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.

A month back already

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surrealism on holiday

Travelling is weird. By its very nature it has to be: a holiday should take you out of your comfort zone and away from normality and routine. How far you step out of your comfort zone is up to you: there are those who still want to feel comfortable, who want British bars and pubs in English-speaking resorts, and for whom the main change is warmer, drier weather and no work.

At the other extreme are the explorers: those who spend weeks or months (maybe even years) travelling, perhaps in some discomfort and in challenging conditions.

I’m somewhere in between. I want to experience something of a foreign culture, and I love hearing a foreign language or languages around me.

It starts often with the outgoing flight. I’m not quite sure why so many holiday flights leave so early in the morning, but there’s an other-worldly quality to getting up in the middle of the night and making your way to the departures desks. Airports by then are wide awake and bustling, while the rest of the (local) world sleeps. I’ll always remember walking across the car park from the airport hotel at Newcastle with my parents and three small children, when we went to Chamonix. Edward, at just 4 years old, insisted on pulling a suitcase. Going to Finland I drove into the wrong car park at Manchester: instead of a grumpy, surly, half awake voice, a cheery male voice just told me to drive back round to the exit, and then gave me directions to the right car park.

Flying itself is then also surreal. You’re either up above the clouds in bright blue sky and could be anywhere and nowhere, suspended in time and space; or you can see the earth laid out below you like a map. Personally I prefer the latter as I like trying to work out where I am. Sometimes there’s a bit of both: you look down through wispy clouds and see the snow-clad summits of the Alps below, or the clouds briefly part and you realise that the white down below is not more cloud but the snow covered landscape of Norway, Iceland or Greenland. Twinkling lights below highlight motorways or the coast, or cities: I remember flying along the south coast of England at night towards Bournemouth, seeing Gatwick to the north and a chain of illumination along the south coast.

Sometimes the sun rises as you fly. I always prefer a window seat: perhaps because it takes my mind off the worry of flying.

Within hours you have given up your regular everyday life for somewhere new. There’s the excitement, mixed with a little apprehension, an arriving. At Kittila there appeared to be no transfer to take us to our hotel: a helpful rep. from Inghams chased it up for us and before long we were on our way, bowling along snow- and ice-covered roads which would bring traffic to a halt in the UK, our driver regaling us with stories of how part of the road is used for emergency aircraft landings. Already we’re out of our comfort zone as he zips past lorries and coaches coming in the other direction on what seem like narrow icy tracks.

Finland – or rather Lapland – is very beautiful. It’s so easy to see why it’s the home of Father Christmas. A thick layer of snow and ice covers everything, the trees looking elegantly slim with their white coats weighing down their branches. Fairy lights twinkle around the airport, the hotels, the log cabins set among the trees; Moomintroll-like figures loom out of the snow clumped into curvy sculptures. You expect any moment to fur-clad bewhiskered reindeer drivers, or for the White Witch to appear, Narnia-style.

Putting skis on your feet for the first time or after a long break is also strange. They slip and slide away from you with a mind of their own, and going downhill can feel scarily out of control. I was glad and relieved that I could basically remember what to do and that skiing began to feel again like a normal, and sensible, way to travel around on snow (if at times it felt like hard work). We have so little snow and ice in the UK that we rarely have to learn to glide rather than to step.

Walking and skiing among the trees is a little like being in Cumbria, although the trees are naturally more spaced out and are all spruce, pine, etc. I love the Scots Pines: their twisty golden branches in contrast to the bendy spruce. The fells are not as high as the Cumbrian fells, but are gentle knolls – the highest near us was about 700m. Even so, it’s hard work skiing uphill, even if you’re not going very high.

There are also the sounds. The gentle thwack and glide of the skis; the silence when you stop to listen; or the alien quality of Finnish, which has no relation to languages such as German, French or Italian and yet which the Finns chat away in before switching easily to English. We are incredibly spoilt, us English-speakers, but it’s still nice when travelling abroad to pick up some of the local words. Unfortunately the only word of Finnish which stuck in my head was ‘kiitos’ (thank you), despite having been told ‘cheers’, ‘very good’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘goodnight’ (I also realised that ‘jarvi’ is ‘lake’ and I bought something called a Munkki, which is a type of doughnut). I’m very curious now to know what the grammatical structure is like as apparently it’s similar to Japanese – in other words completely and utterly alien to any language I have ever learnt.

A renowned Nordic custom is of course the sauna. Initially we were rather hesitant about going in the snow afterwards, but the day the outdoor hot tub was on we had to walk from there across the snow to the sauna. Unless you don’t mind wet shoes (or have flipflops), then the quickest and best option is just to make a semi-naked sprint for it. Having done that, walking back from the sauna to our room wrapped in a towel and nothing else other than boots, socks and pants, was actually very refreshing. It’s also not at all the done thing to be British and wear a swimsuit in the sauna.

In terms of food, while there are plenty of cloudberries, ligonberries, reindeer and elk on the menu, the cuisine is, not surprisingly, quite mixed – and delicious. Once when I went to Munich I was incredibly disappointed by the food, which seemed to consist mostly of meatloaf or cake. In contrast our hotel in Finland had a superb range of salads and fruit as well as fish (Arctic Char was lovely), meat and potatoes.

As the plane leaves the ground to come home I often feel a little tearful: partly from relief that we are safely off the ground and partly from sadness at saying ‘goodbye’. Some places you know you won’t visit again: Finland is one of those I hope very much that I do.

p.s. several years ago a friend of mine went to Helsinki for a running race, with a group. He came back saying how very friendly the Finnish were. I wasn’t sure I believed him at the time, as why should any one nation be any friendlier than another? However it’s true – a lot of the Finnish have friendly, smiling faces, and they seem to be ready to smile and to help at any time. Even the ‘ski etiquette’ signs say you should always stop to help someone who needs it.

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!

Wast Water – 7/16

As Penny said as we had nearly finished our run around Wast Water, “you’d think it would be easy to run round lakes”.  It’s not: too many of them do not in fact have a nice trail all the way around and despite what you may think many of them are not flat either.

Wast Water was perhaps in a way the most challenging of the lot so far.  Not in terms of fitness or distance, or even hills – at least not the way we ran round it.  It’s a lake which holds a sinister fascination for me: somehow the water always seems infinitessimally black and The Screes glower over the water menacingly.  Today was no exception: there was low-lying cloud on the fell tops and it was grey and threatening rain in the valley.

We approached from Gosforth and parked just off the road in a gravelly layby.  There was then a couple of miles to run to the National Trust campsite at Wasdale Head, where you get on to the path that takes you round the lake.  I had been told by two friends – one who grew up in Wasdale – that it would be better to go up hill on the southern side of the lake – up over Illgill Head and Whin Rigg.  However the map clearly shows a path along the lake shore… We met a very friendly National Trust man in the car park, who told us that if we were going to follow the lake path over the screes we needed to be very careful – a lot of the rocks were slippery and some of the boulders were enormous.  He thought we’d be better off going up to the hill top and along, even if it was further, and said that the lake shore route started off OK but got a lot, lot worse…

We had a bit of a dilemma.  Penny needed to be home in order to go to a retirement do with her husband and despite an early start we knew that often these runs were taking far more time than a straightforward route would… as so often happens, we decided that we’d go with the challenge and stick by the lake.  The worst bit to start with was the ferns, which had all grown quite high and were wet, and were often hiding holes or rocks in the path.  Then we met the first bit of scree: it seemed OK and we wondered if the friendly National Trust man had been worrying too much.  After all, Penny had admitted to him that she was about to turn 50 and I had said I was nearly 60 (well, I am nearer to 60 than to 50, but yes I was doing it for effect (and I think my daughter’s bad…)) so perhaps he just thought we were two vulnerable middle-aged women?

The penultimate area of scree was a different matter however: the rocks really were bigger and it was a case of 5 points of contact – both feet, both hands and quite often bum as well as it was easier to sit and swing your legs round in places.  We were conscious that we didn’t want to slip, in particular not to slip and cause an avalanche of rocks which would hurtle us into the cold, deep, dark water along with them.  When I created a small rock fall my heart skipped a beat or two.

Then looming ahead of us we saw another area of scree.  Some of the boulders were enormous, and although some helpful person (or persons) had created small cairns every-so-often – I think to show the best route through – there was no obvious path, and it seemed to go on for ever.  At one point Penny said what I was thinking – that if there was any more scree after this she would scream.  The landscape was barren: a bit of moss, lots of lichen; raindrop-bejewelled cobwebs; the odd slug.  Even the hardy fellside sheep hadn’t attempted to cross this scree.

 

Fortunately there wasn’t any more and after what I am sure was extremely good exercise in terms of twisting and turning your whole body, we got back to the path and to the lovely curly oak trees that seem to be a feature of this valley.  As we headed up to the western end of the lake where the River Irt leaves the lake, we saw a Sellafield Fire and Rescue Service truck, a pump and a large pipe: for some reason they were pumping water out of the lake and then back into the river a little further along, avoiding a rather stagnant shallow-looking area.

Wast Water 21st July 2018 (14)
From the western end

From here we ran along the river and then over a lovely old packhorse bridge and through Low Wood, passing the YHA at Wasdale Hall.  What an amazing building for a YHA, with an amazing view.  My guess is that it’s an Arts and Crafts building but if anyone reading this knows its history, let me know!

 

A short mile or so along the road and we were back at the car, where a man stowing some diving kit in the boot of his truck asked if we were the two girls who had been seen scrambling over the scree on the opposite side of the lake.  We owned up and had a chat with him about how deep the lake was and how there had been a few deaths there: but also how some divers had created a gnomes’ garden at the bottom, which had once had a white picket fence, garden gnomes and table and deckchairs!  The lake is not that wide but is the deepest in the Lake District (79m or 258 feet – the amazing thing is that whilst the surface is 200 feet above sea level, its bottom is then 50 feet below), and we had been able to hear people’s voices from this side when we’d been scrambling on the other side.

There wasn’t time to stop for lunch properly, but we went back via Gosforth where the village store has a delicious range of freshly made sandwiches on various different types of bread, and a good selection of drinks.  It was a pity we didn’t have time to visit the Hungry Parrot eatery upstairs.  There are also public loos in the car park – always useful to know!

We had run 8 miles (13 km) in three hours – but according to Strava about 1 hour 20 of that had not been running time.  It was yet another run around a lake where it had turned into a micro-adventure: and we both agreed that we would go back and do it again, but this time up over Illgill Head and Whin Rigg.  Those screes were an achievement but neither of us would recommend them to anyone else.  The National Trust man and my friends were quite right.

Wast Water 21st July 2018 (21)
The scree from the opposite side… not a path in sight (and the rocks are a lot bigger close up).