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.

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…

Walking, swimming, singing…

Having done the half marathon, I found my enthusiasm or motivation to run had waned a little: even though there are still 7 trail races still to do (the next is the Ambleside 14km on 10th July). I gave blood, which always takes it out of me for a few days, and was working towards my ARSM (Associate of the Royal Schools of Music) exam – a half hour recital. My car – 12 years old – failed its MOT quite drastically as well, so I had to sort out hire cars and buying a new car.

Bella was due to do her Grade 7 piano exam but that morning I had a call from her school saying she needed to self-isolate. She came home, disappointed, but her teacher said that he was confident she would have passed and that she could start to work on Grade 8 instead, though he’d like her to do more performing prior to sitting it. I think it’s partly as whereas for lessons you can make all sorts of excuses for why your playing isn’t fantastic and why you haven’t had time to do as much practice as desired, when you’re performing you have to be at your best. She was also disappointed recently not to get into CAT (Centre for Advanced Training) at the Sage Gateshead – but as much as anything it’s partly as she’s a pianist and not an orchestral player. It’s a pity and I’m sure she’d have loved it, but at least it means we’re not having to get her over to Newcastle every Sunday: and she can try again next year.

My ARSM recital was in the Fratry at Carlisle Cathedral. I hadn’t sung in there since the Music Festival several years ago, when Deborah and I sang the cat duet in there (and came 2nd). With only the examiner and my accompanist in there in addition to me, my voice resonated loudly in the space: which in many ways was a relief as I didn’t need to worry about it carrying. I attach a copy of my programme below – I’m hoping at some point to record it and put it up on YouTube; and I’m doing the Faure again at Christmas in the Solway Singers’ concert at Lanercost.

I may have lacked motivation to run, but the good weather has meant wild swimming has been pleasant. One Saturday afternoon Laura and I walked to Easedale Tarn, which was one of the lakes yet to be ‘ticked off’ on my list. We parked at Lancrigg – the hotel lets you park there for £6, which you get refunded if you buy something in their cafe – and walked up the side of Sourmilk Gill to the Tarn. It’s a lovely walk and the tarn is a good size for swimming; I swam across to a rock that was near to the further side, only getting slightly panicky about the weeds around the rock (I hate the feeling of weeds brushing my legs, and I’m always worried they’re going to ensnare me and I’ll drown). As we left to walk back down – a slightly longer route which crossed over to come down a different beck – the sun came out, creating a lovely reflection in the still water.

A couple of days later a group of us decided to swim in Bowscale Tarn to mark the summer solstice (we chose 21st June rather than the Stonehenge choice of 20th). I found the water quite cold, although Tricia stayed in for ages in just her swimsuit. Penny also tried without her wetsuit and got out again quite quickly! We were incredibly lucky with the weather – after a dull start to the day, the sun came out for our evening walk and swim. It’s possibly one of my favourite tarns as despite the fact that it can be quite chilly as it’s overshadowed by high fells, it’s not weedy. I also love the way that you suddenly come across it – it’s hidden from view until almost the last moment.

Another Tarn which is hidden from view until you crest the brow (from either direction) is Sprinkling Tarn. I’d wanted to return to it since Penny and I had swum there (https://runningin3time.wordpress.com/2021/05/23/sty-head-and-sprinkling-tarns/) and when Jo and Mike came to stay after a weekend in York, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I hadn’t fully appreciated how hard they might find the walk, so I wasn’t the most popular of people that day, but overall I think they felt that they’d done something memorable. I swam without a wetsuit, although it took a few moments for me to adjust to the water temperature – but again there were lots of weeds. I wonder if it’s just the time of year and if the weeds have been growing a lot? They certainly have in my garden.

I had travelled down to York by train after my ARSM recital/exam, to meet up with Jo and Mike and also Caroline. We had a lovely weekend in York – Caroline and I ran along the river; we all went on a boat trip; and we went to Jorvik, as well as shopping and eating (and drinking). Jo and Mike then gave me a lift home, stopping at Barnard Castle en route and then driving across the North Pennines, which is a beautiful and spacious if remote landscape.

They then stayed for a week, and whilst I had things to sort out like buying a new car and doing the school run, we had time not only to do the walk to Sprinkling Tarn but also to go to Lanercost, Carlisle and Birdoswald. It was brilliant to have friends to stay and to show off some of the lovely places locally: and it made me realise that if people come up here on holiday they don’t necessarily then want to travel miles, but to see what’s around here. It might not be the Lake District but it is still a stunning part of the world, and it made me appreciate once more how lucky I am to live here. And Jo managed to get a really funny panorama of Mike and me up above Haytongate…

As a final note, I can highly recommend the cafe at Lanercost, under new ownership. It looks as if their website is still under construction, so I can’t post a link at the moment, although it does look as if they have a new Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Lanercost-Tea-Rooms-and-Gift-Shop-103878225199009

Going places

We now have ‘the rule of 6’ (or two households) indoors and can hug our friends. Life feels pretty normal, despite the obligatory facemasks, social distancing, track and trace and doing Lateral Flow tests. Certainly our cities, towns and roads seem busy. I can’t remember last May half term – I was furloughed and the kids were being home-schooled when it wasn’t half term – but this May half term has seemed like any ‘normal’ half term. We may not have so many international visitors here, but then neither are UK residents going abroad, instead choosing to explore their own countries.

I rather get the impression that people are getting somewhat fatigued with WhatsApp and virtual communication and are keen to get out and about; particularly to see friends and family in the flesh. It’s helped by the lovely weather which has suddenly – thank goodness – started. Only two weeks ago Penny and I were swimming in Sprinkling and Sty Head Tarns and feeling cold, even in wetsuits; when out running I never knew whether I was going to get soaking wet and be too hot or too cold. Fortunately the sun came out and the weather grew warm, just in time for the half term holiday.

The first trip out was nothing unusual. Bella and I drove down to the western side of Windermere, to find the car park at Wray full but a car on the side of the road just leaving. We slipped into the space and walked down to the lake, which was not only busy with people picnicking and playing games along the shore but also with boats, paddleboards and a horse (which was really enjoying having a splash in the shallow waters of a small bay). The others arrived bit by bit and put on wetsuits; the water was fairly warm and after a bit I peeled off my wetsuit and just went in in my swimsuit. We then lingered in the sun chatting, eating and drinking. Credit for the photos to Mark Britton.

My sister Rachel and her boyfriend Ross then came up on Bank Holiday Monday to stay for the week. Bella was keen to go to Edinburgh to buy pointe shoes so I had booked us into the Ibis Styles hotel in St Andrews Square, and Rachel and Ross had then booked in as well. We travelled up by train and had time to drop our bags off and admire the hotel before meeting Anne at the Scott Memorial. The hotel ticked all the boxes – central; nice rooms (especially the one Bella and I were sharing, which had a bay window with a view of the square and a small sofa in the bay); friendly staff; and good value for money.

After meeting Anne we had lunch in the cafe at the National Gallery, which has an outdoor terrace overlooking Princes Street Gardens (as well as an indoor area); we then walked all the way down to Stockbridge as Anne and Rachel were keen to go to Toast. On the way back we walked past my aunt Janet’s flat in the New Town: when she died we inherited some money, which enabled me to buy my grand piano and also contributed towards a large proportion of my house.

Anne, Bella and I then went shopping. Having a daughter is expensive; having bought her some new clothes in Princes Street, the next day we went to buy pointe shoes and a new leotard for dancing. Walking back we went through the Meadows, which was a part of the city I’d never seen before, and past the University. Bella loved Edinburgh and is now thinking that she might do her clinical year there after her undergraduate medical degree… she’s not yet 16 so her plans may change, though the plan to go to Edinburgh for her 16th birthday probably won’t.

We went to Amarone for dinner that night, generously funded by our Mum. I rashly promised Bella that I’d take her and two of her friends there for her 16th birthday. These photos were taken in the restaurant by Rachel. The food and the cocktails were superb.

The next day we also went to the Botanic Gardens and Valvona and Crolla, before seeing Bella off at the station – she was meeting her Dad and co. to go camping. Rachel, Ross and I headed up into the Old Town and found a tapas bar called Piggs where we had more delicious food and drink before catching our own train.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city and the centre is walkable: if I had to live in a city it would be one of my first choices and always has been, although it’s expensive (I reckoned I could afford a one-bedroom flat). However once we got home and I took Rachel and Ross out on a ‘local tour’, I remembered how much I love living where I do. Ross hadn’t seen Hadrian’s Wall properly before so we went to Chesters Roman Fort. We were then planning on swimming in the river Tyne; having picnicked near Chesters on the banks of the river, I didn’t really fancy swimming there and we decided to go into Hexham to Waitrose and then drive across country to Featherstone. Rachel and Ross prefer more wooded, rolling hills to the rather rugged landscape we have up here, although they admired its openness and space.

They both loved swimming in the south Tyne though, when we eventually found somewhere to park the car and where we could access the river (the road we had wanted to go down was closed, so we stopped a mile or so south of Featherstone itself). I didn’t even bother to put my wetsuit on – it took a while to get used to the water temperature but once I was in I really enjoyed it and swam up and down a few times. It was too shallow to swim much, but very enjoyable: beautifully clear water so you could see the stones clearly, and small black and white fish. Ross’s reaction was much the same as Hannah’s when she had swum at Broomlee Lough – sheer delight – which was gratifying. There really is something profoundly thrilling about wild swimming: it’s partly the closeness to nature; partly the physical tingling sensation of the cold, crystal clear water on your skin; but also, partly, I think, the sense of achievement of having actually done it, particularly when the water is so cold that you have to grit your teeth to get in. I’m looking forward to swimming more and further throughout the summer.

Return to the Lake District

With lockdown and the Government exhorting us to ‘stay home/stay local’, I felt that perhaps going into the Lake District was going a little bit far. However as things have begun to relax a little bit and as they’re encouraging you to drive 40 miles for a Covid vaccination, I began to think that perhaps driving to the edges of the Lake District, close to Penrith, or to Whinlatter Forest, where I have a membership parking pass, might be permissible.

I’m also trying to get further afield on my bike, and having rediscovered my Ordnance Survey book Cycle Tours – Cumbria and the Lakes – I was keen to try out more of the routes. I’ve long wanted to do the bike ride ‘around the back of Blencathra’ so was pleased to discover that one route did exactly that.

Instead of meeting in the middle of Keswick, Penny and I decided we’d meet at the eastern end of the route at a car park we’ve used when we’ve run up towards Bowscale. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday and cars filled the parking places at Mungrisdale and lined the road further up the valley, but as I went further north there were fewer cars, and the car park we’d chosen was empty other than our two Volvos.

I can honestly say I think this is one of the best bike rides I have ever done. Of course the weather helped, but also the route was quite varied, traversing open fells to Hesket Newmarket…

passing little-known Over Water…

cutting along quiet country lanes near Bassenthwaite village and lake…

spinning along the old railway line from Keswick to Threlkeld (shared with pedestrians, so no racing along there)…

and finally cutting along a gated road up and over the hills and back to the start.

Unfortunately I’d left my phone at home so I was unable to record how far we’d gone and unable to take photos. Penny’s Garmin however told us we’d done about 52km (32 miles) and she’s far better at photography than I am anyway (NB. credit for all the photos above to Penny).

We stopped at The Old Sawmill Tea room for a delicious hot chocolate and flapjack, enjoying our take-aways in the sun and glad to see that the toilets were open.

Penny’s had an ankle injury recently and hasn’t been running much, but a week after the above bike ride she felt ready to do a long run. I suggested Whinlatter, which has a plethora of trails but also has a marked 10km route, which I’ve written about us running over the Christmas period.

The temperature had plummeted since last weekend and there was snow on the fell tops as I drove south down the motorway, firstly to drop my youngest as his Dad’s in Penrith and then to turn to the west to ascend to Whinlatter. It was more-or-less exactly 3 months since I’d last run there and I’d forgotten how hilly the course is – whereas my average route locally entails about 60-120m of elevation, this one gains 308m: mostly over two quite long climbs. It also is NOT quite 10km according to Strava – the three times I’ve run it it’s measured around 9.2km, except that this time I ran around the car park at the end to bring it up to 10km.

Penny told me about helicopter tree logging that had been carried out this week, which got some press coverage: the recently sawn trunks were still burnished and the stacked up logs we passed still had that lovely smell of freshly cut wood. I should point out, that the felling was necessary: it’s terribly sad to see great swathes of wood cut down, but the larch has suffered from Phytophthora Ramorum. The video shows how the timberjacks had to remove the tops of the trees first as the helicopter has a restricted load; and the helicopter and felling crew are Swiss experts because we don’t have that expertise in the UK. I’ll add another video here which shows how tiny the helicopter appears.

As the (extremely good) cafe at Whinlatter was closed even for take aways, we went back to Dodd Woods to the Old Sawmill Tearoom. This time I had cappuccino while Penny had hot chocolate, and we had some absolutely gorgeous lemon drizzle cake – not only did it have the drizzle on top but also had lemon curd between two layers of sponge, and was gloriously lemony. And, as we’d been less than 20 minutes, parking was free!

I drove back home across Caldbeck Fell, retracing part of the route I’d cycled just a week earlier, and feeling happy.

Meanwhile, if anyone hasn’t yet seen my ‘starring’ role in a film, I attach a link here. I should add that you don’t need a subscription – you just need to click on the ‘play’ button when it appears on the picture (it takes a moment or two to appear).

Reminiscent of Simonside…

…but SO much more fun! Third time lucky for Loughrigg Fell.

When the two older kids were quite young, we had a holiday in Ambleside (in fact we had quite a few holidays in Ambleside – this was a summer holiday and I think Edward must have been about 1 or 2). We attempted a walk up Loughrigg Fell, but Alex – unusually for him as he’s normally pretty stoic – was lagging, so he and I turned round and went back down to the house.

Then a few months ago my friend Jo and I thought we’d do a walk which would take in Loughrigg Tarn, Loughrigg Terrace and then come back up over the fell. We had Edward with us, who complained bitterly and lagged behind from the beginning: as a result we got as far as Lily Tarn and then turned round and went back down.

When it turned out that both Penny and I were free for a run this Sunday morning, and that it meant I could pick up the kids from their Dad’s house in Penrith on the way back home, I suggested we try this route. We started in Rothay Park with our fingers crossed that it wasn’t going to rain the entire time: ascending the steep initial hill (Penny at a jog, me mostly walking) quickly warmed us up and then we were out on the Fell, on a fairly easy stony path which led to Loughrigg Tarn.

I hadn’t been to the Tarn for many years, since David and I had brought Alex and Bella up here one summer’s day. It was bigger than I remembered, and it’s one on the list of tarns that we’re going to swim in to mark Anne’s 60th birthday year. Today wasn’t the best day for admiring the lake, but I loved the neat stone culvert that had been provided for one of the streams leading down to it.

Having crossed the road, a dog tried to get us tied up in his lead as we went through the gate. A rocky path ensued, wending its meandering, undulating way through some trees. As we came out at the other side I slipped in some mud: and not only fell over but then slid a couple of feet. I had wet mud all the way up my right hand side and could feel it through all my layers of clothes. This was the first thing which was reminiscent of Simonside (Duergar Nightcrawler), where people were sliding around in mud from early on in the run. At least today it wasn’t snowing.

We joined the road again for a short distance before turning off amongst the trees again towards Loughrigg Terrace. There was a lovely view of Grasmere and the river leading towards Rydal Water, and we could have carried on along here and round the hill to go back to Ambleside: but I particularly wanted to get up to the top of Loughrigg.

We turned up some stone steps which led steeply uphill, again reminiscent of Simonside but at least today it was light and the stones weren’t covered in ice. Even so it was steep enough and the steps irregular and mostly high enough to make running up there more or less impossible – unless you’re a mountain goat or a very fit fell runner. We walked. Towards the top we saw the dog which had tried to tie himself round us earlier, with his owner.

There were a few people gathered around the cairn, but nobody was hanging around long as the wind was blowing rather wildly – I thought about taking the map out but decided against it in case it just blew away (it rather looks as if my hair was trying to blow off my head). We just made a rough guess at which way we needed to descend, which fortunately turned out to be right.

I was really enjoying this run, unlike Simonside – I think being able to see helped, and not having sleet and snow blowing at you sideways. I was warmer, despite being wet, and felt more confident running downhill despite the wetness and, in places, slipperiness of the ground: and some of the particularly technical descents weren’t covered in ice.

From the cairn it was more or less downhill all the way, having to wade through various streams which had created grassy pools and where you weren’t quite sure how deep you were going to sink in – in fact mostly we were fine (and we both have goretex running shoes). Before long we could see a recognisable clump of trees ahead of us – one of the gates on the track leading back down to Rothay Park. It was only a short run downhill from there and we were back by the river Rothay, the grey day brightened by some kayakers. A kind father offered to take a photo of us as I struggled with my selfie angles, with the kayakers in the background.

I had initially thought of buying a new pair of running leggings in Ambleside so that I could wear something dry to a cafe: in fact we decided to head straight back to the car and go to the community cafe at Threlkeld, which will have featured before in my posts: I put my long down coat on and that protected the seats from the mud on my trousers. After a tasty bowl of Thai sweet potato and coriander soup with a cheese scone and a cappuccino, it was time to get back to Penrith and to pick up my kids.

The coronavirus might limit how far and how much people travel, but at least I can get out in the hills without worrying too much about infecting other people – I hope.

Northumberland

Easter was stunning this year.  Days of sunshine and warm weather; the Lake District honeypots were bustling with people: walkers with their poles, families with their dogs, children and cars… it took us an hour to get on to the Windermere ferry, Isabella complaining about the wait but Edward and I keen to enjoy the quirky journey – which in fact was probably still quicker than driving around the wiggly lanes, reversing every so often into a passing place, squeezing past cars and cyclists, queuing to get through Ambleside… 

I love the Lakes even when they’re busy.  I think 15 years of living in London has inured me to queues and traffic – it was always quicker to cycle than to drive in London, especially in the rush hour.  So complaints about how busy the Lake District gets tend to make me smile internally in a superior sort of fashion and to say to myself ‘you’ve obviously never lived in London’ (the same applies to people who think that they have to have a house with a garage….).  I do wish, however, that the economic benefits brought to the Lake District – indeed to Cumbria as a whole – by the visitors were balanced by more environmental benefits.  The various authorities are making efforts (more buses; buses with bike racks; reminders about not walking where you shouldn’t, keeping your dogs on leads near livestock, not dropping litter) but I can’t help thinking how wasteful we humans are.  I’m as guilty as any – I drive to the Lake District, I buy food in cafes, some of which have plastic straws or plastic single use pots, I trample the various paths… (apparently I saved approximately 25 miles by taking the ferry rather than driving – a mere drop in the Environmental ocean…).

One of the things about the Lake District is the narrow windy, undulating roads with stone walls on either side.  Cycling doesn’t particularly appeal to me, unless at least some of the roads could be made car-free (maybe that’s the answer?). Whilst I would love to be out on my bike, if I fall off I might fall into a wall; alternatively I could be suddenly squashed into a wall or knocked off my bike by a car – or van – coming too fast round a corner and not seeing me until it was too late.  That’s not to say I wouldn’t cycle in the Lake District, but I can see what deters people.

Northumberland on the other hand is perfect cycling country.  On Easter Monday I went eastwards to drop a bike off to a friend near Corbridge.  From there I drove more or less due north along back routes to the A697 to go to Wooler.  All day in Northumberland I was to see cyclists, singly and in groups.  Even the quieter roads are relatively wide with grass verges, and many of them have long straight sections, providing great visibility (the grass verges also mean that if you fall off you’ll have a slightly softer landing than against a stone wall).  What’s missing of course are the high fells and the lakes: but the Cheviots are beautiful and provide stunning views, including to the North Sea.

Today was colder and windier than the past few days had been but there was still a heat haze in the distance.  At Wooler I parked in a free car park near the Tourist Centre (in what seemed to be a rather nice community centre) and walked up the road towards the hamlet of Humbleton.  I crossed over a field adjoining a campsite – and through a bower of white flowered bushes into the next field.  There were some beautiful cottages at Humbleton and I paused to admire them before taking a left-hand track slightly uphill towards the hill itself, stopping again to read the interpretation panel about the battle of Humbleton Hill – which happened on my birthday but in 1402 (does anyone else ever feel that things happening on their birth date feels significant?).  The ravine which would have been useful to corralling cattle was clear on my right, and I stood on a grassy knoll trying to imagine what it would have felt like to have seen the battle taking place.  I wonder if archaeology was carried out whether there would be any remains of soldiers’ bones or artefacts?  Were the fields soaked red with the blood of the Scottish soldiers that day?  Apparently English losses were minimal: the English archers efficiently slaughtered most of the Scottish.

The track to the top of the hill bends to the south west and continues to climb – a grassy route and presumably ancient.  Would the Iron Age people who lived here have walked this route before me, all those centuries ago?  The wind was strong and lent an exhilarating chill to the air, but when in sheltered sunny areas warmth soaked into your being.  Internal cobwebs were blown away one moment, to be replaced by warmth and well-being the next.   What an amazing place to have lived, albeit exposed. 

I had particularly wanted to visit this hill fort since picking up a leaflet about it in a visitor centre somewhere else.  I remember going to a hill fort in the south – I think it may have been Cadbury – as a child and being singularly unimpressed whilst my mother raved on about how amazing it was.  To me it was just grassy mounds and some trees on top of a hill.  Humbleton Hill is different, and far more exciting – though I’m not sure that my children would be any more excited than I was as a child.  The remains of the inner and outer enclosure walls can be seen at the top, and clear grass circles of where the huts were situated.  In the distance you could see the North Sea and could understand why people would have wanted to live here.  You could see for miles around, and any unwanted guests would be spotted climbing the hill in plenty of time to work out what to do about them.

At the top the National Park has built a cairn (made with bits of the old enclosure walls???  Presumably not) and then provided thick planks of wood to sit on.  Several people were up there – someone spoke to me but the wind just threw her words away from me, although she seemed to hear what I said in reply all right.

Coming down the hill, and as I was wearing my trail running shoes – even though I was otherwise in normal clothes, including jeans – I couldn’t help but run for a bit, my heart singing in my chest, wondering again if Iron Age people had done the same.  The grassy track just invited it – if I’d been in running gear I’d have spread my arms and run down, the closest to flying on the ground that a human being can get! 

I chose then to take the slightly longer route back to Wooler through some woods (the path through them is part of St Cuthbert’s Way, another route I’d like to walk or run) and then over Wooler Common, which the Forestry Commission have turned into a lovely and educational wildlife habitat.  I got back to the car with time to get to Wallington (National Trust) before closing time.  Here nature has been tamed to an extent, but I loved the walk through the woodland to the walled garden and back and the vivid splashes of colour provided by spring flowers. And whilst the café only had egg and cress sandwiches left, it was pleasant to sit in the Courtyard Café and watch people enjoying the good weather: lazing in deckchairs; picnicking on the grass; chatting at the cafe tables; playing football or frizbee.  In my opinion the National Trust has improved its ‘offer’ vastly over the past decade or two, and there are several properties in this part of the world where you could spend several hours on a visit – Cragside, just up the road from Wallington, is another.

I drove home along the old military road to be met by my oldest son as I turned into my road.  He had been at cadet camp and been promoted, and having not seen him much over the past few weeks it was pleasant to spend an hour or so with him. It had been a glorious Easter.

Windermere: a weekend of running

Running around Windermere made me appreciate the Lake District all over again. The central lakes – particularly the area around Ambleside and the actual lake of Windermere – is the area of the Lake District I have kept coming back to, time and again. Mountain bike weekends as a single person were followed by family holidays before and even after we moved up here; when we moved from Bristol to Cumbria ideally I would have liked to have lived in Ambleside; when I retire I hope I will, or at least in the town of Windermere.

The Windermere marathon is run on-road; as we were running round the lakes off-road (partly as neither Penny nor I like road running – but also trail running is just more interesting), we knew that Windermere could be up to 40 miles and therefore needed to be run over two days. Even so, two 20-mile runs on consequetive days was going to be hard. Penny looked at the map again and turned up with a coloured-up version with a route which was possibly going to be difficult to navigate in places but which might be more like 30-35 miles.

We were staying at the Swan Hotel at Newby Bridge on the Saturday night, and I booked us sports massages in Backbarrow that evening as well. It would be worth trying to optimise our chances of actually running on the Sunday rather than walking or hobbling. I was hoping that the tweak in my knee wasn’t going to cause problems – and Penny is haunted every so often by previous injuries causing problems.

We arrived at the Swan at 9 o’clock on Saturday morning. I’d been up in plenty of time and bought myself coffee at Tebay services; unfortunately they hadn’t got any plain flapjacks so instead my ‘fuel’ consisted of Graze Bars (perfect running fuel) various other bars, and a sandwich I’d bought at Tebay (which was nice but not good as running fuel – I ate half after Windermere and struggled with my stomach for a bit). It was a beautiful spring day and walking into the reception at the Swan to check it was OK to leave a car and come back later, we were both impressed by the decor. The hotel has a lovely mixture of colours and different wallpapers, but the diversity creates a glorious and surprisingly homongeneous whole. I know my parents and my kids would love the hotel…

We got in my car and headed up to Wray Castle, on the western side of the lake and towards the northern end, Penny’s plan being that we’d do 20-26 miles on Saturday and then only about 11 on Sunday. At Wray the lovely, helpful, National Trust staff were impressed with what we were trying to do and we agreed we’d go back for lunch at the end of the run. I also determined to take the kids there at Easter. Several times during this run I was to comment how well the NT do things: their cafes offer good food; their visitor attractions are far more visitor friendly and child-friendly now than they were when I was young; and they seem to manage to carry out nature and heritage conservation whilst providing attractive places to visit.

Starting out at Wray Castle

From Wray there’s an easy-to-follow footpath around to Ambleside. I love Ambleside, although it’s one of those places where it’s easy to spend money on things which you don’t really need. However we weren’t going to go into the village centre today but instead ran along the road which goes past the vague remains of the Roman Fort (Galava) and to Waterhead. Here we found a footpath going up hill. We went up… and then up some more… and the views of the lake became more and more stunning…

Running around Windermere was to prove to be a bit of a ‘heritage’ run as well as nature. We ran up over land above Ambleside to come out near Townhead, another National Trust property which we both admitted to not having ever visited but to having wanted to (another time!). After a bit of a dilemma going around a farm (the footpath once went straight through but now goes around the farmyard), we ran across rolling grasslands up behind Holehird – another place to be visited sometime – lambs approaching us with curiosity while their mothers kept a cautious eye on us. Time and again I kept thinking about how this area is the Lake District at its best – it was probably spring in England at its best as well. Magnolias were in bloom, and rhododendrons of the most amazing colours – pale pink, fuschia pink – and of course daffodils everywhere. In some places we also saw the first few bluebells, and there was verdant wild garlic growing in profusion, the buds still tightly wrapped in green. How on earth had I ever thought I might want to live in Newcastle?!

We arrived in Windermere and felt that it was time for a coffee, so went into Booths. It also gave us a chance to look at the map as we needed to find our way out of Windermere along the Dales Way. Wiggling through various back streets (I never knew Windermere was so big), we eventually picked it up near Matson Ground, a farm and, by the look of it, stables. We went slightly off-course here but in fact it didn’t matter too much; and eventually ran near Winster (the Brown Horse at Winster has the most amazing selection of gins and tonics). I’d walked across the route we were taking previously with my friends Davina and Colin, who used to live near Blackwell and with whom I walked to the Brown Horse a few times. It’s a funny thing, thinking you recognise somewhere and then realising that you’ve gone west-east across the route instead of the (roughly) north-south we were doing today. Not far past here a man walking his labradors shouted at us which way we needed to go, which was useful as we were dithering!

We kept running past lovely Lake District cottages, wondering how on earth they were accessed and knowing that we’d never seen them before and might well never see them again. When you stick to the main or even secondary roads, there’s a whole load of countryside that you don’t even know exists. It’s not all fields and woods!

We reached a tarn and then turned on to a road. The map looked as if there was a bridleway that we needed to take, but it said it was private land. It turned out that you need to go further up the road before you can cut across a field and follow the footpath. Then the footpath disappeared again and we were wandering around some public access land wondering which direction we were meant to go in. We met a couple, who said it was far easier coming in the other direction but that if we headed south(ish) then we’d meet a path where we needed to turn left (east-ish). We eventually found this, but then arrived at a place where it wasn’t clear which left hand turn we should take – one going slightly back on ourselves up a hill or one the other side of a beck. Fortunately a group of people heading down from the other side of the beck told us they’d come from Gummer’s How, which is where we were heading for.

There was quite a bit of uphill now and I was feeling tired. Whereas we’d seen bus-stops earlier in the run and joked about how we could always catch a bus if we wanted to, there was no way a bus was going to be along in these woods! However we were now on the right track and came out on Gummer’s How to be rewarded with stunning views of Windermere and even to Morecambe Bay. Our legs were tired but ‘all’ we had to do was run down the road from Gummer’s How and then do the last bit along the A591 to our hotel.

The Swan Hotel was down there……..

We arrived back at the hotel at 5.45; just in time to make a quick visit to the spa and relax in the steam room and jacuzzi before heading off for our fab sports massages at Backbarrow. We then went back to the hotel for dinner and treated ourselves to a gin and tonic and lots of tap water; neither of us managed to finish our food however, which was a pity as it was lovely (Penny had fish pie; I had paella). It was then early to bed as we were both tired and also wanted to get going at a reasonable time the next morning. We had run/walked/climbed either 19.4 or 21 miles, depending whether you believed Penny’s Garmin or my Strava.

Day two: Newby Bridge to Wray

Sunday dawned bright again and our legs felt amazingly normal – the effects, we decided, of little alcohol, the jacuzzi, steam room and sports massage and an early night. However having only just had breakfast and as the first part of today’s route was uphill, we took it easy to start with.

We turned along a footpath to Finsthwaite, up through some woods and past Finsthwaite tower. There were some lovely cottages in Finsthwaite and I wondered how much a 1- or 2-bed cottage would cost. Passing into some more woods, we noticed the bleaberrys coming into berry and I wondered if they were what my uncle used to call wortleberries – I remember going to pick them as a family when I was young, I think probably in the Quantocks. Interestingly, one of the roads or lanes in Brampton is called Bleaberry Bent – I shall have to look out for them next time I go along there. I wonder if they are good for cooking with?

We were up above Stott Park Bobbin Mill now and heading up towards High Dam, which I believe used to power the mill. For me this is one of the most interesting of English Heritage properties, partly because it can still produce bobbins (I have one which I’m using for French knitting – it was meant to make a little woollen christmas tree but it will be for Christmas 2019 now). We were later to drive past it on the way back to the Swan Hotel to pick up Penny’s car, and she commented that you’d think a cafe would do quite well there as there are so few places to eat between Hawkshead and Newby Bridge.

High Dam was gorgeous, and we then had a lovely easy run – mostly downhill – over tracks maintained by the Lake District National Park. We did in fact come out on the road in slightly the wrong place, but as there was a footpath on the other side of the road, which led to the YMCA, it was fine.

High Dam was gorgeous

From the YMCA there was a clear footpath which took us through part of the Greythwaite estate and past some gorgeous houses they own. Some are holiday cottages; some are having quite a bit of work done to them, presumably in order to be holiday cottages. The footpath along by the lake was lovely, with all sorts of flowers in bloom and a river joining the lake and creating a stony dam and ripples of its own. It made me really appreciate this western side of the lake, which I think is less well-known than the eastern, more built-up, side.

A quick jog from one of the Sawreys downhill and we were at Claife Heights viewing point – somewhere else neither of us had ever been. There is a great National Trust cafe at the ‘gatehouse’ to the walk up to the Heights – though you have to walk a few minutes to the Ferry ‘terminal’ to use the toilet – which again I’ve resolved I’m going to take the children to. Apparently it was once used for dances and all sorts, before falling into disrepair. It must have been magical to walk up the path to have a superb view over the lake, candlelight twinkling around you.

Fingerposts told us it was now about 4 miles or less to Wray, and we ran across some lovely grassy National Trust land before joining a more stony lakeside path. We had both run this before when doing the Hawkshead Trail race; but the Hawkshead race soon heads up the Coffin Trail to go back over the hill to Hawkshead. We instead kept running along the lake shore, and before long Wray Castle was in sight. Two miles to go; and time for a stretch. As I tried to start running again my tweaky knee was extremely painful, as if my entire left leg had gone into spasm (perhaps it had). I hobbled/tried to run/limped along, cross that after running so well for most of the morning so far after such a long run yesterday, my left leg now had let me down.

However we got back to Wray Castle and had finished our longest run to date. It had been beautiful, although at times a bit chilly and we had covered, in total, somewhere between 30 and 34 miles.

Unfortunately the cafe was full and we needed to sit inside somewhere warm, so we drove to Hawkshead for the obligatory post-run soup. Just Esthwaite Water still to do (and I need to do Brotherswater) and then we’ll have a big celebration!

We made it! 30 miles or just over!

Following the daffodils: the Ullswater Way and memories

Daffodils merrily in bloom

It was beginning to feel like spring; the sun was shining although a chilly wind welcomed you as soon as you stepped out; and the daffodils were merrily in bloom. It was time to run the Ullswater Way, appropriately way-marked by a daffodil symbol, and circumnavigate the second largest lake in Cumbria.

We parked at Pooley Bridge (there’s a field to the back of the pubs which is only £3 for the entire day), made the obligatory visit to the (very well-maintained Eden Council) public toilets and then started running along the lake shore just to the east of the temporary bridge. It was cold enough that I had on two jackets as well as a long sleeved top, plus hat, buff and gloves. Penny said she’d thought of wearing shorts but had quickly changed her mind when she’d stepped outside her house!

Two jackets, hat, gloves, buff…

We both remembered times we’d swum in Ullswater – for Penny it had been when training for and competing in the Ullswater triathlon; for me it had been several years ago when I’d swum about halfway across the lake from the sailing club with Arragons triathlon club. The lake was choppy then (one woman got out into the rescue boat as she felt seasick) and was even choppier today, with small white horses on the surface.

We followed the trail through a farm and across the road, past a field with alpacas and over a stream. The path wound its way a little uphill, a stone wall to our right as we ran in a southerly direction. The wind was quite strong against us when we were out in the open but in sheltered areas it felt almost warm in the sun, and it was rapidly getting to the stage where I thought about taking off one of my jackets.

At Howtown I remembered running the Ullswater trail race and being dropped off by the boat on a cold, wet day (I’ve only ever done two trail races from Glenridding and both times it’s been wet and cold: the second time my car got stuck in mud). At least today it was, so far, dry – though the forecast had been for rain later – and despite having had a lot of rain recently there had been a few days of drier weather and the ground wasn’t too boggy, nor the rocks too slippery. Just as well as we were about to tackle a stony part of the run where the track, narrow at times, passes up and down close to the lake and through trees.

I love this sort of running. It takes concentration not to slip over the rocks and tree roots, and there are places where it is not possible – or at least for those of us with short legs – to run up or down at much speed – but I love trying to pick the best line through the obstacles. I’m not a brave mountain biker but having done both that and downhill skiing helps, I think, with trail running: as does not having any knee or ankle injuries, past or present.

Only one jacket

Along the trail there was a small stone barn converted to a tea room – closed still – and later as we approached Patterdale we ran through a National Trust property which had a tea room, also closed as the season hadn’t yet started, despite the fact that all along this route we kept overtaking or meeting walkers.

Passing Patterdale church I was thinking of the times I’ve sung there with my choir, each time having a solo to perform but also sitting in the choir stalls gazing out at the fells. We went past the field where my car had previously got stuck, tried to go in the (Eden Council) toilets near Glenridding Pier (closed until 1st April) and continued into Glenridding (National Park toilets in the car park by the river, where post-flood repair work is still being carried out). When the children were young I used to bring them down here to paddle in the lake and have a picnic, often while David (my ex-husband) ran up Hevellyn as practice for the Lakeland 50. His family, he and I had also stayed in a cottage in Glenridding just after I’d had a miscarriage: it must have been about October or November 2004 and Alex would only have been 8 months old or so; while the others went for a run I took Alex for a walk in his buggy along the river and down to the lake. Little did I know then that a year later I’d welcome my daughter into the world.

By now it had started to rain a little and, both being hungry – we’d run about 10 miles – we thought we’d sit in the bus shelter and eat flapjack. The bus shelter, handily, had seats – but both were already occupied by a couple of walkers eating their packed lunches! I really fancied a coffee so we went into a tea room (full of a coachload of old people, which, as Penny said, meant you knew it would be value for money and there would be plenty of cake) for coffee and cake.

From here the path is close to a very busy road and for a short stretch we even had to run along the road. A bus and a lorry were coming in opposing directions but even without us at the side of the road I don’t think there would have been room for them to pass: one would have had to stop. But thank goodness the Council or the National Park Authority has built this section of path which links other footpaths around the lake together, and means that on the whole people can walk (or run) round without touching the road.

I’d driven past the new section of path often in the car and frequently thought I’d like to walk or run along it: actually it’s not that exciting as it’s a fairly flat gravel path which winds through trees close to the road until you reach Aira Force waterfall. At this point, both being National Trust members, we felt we were justified in using their loos again (well, when you’re out and about for 20 miles and it’s not a race you may as well make the most of the opportunity, ‘just in case’). I went dizzy as I sat down and hoped that it wasn’t a sign of things to come (it wasn’t, but it was a worrying moment).

From here the path gets interesting as after Aira Force is probably the longest uphill part of the Ullswater Way. I was glad we hadn’t run round the other way as even with my love of knarly downhills I think this one would have been too much. We rose higher and higher and the views of the lake got better and better – you know how you think you’ve seen a good view, and then you go higher and it gets even better? Penny had previously run the course when training for the Lakeland Trails marathon, and commented how it was not so well waymarked then and she had wondered if she was going the right way as it seemed to take her further and further away from the lake.

Good view but not quite as sunny as the morning

At what must have been about the 15 mile mark we entered some woods, marked by a stone with ‘yan’ carved on it. I don’t know where ‘tan’ and ‘tethera’ were and wondered why it was there (it would be interesting to find out). In places the trees had been cleared and there was a lovely open view of the lake; in other places we were running across that most springy of surfaces, a bed of dry pine needles. A young runner went past us and for a while was only a few yards ahead of us: but after a while she disappeared from sight. I wondered how many miles she was doing and whether she knew the young man we had passed on the other side of the lake, who had come springing down a rocky path making it look as if a circuit of the lake was just a stroll in the park.

Coming out the other side it was cold and the rain was lashing down and I thought about getting my almost-waterproof jacket back out of my bag; fortunately you could see that it was going to clear up and I started admiring some of the houses we were passing instead. I would love a stone cottage with a huge kitchen/dining/music room conservatory, but of course when you’re somewhere beautiful but fairly inaccessible you’re totally reliant on a car to get anywhere – and in the winter sometimes only a four-wheel drive vehicle can get anywhere.

The trail meets a road with a three-fingered fingerpost giving you the option to go to Bennethead via the road or across the fields. The fields are boggy and this is where the waymarking is a little more difficult to follow as you can’t necessarily see a clear route. It looked in one field as if new drainage ditches were being put in and a gravel-bedded path, so we followed that and soon found ourselves going up a hill to join the road into Bennethead.

From here there’s the only significant section which is on road, and you need to make sure you don’t miss the low-rise Ullswater Way post which takes you on the left-hand fork and past what looks like a riding school or some stables. Here someone had planted circles of young trees and then let livestock into the field – so the trees were all getting knocked down or eaten. Is there any significance to the circles? Did someone just think they’d look nice when they (if they) grow?

Running down the field and then up the other side reminded me of running up the hill to Lanercost from Newtown when running from Carlisle to Brampton along the Hadrian’s Wall trail: you’re so near the end and your energy is getting low, and there’s yet another hill… Penny’s knees by now were hurting her quite badly, and mine were beginning to feel that they’d done something. It wasn’t so much a case of leaping down the hill on the other side as more or less shuffling down it, though an elderly couple who we overtook who were out for a walk were still impressed.

We reached the green static caravans at Waterfoot caravan park, which I’ve driven past plenty of times without realising quite how big it is. There’s a lovely old house and some pretty cottages on site, and then loads of these ugly green ‘buildings’ and some log cabins. I guess at least they’re green and they looked very well cared for; I just think they’re ugly.

Remind me to #UllswaterWay

The path turns past the house (and the Ullswater trail/red squirrel sign) and across another field to cross the road at the top of the lake just outside Pooley Bridge. A short run through the trees – with a final glorious view down the lake – and we were back at the temporary bridge and had completed 19.15 miles around one of Cumbria’s largest lakes. Straight opposite Granny Dowbekin’s was enticing us in, with just 45 minutes to go before closing time (it was Sunday). Home made ham hock soup with a lovely seeded bread roll, a cold drink and a friendly welcome was just what we needed.

Glorious view down the lake

And as we staggered back to the car I thought not only what a sense of achievement I felt but also how much I had enjoyed the run, and what a great idea of Penny’s it had been to set herself running round the 16 biggest lakes in Cumbria as a turning-50 challenge. In three weeks’ time is the biggest challenge yet: getting round Windermere, off-road. And I’ve decided I want to do another off-road half marathon – but not the Howgills half as that was really, really tough.