’t really research ‘places to visit’ before I went there, unlike my daughter who had a very clear idea about what she wanted (and didn’t want) to see.

In fact she had planned a detailed timetable which made me a little worried that I was going to have a regimented holiday being marched round various sites; and several times I tried to convince her that it might be nicer to go to the coast somewhere. I ended up being glad she had done her research and that she insisted on us going to Paris.

We travelled down by Eurostar, which just seems such a civilised way to travel despite the crowded waiting area at St Pancras International and the lack of places to get a decent meal while you wait (there’s a Pret a Manger, which is great but I don’t really want sandwiches when it’s dinner time on a Sunday evening). You arrive in the heart of Paris at the Gare du Nord, and we had booked into a hotel just across the road for our first night. Already it felt different from home (even from London), with the cafes open out on the pavement and people milling around in the warmth of a summer evening.

The following morning we had our first pleasant surprise when it turned out that a week’s travel card for zones 1-5 inclusive was only Eu25 each – and the very helpful ticket guy at the station took photocopies of our passport photos as we didn’t have photos with us for the cards. Next time we go (!) we can just top up the cards online or at a ticket machine.

We made our way to the airbnb property we were staying in and after a few minor difficulties trying to get in, found ourselves in a lovely third floor flat which was absolutely perfect for us: and had a piano, which was one reason Bella had insisted on booking it. On the timetable for the Monday was going to the Marie Curie museum, so we had time to go to the supermarket across the road and stock up on some food before heading out again.

What we hadn’t checked was whether it would be open on a Monday; having walked all the way there from one of the metro stations we found it wasn’t! However Bella was delighted to spot a maths bookshop on the way back (we were in the heart of the Sorbonne area), and we had an ice cream before walking through the Jardins de Luxembourg and then through St Germain des Pres, including visiting the church of St Suplice, where apparently Widor (as of the Widor Toccata, used at many weddings) was once the organist.

On the Tuesday we had tickets booked for Versailles, just over an hour away by train but included within our cards (Navigo passes). Changing stations to pick up the RER out to Versailles was probably the closest we got to the Eiffel Tower, which was NOT on Bella’s list of places to go. Versailles was amazing but it was very hot and very busy, and by the time we’d walked all around the palace and then around the gardens as well, we felt disinclined to visit the Trianon as well. It wasn’t the first time we were to say ‘next time we come back’. I was so glad to see inside the palace, however – last time I had decided it was too expensive and the friend I was with and I had just walked down through the gardens for a bit and back up the other side. I wasn’t particularly interested in gardens back then, and I don’t think I had appreciated the amazing piece of engineering that got water to the gardens and then created the various fountains. Bella kept saying that her Dad and her brothers would like it, and I think she’s right. You also completely understand why the French aristocracy and royalty were so unpopular, especially by the time you’ve seen the Louvre as well and read about the Tuileries; and the many other enormous ornately decorated buildings in the city.

Bella’s lunch was an ‘Antoinette’ from the Angelina cafe – a chain of teashops with branches elsewhere in the city (though ‘chain’ makes it sound rather downmarket and as with so many French patisseries, it wasn’t).

We had our own upmarket feast that evening as Bella had even researched cafes and restaurants, and we were booked into Le Chardenoux bistro/brasserie. Not only was the food delicious, but the building is impressive and there is a patisserie and a chocolaterie run by the same chef – Cyril Lignac – at the same road junction (he also has a ‘proper’ restaurant as opposed to a bistro, elsewhere in Paris – but for us this was great as it was within walking distance of where we were staying). We were both excited to find bookshops open late into the evening as we walked back: we went back later in the week and bought books, me treating myself to one of his recipe books, which included the recipes we’d eaten in the bistro.

Wednesday turned out to be even hotter, and we were glad to start the day with a trip to the Catacombs: somewhere else we decided that the boys would like. In many ways it was an amazing regeneration project for its day, and highlights one of the differences between Paris and London. The bones from all the city’s cemetaries were moved into the catacombs, which were originally quarries, largely (as far as I can tell) for health reasons/slum clearance. And of course one of the reason Paris has lovely wide streets and lots of beautiful apartment blocks is because it was designed – whereas unfortunately Christopher Wren’s vision to create something similar in London after the Great Fire in 1666 was not accepted.

We came out from the coolness of the catacombs into the heat of a summer’s day, and were glad to find fountains specially designed for people to stand under and cool down at one of the railway stations, before walking into the Jardin des Plantes. We decided to go into the menagerie, and spent several hours wandering around looking at the animals and trying to keep in the shade: I’d wanted to see the red panda but a lot of the animals felt the same way as us and were also just snoozing in the shade.

We then walked along the Seine and into the Polish centre, to see the Salon de Chopin – where, gratifyingly, the guide spoke to us in French. Previous memories of being in Paris were that the French would speak to you in English because their English was far superior to your French; whilst it is, I really did want to try to speak in French while I was here.

On the Thursday – Bastille Day – we went to the Louvre, where we found that neither of us had remembered our phone. I think for me the most impressive part of the visit was in fact seeing the bits of the original castle, dating from c.1190. We saw many galleries, including Greek sculptures – amazing that they are so many 1000s of years old – and more statues which had been at Versailles or other royal palaces; and also the rooms of Napoleon III. The place is enormous and, as mentioned earlier, a reminder of the excesses of royalty and the extremely wealthy.

There were also some low-flying aircraft of various types during the morning, which I think may have been something to do with Bastille Day – we’d seen them on the Monday as well over the Jardins de Luxembourg. That afternoon we ended up back in the Jardins de Luxembourg again, this time joining a relaxed crowd listening to a police band playing from the bandstand. ‘Music’ was perhaps one of the themes of our week.

During our time in Paris I was impressed by how many cyclists there were – and also scooters. There are wide, dedicated cycle lanes: and also one way streets where there are arrows indicating that cyclists can go in the opposite direction to cars! None of them seems to wear a helmet and in fact on one day there was even a woman on roller blades skating along in the middle of the traffic without seeming the slightest bit worried about how vulnerable she was. The city also seemed really clean: my impression of most French cities 20 or 30 years ago was that there was a lot of dog poo around, but this time I saw hardly any. A lot of the French still smoke though: if you’re sitting outside a cafe you can’t guarantee that there won’t be someone at the next table smoking.

We visited the Cemetiere Pere Lachaise on the morning of our final full day, which was just up the road from where we were staying. One thing I was conscious of was how recent the second world war still feels here, which was something I remember thinking when I lived and worked in France in 1996. It may have been partly as it was an anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup – the arrest of more than 13,000 Jews by the gendarmes on 16th and 17th July. There were photos of Auschwitz and other concentration camp survivors along the fence of the Jardins de Luxembourg; and within Pere Lachaise there are some thought-provoking memorials not only to the victims of the camps but also to the resistance.

The final afternoon we found an amazing street of music shops at Europe metro – we had been to a concert of Chopin piano music on the Thursday evening, and Bella wanted to buy some – and walked again for miles looking at shops and the buildings generally: next time I go back I want to go to Opera, and perhaps to Sacre Coeur. It had been an amazing trip and we had both fallen in love with Paris.

A bit of a catch up!

It’s been a dry but chilly summer so far – that is, until we had a brief heatwave. It seems as if everybody is trying to catch up on all the things they didn’t do during Covid, as well – so it feels busy. Alex did his A levels and left school (his year were lucky enough to have a Leavers’ Ball, and have also been busy celebrating 18th birthdays); Bella did her GCSEs and is hoping to move schools for Sixth Form; and Edward had his SATS and left primary school. In the midst of all this my sister and mother arranged for my Dad to go into a care home for some respite care, which gave my Mum a bit of a break – she travelled up to see me and the children. At the same time my cousin’s daughter was over from Australia with a friend – they commented that the summer (June/July) temperatures in Cumbria were about the same as the winter in Australia! I took them to Hadrian’s Wall and to a ceiledh, and my Mum and I spent some time by the river in Newcastle – seeing the blinking eye bridge open – while Bella was at the Sage.

My own travels started with a work conference in June to Birmingham and Ironbridge. Birmingham is so much nicer a city than it used to be, and we had a great time not only walking around but also kayaking on the canals from the Roundhouse (a property owned by the Canal and Rivers Trust and operated by the National Trust – well worth a visit). We then went to Ironbridge where I ran along the river, saw the ruins of an old furnace, and ran back along the other side of the river before crossing the iron bridge (designed by Thomas Telford) itself to get back to the hotel. On our final day we went to Boscobel, where Prince Charles hid in an oak tree before escaping to France: he was later to come back as Charles II. Again, it’s a property which is well worth a visit.

Having got home from the Midlands, I was then off to Scotland for the wedding of one of my closest and oldest (in terms of time I have known her) friends. I was privileged to have been asked to sing at the wedding, and also to stay in a house the couple had rented for the family: it was a pity I couldn’t take some leave and stay longer. The wedding was at Traquair, which we were able to look around after the wedding service, which was held in the house’s chapel. I didn’t take my phone so I didn’t take any photos, though other people did. Having driven up via Langholm and Eskdalemuir, I drove back past St Mary’s Loch and the Loch of the Lowes before getting on the motorway to come home. There’s a waterfall not far from there, the Grey Mare’s Tail, and one day I shall go back to see the waterfall and swim in the loch(s).

It was a lovely wedding and a lovely weekend: the sort of wedding that makes you think ‘yes, this is why people get married, and why it is right that they should’. The WhatsApp group stayed chatting for a while after we’d all got home.

I was then conscious that I had a hilly 14km run coming up in the middle of July, and that I hadn’t done much running – although I had run while at Traquair, in a forest nearby – nor had Penny, who had also entered it. On the day, having had low temperatures so far this year, it was HOT. However I was really pleased that I came first in my age group, just a minute slower than last year (which wasn’t so hot). We then went for a swim in Brothers’ Water, which was far nicer than it had been the first time we did it. Neither of us had thought to bring our swimming stuff so we improvised with running kit and dry clothes (race t-shirts) for afterwards.

The following day Bella and I went to Paris, but that will be the subject of a separate blogpost. Running up to the end of term Edward had a ‘discovery day’ at his secondary school, and Bella had a sixth form induction day. The end of term was fast approaching and unfortunately due to having a work conference I could only get to the dress rehearsal of Edward’s end of year play, and missed the leavers’ service and picnic – but at least I managed to see the play. He was a pirate and, being Edward, spoke his lines with vigour. He also got his SATS results, which were really good: his end of term report said that he always tries hard, and his new form master remembered him from the Discovery Day, saying that he’d had a ‘very interesting’ conversation with him. It made me proud and made me smile – Edward is quite a philosopher, curious about the world, and very chatty. Thank goodness.

The day after I got back from Paris Penny and I walked up to Scales Tarn. It was still fairly hot and the mid-30s (centigrade/celsius) temperatures we’d had in Paris were due to head over the channel, but not, fortunately, as we walked up a steep hill with backpacks full of swimming kit and picnic. Once you’ve got up the steep hill the gradient isn’t bad at all – there’s a rocky bit towards the tarn – and you have lovely views down to the valley and across to Blencathra and Sharp Edge. It was fairly breezy, and the tarn gets deep very quickly so the water was fairly cold, other than around the edges. We went in with wetsuits on and swam to the other side – Penny swam the circumference of the tarn – and then tried getting in without wetsuits. You get used to it, but neither of us are as hardy as some of our friends, who would swim without wetsuits all year round if they had time to acclimatise (I’m not sure I’d ever acclimatise for the cold weather – but it is far, far easier swimming without the hindrance of a wetsuit).

Then it was off to Hatfield for a conference, in temperatures of around 35-39 degrees. It was great to meet up with my Norwegian friend Eldfrid, whom I haven’t seen for ages, and to meet her husband Steve, but we were all melting. The trains were slow and crowded, though at least I got a seat both ways, and then today I tested positive for Covid… perhaps not surprisingly. At least it gives me an excuse to catch up on my blogpost-writing!

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.