The Cumbria Way in pieces (part four)

I’d had a week or so of feeling quite tired and low, and hadn’t got outside much. After the run along Hadrian’s Wall the weather had reverted to being a bit wet and miserable, and my mood matched it. I was also out quite a lot for work, which is enjoyable but does limit how much time I get for exercise – especially as the evenings are still dark and I don’t find it easy to motivate myself to run alone in the dark.

Anne told me it’s because we were in Pisces and that my mood would change after 21st March: which also happened to be Alex’s 18th birthday. Yes, my oldest child is now officially an adult. I cooked him and 6 of his friends a 4-course meal in celebration. They must have enjoyed it as he said he’d like to do it again, perhaps in the summer. Just for the record, the menu was:

Blini with a mix of smoked salmon, cream cheese, smoked trout mousse, trout caviar

– served with champagne

Roast beef with roasted root veg., roast potatoes, green veg., yorkshire puddings and gravy

– served with red wine

Berry Pavlova

– served with dessert wine

A selection of cheese and biscuits

– served with port

There was also a chocolate birthday cake, which didn’t get eaten on the day but taken into school the following day.

The weather turned warmer and sunnier and Penny and I decided it was time to do the next stage of the Cumbria Way: she suggested Langdale to Keswick. We again needed to leave one car at one end and one at the other, and the best bet looked like leaving one near the A66 just outside Portinscale and Keswick, and the other at Langdale. Having found a space for the first, what we hadn’t anticipated was that Langdale was heaving: however we were lucky and someone left the third car park, next to the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel, we tried just as we were circling it for a second time.

There’s a nice clear sign indicating that you’re on the right path at the start. I have to say that after this however, waymarking was sadly lacking. Every time I run part of the Cumbria Way I think of David (my ex) doing the entire thing a few years ago, some of it in the dark. It’s just as well he’s good at navigating.

The route wends its way along the Mickleden valley, the river bubbling away next to you, before you get to a junction. The righthand (western) leads up past one of the Angle Tarns (one I haven’t been to) before heading along/over Esk Pike and ultimately, if you want, to Scafell. The path we were taking was one which goes up the side of Stake Gill (ghyll?) and over Stake Pass towards Keswick. Once you’re at the top, High Raise is on your right and Glaramara on your left (if you’re going north). There are absolutely no roads up here, and you get a real sense of remoteness even though we saw quite a few walkers out and about.

A zigzag path leads down from Stake Pass: I loved running down this, but people with vertigo might not be quite so keen. And, of course, if you want to admire the view it’s better not to go too fast – get to the bottom too quickly and you miss out on the enjoyment. You can just see me in the photo (below) which Penny took.

Something I hadn’t appreciated – and didn’t get a photo of – is that once we were in the Langastrath valley at the bottom, we ran past Black Moss Pot, one of THE places to have a dip in terms of wild swimming in the Lake District. We saw plenty of places where we said ‘it would be nice to have a dip in there’, but didn’t take any photos of them. Am I becoming a little complacent about being able so easily to access these stunning locations?! I’m certainly not bored by them – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve thought or said ‘we’re so lucky to live here’ – but I do end up with 100s of rather similar-looking photographs. The wonderful landscape makes me all the more determined to stay fit and active as I get older, however: Penny and I had both had stressful weeks, and being out in this luscious scenery and running and feeling alive was the perfect antidote.

The path isn’t that easy to run as it’s quite rocky and uneven (we did wonder if the other side of the gill would have been easier) but it eventually comes out where the Langastrath Beck – the one we’d been following – joins either (according to the map) Greenup Gill or Willygrass Gill. I did take some photos here as the water bounds over the rocks. It’s obviously a bit of a tourist destination: only a short-ish walk from Stonethwaite or Rosthwaite and therefore fairly accessible from Keswick.

At Rosthwaite we found some public toilets, which is always useful, and ran past a barn serving tea and cake. It was tempting to stop but we’d already taken far longer than we expected and still weren’t at the bottom of Derwentwater.

We’d previously run a loop round this area from Grange and back, passing Castle Crags. The Cumbria Way uses a slightly more easterly route, which means not needing to go quite so far uphill again. There’s a short section on road in and just after Grange, before the path drops down towards the lake. This southern end of the lake is clearly quite marshy but also quite well-trodden, as it’s criss-crossed with boardwalks. It brought back memories of our ‘miles for Matt’ when we had run around Derwentwater as one of the 16 lakes for Penny’s 50th birthday: not long after the floods of 2015, as some bridges had needed rebuilding, including a footbridge over the Derwent where it flows into the lake at this end.

We didn’t need to cross that bridge today as we were already on the western side of the lake, and we were soon running along grassy paths, the lake gleaming on our right. It was getting late however, and we still had a few miles to go.

With tired legs we finally came out in Portinscale and walked round to Harry’s coffee stand. We had covered 25km (15.5 miles). It was good to get a drink and something to eat before getting in Penny’s car and driving back down to Langdale to fetch mine.

It was one of those days when it would have been lovely to have stayed out and relaxed into the evening: but Penny needed to get home to help Tim with their campervan and motorbikes, and I needed to get back to Keswick to take Alex to a friend’s party, to fetch Bella and to get home in time for a Sainsbury’s delivery. I made the Sainsbury’s delivery but Penny was late for Tim and I was about 10 minutes late dropping Alex off.

It had taken longer than we’d expected and we’d had all the extra miles to drive because of doing a linear route, but in terms of ‘headspace’ it was well worth it: as I said to Penny, if we hadn’t got out then we’d still have felt stressed from our working weeks. As I write this I’m at the Sage in Newcastle-Gateshead: it’s great to hear music and to be in a city (I had a lovely wander around the Quayside market earlier), but to really sort your head out nothing beats being out in stunning countryside in beautiful weather. I think next time we’ll aim for a shorter stage though!

6 at 60: it’s people who matter

This weekend I completed the Lakeland Trails series – 9 (I think) trail runs, all 14-15km except Cartmel 10km, and ending with the ‘dirty double’ this weekend at Glenridding.

My emotions and physical ‘oomph’ definitely fluctuate through the year, and recently I’d been feeling less enthusiastic about this particular challenge. I haven’t done quite as much training, I’d given blood about 2 weeks ago, and the change to autumn and the dark mornings and dark nights is getting to me a bit. BUT excuses out of the way, this was the weekend for doing 2 trail runs back to back.

Helvellyn on Saturday had also been entered by 4 of my friends, so it felt like a team effort. I’ve done the route and parts of the route before – most recently on my birthday in 2020 when Penny and I had walked up to Grisedale Tarn for a swim, just a couple of weeks after running up there (see https://runningin3time.blog/2020/08/31/grisedale-tarn-and-crummock-water-re-visited/ and https://runningin3time.blog/2020/09/15/birthday-micro-adventures/) – but last time I’d run the trail run route I’d been suffering from a broken heart. All I could remember today as I ascended the first hill towards the YHA was how physically heart-broken I’d felt that day: and in fact it’s not surprising as the physical effort does make your chest almost ache.

The rain was coming down and the wind was against us, taking our breath away, until we turned along a bit of stony, muddy single track. This is the sort of running I love – the wind behind me, my footing relatively secure, and a rocky, muddy path beneath my feet. I should add that it has taken me YEARS of practice to get more confident on this sort of trail, and even so yesterday I slipped about 4 times.

We dropped down between the valleys before rising up again towards Lanty’s Tarn – where it was very muddy and I fell over, fortunately on to grass. Anne was not so lucky later on – when we met her at the finishing line she had a lump on her head which by Sunday had turned into a colourful ‘black’ (blue/purple) eye. From Lanty’s Tarn we were again heading into the wind, with the rain slashing across us from the side: at one point a gust almost blew me sideways. I was already wet through to my underwear.

Wet through to my underwear (but still cheerful).

Rather than continuing on to Grisedale Tarn we then cut across the valley (I felt sorry for the marshals, but particularly for the one up here, exposed to the elements) and there was then a track followed by road all the way back down hill. Towards the end I was feeling tired – I should have stopped to eat a Graze bar, but didn’t want to undo my jacket to get to my bumbag – but I continued along the road and on to the finishing field. As I turned the corner into the home straight I saw Mark behind me – and picked up the pace to make sure he didn’t get past me! Mind you, it was close: and Penny came in about 5 minutes later, followed after a bit by Anne with her black eye but in a buoyant mood, and Tricia – who has done very little running recently but still managed to complete 15km and be smiling at the end (and who was going to be camping over night with her husband!).

Unfortunately it wasn’t a day for hanging around and exchanging stories, as we were all so wet, the rain was still coming down, and we were getting cold. I was staying at Penny’s overnight (it was nearer than going all the way back to Brampton, and my fab. neighbours and friends Mark and Laura had said they’d feed the cat) and I spent a lovely half hour warming up in the bath and watching an Italian show on Netflix – there’s a rather scathing review of it here but for a tired body and brain after a soaking wet run it’s fun (the reviewer is critical of Luna Park too, but I also enjoyed that – sometimes trite predictability is exactly what you want. Who says you have to be thoughtful all the time? And also both are helping me with my Italian).

After risotto and apple crumble (great carbo loading) and watching Strictly Come Dancing and part of Lord of the Rings I, I fell into bed and slept until about 8a.m. A bowl of granola and a coffee and it was time to get going again: this time Penny was coming along to support me (and leaving her husband to play with motorbike parts and watch motorbike racing).

Fortunately the weather was a LOT nicer and despite dire warnings about not being able to park, we parked at the Glenridding ferry car park – the steamers weren’t running which probably meant more spaces for runners. It did however mean that rather than the lovely boat ride over to Howtown to start the run, we were running from the same starting point as yesterday: the mud slides had amazingly drained a bit overnight, so the ground wasn’t too bad to walk on.

The run took us south to start with and past the field that we would have parked on if it hadn’t turned into a mud bath yesterday (this is where my car got stuck last time I did the Helvellyn run: it was bad enough having a broken heart but then to get your car stuck as well…). The stony path undulates through some grassy land before dropping down to come out just near a pub at Patterdale: across and down the road a short way and we then ran down the track towards the farm which advertises wool for sale, and from there turned to go along the lower path which runs parallel to the lake. I’ve only ever run this the other way round – once when I did the Ullswater trail race from Howtown and another time when Penny and I ran all the way round Ullswater (only two and a half years ago! https://runningin3time.blog/2019/03/25/following-the-daffodils-the-ullswater-way-and-memories/) when we were running round lakes for her 50th birthday.

It’s a beautiful route, and flashes of memory came back from running it before: some of the larger stones looked familiar. This time we rounded a corner and there was a climb straight up a hill. As I hadn’t studied my map properly I thought this was the only major hill (it was fairly small) and enjoyed the consequent descent back along a path which ran parallel to but higher up than the one we’d just run along. At one point I fell over but bounced up again: a guy behind me a bit later wasn’t so lucky and I didn’t see him again (I should have stopped to check he was OK but I’m afraid I didn’t).

Then there was a HILL. A steep, long hill. Strava was later to tell me that the total elevation for this run was 454m – about 120m higher than yesterday when we were going up the side of one of the highest hills in the Lake District. I think today we may have been running (ha! nobody was running – everybody but everybody was walking) up the side of Place Fell.

We came out near the top on a plateau which isn’t far from Angle Tarn, and ran down a steep track which I had previously been down after ‘running’ up to Hayeswater and along to Angle Tarn (https://runningin3time.blog/2019/06/23/an-almost-bonus-lake/). At the bottom instead of running into Hartsop – which is what we’d done before – the route turned back towards Patterdale, before retracing our footsteps back to the pub. This time we went a different way across the grassy bit before running downhill to the main road. I was struggling by now and walking bits and only crossed the finishing line after 1hr 53 mins (yesterday it was 1hr 39 mins). Even so it looks as if I did OK for my age group.

This is is something which really upsets me and disappoints me about the overall series, as they’ve told me that they’ll be measuring my overall performance on the FV50 age group not the FV60 age group – in triathlon it’s how old you are on 31st December in the relevant year, which would put me in the FV60 age group. I also didn’t get a t-shirt for this final race, which I’m quite, quite sure was the only one I HAD ordered a t-shirt for. So all in all despite some fantastic routes, I finished the series in tears – probably partly just due to tiredness: the t-shirt for today was black, so it didn’t look that great and isn’t that much of a miss and certainly not worth getting upset about. It’s just a pity that I’ll have nothing to celebrate having completed the entire series other than these blogposts (maybe they’ll have to do).

Fortunately Penny was there with a small bottle of fizz and we celebrated me finishing another challenge, before going to have lunch in one of the Glenridding cafes. I then picked up my car from her house and she gave me another bottle of fizz to take home, picked up two of my children from their Dad’s (the other one is self-isolating for 2 more days) and drove back to Brampton, to home and another warm bath.

Thank goodness for the moral support of friends.