New runs and lockdown 3

I’ve always had a relatively low boredom threshold, and love exploring. A third lockdown (really the 2nd ‘proper’ one) and I was more than ready to start to look for some new running routes. But just how far was ‘local’: if I was taking the kids down to Penrith to their Dad’s, was it OK to run down there (not a question the police could answer when I emailed them)? However, there were certain site visits which were necessary for work, so I started trying to plan off-the-beaten-track routes which would take in the site visits, and trying to find alternative routes locally.

We’ve had snow, too – nothing terribly thick yet, but I couldn’t wait to get out running in woods with snow falling. It always reminds me of the Robert Frost poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening – even though it hasn’t been evening nor actually snowing as I’ve run. But even feeling the crunch of snow under foot brings up my memories of that poem: the images the words conjure up; the sounds and stillness of being out in woods in snow; the magic of running through the woods back from Lanercost, with snow floating down around me.

I’ve run to Lanercost and back twice in snow recently: one time it was fairly firm underfoot but the second time it was wet snow on top of wet mud, which, as I trod into it, made a squishy mess. Nothing pure white and virginal that day, unfortunately – and the second time there were also a lot of trees down across the beck. It’s still a lovely run though, and Lanercost is an atmospheric place, choc full of history and thoughts of Edward I, Robert Bruce, the dissolution of the monasteries and parties in the Dacre Hall.

Locally I also found an ‘extra’ bit of route which I have now done twice – the first time I tried it out my car was having its handbrake repaired and I ran while waiting for the car, saw a bridlepath and thought ‘I’ll see where that goes’. It linked up with a path I’d been along a long time ago, next to the river Gelt, and then took me back into Gelt woods. Today I did it again, clocking up 11.5km. I’m not really much good at spotting wildlife but I have seen deer in the wild grass near the woods, and today there were miniscule buds on some of the trees, a mix of snow and sun on the fells, and snowdrops having burst out of the ground getting ready to throw their flowers open.

Standing over the railway line feels like a real ‘Railway Children’ moment.

At the end of January I had to go down to Bristol to take my mother in for her second cataract operation, and my father in for his first Covid jab. It gave me a chance to run around Bristol, feeling a little nostalgic for when I’d lived there for 4 years when I was first married and my two oldest children were babies/toddlers. I was at school in Bristol for 5 years as well, and so the place feels familiar. I ran along the Portway, past a wicker sculpture of a whale (it’s quite well camouflaged in the photo) and up through Stoke Bishop before crossing the Downs, that lovely open space in Bristol perched on top of the cliffs of the Avon gorge, and back into Clifton Village. The following day I ran from my parents’ house along to and up on to Wavering Down: the sun was out and spring was in the air. The day after that there had been snow over night and my sister and I walked up there under a completely different sky!

The snow has been somewhat sporadic so far this year, and when I ran yesterday from Shap Abbey ruins to Rosgill, cutting through towards Burnbanks across muddy but beautiful scenery, the snow was on the felltops rather than on the ground, and the streams were all running energetically. Having taken rather a long time to run the first 6km or so, due to squishy ground and unclear footpaths (and having to keep checking the map), Penny and I decided to run back along ‘the concrete road’ rather than a bridlepath which was a bit further south (that will keep for another day). This road was built to help get materials and construction workers from Shap to Haweswater, to build the dam – the one which flooded the village of Mardale. It passes through what feels like an almost-unknown valley before we picked up the Coast to Coast route to return to the Abbey ruins.

While I like understanding the history of the land and buildings – I was going on to Penny about rows of standing stones I’d read about and so forth – she was busy spotting wildlife, like a dipper in the stream. Its white chest makes it rather striking. And we both liked the belted Galloways, though there was a bull amongst them and calves, so we gave them a wide berth.

Talking of standing stones, there are tons of stone circles in Cumbria. One of my favourite ‘small’ ones is Mayburgh Henge, which sits right next to the M6 just south of Penrith (and en route to running on Askham Fell). Another is Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick. Visiting it towards the end of a cold wet day during lockdown made it feel even more atmospheric than normal. A lone dog-walker went past on the opposite side of the circle, but otherwise I had it to myself. Historians and archaeologists believe that one of the purposes of this circle may have been as a meeting point, where axe heads created from the stone from the Langdale valley were traded. Places like this, and there are many of them in Cumbria, are a reminder of our deepest human roots; of the continuum which is human life. Other people have trod these ways before us; others will after us.

And finally and on a lighter note – I’ve been making more cake. I seem to keep having bars of dark chocolate given to me or in the cupboard, so there are various variations on the theme of chocolate cake. And as that’s making me feel hungry, I’m going to go to make dinner!

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