Round Cumbria on a bike: the final stage

It’s taken several years, but Penny and I have now cycled around all of the borders of Cumbria. I’ve done variations to parts of the route, and the one bit I haven’t yet done is to cycle from Alston to Brampton – partly because quite a bit of that section goes into Northumberland.

After a rainy and chilly day attempting to swim in Burnmoor Tarn, the sun was out on the Monday and it was great to have a day off work. I still got up early – I had to drop my daughter off at school – but it meant that Penny and I met at Langwathby station at the leisurely time of just before 10 a.m., in order to catch the train up to Carlisle. Strictly speaking this meant we were finishing the route backwards, but we felt it was better to catch the train and then cycle, as if we cycled and then got the train we could easily miss a train or be waiting hours for one. I guess in some ways it would be easiest to think of the route as going from Carlisle round in a circle rather than from Brampton, as there are four different railway routes going out from Carlisle: but the border slopes quite steeply in a north easterly direction up from Carlisle, and we needed to include places like Roadhead and Bewcastle.

I’ll summarise below the main places, linked to this cycle route, of each railway line – anyone who isn’t that bothered, skip these bullet points:

  • west coast mainline, London Euston to Glasgow. Stops at Carlisle, Penrith and Oxenholme in terms of connecting to the various bike routes
  • Cumbrian coastal line, Carlisle to Barrow/Carnforth. We used it from/to Dalston, Maryport, Ravenglass, Barrow in Furness and Grange over Sands
  • Carlisle and Settle line: beautiful line which links Carlisle to Skipton and Leeds, via the Yorkshire Dales. We could have used it from Garsdale Head up to Langwathby; we did use it from Langwathby to Carlisle, as today
  • Carlisle to Newcastle line: some of the services stop at Brampton and at Wetheral, again useful for parts of our cycling tour. If you wanted to go further east it also stops at Hexham and at Haltwhistle.

As I’ve cycled a lot of the roads around Brampton in various directions, I felt that it wouldn’t really be ‘cheating’ to take Penny from Carlisle and down through Wetheral before joining the B6413 (this goes from Brampton and down through Castle Carrock and Croglin to Kirksowald). We had previously cycled from Brampton out to Castle Carrock anyway – there’s a loop which forms the Talkin Tarn triathlon route and which from Brampton provides a nice 14-mile circuit. The route from Carlisle out to Wetheral is also a lot more pleasant than going along either the airport road or the A69, with their lorries and speeding cars.

The train was almost half an hour late, but at least it was running – you never know with all the rail strikes at the moment, though they do tend to be quite well publicised. And whilst the website says that there is only room for 2 bikes on each train, and that you can’t pre-book, actually because there is plenty of room for wheelchairs then in fact if there are no wheelchairs in the carriage you can put your bikes there. I thought that 10 a.m. on a Monday morning would also be quite a quiet time – in fact the train was surprisingly full. We trundled through some lovely countryside and pulled into Carlisle at about 11 a.m.

We got on our bikes and set off down Botchergate, before turning off into a side street and into Portland Square. This is a square of lovely Victorian (I think) terraced houses, which were used as offices – many by the County Council – before the Council built itself a new building. The Halston group is now converting them into apartments, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I want to move to Penrith rather than Carlisle I could be very tempted by one: for a start they’re doing one of my favourite things, which is bringing old buildings back into beneficial use. If you want to see what they are going to look like, visit the website here.

We joined Warwick Road – another lovely road of terraced Victorian or Edwardian houses, but which unfortunately floods – and headed east out of the city until we hit a traffic jam, where we turned off to cut through Botcherby and along Durranhill Road, over the motorway (more road works) and into Scotby. For me this was retracing a route I used to use to cycle home from work occasionally, when I worked in Carlisle, but for Penny it was all new.

From Scotby we turned along parallel to the railway line and into Wetheral, to walk over the railway bridge to Great Corby. This bridge is way up high above the river Eden, and there are several ‘if you need help, speak to the Samaritans’ signs. It’s not the bridge to cross if you have vertigo, but the buildings around the station and the bridge itself are charmingly old and reminiscent of the days of the railway children and steam trains.

We cycled through Great Corby and along the side of the Corby Castle estate towards Cumwhitton – there’s a great, little-used playground here, which I used to take my children to when they were young. A stream runs through the village which feels as if it’s in the middle of nowhere, although it’s not actually too far from various other places. Shortly after this at Carlatton Mill we joined the Talkin Tarn triathlon route and were soon on the B6413, with its stunning views across to Blencathra and the Lake District. It was amazingly clear today and I just wish I had a better knowledge of the names of all the fells I could see – I can name Blencathra and Skiddaw and I’m pretty sure we could see Hevellyn as well, but I wasn’t sure which were further to the south. Could we see as far as the Old Man of Coniston or Scafell (probably not as we’d be looking from the North East ‘diagonally’ across)?

It was a surprisingly short cycle before we were passing through Croglin, which always makes me think of the story of the Croglin Vampire. It’s worth reading the story in the link, even with the irritating advertisements!

Shortly after this we turned off the ‘main’ road, which goes down to Kirksoswald and then Lazonby, to go to Renwick. This was a stretch of road I hadn’t been along before, and in fact I’ve only passed through Renwick once before when Penny and I cycled from Penrith up Hartside, before having a very cold descent back down the hill on a Sunday afternoon when all the cafes had closed (it was Mothering Sunday 2011, as written up in my previous blog… where does the time go!).

From Renwick rather than retracing our wheel turns to Unthank and Melmerby, I chose to take a different route down past Viol Moor to Little Salkeld. It was a lovely route, with several undulations over becks including one with the lovely name of Hazelrigg Beck. We could have done a short diversion to see Long Meg and her Daughters (I notice from the map that we also cycled past Little Meg); and we could have stopped at the mill cafe at Little Salkeld if it had been open. Instead, we went into Cranstons’ Cafe Oswald in Penrith, which I had visited earlier that day for breakfast. The food in there is great and as I’d had quite a large breakfast I ‘just’ had cake and a drink while Penny had a sort of all-day-vegetarian-type-breakfast, which looked delicious. I can recommend it: the food is good and the service is friendly.

We had done it! We had cycled round all of the outside of Cumbria, and I had done a few extra bits as well. It just remains for me now to write it all up properly; and meanwhile there are plenty of Cumbrian bike rides I still want to do. It’s a beautiful and varied county, and there is so much more to it than just the Lake District.

NB. As ever when I’m out and about with Penny and other friends, not all of the photos are mine – I have to thank Penny in particular for always sharing her photos and for getting some of me.

Cycling in Cumbria

I have, basically, cycled around the whole of Cumbria now – over a period of time (several years, to be honest). However of course whichever road you take there are always alternatives, and there is still plenty of this enormous and varied county to explore.

I’m one of those people who collects leaflets and pages from magazines. I had a collection of ‘interesting-places-to-visit-at-some-point’ (I like to think of it as my tourist information point) which I gave to a woman and her husband having met them in the woods nearby while I was out running one day. I should perhaps add that I wasn’t carrying the leaflets with me – she mentioned that she volunteered in a local charity shop, so I dropped them off there.

That left leaflets and magazine pages about runs and cycle rides. These are mostly left in a neat(ish) pile along with the relevant maps, partly as I’m going to turn them into a book one day (!) and partly as I want to try out some of those alternative routes which I haven’t yet done. They’re not all in Cumbria: I really want to explore more of southern Scotland, which lies just to the north of the Solway Firth (and which has sandy beaches rather than muddy marshland) and also Northumberland – which is, of course, another huge county.

Alston is allegedly the highest town in England, and sits close to the Northumberland/ Cumbrian border. It’s about 18 or 19 miles from Brampton, where I live, along a wiggly but interesting road (you even pass the remains of a Roman fort). As the ride I’d decided to do was about 20 miles and hilly, I thought I’d drive to Alston and park in the middle – especially as by the time I’d decided which route I wanted to do it was getting into mid-afternoon. Alston has a reputation for being a bit weird and the home to lots of hippy-types who moved there in the 1960s and never moved away again. I’m not a hippy type, but I do like Alston, but other than a steam railway it suffers from a lack of public transport (I’m sure there’s a bus service, but like so many rural places I would think that you’re basically reliant on having a car and being able to drive).

The start of the bike ride took me downhill out of Alston and then out along a minor road going in a southerly direction towards Garigill (or Garrigill). I was cycling more or less alongside the river South Tyne, which starts up in the Fells to the south of Alston, and passed or crossed several burns or becks which also come down off the fellside into the south Tyne – including one called Dry Burn, which was as its name describes.

The road drops downhill into Garigill and the river valley, and the routemap showed that I should now turn to the south towards Ashgill to go around Flinty Fell. However I decided not to but to follow the Coast to Coast cycle waymarks. This took me up a very steep hill out of Garigill to climb up to a crossroads with the B6277. The lovely weather (sunny, with a bit of a breeze) had brought the boy racers out and three small sporty cars zoomed past before I could get across the road.

It then continues to climb up Nunnery Hill between Middle Fell and Flinty Fell, albeit more gently. The wide open landscape is absolutely stunning and I stopped to get a panoramic photo and to soak up the views. No long after that a male cyclist overtook me, commenting that the hill seemed to go on for ever. I kept him in my sights for a bit (but not long – he was going a lot faster then I), until I stopped again, this time to look at my map.

There then followed an incredibly steep downhill into Nenthead. I was extremely glad to be on my Cannondale Synapse, which has disc brakes and where my feet are not clipped into my pedals!

You’re in real ex-mining country by now: I didn’t pass any mines but nearby Nenthead mines are open to the public a few times a year, and Killhope Mine (County Durham) is not far away.

Today I cycled back along the A689 to drop back down into Alston. A man was singing and playing the guitar outside the pub with a small audience of people enjoying a drink in the late afternoon sun. It was tempting to join them, but I don’t have the confidence to walk up to a group of people out of the blue and introduce myself, so instead I headed home after soaking up the atmosphere for a bit and taking some photos.

The following weekend I decided I’d go out on a slightly flatter ride, and opted to do the one I’d done over the Solway plain but in the opposite direction. It was sunny again, but what I hadn’t factored in was the wind, which was coming from the south/south-west. For most of the ride I was heading straight into the wind, so despite the lack of incline, it was still more effort than it might have been! Never mind – it was worth seeing the Lake District fells from a different angle, and when I arrived at my parking place the tide was in, making the Solway look blue and attractive as it glistened in the sunlight.

I find it hard to believe sometimes that I once thought living in London was the be-all and end-all and that I couldn’t bear to live anywhere else. The countryside is definitely not boring (and I have more friends than ever, I think), and whether you live in a village, town or city it seems that if you want to try out new cycle routes and new runs you often have to drive to get there, unfortunately. At least there are plenty of routes I can do from home as well: ones I rarely write about in this blog as I do them so often, but in between blogpost adventures I am out running around the Tarn, and Gelt Woods, and up on the Ridge. I’ll end with some photos from a springtime but slightly damp run in and around Gelt Woods yesterday.

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.

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.

Coniston and a Castle

When I entered the entire Lakeland Trails series of races, I had intended to start with shorter races and build up. Covid regulations put paid to that with Staveley 18km being the first race. Having had it in my head that 25km was the equivalent of a half marathon (13.2 miles), I was desperately trying to increase my mileage prior to the race: then I realised that in fact the 17 and 18km runs I’d been doing were actually not far short of a half marathon, which is in fact just under 21 km. I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed.

One thing I remembered from having done the Coniston half before, and from when Penny did the marathon, was that it is often very warm. Furthermore I could also remember a fairly long flat track at the end of the race, covered in a whiteish gravel, which just reflected the sun back to you and made it feel even warmer.

Sure enough it was a sunny day but I tried to start running fairly steadily, using a girl who had started just ahead of me as a pacer. I walked some hills, falling back behind my pacer, who I then caught up with again on the downhills – I was later to overtake both her and another girl I also had used as a pacer. I don’t know whether either of them realised that there was a middle-aged woman behind them, deliberately using them this way, but at least it worked!

Quite a lot of the run takes place on tarmac, but it wouldn’t be a Lakeland Trail without some beautiful gravelly tracks which undulate – both up and down and side to side – through trees. By about mile 10 you come out at Tarn Hows, and here I found that I was tiring. The sun was beating down again and whilst you might think a path around a lake is level, it’s not. Penny had been hoping to get up to Tarn Hows to see me and cheer me on, but she was nowhere to be seen. I ate my Graze Bar and drank some more water and having done my lap and a half of the Tarn I set off down the track back towards Coniston – to see Penny just as I turned away from the Tarn.

There was then a fantastic stony downhill, again through trees – but I knew the long-ish flat sunny bit was coming up. I got down the hill as quickly as I could and prepared myself for the slog to the end. I have to admit I walked bits: but as I crossed the finishing line I realised I had completed the run in 2 hours and 22 minutes, which I thought wasn’t a bad time for an off road half marathon. Penny had managed to jog down to the end to see me come over the line, and we both then went swimming in the lake before sitting by the car in the picnic and having a picnic.

I managed to run again the next day, and then met up with Penny again on the Tuesday evening for a bike ride and – I hoped – to swim in the river Eden at Pendragon Castle. This is a castle which I’d long wanted to visit, partly as it’s one of those places whose name just intrigued me. There are myths about it being connected to Uther Pendragon, and there are certainly plenty of ‘Arthur’ place names in this neck of the woods. However the signs on the ruins state that it was built in the 12th and 14th centuries. What the sign misses is that the Castle was also restored by Lady Anne Clifford in the 17th century: after a long court battle she had come into her inheritance (from her father) at the age of 60. She was finally able to restore not only Pendragon Castle but also Appleby, Brougham, Brough and Skipton (where she had been born).

Having parked by the castle, we had cycled down the ‘B’ road which runs more or less parallel to the Carlisle-Settle railway, turning round just as it joins the A684. Coming back seemed far easier and quicker – perhaps because the wind was with us rather than against us – and I imagined Lady Anne cantering along her horse, to reach this lovely spot in the Upper Eden valley. We were lucky that it was a beautiful evening, but all the way down the valley and back I loved the views of the hills (and we saw a train on the way back – though not a steam train).

Unfortunately the river has been fenced off, so we couldn’t see a way of getting down to it to swim. Instead we drove a bit further back along the road, pulled into the side, and stopped by the river for another picnic and to watch the sheep as the sun began to go down. I felt completely and utterly relaxed.

Movement Meditation (thank you Hannah)

Since my head cold and the 18km trail race, I must admit to having been feeling a bit sluggish. Somehow I just didn’t have my usual energy levels. I wasn’t sure whether it was the aftermath of the cold and the race combined or just a phase in the ups and downs of life. As the next race is at the beginning of June, however, and is a half marathon, I was conscious of not having much time to increase the distance I was running, and the couple of short runs I got in during the working week felt hard.

On Friday 14th May, Hannah – whom I know from work – and I had arranged to meet up, and possibly go for a swim in Broomlee Lough. We were both excited – she’s been more or less shielding for most of the pandemic, but had also joined the Ladies of the Lakes Whatsapp group and bought herself a wetsuit – and I was just looking forward to meeting up with a friend and also potentially swimming in Broomlee Lough again.

With the weather we’d had I wasn’t sure how warm it would be, but thought that perhaps as it’s relatively shallow it wouldn’t have got too much colder since the group of us had last swum there. The weather that morning was a little dull and we were messaging each other about whether to take wetsuits or not – I decided I would take mine in the car, and the nearer I got to Housesteads the more I felt that it would be worth going swimming anyway, even if it wasn’t for long.

When we arrived we found out from the member of National Trust staff at the gate that in fact we need not have booked tickets. A public footpath leads straight across the site, so as long as you don’t want to visit the ruins of the fort then you’re allowed to cross the larger site. It makes for a shorter walk than from the layby on the road, although you do then have to cross the boggiest part of the field. I had wellies on but Hannah hadn’t managed to find hers, nor her walking boots – her (fortunately old) trainers were excessively muddy by the time we’d walked up and back.

There’s something very special about swimming in lakes and tarns anyway, and I feel it even more so up at Broomlee Lough, where the Romans swam. We discussed how they’d have felt swimming north of the wall ‘outside the Empire’ and decided that perhaps it was confirmation that it was more of a boundary marker and trading post than a constantly-fought-over frontier. And in fact, thinking that it stood for about 300 years or more, there must surely have been times when the frontier was quite stable and peaceful?

Hannah absolutely loved swimming in the lough, comparing it favourably even to Lake Garda: partly as it’s so much quieter and more remote. I got a few photos and a video of her but I’m not going to post them here as they’re not the most flattering of her. But the big joyful smile on her face was like the sun, and a photo can’t in any case accurately show how someone feels on top of the world and pleased with her achievement: it was as if she had won the Olympics. We spoke about ‘movement meditation’, or mindfulness, and how the physical, emotional and mental sides of us are interconnected.

The National Trust has changed the shop and ticket office at the entrance to the larger site into a cafe and we stopped there for ice cream on the way out, and to admire how tame the birds were. A chaffinch was hopping about, and then a bright yellow bird which looked almost tropical. Penny knew what it was when I showed her the photo – a siskin. Now I know why the cafe at Whinlatter is called Siskins.

Later that day Penny and I went for a cycle ride from Walton, round in a 25 mile loop. The sun by now had come out and whilst we’d hoped to be able to do the Border Reivers 40 mile route, Penny’s husband had said he’d be coming past to fetch her at about 5.30pm, so we had to do a shorter version. As it turned out we got back to my house about 5 or 10 minutes before Tim turned up, in time to have a quick cup of tea.

It had been a brilliant day: I’d been outside almost all day, met up with two fab. friends, and done two of my favourite things, swimming and cycling. That evening as I did my singing practice I contemplated that I was feeling more energetic than I had for a couple of weeks. As I ran on Sunday, although it was a fairly long run (17km), I felt ‘normal’ again: and my cold seemed to have gone. I’d got my Mojo back.

Thank you my friends.

South of Penrith

After Penny and I had run up High Cup Nick last autumn, I drove back up the rural roads towards Penrith, thinking that I’d like to cycle up that way some time; that possibly those roads could be part of my ’round Cumbria’s edges’ route.

As Penny’s leg is still bothering her, rather than suggesting going running I instead suggested cycling. On Friday I dropped Bella at David’s and drove on to Penny’s house a few miles south of Penrith, bike in the boot. We didn’t have time to do one of the loops from my Ordnance Survey book so this wasn’t going to be my chance to cycle up the Eden valley: yet.

We left Penny’s village and cycled south, the M6, A6 and West Coast mainline railway all parallel to us, like stripes travelling south. Shap is one of those places which I’ve heard about since I was a child, due to Shap Summit being the highest place on that line. When my entire family travelled by train to Edinburgh when I was 7, to celebrate my uncle’s wedding, the height of the railway line was impressed upon me and in fact we even had a ‘double header’ – two engines pulling our train.

However Shap itself is something of a disappointment. When you drive through it it seems just to be a rather dull example of ribbon development, stretching along the A6 towards the quarry at one end of the village not far from a motorway junction. However today we cycled into Shap from the east and I noticed that there are some lovely houses as you come down the hill into the village.

Just south of Shap we turned westwards on ‘the concrete road’ (some people describe this as a military road, but it’s not – it was built for the construction of Haweswater dam back in the 1930s). When Penny and I had run from Shap Abbey up to Burnbanks we’d come back along most of this road; today we cycled it from end to end, and I have to say it was great. There were hardly any cars and the scenery is great, with open rolling fellside either side of a gently curving open road.

At Burnbanks we turned to go down the eastern side of Haweswater, almost to the end of the reservoir, talking about when we’d run round the lake and what a pity it is that there isn’t a footpath around the entire perimeter. The road, as I realised when we turned to go back towards Burnbanks again, is pleasantly deceptive – it undulates gently such that you hardly notice.

When we got back to Burnbanks we turned up the Lowther valley, through Bampton to Helton and then into Askham. I knew there was a hill up through Lowther Castle parkland, but in fact this also proved not to be too hard. What did strike me was how pretentious Lowther Castle is: even as a ruin. Of course it was built for Lord Lonsdale or whatever his title was at the time to say ‘look at me and how much money I’ve got’, and its gothic style (it was built in the early 1800s) emphasises this. Apparently it was only called a ‘castle’ after this: the earlier, smaller, building was called Lowther Hall.

When we got back to Penny’s house and my car we had done 30 miles, and it was time for me to fetch Edward from David’s; but knowing that I might need to bring Edward back down on Sunday, I suggested we could maybe cycle again then if Penny wasn’t having to do things with her husband (over Easter they built a very impressive and professional-looking path in their back garden).

The opportunity arose to do a loop in the Eden valley which included the road I’d driven up that day after High Cup Nick. Although it was cold – we could see snow on some of the fells – it was sunny, and we optimistically met at Langwathby, to the east of Penrith. The road south towards Culgaith was great – there were lovely views of the Lakeland Fells and the Pennines and even as far south as Ingleborough and the Howgills. We passed Acorn Bank (National Trust) and carried on to Newbiggin (pretty) and Kirkby Thore (not pretty, but with an interesting concrete works nearby) before turning into Long Marton and then towards Dufton.

We debated whether to go into Dufton – we’d thought of starting the ride there, but it’s a lot further from Penrith – but instead headed straight back up the valley towards Knock: Penny’s maiden name was Knock so she stopped to take a photo to send to her brother. By now we were heading into a chilly northerly wind which we hadn’t noticed, as it was behind us, on the way out – and there were rather worrying rain clouds ahead of us, which we knew were likely to be coming in our direction.

There are some lovely villages up this valley: one of my favourites is Milburn, where houses gaze over the large rectangular village green and the road just quietly cuts through one of the short sides. By now we were beginning to feel quite a bit colder, the dark grey rain clouds were coming ever closer, and we were wondering whether to cut the ride short for a variety of other reasons as well. We were hoping to get to Melmerby to the Vilage Bakery, which I had checked was open for take away, but the prospect of too much longer on our bikes was losing its appeal. At the next village a sign said ‘Langwathby 3 miles’ and I suggested we just turn down that way. I was glad we did as about a mile before Langwathby, when we were on an exposed bit of hilltop road, the heavens opened and it started to hail. By the time we got back to the cars it was hailing quite heavily. We’d cycled 25 miles, so whilst we’d cut the planned route a bit short we’d still done a decent bike ride – and we can do the ‘top’ part of the loop another time: in fact it’s on a ‘bike rides around Penrith’ leaflet and ties in nicely with the ride I did from home down to Kirkoswald and Lazonby and back. Everywhere is linked somehow in the end…

We popped up in the cars to the bakery, where Penny bought a flapjack for her husband. As we left they began to close: so again we’d been just in time. As I drove back up the motorway towards Carlisle the sun came out again, and I was reminded of when a friend did the coast to coast and told me afterwards that he’d had every single type of weather just crossing Cumbria. At least today I was wearing several layers of clothing, having got too cold on the past couple of bike rides. Spring will surely get warmer soon…

Lockdown one year on

The first UK lockdown started on 23rd March 2020. Approximately a year later, we are just relaxing the rules a little bit from our third lockdown. Spring is burgeoning all around us and there’s a tangible sense of freedom. Even so, radio announcements warn us not to forget that Covid is still present – and of course it’s in fact on the increase now in the younger age groups, the ones who haven’t been vaccinated. I get my first vaccination tomorrow.

Having been interviewed about moving to the country from the city, because something like 300,000 people have moved out of London since the first lockdown (with a population of over 9.3m in greater London it’s not exactly a large proportion, though notable), I woke up this morning wondering about exercise. Last summer the Government pledged more money for bike routes, and people who have bikes which need serious repair (as opposed to just servicing) can get a £50 voucher towards their restoration. I wondered how many people started doing more exercise this time last year – but also how many people have kept it up.

I’m doing tons more exercise than I was last year, and prior to working from home one of my frustrations about a long commute to work was trying to fit in as much exercise as I’d like – also I found 4 hours on the train a day quite tiring for some reason (going for a run as soon as I got home would probably have done me the world of good, but I wasn’t that motivated at 7p.m. on a dark, cold and often wet winter’s night). When I was at work I was in the middle of a city with no trails nearby – if I wanted to run at lunchtime I had to run on the pavement (the office did have a shower, so I think in 2 years of being based there I maybe did 3 runs).

I have loved the fact that over the past year I’ve clocked up around 100km a month – quite a bit more some months – running most days of the week; and I have also increased my cycling mileage.

However for me this is something that has been an incredibly important part of my life since I was in my early 30s, so I have relished having the opportunity to get fitter again; and with my ‘6 at 60’ challenges this year I’ve now entered the entire Lakeland Trails series – 9 runs – and also just entered a triathlon. But what about those people who started to get fitter last spring and summer, perhaps feeling that rush of excitement from starting something new, including buying some colourful lycra? Are they still persevering with it? I have to admit at times recently my motivation has waned when there’s still hardly anyone to go running with – I feel a bit of a pariah when, even when we’re allowed to meet up with one other person to exercise, people still think up reasons not to meet up; and there are times when you’re out running and you say ‘hello’ to someone you pass and they look at you as if you’re carrying the plague (let’s face it, I don’t think I would be capable of running if I had Covid – I would guess even the symptomless one must surely affect carrying out demanding exercise like running (especially the hills around here…)).

So – are you one of those people who dusted down and oiled their bike; who dug their running shoes out of the back of the wardrobe? And what are you doing now? Have you gone from strength to strength or did it just get too difficult to remain motivated over the dark winter months? Please let me know!

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).

Cycling round Appleby

I have an Ordnance Survey book with bike routes in Cumbria in, and looking through it I thought that perhaps one day when I was taking the kids down to Penrith I could then go a bit further and meet up with Penny for a bike ride.

We met at Dufton, where we’d previously met to run up High Cup Nick. It’s a lovely village in the Eden Valley and has a small car park and public toilets (always useful to know…). The cycling route took us along a small road in a southerly direction at the foot of the hills, and through the Warcop MOD training area. At this point an Army helicopter was circling overhead, and we met some Army officers who asked if we’d seen anyone… there was obviously some sort of exercise going on, and being followed quite closely by the helicopter was amusing if not a little unnerving.

We crossed the A66 without mishap (not a good road for cyclists) into Warcop village and then into Great Musgrave. Rather than turning to go to Brough – which would have meant then cycling down another busy road, the A685 – we cut straight down to Kirkby Stephen, where we turned inland to Soulby. I was quite excited at this point as I saw a signpost indicating Crosby Garrett – where the Crosby Garrett Roman helmet was discovered a few years ago, an amazing Roman artefact.

Undulating roads then took us back to Appleby, with a intriguing brown sign indicating Rutter Waterfall – somewhere to discover another time… We bowled downhill into Appleby, past the Castle (worth a visit when it’s open – once owned by Lady Anne Clifford) and down the main street, a lovely old street which slopes downhill itself. A butcher’s was still (just) open and we stopped for a quick coffee before cycling uphill back to Dufton.

The great thing about this ride was that it opened up a whole host of possibilities for other rides in that area, as it’s not far from Penny and Tim’s house, so they know the area quite well. Despite wet and cold weather, I suggested we cycled on Mothering Sunday, 14th March. I drove to Penny’s house and we cycled from there to the outskirts of Appleby, retracing some of our route from the weekend before, stopping at Coulby for a quick photo of the Andy Goldsworthy sculpture.

After Appleby we turned towards Great Asby with a quick diversion to Rutter Force, a gorgeous spot on a beck which joins the Eden, with an old mill and a house which was pretty but which I’m sure must flood. It was well worth the brief diversion and the hill back to our route.

Great Asby was a village with a stream through the middle, which seemed to be a theme for the day. We headed up hill and then up an even longer hill over Asby Winderwath Common, where the landscape was limestone rather than the sandstone common to the more north-eastern parts of Cumbria. The views from the cattle grid at Hollin Stump were well worth the climb, and it looked as if there could be ample opportunity for some good running routes. This was followed by a fantastic downhill before some more uphill in the direction of Orton.

We didn’t go as far as Orton, where some lovely homemade chocolates come from – I WILL visit Kennedys in Orton sometime – but instead turned in a northerly direction back towards Crosby Ravensworth and Maulds Meaburn. This was a gorgeous bit of road, again undulating and passing lovely houses and more streams. We finally arrived in Morland, where we would have stopped at the Mill Yard Cafe, which is one of the best in Cumbria, if it hadn’t been for the fact that by then we were both freezing cold.

Some small hills on the last few miles were actually welcome as they helped me warm up a bit before the end of the ride; my toes were like blocks of ice, my hands were painful (and red, when I got them out of my gloves) and my bottom was wet. However this was a fantastic route and I look forward to doing it again one day when the weather is warmer, drier and less windy!

I drove home with the heating on full blast in the car, ran a bath and soaked in the warm water with a piece of chocolate cake.