Ladies of the Lakes 4 – and Wast Fest

One of the first lakes I ever swam in in the Lake District was Derwentwater, at the top near the Theatre by the Lake. I remembered there being lots of geese around and plenty of sheep and goose poo to avoid. Once in the water, however, it was fine.

When Anne and I attempted Derwentwater, before we ‘officially’ launched our lakes swimming challenge, we tried first swimming down near Lodore Falls (near the NT car park). It was hideous: weedy and muddy and you didn’t really know what you were walking on (or rather in), nor how deep the mud was. When we tried the top end near the Theatre it was equally bad: Anne swam further out than me but was still able to stand up and narrowly missed being in the path of a ferry. We gave it up as a bad job that day and instead took Edward, who was with us, to Java in Keswick for a chocolate covered strawberry and marshmallow kebab.

Anne’s husband Mark suggested we tried the western shore of the lake, at the foot of Cat Bells. So, a Saturday early in September it was agreed that it was time to attempt Derwentwater again. I woke with a headache and thought I’d have to miss the trip, so the others set out before me – fortunately the magic big pink nurofen did its trick and I set out an hour later. It wasn’t that easy to spot where they’d parked so I pulled in where I could get a space near Hawse End and walked along the lake shore to find them, every-so-often one or the other of us phoning to check on landmarks (“has the ferry gone past you – and if so towards you or away from you?” “can you see any boats?” “the people next to us have just started a barbecue”). As they’d described walking fairly steeply downhill, I had a feeling they were south of me and sure enough I eventually saw the barbecue. Anne and Jo, bless them, had waited for me before getting in and I was really pleased not to have missed out.

The day was sunny although having had some chilly wet weather the water wasn’t as warm as any of the other times we’d swum, and we were all glad of our gloves. When I put my head in the water I was disorientated at first – there seemed to be lots of goldish/coppery sparkles in the water and whilst I’d been expecting to be able to look down to the bottom, these sparkles seemed to be very near. Once it had become clear that it was sediment suspended in the water and that in fact the water was quite clear, the feeling of disorientation also went: and of course swimming into the sun or away from the sun made a difference.

As we sat and had a picnic in the sun (we moved to the barbecue spot, which had now been abandoned) while our fingers and toes thawed out – despite gloves and shoes – we admired the gorgeous view, enthused once again about the joys of wild swimming, and then turned to the important business of scoring this lake. It scored highly so is up there with Wastwater in the lead – but over the following week we added several tarns to the list, so at the moment we have swum 4 lakes and have 18 still to go…

It was my birthday the following weekend and Anne and I had already discussed swimming in Wastwater at sunset. So, at about 5pm on a fairly sunny Saturday afternoon, various vehicles set out for Wastwater and the same spot that Anne and I had swum from before. It was exciting that Jo was going to be able to experience Wastwater as we’d loved it so much the previous time.

Jo and her husband Jerry gave me a lift in their van and we arrived to find Mark A. had already got the barbecue going and that Laura and Mark B. had arrived. As the sun began to go down, the three of us who were swimming got into our wetsuits and into the water, feeling rather like minor celebrities as the others photographed and videoed us as we swam across to the island, got out on to it and waved, swam round it and back and then round to the other side of the picnic site. Despite gloves my fingers were already feeling cold, but the lake was as beautiful to swim in as before: crystal clear and little in the way of weed or tree roots, and plenty of rocks to get in and out on. I don’t have the words to explain fully the feeling of sheer joy and exhilaration of swimming in this lake: but the big beam on Jo’s face said it all.

Having got out, dried ourselves and put on several layers of clothing, the party began in earnest. It was a sort of bring and share picnic/barbecue and we had tons of food – starting with a Parsnip and Rhubarb soup I had made (recipe in the Covent Garden Soup recipe book) which was interesting: root veg. with a slight tartness to it. There were sausages, cheeses, salad, fruit salad and – of course – alcohol. Laura had made a fruit loaf and as a birthday cake I’d made a Black Forest Cherry Cake; my sister’s friend Sara brought some cupcakes but I don’t think anyone ate any of them, we were so full!

As our stomachs digested the food and the night sky grew darker overhead, Jerry and Mark A. got their guitars out and we had a sing around the campfire, watching a string of head torches coming down into Wasdale Head from Scafell. It was a magical, magical evening and one of the best birthdays I have ever had: when Anne said she could have stayed there all night and have waited for the sun to come up, I knew exactly what she meant (perhaps sometime we should do that!). What can beat being outdoors on a lovely evening, with exercise, good food, good company, and music?

p.s. we cleaned our wetsuits, etc. thoroughly – with a mild detergent and a thorough wash-down – after Derwentwater as we don’t want to go spreading any non-native invasive weed species around the Lakes

Ladies of the Lakes (1)

I announced recently that I wasn’t going to do any more charity dinners, but that I would carry on having friends to dinner. As I only had a couple of ‘donating’ guests for the most recent dinner, I cancelled it as a charity do and instead invited friends to dinner. There ended up being 9 of us.

I kept the menu much the same – there are a host of recipes I wanted to try from Antonio Carluccio’s The Collection (which my Mum had kindly bought me when we went out for lunch to Carluccio’s at Cribbs Causeway) so I chose a 4-course menu from that book:

Insalata all’Abbruzzese (vegetable and tuna salad – basically an italian version of Salade Nicoise, which is one of my favourites)

Manilli de Seta (Silk hankerchief pasta with pesto – I was very proud of the pasta I made, which came out beautifully thin due to my Imperia pasta rolling machine: but I was really lazy and despite buying the ingredients for pesto I actually used Sainsburys fresh pesto, even though it would have been dead easy to make)

Stracotto (which means ‘overcooked’ – beef brisket cooked slowly in stock, a mirepois and white wine), served with Patate e Porcini (potatoes and ceps, except I used ordinary mushrooms. But a few of the potatoes came from my garden, as did the sage leaves)

Zabaione con salsa di cioccolato amaro (zabaglione with bitter chocolate sauce. This turned out well except the bitter chocolate sauce could have done with being lighter – it turned into solid lumps of chocolate and had mostly sunk by the time I served the desserts. I think the ratio of cream to chocolate needs to be different – and perhaps adding a bit of butter might help?)

It was one of those fantastic evenings which went well from the beginning, with 3 or 4 lively conversations at all times. The atmosphere was great.

Three of us had already arranged that we would go wild swimming in Crummock Water the next day. The weather forecast had looked a bit gloomy and damp but in fact the sun was attempting to come out and although the air felt slightly cool (if you were standing out in a swimsuit), the water was lovely – two of us even took our wetsuits off and went in just in swimsuits, although my fingers had turned green by the time I got out. As previously, it was great to be swimming at water surface level, the fells around dwarfing us. You feel completely part of nature and, as Jo said, ‘it’s very calming’. It was her first time ever wild swimming – but I think she’s hooked!

We discussed how we should go about celebrating Anne’s 60th and her goal to swim in all 16 lakes: we decided we needed to be in the water for at least 30 minutes each time in order to be able to make it ‘official’. The next lake we’re aiming to swim in is Ullswater, and as we drove back we picked our name: Ladies of the Lakes. Crummock Water was our first ‘official’ one – so 15 more to go!

Cookery

Can anyone tell me the best free photo-editing software to use (without getting a virus on my computer)?  Since Helpful Teenager across the road has wiped my computer clean and reinstalled it for me – for which many, many thanks as I wouldn’t have had a clue – I no longer seem to have whatever software it was which let me crop photos… thought thank goodness I am no longer getting the really annoying pop-ups which kept popping up when I didn’t want them to.

I thought I could crop photos in wordpress too but can’t now find that option either… so my apologies to anyone who would rather they or their children were not in these photos, but my computer semi-literacy doesn’t enable me to edit.  Having said that I think Zoe’s face says it all about the Iron Maiden cake. Edward was found having a in-depth study of it on his own (and attempting to pick at the icing) before it came through to the party room for candle-lighting: he was clearly impressed.

THANK YOU to Claire Houghton-Byers of Mama Cakes Cumbria for such a superb piece of baking artistry: see some of her amazing creations on Facebook and watch out for her new website, coming soon (copy writing by Yours Truly – beautifully graphically designed by Fabiana Graff (a thank you to Fabi for putting copy writing work my way: anyone else want a website, contact either Fabiana or me!).  Also Thank You to Claire Hunter (another artist – spot her exquisite painting of poenies) and gorgeous red-headed feisty daughter Kate for letting Edward have a joint party again; and to Silly Gilly for keeping 20-odd children so well entertained.

Meanwhile 10-year old daughter this morning tried to make pancakes for the first time ever.  Being an independently-minded child she didn’t want any help, and picked a lovely recipe from Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jam (I have two of her lovely books.  I don’t use them very often but can’t bear to part with them as they are so attractively set out and a pleasure to read).  I’ve never found pancakes particularly easy – it’s taken me years of practice to end up with something which looks like a pancake rather than something which falls to bits.  Not surprisingly there was a bit of a tantrum in the kitchen… followed shortly thereafter by a further flare-up of frustration when the Spirograph didn’t behave itself.

Well, I might not be much good as a mother in many ways but I did manage to step in to rescue both the pancakes and the spirograph.  Now I’m off to plant a hedge in my garden.

(LATER…)

Hedge only partially planted as I need to move the trampoline and then get a small digger (or a strong man with a fork) to dig up my back garden, as there’s a membrane just under the surface and I couldn’t get through it with the spade.  Abandoning the job for today, I went back in and before long it was time to get on with the roast dinner… I am so, so proud of my Yorkshire puddings (I was taught by a Yorkshireman… thank you Ant @ Capernaum!).  I think the new cooker helps too – I can actually see through the door – hence the photo where they look a bit like meringues!

So that’s pancakes and Yorkshire puddings I’ve just about cracked… what next?

 

 

 

25th wedding anniversary

No, not mine: though I did calculate that as I intend to live until 100 I can wait until I’m 75 to get married again and still celebrate a 25th wedding anniversary.

No, it was the 25th wedding anniversary of one of my oldest and best friends, and for whom I was a bridesmaid half a lifetime ago.  The weird thing was that having travelled down to Hove for the party, I saw another friend, Sue, there whom I hadn’t seen for 12 years – since her wedding – or in other words for almost half the length of time that Liz and Leslie had been married.  I had (to my discredit) in fact forgotten that Sue was married: I had remembered being at a party in Swiss Cottage but thought it had been a birthday party!  My excuse is that David and I had only just got together at the time so I was in the first flush of a love affair and probably thinking about little other than him.

Having had my hair done by Kim with the magic hair fingers (Hairport, Brampton) on the Saturday morning, I had headed down to Hove in a bit of a rush as I hadn’t left Brampton until about 11.30 a.m.  In fact it made me realise how easy the journey is when not accompanied by children getting bored or hungry, or fighting or wanting to go to the toilet.  I arrived at Liz’s brother’s and sister-in-law’s house in time to have a couple of glasses of wine with them before we got a taxi to the party: it was great to see them again as well, as it’s a good few years since I saw them.  In fact I stayed longer than I had originally intended on the Sunday morning as I went to see some of Judith’s art work in a local house-turned-art-gallery: Hove has a brilliant scheme whereby people open their houses to the general public as mini art galleries, and exhibit their own artwork as well as other people’s.

It was another trip down south when I caught up with people I hadn’t seen for many years, and I started really missing the south again.  I genuinely love Cumbria and feel very rooted up here, and fulfilled, but I still have many friends in the south.  They have shared so much of my life, and I love the richness and intensity – even the excess, perhaps – of life in the south.  Having said that one of the things I love about Cumbria is the connection with nature, something which just doesn’t happen even in the more southerly north, let alone in the built-up south.

Having caught up with all sorts of people in Hove, I headed back in a northerly direction, stopping in St. Albans, as the children and I had previously, to meet up with Eldfrid.  Two hours (the amount of time on the parking meter!) passed rapidly as we were able to have a really good chat about children, men and music: something we might not have been able to do so easily if we had had children or men in tow!

From there I drove towards Cambridge to see Caroline and her family: it hadn’t been quite so long since I had seen them but children have a strange habit of going from being children to being young people overnight if you don’t see them very often!  In fact I saw both my godsons this weekend: Michael, who is currently sitting his A levels, and Oliver, who is currently sitting GCSEs.  Both have developed from children into young men; both are talented and I have my fingers tightly crossed for their futures.  Before I know it they will be having children of their own, and my children will be the ones who are suddenly young adults.

I find something consoling and positive in this passage of time.  I love seeing all these people developing and rather than making me feel old, I find I’m intrigued to discover what they’ll do next and my age becomes irrelevant.  It’s also rather satisfying having had children older, as whilst friends’ children are now in their late teens and early twenties, mine being still young means that my friends and I can all see a spread of development.  It’s difficult to explain and I don’t feel I’ve expressed myself well at all, but it brings a smile to my face when I think about them.  2-year old blonde Jonathon who ran up the path to give me a cuddle is now a 22-year old who is about to embark on a banking career in Edinburgh; Oliver who was almost dwarfed by a first birthday present of a Tigger is now a tall, slim 16-year old; and even my 11-year old Alex who was a baby who liked rolling over on to his front at the ridiculously early age of 12 weeks, is rapidly turning into a teenager with serious thoughts and questions alongside more childish behaviour.

Meanwhile I shall continue, no doubt, in my slightly schizophrenic attitude towards Cumbria and ‘the south’ but at least I now know that travelling 400 miles south for ‘just’ a weekend is feasible – so long as I leave the children behind!

Capernaum

Much as I love the children, I have to admit that having single, childfree time, is great…

Last night I went to Brampton’s newest and most classy restaurant for the fourth time in about 5 weeks (see my review and others equally as enthusiastic and complimentary on Trip Advisor – Capernaum Bistro).  I was early arriving – Nicola was a little bit late.  I hasten to add that I didn’t mind in the slightest – I was quite happy sitting there day dreaming and doing nothing for a change while Chef-Proprietor Anthony and his team rushed around looking after people. By the time she arrived I’d almost finished a gin and tonic and had munched my way through the delicious crudities (tiny slices of toasted (?) ciabatta with ham hock terrine and – I think – tapinade (sorry Anthony but I can’t remember!).  Both were lovely, the ham hock terrine being so delicate that it almost didn’t taste meaty.

Having scoffed the lot, when Nicola arrived we were generously provided with more crudities in the form of little cubes of ham hock with pistaccios.  Yum…  we then shared a starter of caprese, beef tomatoes and mozzarella with a lovely pesto dressing which I could have just eaten loads of on toast.  In fact a large helping of that entire dish with some salad leaves would make a fab. lunch… and fresh pesto is so much better than the stuff in jars.  The Co-op started selling fresh pesto at one point but sadly they’ve stopped again.  I’ll have to either make my own or keep my fingers crossed that Capernaum opens a delicatessen.  In fact one of my ambitions has long been to open a delicatessen in Brampton, and the block in which Capernaum is situated has always seemed the right location.  Any funders out there?

Capernaum 24th January (1)Between courses we were served the heavenly surprise of a complimentary palate cleanser.  I’m dying to use the term amuse bouche as I think it’s such a great one – lit. ‘amuse the mouth’ – but I’m not sure that’s strictly the right expression and in fact of course it would apply more to the crudities.  I choose the word ‘heavenly’ deliberately: the first mouthful of this damson sorbet with a champagne topping had my taste buds dancing with delight.  Superlatives aren’t adequate to describe that first mouthful (and the second, third…).  And aren’t its colours beautiful?

Nicola then progressed to Beef and Ale pie, which looked lovely, and I had a sirloin steak.  I love the straw fries with parmesan and we also shared seasonal veg. with new potatoes and root vegetables.  I had said I’d share a dessert with Nicola but in fact by then I was feeling far too full, so I had a liqueur (amaretto) coffee while she had crumble.Capernaum 24th January (2)

Post-dinner we sat and chatted upstairs in the lounge area with a glass of port each, continuing to put the world to rights.  This mostly entailed discussing how Brampton was a good place for ex-city-dwellers who want a truly rural life but with facilities (decent wine bars/bistros) as good as those in a city; talking about her forthcoming move to Holmfirth (her husband moves ahead of her and the girls tomorrow); and the reasons for my marriage break up (or should that be breakdown…).  I eventually rolled home feeling good about life, and about myself.  I have some of the feelings I had when I was single – the excitement of having a social life, potentially doing some travelling, and being able to go out with friends and feel no pressure to get home by a certain time – but with the fulfillment and satisfaction of having children.  Sadly, David leaving has given me the space I need from time to time just to relax, unwind and do my own thing.  I guess it’s partly that I don’t feel guilty – if the children are being looked after by him I have a few hours or a couple of days when I can switch off to a large extent from being a mother and, guilt-free, just be me.

One question which has come up in the past few days in my conversations with both Kath and Nicola is ‘would I get married again?’.  The answer is, I don’t know: there’s a lot to be said for feeling young, free and single at times: on the other hand a good marriage or settled relationship can be an especially close support and companionship.  At the moment I’m even in two minds about the whole internet dating thing, though it’s fun to get messages and ‘talk’ to some new guys online: part of me feels that just to do my own thing and concentrate on  my writing and singing and some exercise would be enough in addition to my children, work and friends.

In the spirit of temporarily reduced responsibility, I sat down this morning to apply for two jobs – but have decided not to as the deadline is tomorrow, the application form has some difficult questions on it which I don’t want to think about right now, and I’m just not sure enough about the organisation and type of work to want to apply at the moment.  Instead I’m off out for a run up the Ridge, to get some kindling for the wood-burner, and then to start some decorating or gardening and to do some writing-related stuff: plus a good hour of singing practice this evening after I get the kids to bed.

Life is good.

Footnote: while running in Ridge Woods I came across a new stone memorial to a Lorna Graves (2014).  It was rather lovely: roughly hewn with a relief of a cow and the moon on it.  I don’t know who you were Lorna Graves, nor the significance of the cow and the moon, but your memory lives on in a glorious spot.