A month back already

It’s Friday 3rd July. Not only does this mark 2 years since I started my job at English Heritage – two years which have flown by – but also I’ve just completed my 4th week back at work after furlough. Almost a month.

The month has passed noticeably more rapidly than the two months/8 weeks of furlough did. Five days a week I now have a compelling reason to get up in the morning: my alarm clock is set for 7.30 a.m. so that I have time to feed the cat, do yoga and make coffee before I get on with my working day. This still seems somewhat on the early side to me (although when I was commuting to work I was on the train by 7.15) but with the mornings being so light I’m often awake anyway, even if I’ve gone to bed quite late.

If the kids are here then I need to do things with them once I’ve finished work for the day: if they’re not then it’s an opportunity to get out for a run or on my bike, and ideally also to do some singing practice before watching something on the television or reading whatever book I have on the go. I have recently finished Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘Scotland Street’ series (I actually read the final one of the series a year or so ago, before reading any of the others) which have been a little rather like an extremely well-written and quite middle class soap opera: I wanted to find out what happened to the various characters, so any spare time was spent reading rather than watching television. In fact one morning I started work half an hour late as I so badly wanted to finish my book (I hasten to add that I made the time up at the other end of the day).

Since High Street I haven’t done any particularly new running routes: I’m trying to create a 5km off-road route near home but it’s surprisingly hard to get to the magic 5km rather than 4.85km. And equally frustratingly a route which I thought was 10km has proved not to be: it measures consistently as 9km, although when measured on MapMyRun on the laptop (rather than on Strava as I’m running along) it measures 10km…

However yesterday I needed to do a site visit, so I popped out on my bike, took some photos of what was basically a mound of earth in a field (part of Hadrian’s Wall) and then cycled towards Birdoswald Roman Fort. I hadn’t actually intended to go as far as Birdoswald but the sun came out and I was enjoying the feeling of freedom of being on my bike. I stopped at ‘Birdos’ to call some work colleagues on Zoom, and then a friend drove past and stopped when he saw me. We chatted for about an hour on a whole range of interesting topics – he knows a huge amount about Hadrian’s Wall (he’s written two books about it) and told me that the site I’d been to visit wasn’t actually just an earthwork. Apparently there is a bit of the actual sandstone wall under the turf which used to be covered up each winter to protect it – until the powers that be decided to keep it covered up all the time.

Also, apparently a geological change from limestone to sandstone occurs at Lanercost: which is why Birdoswald and Hadrian’s Wall to the east are paler in colour and the stones have lasted better: once you get to Brampton everything is sandstone and quite crumbly. Lanercost itself is a bit of both.

With a large number of sites opening tomorrow, I volunteered to be a ‘practice visitor’ this afternoon at Furness Abbey. Barrow nowadays is considered to be at the end of a road, miles from anywhere: but in the hey day of Furness Abbey the deep water port would have provided the Abbey – and its abundant farmlands, mills and woodland – with easy access to the Irish Sea and hence to Ireland, Scotland and further south down the English and Welsh coasts and ultimately to Europe. It was an incredibly wealthy abbey – it would have rivalled Fountains in Yorkshire, or at least was the second wealthiest Cistercian monastery after Fountains – and even though much that remains is not that far above ground level, you still get an impression of how huge the abbey would have been. This picture from the 1890s gives even more of an impression than the current ruins do of how huge it once was: many of the walls have fallen since then.

I’d had an idea of then running the route of the Hawkshead trail race, or at least most of it, including the notorious Coffin Trail. So, from Furness I drove to one of the National Trust car parks – full today of nothing but cows which probably weren’t meant to be there – to start the run. I was glad that Penny had opted to finish work early and come with me, as by now it was raining quite hard and if I’d been on my own I’d have given up the idea of running and gone home!

We ran along the lake side and then up the Coffin Trail, the stones slippery beneath our feet, to the top of the hill. Here we turned to the south and had a lovely run between 3 tarns in what I always think of as ‘real Beatrix Potter country’ – and through plenty of streams. Only 2 weeks ago, when we ran High Street and swam in Rydal Water, a lot of the streams had dried up: now they were in full flood and it wasn’t long before our feet were soaking as we couldn’t avoid them – they either crossed or flowed down the paths. We made a note that Moss Eccles tarn would be a nice one to swim in, and not too far to walk from Far Sawrey.

The last mile or so of the run involved a path that neither of us had been down before. Narrow and winding, with ferns brushing us from both sides, at one point a tree with the most beautiful bronze wood had twisted and split as it fell across the path.

We came out at Claife Heights viewing station. Despite the weather the views were still lovely. A short run back to the car, a change into some dry clothes, and it was time for me to go to pick up the boys.

I’ve had time to do a bit of cooking as well. I went to see a friend whom I hadn’t seen for ages, and took a watermelon and halloumi salad; another friend had her 60th birthday and for her I made Millionaire’s Shortbread; I was also given a sourdough starter which I’ve been experimenting with, and I made some ‘ordinary’ cheesy poppy seed bread, and gave a loaf to my singing teacher.

Having singing lessons outside has been amazing: I think I wrote before that I thought my voice would just disappear outside, without any walls to bounce off, but it doesn’t. It’s such a lovely feeling: singing is such a natural thing to do and being outdoors makes it feel even more natural. I even took my sandals off in my last lesson so I could feel the grass beneath my feet. Rather appropriately one of the songs I’m learning at the moment is Vaughan Williams’ Silent Noon, which beautifully describes lazing in an English meadow on a sunny warm spring/summer day. To finish this post I’ll just add a link to Ian Bostridge’s glorious, and beautifully filmed, rendition of it of YouTube https://youtu.be/2FGeLUQQH6w

3 thoughts on “A month back already

  1. Elizabeth July 5, 2020 / 7:36 pm

    I haven’t read that series of his though I have thoroughly enjoyed the books set in Botswana with a “traditionally built” central female detective. Got hold of the Viking book but promptly had it taken by my husband who is enjoying it very much. I will read it in a bit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • sarahjlewisbriggs July 6, 2020 / 2:09 pm

      That made me laugh! Glad your husband is enjoying it. I know the ‘No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency’ books too – I actually prefer the Scotland St. ones but it’s probably because I know Edinburgh quite well – an aunt of mine had a flat in the New Town and the books bring back her life/life style. Whereas I have never been to Botswana and unfortunately perhaps most likely never will!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Elizabeth July 6, 2020 / 7:55 pm

      I will check those out since I have been once to Edinburgh and would be able to see the setting in my mind’s eye.

      Liked by 1 person

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