Fab. times with Friends

Whether it’s the pandemic or turning 60, I’ve been thinking about what I want from life quite a bit recently. Obviously there are lots of things I want to do: but with two of the children likely to be at the grammar school in Penrith as of next year, and one at University, I’m wondering if it’s time to move to Penrith or near there. I’ve been considering why I like living where I do and came to the decision that it’s the open space and being near the hills and trees.

The worst thing about the pandemic at its worst was the lockdowns, and not being able to see friends. I can cope with not going abroad, but not to be able to go into the Lake District to run or cycle or swim with friends was hard. Fortunately I’ve actually managed to do a lot of that and restrictions on seeing friends were short-lived. But, like when I was expecting Edward and he was a baby and toddler, it also made me appreciate living here: living in the countryside where you don’t have to go shopping and spend money and go into crowded spaces to find fulfilment.

But having all these thoughts is not really any good unless you share them with other people; and I’m lucky enough to have brilliant friends who listen and share their own thoughts in return.

The past two weekends have been particularly fantastic for spending time with friends. Firstly I managed to get Claire out on a bike ride. We stopped for coffee at the Rickerby Retreat – it was the first time I’d ever been in there and we had a lovely cappuccino and scones and decided we’d organise a group of us to go there one evening. I’d also just got a new cycling top from Le Col which I wanted to try out: it’s great and does everything it said it would (shower resistant; breathable; warm).

That evening Penny came round for dinner and stayed over so we could go for a run the next day: we did the lengthened Gelt Woods run, which is about 17km and takes in the ‘Railway Children’ loop. It was a bit wet, but still enjoyable, and good to get in several km ready for Hevellyn on 6th November. I wore my new cycling top, but it wasn’t as good for running – the length at the back rides up and is a bit irritating. But then it wasn’t designed for running, although the fabric would be good for a winter running top.

It was Book Group that afternoon and we were discussing The Overstory (reviewed here by GoodReads) by Richard Powers. Anne had written some brilliant notes which sparked off a lively discussion: some of us had found it quite hard to get into, but most had started loving it as they got into it. The conversation went off at (related) tangents and then came back again and two hours had passed before we stopped chatting away.

On Friday I’d taken a day off work as Hannah had said she’d take me out for lunch as a birthday present. She arrived about 11 and we chatted a bit before heading down towards the Lake District. En route we started talking about meditation and yoga retreats, and instead of going directly to Elterwater – the original plan – I said I’d show her the Buddhist temple near Ulverston. The majority of it was closed to the public but we were able to sneak a quick look at the temple from a distance, and soak up some of the atmosphere.

We then drove up towards Coniston (having stopped at Booths to pick up their Christmas book). The lake looked beautiful, and we stopped to take photos. In one of those moments when you’re thinking the same thing as a friend, we both suggested we swim here rather than at Elterwater. It was sunny, the lake shore was fairly stony, and the lake itself quite shallow along this shoreline so the water was surprisingly warm: warmer than I’d expected. Even so when I put my face in to do front crawl I knew I wouldn’t be able to do so for very long.

As we got out it started trying to rain, but after moments had stopped again. A glorious rainbow came out on the other side of the lake; as we drove away a double rainbow appeared ahead of us, and a well-placed layby meant we were able to stop for more photos (lower 3 photos courtesy of Hannah).

We arrived at Chesters at Skelwith Bridge – one of my favourite cafes and shops of all time – just in time to have a delicious lunch of Colcannon Mac and Cheese, Chocolate and Raspberry Cake, and a drink. It was a fantastic day, with lots of discussion about all sorts of things ranging from work to moving to children to relationships.

On Saturday I had arranged to meet Penny for a swim and a run: having carefully packed all the kit I’d need for swimming, I got to her house and knocked on the door. She opened it – there were her running shoes on the doormat, ready for action. I was wearing my boots and suddenly realised I had completely forgotten to bring either of my pairs of running shoes. Penny’s feet are longer than mine so borrowing a pair of hers wasn’t an option.

We decided to go swimming anyway and rather than going to Moss Eccles Tarn, which had been the original plan (we had been thinking of doing the Hawkshead trail race route), we went to Grasmere. It was a bit rainy and we ended up walking back to the car in our wetsuits, thinking we could change under the semi-protection of the car boot (as it turned out the rain stopped by the time we got back). Grasmere itself was rather on the chilly side – Penny was far braver about doing front crawl than I was – and I think that was probably my last open water swim of the year.

I dropped Penny back to her house and went home, sorted a few things out, and then Penny came up (her husband was away so she had to feed their cat). We drove up to Kershope, which I ran at back in the summer with Anne – and went the wrong way – and had previously run at with Penny back in January, in ice. This time we ran the correct route, which turned out to be about 11km.

On Sunday Anne was coming over for a run so Penny stayed over again and the three of us went out hill training on the Ridge, doing about 7 ascents. Penny then left as she’d had a message from Tim that he was on his way home, and Anne and I chatted for a bit about choir and potentially moving. She said she felt that change was in the air for a lot of people, and I think she’s probably right – I think the pandemic has made a lot of people re-assess their lives and consider where they actually want to live and what they want their lives to look like.

I know that one of the most important things for me is to be able to get out into lovely countryside to cycle, swim and run: but also that these things are definitely more fun when done with friends.

Anne by Penny – 24th October 2021.

Water, water everywhere (almost)

The day started OK. Edward was playing football at William Howard – and looking surprisingly like a footballer, despite the fact that he has only played about twice in his entire life (he’s now keen to find a club to join). It was a bit chilly and the weather forecast was not good, but fortunately the actual rain held off while I watched him, chatted to one of the other Mums, and he handed out the scones he’d made yesterday. Food is always important to Edward…

At 11 a.m. David came to take over parental supervisory duties and I drove down to Coniston. As I went past various of the lakes it was already raining: Thirlmere still looked quite low, although there were plenty of streams rushing down into it, but the beaches usually apparent at Rydal Water had disappeared. Already the ground by Coniston Hall was looking muddy, and there were mats for cars to get a bit of grip as they drove on to the field. Remembering the time several of us had had problems getting off the parking area at Patterdale, I worried that we’d have a repeat performance: however there were so many of us I rather assumed (fingers crossed) that the organisers had got a backup plan in the event that tons of cars got stuck.

I kept on my double layer of clothing, warmed by the journey in the car with the heater on almost full blast, and went to get my number and go to the loo. En route it was good to see the smiling face of a guy from work – who I haven’t seen since before the first lockdown – and to have a brief catch up. Then it was back to the car to change into my waterproof jacket and to put my race number on before going to the start and sheltering under a tree: and another quick chat with the guy from work before the race began and he sped off.

The run starts off along the half marathon route but after the initial uphill bit towards the Coppermines, the two diverge. Today we went on past the Coppermines on a firm, wide and stony track which turned to go fairly steeply uphill. If I ran I overtook a few people; they then overtook me when I walked a bit (I also stopped to take a photo of a very noisy waterfall, although there was an even better one later on). I really do need to improve my uphills, but on the other hand at least by walking some of the steeper parts I conserve energy and then have more ‘in the tank’ for the downhills and flatter bits.

The track narrowed which was fine going uphill (everyone was walking) but then made it a bit tricky to overtake people once it had levelled out. I got chatting to a young guy, and then to a girl, both new to the run: and then started talking to a guy who turned out also to have turned 60 this year, and who played bass guitar and also did triathlon. I wasn’t sure whether he wanted to carry on talking to me and my shoe laces came undone anyway, so I dropped back a bit.

After a relatively long stony downhill bit, we hit some tarmac where the other 60-year-old went to overtake a couple of people and I ran past him. Across a field or two and I fell over in some mud in front of someone I’d just overtaken – by coincidence I met him at the end of the race as he turned out to be the brother in law of a friend of mine. (he has a bad knee so even completing a 15km run is impressive).

Along a narrow path that was more stream than path I overtook some more people before going past the friend-with-the-brother-in-law through the woods. It was probably mean of me not to slow up to chat, but he’s got a bad knee so even completing 15km is impressive and I don’t think he would have expected me to wait for him there.

We eventually came out on the lake shore path, which is relatively level, and my mind went briefly back to the day when Penny and I ran round the whole of Coniston as one of the 16 lakes at 50 (i.e. for her 50th birthday). I’d like to run round Coniston again – it was a nice route with very little on road. By now I was beginning to feel a bit tired but there were runners in front of me who I wanted to overtake. My competitive spirit has definitely re-appeared after several years of not being fit enough to be competitive!

Just before the end there was a stream running down into the lake, and the only way was through it (“we’re going on a bear hunt… we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we’ll have to go through it...splishy splashy splishy splashy“). There were some people standing there waiting for family and friends to run past: as I splashed into water up to my bottom I realised why (memories of the Crossbay Challenge, where you run through about 3 rivers).

There was nobody to see me over the line, but I went back to cheer on firstly the young guy (who avoided looking at me – perhaps I was too wet to be recognisable) and the 60-year old guy (who kind of smiled), and then Nick as he ran on despite his knee hurting. He reminds me of Penny: pushes through the pain. I’m not sure I would, and I’m not sure whether I’m intrinsically lazy or just self-protective. I respect people who keep going, and I can understand the frustration at having a long-term injury and wanting to get moving again. I guess I wasn’t terribly sensible after my caesareans…

After a cappuccino (with cream, biscoff syrup and two tiny biscuits) and a brief chat with Nick and his brother in law (the one I had fallen over in front of), I walked back to the car, keeping my fingers crossed that it would move. It did and I headed home in more pouring rain, with water oozing from me on to the seat and the heating up full blast again.

Not swimming Snowdon

As the weather got chillier and greyer, swimming Snowdon was beginning to lose its appeal. Whilst I’ve walked up a little bit of a hill in a wetsuit before (between Styhead Tarn and Sprinkling Tarn – see post of 23rd May), I didn’t really fancy walking all the way up Snowdon and down the other side in a wetsuit. I’d been hoping that September/early October weather and water temperature would be warm; but it didn’t look very likely. Then, unfortunately, Penny’s bad back flared up, making sitting in a car almost impossible for her, and injured Tim fell out of bed so she felt she couldn’t leave him for the entire weekend anyway.

With Coniston 14km trail race coming up next weekend (only 2 left to go after that, to complete the series) and a 60 mile bike ride at the end of November, it was quite good to have the opportunity to relax and get some long runs/bike rides in. Plans for the weekend fluctuated and it wasn’t until Saturday morning, after coffee and a read in bed, that I decided that I’d go for a bike ride. It took eating breakfast to decide which bike ride to do: would I go up to Alston and Nenthead (hilly but interesting) or should I opt for a route out of the Ordnance Survey Cycle Tours – Cumbria and the Lakes book? In the end, feeling a bit lazy, I chose to do a route from the latter which was going to overlap day 2 of the cycling around Cumbria ‘project’. It looked flat; it would take me along that magical coast line which seems so different from the rest of Cumbria; and it was 30 miles.

I stopped at Burgh by Sands and used a revolting portaloo in the car park before realising that I didn’t need to start the ride there, but a few miles further along, nearer to Port Carlisle. It meant I didn’t cycle across the long straight road which crosses the marshes, with flood warning signs at frequent intervals and humps which roads to higher ground lead off. Instead I stopped in a parking bay at a corner where the road drops down towards the Solway, and started cycling, passing through Port Carlisle – a strange linear place with a handful of attractive Victorian (?) houses but not much more. Apparently it was originally named Fisher’s Cross but was renamed when the canal was built which linked Carlisle to the Solway.

Going through Bowness on Solway I noticed flags with suns on and signs about art open days. People were ambling up the main road – I had to make ‘ding ding’ noises so they noticed me – and then I saw two people I knew. I smiled and called out: but then felt guilty for not stopping to say hello properly and to have a chat. The Garrison bistro looks promising: I must go back there sometime.

I remembered from cycling this way before that we’d had to stop to open gates at the nature reserve: now there are brand new cattlegrids which mean you don’t have to stop. From now on the radio masts at Cardurnock/Anthorn made a clear landmark for nearly all the rest of the ride, the bends in the coast and the road making it appear sometimes closer than it would have been if I’d needed to cycle there.

There were also what looked like brick look out posts; two at least now being used to store hay bales, which struck me as eminently sensible. They presumably date from the 2nd world war: there were air fields and military bases all round the area. If anyone is interested in finding out more, it looks as if the Solway Firth Partnership promotes various trails: https://www.solwaymilitarytrail.co.uk/trails/

The amazing thing around this entire area is that although there are plenty of ugly modern buildings, and old buildings left to go to rack and ruin, there are also some beautiful ones. As you cycle into Anthorn you pass some attractive old buildings, before going past a particularly ugly more modern housing estate. As you turn off the road to go down to Kirkbride, a particularly dilapidated signpost rather sadly gives out your options: but Kirkbride is lovely and the signpost is presumably just waiting to be budgeted for in the right financial year. Around Kirkbride Penny and I had previously been overtaken by a group of fast (young, male) road cyclists; today I kept coming across groups in blue going in the other direction, and I wondered if there was some sort of event on.

At this point I was about halfway through my ride, and it struck me how liberating cycling is. I always love being out on my bike and feel as if I could cycle for ever: but then as I get back towards the end I look forward to finishing and to getting home. I sometimes have the same feeling whilst running, though as running is generally harder work the end can be more of a relief: though the great thing about feeling quite fit is that you get to the end and wonder if you could have gone further.

What this signpost highlights is how the roads around here can only be a mile or two away from sending you back to where you started from: it’s actually quite a small area geographically, but there are plenty of roads linking the villages to each other. So much so that I had to check the map quite often, and then the time I didn’t check the map I ended up missing out Wigton: no bad thing as it frequently smells and, being on one of the A59-somethings, it wasn’t really a great loss. Having said that, the John Peel theatre is great and I believe there are also several good restaurants in the town, plus it also has a station: https://wigtontheatre.org/. I found I was spending quite a lot of the ride checking out nice houses and wondering if I could live in any of them: but one of my criteria for wherever I move to is that I should be near a station.

Having turned left instead of right at Lessonhall I crossed what seemed like quite a main road (it wasn’t – but it was straight) and past a farm where a wedding was taking place: the sun seemed to be about to come out just as they were taking photos. Having read that the route was flat, I was then surprised to find that I plunged down a small hill, and then another: I had obviously cycled up a very gradual gradient without realising it, which made sense as I was no longer on land that looked marshy and as if it might flood. Not, that is, until I passed Wampool where there were some slightly alarming signs about the road being liable to flooding, ‘turn here’. I cycled along wondering if I might have to turn back at any point, but fortunately the ground is still quite dry at the moment and the worst I had to cycle through was dried cowpats. The river Wampool and the river Waver, both of which I’d cycled alongside, empty out into the Solway Firth and the land is criss-crossed by drains and marshes.

Signs pointed back towards Bowness on Solway and an ice cream van I’d seen earlier in the afternoon passed me at the junction: but I turned towards Glasson, seeing Bowness on a distant rise. Past Glasson as I turned back onto the coast road to get back to the car, I noticed the tide had come in and panicked briefly that I would find my car under water. Fortunately high tide at the moment didn’t mean ‘ridiculously high tide’ and I got back with enough grass to walk across to take a photo of the River Eden outflow/the Solway. As I got back in my car from taking photos, some more cyclists in blue passed me and I realised it was the last of the groups I’d seen before.

Driving back to Carlisle I went past some more groups in blue, and then having been to Sainsburys passed them again. They had ‘AAK’ (I think it was) on their shirts and something about being in aid of the blind; so I assume it’s a company doing a charity ride. I wish I’d stopped to ask them: I wonder if they’re doing the entire Hadrian’s Wall cycle route. I hope they enjoy it and raise plenty of funds. I had done 52km.

6 at 60: turning 60

Every time I write or think those words – that I am now 60 – it is difficult to believe. After all 60 is grown-up, right: middle-aged even. But somehow I feel more like I did when I turned 40; 50 sounded older but 60 sounds fun. Perhaps it’s also because I’m happy on my own again, and achieving things which matter to me: at 50 I had a baby, two young children, no career and was in a marriage which was not bitterly unhappy but was not happy either.

Perhaps the lesson is that when I’m doing the things I love – enjoyable work; exercising; music; time with people I love – then I am happy and feel energised. Life feels abundant; but I’m also perhaps more confident than I’ve ever been before.

The week started with a spa day with Anne. The treatments which we’d booked had to be cancelled as they were short-staffed: but we were amply compensated with a glass of champagne each, a free side order with lunch, and another half day, with the missed treatments, at the spa in November.

On my actual birthday I travelled down to Kent via London. I hadn’t been to St Pancras International since it had been redeveloped: it’s now an amazing location to spend time between trains, with far too many tempting shops and wine bars. Getting on the fast train to Kent was amazing: it zooms out of St Pancras between huge concrete walls, arriving at Stratford in about 5 minutes; unfortunately once it gets into Kent it slows down somewhat, and I then had to change at Faversham on to a bog-standard suburban train.

I was staying with Jo and Mike – the pair who came up in the summer – and we went into Whitstable for dinner, picking up Jo’s daughter en route, and walking to a lovely fish restaurant by the sea. My shoes were already hurting so I took them off and walked barefoot: but it was hardly a sandy beach, unfortunately. It didn’t matter though – it was a great evening and to see someone who I had looked after from time to time as a small child and who is now a beautiful adult was great.

There was a two-day work conference at the castles in Dover, Deal and Walmer and my memories – although the content was interesting – are of seeing the white cliffs of France in the sunlight on the other side of the channel; running up on to the white cliffs of Dover and into the National Trust nature reserve; and of the sun being out and walking around the gardens at Walmer and then along the shore to Deal. I am resolved to go back sometime and take the boys, as I think they’d love it.

Having arrived home late on the Thursday night, Friday was then a day of whizzing around and friends arriving before I got up early on Saturday to drive down to Cartmel for the Cartmel trail race (10km challenge). I was really pleased as it was actually 11km and I ran it in an hour and 6 minutes; my 10km time was about 1.01 (I’d love to get it under an hour!). The results were all over the place, but it looks as if I was second in my age group – having just sneaked now into the Female Vet 60 age group.

I got back home to find my lovely friends had prepared some food for the soiree; I got changed and headed down to Lanercost to set up the Dacre Hall and have a final rehearsal. I had an incredible amount of help from my generous friends – generous with their time and support as well as with their donations of food for the party, presents and with their contributions to my chosen charity.

The party/soiree went well and people seemed to enjoy it; I was delighted that my two older children were there and proud to see them being so charming to my friends. Bella in fact enjoyed it so much that she wants me to organise something similar every year. Rather than reproduce the entire programme, I will just upload a handful of photos (I thought, having subscribed, I’d be able to upload a video but it appears I can’t – unless I perhaps do it via YouTube – there are two here now if you click on those two links – one of the others that I wanted to post is sideways for some reason). I do realise that I sound very amateur when compared to other renditions on YouTube – but as I love singing and have no ambitions to be a professional singer, I guess that’s OK. It’s the music that matters.

Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory“. Percy Bysshe Shelley

6 at 60: Keswick sprint distance triathlon

The sky was that halfway stage between darkness and daylight as I left that morning, the birds singing to welcome a new day.

I arrived in Keswick at about 7 a.m., and slotted into a parking space more-or-less opposite Tricia and Tim, who had arrived moments before. We assembled the various things you need for triathlon and headed over to registration through the early morning bustle of a mountain festival site beginning the day, people looking either uncertain or very athletic.

At the transition area we had our helmets checked then walked through the wet grass to find our bike racking slots. It was chilly but not too chilly, but as we then waited for the race briefing it started to rain. I borrowed a rain jacket from Tricia and Tim for a few moments then after the briefing headed off for that all-so-important last minute toilet break.

Watching the first waves entering and leaving the water, you could see it wasn’t easy: the long dry spell meant the water level was low and the rocks and weed were making it tricky. As I started the swim I worried that I was going to hate the swim so much that I’d end up bailing out: fortunately one of the kayakers who was looking out for us all told me I’d be in about 2m of water after a few moments, and then I was able to start doing front crawl – so much easier than breast stroke – and my breathing calmed down and I even overtook a couple of people.

Getting out I trailed bits of weed with me, which had entagled themselves in my race number (97), and I ran/jogged up into the transition area. There was Tricia, putting on her cycling top and getting ready to go. I grabbed my helmet, put on my shoes and socks, Tim took a photo, and then taking my bike I was off. Within minutes a smile was on my face: I felt as if I was peddling smoothly and steadily, and slowly I began to overtake a handful of people.

The ride climbed up and along the side of Catbells via Portinscale (I got overtaken by 2 people going up the zigzags – I overtook them both again later, although one then overtook me on the run) before dropping down through Grange, at the southern end of Derwentwater. As I went through Grange a red squirrel dived into the hedge just ahead of me: possibly the highlight of the race for me!

Fortunately there still wasn’t too much traffic on the roads, so overtaking coming back into Keswick wasn’t a problem. I jogged back into transition with my bike and then headed out on the run. This was the bit I’d alway used to worry about when I first did triathlon many years ago, but I also knew that my running has improved tremendously over the past couple of years. Despite breathing fairly heavily I managed to keep up a steady pace and again overtook a handful of people. The run went up through Cockshott Woods, along the path which hides behind the wall going along the road (I could see cyclists coming towards me on the other side of the wall – one guy who had been in my swim wave shouted something at me and I waved back) until turning back to come along the gravelly lake short path.

A short section on road past Theatre by the Lake and I was back on the grass of Crow Park and heading up a small hill to the finish line. Tricia’s husband Tim was waiting there and told me I’d crossed the line at about 10 to 10. I’m not entirely sure what time my swim started – it was due to start about 8.30 but I think it would have been more like 8.15 or 8.20 – but I’m looking forward to seeing the official results when they are posted.

A few minutes later and Penny turned up, and at about 10.30 we jogged back along the running route to see if we could see Tricia. There she was, just coming past Theatre by the Lake, so we ran back alongside her and cheered her over the finishing line.

My enthusiasm for triathlon – sprint distance, at least – has been completely re-ignited. Penny and I drove to Bassenthwaite to meet up with Anne and Laura for a swim – where the sun even came out – and I was chatty; I was buzzing for the rest of the day. I love feeling fit and healthy and strong and days like this just make me want to do more, and to get fitter – I still have an ambition to do a standard distance triathlon and actually manage to run the entire 10km run, instead of walking bits. So I’m already looking at races for next year…

6 at 60: Keswick trail race

I’ve just finished reading The Edge of the World: how the North Sea made us who we are (Michael Pye). It’s a fascinating ‘ramble’ (and I do NOT use that word pejoratively) around the countries surrounding the North Sea and through the centuries. The introduction starts in Scarborough but moves quickly and memorably to Domburg, and the various discoveries there of ancient remains including a temple to the goddess Nehalennia (who I had never heard of before). It continues by looking at the Frisians and the invention of money, and covers how money developed from paying for ‘things’ to purchasing more abstract items (insurance); it looks at the Vikings, those incredible explorers; and discusses politics, fashion, religion and travelling. It’s the sort of history book I love: a delve into social history and how the so-called dark ages evolved into modern life.

However there were certain thoughts that kept popping into my head as I read it. One was how human nature really does not change much. Another was that ‘back then’ people were always looking for signs about when the world would end. It struck me that we do that to a certain extent even now: there definitely is an ‘imminent disaster’ feeling about climate change. Whilst I do believe that climate change is real and has been exacerbated by human greed, at the same time the climate of the planet does change naturally from time to time – there were floods and famines in the past – and seeing signs that the world will end is nothing new. Don’t get me wrong – I believe fervently that we should be using fewer of this beautiful planet’s resources, and also taking more care of it; and I’m very conscious that as a ‘westerner’ I am one of the greedy guzzlers who uses so much of those resources.

The other theme that seemed topical was that of plague. The Black Death was as terrifying as Covid and as highly transmissable. The book has an entire chapter entitled ‘The Plague Laws’ and, having been published in 2014/15 states: “Like terrorism, like AIDS in our time, it settled in memory and panic and stung a sense of guilt into life”. It led to rules controlling travel and for a long time nobody knew what caused it nor how to prevent its spread. It has struck me often recently how a year and a half ago when Covid first became prevalent, there was a sense of panic but also perhaps our adrenalin was running high: certainly I was emotional when I first had to queue up at the supermarket, or had to queue outside an empty secondary school to pick up a Doctor’s prescription.

In terms of the series of trail races I’m running as one of my 6 at 60 challenges, there are still some safety precautions in place – likewise for choir. Lakeland Trails, who organise the races, ask that all entrants take a lateral flow test prior to racing; they also ask that we wear facemasks in the marquee, and provide hand sanitiser in the marquee.

Yesterday’s race took place at Keswick, in the heart of the Lake District. Having dropped the kids off at their Dad’s house, I thought I’d allowed plenty of time to park: after all the schools were back or going back on Monday, so could Keswick really be that busy? After driving around one car park twice I went to another – on the second loop I spotted someone leaving. Hooray! I paid for parking, ran through the town centre – the market was on, so it was busy – went to the toilet and registered and got to the start of the race a little flustered but with 10 minutes to go.

I’d opted for the mass start but a lot of people are still choosing to pick a time and do a wave start. Ironically, I think they’re limiting numbers to 30 for the wave starts and there were only 33 of us on the mass start… I seemed to be with a lot of young, fit, men and kept trying to make sure I didn’t start off too fast. After a short trot along the old railway line (now a multi-use track which I’ve previously cycled along – see https://runningin3time.wordpress.com/2021/03/28/return-to-the-lake-district/) we veered off to run up a gravelly track, which I think had been created to help with the tree clearing (the hillside looks denuded at present). We ran along an undulating track, but mostly uphill, around the southern side of Latrigg, and then along towards the Glenderaterra valley.

I’d run much of the course from this point several years ago: and conveniently had forgotten how it’s mostly a continuous but gradual uphill. At the northern end of the valley the route cuts up across the ‘Glenderaterra bogs’ – the long marsh grass lay underfoot like reeds, but hiding some very wet mud – and also at times stones. A young guy overtook me at one point and his left leg disappeared at the same time up to the ankle in mud. Through here even the young, fit runners were walking – and there was little room to overtake anyway.

At the top of the valley you cross a couple of streams and then after another short – but this time stony – uphill, you’re then on a gorgeous track which wends around Lonscale Fell – not much good for people with vertigo though – and then starts to go downhill. The car park on Latrigg was further away than I remembered, but at one point there was a lovely view of Derwentwater, and it’s basically downhill all the way – and the sun had come out. I’d previously run/walked up the path which goes up the northern/north western side of Latrigg, so it was great to be running down it. At one point I was overtaken by a very fast young man with rabbit ears on and an orange skirt. His t-shirt said ‘Matt’s Stag’.

By the time I got back to Fitz Park I was beginning to feel the effect of running 15km: but I knew that although plenty of young men had overtaken me (and a few older men), not many women had, and in fact I had overtaken a handful of people.

The results seem to indicate that out of the 33 people who did the mass start, I was 2nd woman, with a time of 1.42. That doesn’t really say much though – when I compare my time with the 335 people in all the wave starts it looks as if I would have come around 125th overall – and about 5th in the FV50 category.

If you’ve managed to read to the end of this with no photos, I hope you won’t mind if I now ‘advertise’ my fundraising page – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sarah-lewis-briggs I’m using my 6 at 60 challenges to raise money for Medecins sans Frontieres (sorry – haven’t worked out how to put accents in to wordpress) and it would be great if you felt like sponsoring me.

Meanwhile here’s a photo to brighten things up.

So what’s new?

It doesn’t feel as if I’ve been anywhere particularly novel recently, nor done anything new – the summer remained grey and damp for a couple of weeks, and I continued to try to go out for my lunchtime run while working from home, including attempting to include some hillier runs in order to improve my uphill running. I had plans of running from Walltown Crags to Housesteads and back (quite a long way) but didn’t do it – instead I did a brick session (bike followed by run) in training for the triathlon I have coming up mid-September. It feels as if things are building to a peak in terms of the 6 at 60 – September isn’t only my birthday and the triathlon but two Lakeland trails races, swimming Snowdon and some more singing.

Then I’ve also just entered a cycle sportive in November: I’ve kept meaning to enter a sportive and never got round to it, so when I saw this one advertised and checked the date and found I was free, I decided to enter. And I’m now thinking of doing my Trinity College of Music performance diploma, having done the ARSM (Associate of the Royal Schools of Music).

Having had a week off with the kids, I then booked a few more days off. I met Jane in Lancaster on a glorious sunny day which made us feel all summery again. I haven’t been to Lancaster for a few years, and even then it had been most often to look at the fire station (it was redeveloped a few years ago and I had to value it). This day Jane and I went up to Williamson Park and the memorial that you see from the motorway, as well as the butterfly house and mini-zoo, and then after lunch in the city centre went into the Castle. I was really impressed by what the Duchy of Lancaster have done with the Castle – it made me wonder if we (English Heritage) could do something as good with Carlisle Castle. Both cities are similar in many ways – roughly the same population; near the M6; ‘stop off’ places en route to other places (the Lake District; Scotland); and both have universities, although Lancaster ranks 10th out of UK Universities while the rather newer Cumbria University ranks 114th (and Lancaster is also home to UCLAN which is 87th and apparently has a campus in Cyprus).

I look forward to going back to Lancaster Castle when the interiors are open; and next time I shall make sure I haven’t just had lunch, so I can try out the cafe: created from the former prison canteen and by extending into the courtyard.

I hadn’t seen Jane for ages – and it was great to catch up with her. Likewise it’s been good to go out running with Anne and I was able to introduce her to Askham Fell (with apologies to Penny, who is still recovering from injuries). We chose another rainy day to do the 10km route which Penny and Tim had introduced me to on New Year’s day: a lovely run which goes along by the river Eamont before heading up on to the Fell – absolutely stunning with purple heather – ending with a fantastic long downhill back into Askham. We then went to the cafe at Askham Hall for a late lunch: the stables have been converted and it’s quite rustic but really nice. The pizzas seem to be popular and I wondered if they’d be as good as the Mill Yard cafe at Morland.

Whilst I have my 6 at 60 to complete (before I turn 61, I reckon), Head Torches are currently running, cycling or walking from Lands End to John O’Groats (LE JoG). There’s a great app. called Myles which will record mileages of challenges and, I realised last week, also shows you on a map where you’ve got to. Meanwhile in terms of the 6 at 60 I ticked off one more unofficial swimming location: swimming on the Scottish-English border at Penton.

The week before I had been on a Border Reivers tour with Off the Wall tours – a fascinating tour around Arthuret, Langholm, Newcastleton and Bewcastle. We’d travelled back and forth across the border, highlighting the mixed heritage of this area in many ways, and stopped at some great spots – I loved the Gilnockie Tower, and the rainy, misty day made Langholm Moor atmospheric. I decided that at some point I’m going to cycle across there, taking in Hermitage Castle one way. It feels incredibly remote and not the sort of place you’d want to break down, especially not in the winter.

Penton fits into a similar category. The countryside around there feels really remote, and yet it’s also spell-binding. Laura mentioned that it might be worth trying the river Liddel for swimming, and I took a Friday off work. Hannah arranged to drive across and, having been held up on the A69 and the Military Road, arrived an hour late but brought the sun and warmth with her – she was obviously meant to arrive later!

It’s only half an hour’s drive from Brampton, with a small parking spot just off the road. We parked in Scotland and swam up and down the border. The rocks make it easy to get in so long as you’re prepared for sudden drop-offs – in places the banks of pebbles keep the water shallow but in other places the river has cut a deep channel through the rocks. At other places there are shallow rapids; the river rushes through, creating white water; in other places the rocks lie almost flat and create good picnic areas. It was teeming with small fish, making us think the water must be clean. After the initial chilly feeling and a bit of swimming, I took my wetsuit off, enjoying the tingly feeling and freedom of the cold water on my skin: and then we all sat in the sun and enjoyed a picnic lunch. It was lovely to be able to wild swim again – I’ve really missed it with the rather cool, damp, weather of recent weeks.

I’ve also just set up a JustGiving page: if anyone feels like sponsoring my 6 at 60 in aid of MSF (Medecins sans Frontieres), then please visit this page, which will also have regular updates on progress: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sarah-lewis-briggs. Many thanks to those who have sponsored me so far.

More hills and water: Stickle Tarn and Hawkshead trail race

I’ve wanted to swim in Stickle Tarn ever since I was up there one November on a walk leaders’ assessment. When Anne and I were compiling the list of lakes and tarns to swim in, firstly as she was turning 60 and then because I was, I felt it had to go on the list.

It was a beautiful warm sunny summer afternoon when a handful of us drove to Stickle Ghyll car park (National Trust) which I had anticipated, being large, would have plenty of room. There weren’t a lot of spaces but we only needed two and sure enough I had just pulled in when Hannah and her family also drove up and found a space nearby.

What I hadn’t properly remembered was how steep the path becomes – partly because in fact when we did our walk leaders’ assessment we had turned off the path about halfway up and the steepest part is at the top. It’s also quite rocky so a bit of clambering is needed; slightly easier today as the ghyll had almost dried up, so at least the rocks weren’t slippery.

In some ways it was a bit of repeat of going up to Sprinkling Tarn with Jo and Mike. I seem to be able to forget the most strenuous bits of walks – perhaps because swimming in the tarns at the top is so exhilarating. It was again a warm, close, day and as we got higher and the walk got tougher Hannah’s asthma got the better of her and even Laura had to sit down for a rest. Penny’s bad back was OK… on the way up…

It was worth it however for the stunning views, even if a pity that the usually attractive ghyll was a series of trickles and puddles rather than a splashing torrent with rock pools. The tarn water level didn’t in fact seem too low, and it was as beautiful as I remembered, surrounded by the various Langdale peaks: in particular Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle. We stripped down to swimsuits and got in, glad of the coolness of the water after the warmth of the sun.

Walking down in some ways was trickier than walking up – it’s always harder on your knees and your quad muscles when there are big steps down. Penny’s back was suffering before long, and I took her bag for her as it was hurting her back. We got to the bottom in, of course, far less time than it took to walk up, and went to the pub for a drink before getting back in the car to go home.

The weather changed not long after this: in some ways it was a relief as we definitely needed some water for the streams and lakes (Thirlmere has been looking ridiculously low – I’m not sure whether people in Manchester are having their water rationed at the moment), and with cooler weather it was easier to run. It did of course become more slippery underfoot – I managed to fall over in front of a guy who was walking his dog in Gelt Woods, and realised about a week later that I had a brightly multi-coloured bruise on my right thigh as well as grazes on my right calf and right shoulder.

I then had a week with no running and no yoga as I went down to Somerset with the children, to see my parents. Not surprisingly my Dad’s alzheimers doesn’t get any better and, I felt, was noticeably worse. However it was good to see them and also to see my sister and her boyfriend. Bella and Edward loved Bristol Zoo and I think they enjoyed the Roman Baths, but there was the usual bickering and plenty of disagreements over where to go. We then had a gruesome journey back up the M5 and M6 – possibly the slowest and worst drive I’ve ever had.

By the Saturday morning I’d had a good night’s sleep in my own bed however, and drove down to Hawkshead to do the Lakeland Trails Hawkshead 16km trail challenge. It wasn’t raining when I left home, and optimistically I had not taken a waterproof jacket nor a change of clothes. The heavens opened as I past Penrith and other than a couple of short respites stayed that way for the rest of the day.

Because of the weather there weren’t as many people milling around at the start/finish ground as there might have been, and although I had opted for the ‘mass start’, there were only about 45 of us – a lot of people must have still chosen to do the staggered starts. As I started across the line a few people overtook me, but I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as many as I’d feared.

The first hill was already slippery and muddy, and runners from earlier races were coming down in the opposite direction. It’s a fairly rocky path uphill after the initial on-road start before you turn to go across an area of open land, and past Moss Eccles tarn (and some smaller ones) – another one I want to swim in some time. I kept thinking of how last time I’d done more or less this route, with Penny, it had been just as rainy and wet as it was today.

Photo courtesy of James Kirby/Lakeland Trails – hair courtesy of RainyDays

We came down to one of the Sawreys – I can never remember whether it’s near or far – and after a brief spell on the road turned off uphill again. Just as I went round the corner something flew out of the hedge and bit me on my left thigh (I think it was attracted to the orange go-faster stripe on my leggings). It hurt, and as I ran I could feel it throbbing. I briefly thought of going back to the medic truck which I had just passed, but decided I’d live until I got to the paramedic at the end of the race.

A windy rocky path led down to the shores of Windermere, before going along the shore on the firmer track which runs through the woods, from about Claife Heights to Wray. Then you turn to run up the Coffin Trail: a mile long climb which starts by going up stone steps before turning back into a rocky path. It’s the third main ascent of the 16km route, but once you reach the top it’s downhill all the way to the finish.

I had anticipated that so long as I was careful I would be able to overtake people on the downhill sections, and that indeed turned out to be the case – although the really fast runners overtook me. At one point I’d just overtaken a couple of people and felt a slight slip under my feet, when I heard someone behind me fall over: a couple of times I had slightly slipped but fortunately not fallen.

I completed the race in just under 2 hours, which I think is the fastest I’ve ever done it – I would have liked to have run more of the uphill sections, so that’s something I need to work on. But having not run all week I was just trying to enjoy it – despite the horsefly bite.

Which was what it turned out to be, and a couple of days later it was red, sore and blistering. A visit to the Doctors and some antihistamine and fingers crossed it will all be fine. The next race is Keswick at the beginning of September, followed a couple of weeks after by Cartmel.

Swim, bike, run… hills and water (2)

Arnside to Garsdale Head; Devoke Water

Before describing the bike ride I went on the day after the Ambleside trail race, I should put in a mention of the Mill Yard cafe in Morland. Prior to Covid I’d been here a few times, and always enjoyed it: Penny and Tim live nearby so are fairly regular patrons, in particular for the take-away pizzas on a Friday or Saturday night. I’d be invited to stay at their house after the run, and Penny had suggested we go to the cafe that evening.

Wow! I mean, wow! The best pizza I’ve ever had. The base wasn’t so thin that it had burnt, but nor was it too fat (I don’t like thick doughy bases). It was a perfect balance of thin but just risen enough. And the chef is generous with the cheese – gorgeous stringy mozzarella which produces strands almost like spaghetti, and which, like spaghetti,, you can’t – and shouldn’t be expected – to eat neatly. I also like the fact that you get to choose your own toppings – or you can go for the chef’s own option, which is whatever he feels like at the time. The only problem was that Penny and I shared a garlic bread with mozzarella first, and then struggled to eat more than half a pizza each. Tim, late home, benefitted from having the leftovers… I loved eating in their outside yard as well: it is a genuine old mill building, so is a really attractive building anyway, and the yard makes a great outdoor eating area.

The following morning my quads were aching a bit but we had breakfast and then headed off to drop Penny’s car at Garsdale Head before Tim took us and our bikes to Arnside. The weather looked promising: it was still quite muggy but it was dry. It was a relief that Tim had helped out, as it would have meant an awful lot of to-ing and fro-ing at the end of what turned out to be quite a demanding bike ride if we’d then had to drive back to the start to pick up a second car.

Arnside is lovely, but I always find Morecambe Bay and the various estuaries that empty into a bit bizarre. I grew up near the Severn/Bristol Channel, which has one of the highest tidal differences in the world, so you’d think I’d be used to seeing the sea disappear into the distance. I think perhaps what is different about Morecambe Bay is being aware that the tide can come in very, very fast – drownings are not unusual – so I’m always slightly on tenterhooks near it. A siren sounded while we were in the car park unloading our bikes and I wasn’t at all sure that it didn’t mean that the tide was about to rush in and wash us all away.

The initial part of the ride was along fairly flat country lanes. There are a lot of nature reserves and so forth in this area and not a lot of development. It’s not an area I know terribly well, being at the opposite end of Cumbria from where I live, but I do have the experience of having valued Silverdale fire station, just down the coast into Lancashire (if you ever want to see a slightly unusual fire station, that’s the one). Like much of Cumbria you do feel that you are quite a long way from anywhere, although we crossed both the A6 and the M6 as we made our way in an easterly direction along the Cumbria/Lancashire border.

A climb uphill between trees led to a great view in a southerly direction, before going through Hutton Roof (a place whose name has always intrigued me – we didn’t stop to look but apparently it’s got great limestone pavement/crags) and then descending to Kirkby Lonsdale. As we started to go down hill Penny got a bee in her bonnet – sorry, I mean in her helmet – just as three girls of about half our age came up the hill in the opposite direction, looking as if the climb was no effort for them whatsoever.

Kirkby Lonsdale is great. I’d only passed through there before, and not seen the town centre, which has a lovely old market cross – where we stopped and ate ice cream – and also a river which looks like a great place to swim. Definitely worth a return visit sometime.

The route now took us up past Barbon Hall and into Barbondale, which was absolutely beautiful and also really enjoyable cycling. We stopped at a bridge which had been rebuilt after Storm Desmond, doing our usual thing en route of exclaiming how stunning it all was and how lucky we are to live in Cumbria.

We had been gradually and almost imperceptibly climbing, and eventually had a glorious run down into Dentdale before turning eastwards into Dent itself. There were quite a lot of people about – it’s a lovely little village and it looked as if it had some good cafes (they were beginning to close as it was about 4pm on a Sunday afternoon) – and we stopped to use the very good public toilets before bumping over the cobbles and then going downhill some more.

After this our route took us along Dentdale before, at Cowgill, a hamlet at the end of the valley, climbing steeply uphill towards Dent station – about 4 and a half miles away from the actual village of Dent and the highest operational railway station in England. The hill from the valley bottom up to the station had us both beaten – at one point I got back on and started cycling again, but not for long. The station, like Garsdale Head, lies on the Carlisle-Settle line, an amazing – and rather crazy – feat of engineering which was incredibly expensive to build as it has so many tunnels and viaducts. Not surprisingly it suffered when the main west coast line was built; nowadays when you travel on this line you can buy a short history of the railway (although as I haven’t travelled on it for a while I don’t know if Covid has put a stop to that).

After Dent station Penny managed to get back on her bike, but I walked a bit further, until the road levelled out a bit and rolled across some glorious open fell with amazing views all around. Finally there was a steep, fast descent down to Garsdale Head and the car. I had, over a period of time, finally cycled round the whole of Cumbria (we’ve missed a couple of miles in a couple of places to be honest). However we have one more ‘stage’ we both want to do: to cycle from Melmerby up to Alston and then down to Brampton.

The weather finally changed from being overcast and muggy to being sunny, and my legs recovered from their two days of hills. I posted a group message to see if anybody wanted to swim and got several positive replies and some enthusiasm for Devoke Water, which must be one of the furthest west of the Lake District tarns: it took over two hours to drive there. However, it was completely worthwhile.

We turned off the main road at Greenodd towards Broughton in Furness, and then up the Duddon Valley. Some of the open water swimming books recommend the river here, but it looked quite low and also there were a lot of people. We turned to go up towards Birker Fell, crossing some cattle grids and coming out above trees into open fells which looked almost Alpine today. There’s no proper car park but there was enough verge to park on and the tarn is then a short walk along a track. It was absolutely stunning, and we found a beach with a stony entry to the water. It was shallow for quite a way out, before steeply sloping away underwater. Jo and Anne started to swim up to the far end – probably about 1km away – and I zigzagged a bit before thinking about swimming to the island. I didn’t make it as I got a bit bored with not being able to see much below me, and also the island kept looking as if it was not getting any closer.

After a picnic a few of us got back in for a short while – partly to admire the perch I’d initially spotted and got very excited about. Even the most cautious of us swam without wetsuits and it was almost warmer in the water than out in the breeze. There was a lot of merriment and plans for all sorts of other events – we’ve decided that we need to do a breakfast swim in Bassenthwaite with bacon sandwiches, and we talked about having ‘Crab Fest’ at Devoke Water next July as so many in the group are cancerians.

Swim, bike, run… hills and water (1)

ABC: Buttermere, Ambleside and the River Caldew

There’s a reason Buttermere is so popular. The 4-mile walk around the lake is a fairly level, easy one, with a fun tunnel; the landscape is pretty; and there are good places to eat, drink and get ice cream. Parking is, as a result, often horrendous – so when Anne and I decided to go down there a couple of weekends ago, we weren’t quite sure what we’d find.

In fact we found a parking space with no problem, in the Lake District National Park pay & display car park – which also has toilets. The parking has maybe been helped somewhat by the fact that the farmer at the south-eastern end of the lake has opened up a couple of fields for parking – a the reasonable charge of about £5 (maybe £6) per day. As Laura and I had agreed when we went down to Lancrigg/Grasmere, I have no objection to paying for parking in busy places; likewise I have no objection to paying for the toilets if they’re kept clean.

Anne and I had agreed we’d run round the lake and then swim in it. It was an overcast day and quite muggy, and when I’d picked her up her husband had said there were thunderstorms on the way. With this in mind I had packed my waterproof jacket and two towels in case one got too wet. I was, I thought, prepared for everything.

The run round the lake is really lovely. We went round in an anti-clockwise direction, through the woods along the southern shore to start with. You then cross open land at the end of the lake before having to do a short section on road – a bit hairy as the road is fairly narrow so there is hardly room for two cars to pass each other, let alone pass each other and pedestrians. People were swimming from stony beaches as we dropped back down on to the track away from the road; it looked inviting: and the sun was coming out and beginning to burn away the cloud.

Anne loved the tunnel, which just adds a bit of individual quirkiness to this particular run. After that there’s another mile or so through trees – unfortunately the National Trust seems to have closed off the track which goes around the lake shore – then through the yard of the ice cream farm before getting back to the car park.

We then went for a swim from the north western beach. It was great – it’s incredibly shallow (deep enough for swimming) with beautifully clear water above a stony bed. I found I’d forgotten my swimsuit; Anne had forgotten her wetsuit. She went in in her swimsuit with a t-shirt over it and I went in in my running gear. At a very rough estimate we swam about 600m across almost to the other side and back, and then went for a late lunch at Croft House Farm cafe, which I would highly recommend.

A week later and I was in Ambleside, slightly nervously awaiting the start of the Lakeland Trails Ambleside 14km trail run. I hadn’t done many long runs and had been really struggling – I think with the warm weather – so I wasn’t at all sure how I’d feel. Penny had come along as ‘support crew’, and it was great to have someone to talk to and to look out for me along the course and at the end – the staggered starts mean that it’s relatively quiet and a bit strange hanging around at the start, and can be a bit flat at the end.

Whereas with the Coniston half she almost missed me at Tarn Howes because I’d run faster than expected, this time she was wondering where I’d got to at Rydal Water as I took longer than she’d expected. I found it a tough race – not only was it warm but the run takes you uphill out of Ambleside to High Sweden Bridge before a stunning but rocky downhill down through Rydal Hall and across the road to run alongside Rydal Water. At this point we met up with another race, the Breca Coniston swimrun. Running in wetsuits looks hard (and hot), though the swimming bit would be a nice cool down on a day like this – at least, a nice gentle swim would be. I guess a race swim is less cooling.

Penny and I then drove up past Mungrisdale to have a dip in the river Caldew: something I’ve wanted to do since I first saw the waterfalls and so forth last year. It was chilly, but invigorating – and doubtless good for my sore muscles – and just as we were getting changed the heavens opened, torrentially. I leapt into the car to finish changing – several days later I found my swimsuit under my seat…