The Cumbria Way in pieces (part one)

New year, new running routes… having run round the 16 biggest lakes in the Lake District for Penny’s 50th, and then done the entire Lakeland Trails series for my 60th, the question was what the next challenge would be.

A book which I was given a copy of last year was Over the Hill at 60 Something? https://www.inspiredbylakeland.co.uk/products/over-the-hill-at-60-something. Finding a copy in Booths, I bought Penny a copy and then also, for Christmas, David and Jo. It’s a beautifully illustrated and inspiring book of runs throughout the Lake District, written by the author as he ran 214 Wainwrights to celebrate his 60th year. Definitely something to emulate, and as we run around Whinlatter doing the 10km route ‘backwards’ (which seems to be hillier, but ends with a blast back to the car park) and then a new route which takes us up into bits of Whinlatter which aren’t on the maps you pick up at the visitor centre, Penny informs me there are about 3 routes in the book which take in Whinlatter. She’s always wanted to go up Grisedale Pike, which beckons temptingly (or not, on wild days) from one of the corners of the forest route.

The new Whinlatter route brings us back down to familiar territory but from a different angle: we’ve run past the ponds above several times when doing the ‘official’ 10km route, but not come up to them after running down the side of a beck before. We discover all sorts of new and lovely bits of forest which we hadn’t seen before, and I love the textures in the photo above left. I commented that it would make a good cushion cover: years ago I wrote a feature about a woman who created exactly those sorts of cushion covers, from wool (I think she knitted them but I can’t remember now: every time I drive through Armathwaite I go past her house and wonder if she’s still selling the kits and making the covers).

At the moment we’re both training for a half marathon however, and with time being limited because the evenings get dark and commitments such as children, work, etc., I thought it would be useful to find somewhere that was approximately halfway to meet to run. I wondered about Dalston, as it looked as if there were footpaths along by the river: and having started running some of them, we then remembered that we wanted to run the entire Cumbria Way. This is a 70 mile route which goes from Ulverston in South Lakeland to Carlisle in the north of the county (or of course, the other way round). A few years ago my ex ran it, and Bella and I went to meet him in the early hours of a summer morning at Carlisle Castle. We waited and waited and wondered why he didn’t turn up – it turned out he’d had a sleep of about an hour at Caldbeck. These ultra-runners take it easy – they stop for sleeps, long meals……… (I have no aspirations whatsoever to be an ultra-runner, partly as it’s not something you can do without doing any training, but also because it’s just gruelling).

The first time we ran from Dalston along the dual use cycle route/footpath towards Carlisle. At Denton Holme we turned round and headed back before following a lesser-used footpath through some woods. This turned out to be more of a scramble and a mystery tour, as the path clearly had not been used by many people recently. What had started off being quite a quick run ended up being a slow one, and we eventually got back to the car park in Dalston as darkness was falling.

A week or so later we did a quick out and back run, but then started thinking about the Cumbria Way to the south of Dalston rather than the north. I checked out the map – if we did nothing more than just run south for 5 or 6 miles and then back, it would be great half marathon training and should be easy to navigate along by the river.

It was, and we were lucky that there hadn’t been much rain and so the river wasn’t running too high and the path wasn’t too muddy. We could see where the river was undercutting the bank: it looks as if it’s being allowed to flow naturally now, and its meanders are being reformed. Banks of large stones are deposited by it on one side, as it undercuts the other and the path, fence and grass fall into the water! At one place there are the remains of a kissing gate, which leans at a drunken angle out over the water – it wouldn’t surprise me if next time I run that way I have to go through the large gate on the farmer’s track which crosses the middle of the field, rather than squeezing through the gap created between the end of the fence and the lopsided hanging post of the kissing gate.

We ran through the grounds of Limehouse school and past Rose Castle, the home until recently of the Bishops of Carlisle and now some sort of conference centre/events venue (https://www.rosecastle.com/). At one point it was going to be some sort of peace retreat for all faiths, but I’m not sure whether that’s part of their ethos still or not. It looks as if the place has been redecorated and smartened up: I sang in a concert in the chapel once, which had a glorious acoustic – but everything seemed a bit worn at that point.

We ran to Bell Bridge, then turned round and ran back to Dalston, again arriving back at the car park as dark was falling. I promised to trust Penny’s navigation in future as I would have taken us the wrong way a couple of times: just as well I haven’t done any walk leading for HF holidays…

Previously when we’d been up Bowscale Fell to run – in December 2020 – (https://wordpress.com/post/runningin3time.blog/6313) we had said we would one day do a longer loop and go along the Cumbria Way further; last summer we ran a loop from Caldbeck to Hesket Newmarket and back, which took in parts of the CW. So, we thought we’d try running from Bowscale to Bell Bridge: probably about a half marathon distance and it would take us up over High Pike or around its slopes.

When I woke up I checked the weather forecast. The Met. Office said that it was going to be minus 2 and snowing heavily at Caldbeck. Texting each other before we left, we agreed we’d meet at Bell Bridge as arranged, take one car to Bowscale, and then start running and see how we got on.

As we drove down the side roads (ones we’d previously cycled), there were big puddles and it was rainy or sleety and the trees were blowing in the wind. In places the road was slightly slippy, where the water was slushy. We arrived at Bowscale and parked: I got out of the car and the wind blew the door closed. It was cold and gusting strongly. We jumped back in the car to discuss what to do, and decided that going up over the fells on a day like this was not a good idea: so I drove up the motorway (fewer large puddles) and back to Caldbeck.

We started running the same route as we had previously, but this time instead of turning off to go to Hesket Newmarket, we went straight on. Through the woods was great and fairly sheltered, but as I took off my hat sleet started coming down (so I put it back on). It was fairly undulating and very slippery underfoot, and the river was a lot livelier and fuller than last weekend: but it was a great route, and would be fantastic on a dry summer’s day.

There was a short section on road at Sebergham, until we turned on to a track again opposite the cute church. It wasn’t far then back to Bell Bridge, where we decided to retrace last weekend’s footsteps – until Penny’s leg (an old injury) started hurting and we turned round and went back to the car. As we did so the sun came out, and a patch of snowdrops by the river gleamed white.

Driving back to my car at Caldbeck, the fells were still under thick cloud and there was a coating of snow on them; as we drove down into the village there was slush on the road. We went into the Oddfellows Arms and each had a delicious bowl of their homemade Jerusalem artichoke and thyme soup (I must find a recipe…). Feeling warmer we came out to blue skies and sunlight, only to see the cars were covered in snow – it had snowed while we were having lunch! It then snowed again when I got home: goodness knows what weather will greet us tomorrow morning. And next weekend for our long run we’re going to have 3 options, so we can decide which to do according to the weather. Meanwhile Penny’s off to the physio again to check out her leg, hoping that it was just the cold weather that sparked it off.

Look out for our next foray along the Cumbria Way!

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.

Bob Graham and the final lake

My children were with their father last weekend, and for once I had nothing planned. So when a friend posted on Facebook that he was thinking of ‘hiking’ the first leg of the Bob Graham round, followed by doing a 10km run at Whinlatter, and asked if anybody would join him… I said yes. After all walking up a few hills and doing a 10km run couldn’t be that hard… could it?

I hadn’t done a huge amount of running as I’d had a stinking cold/cough and choir concerts, but I’d been running on the Monday evening and felt relatively fit again. The weather forecast was reasonable and I even toyed with the idea of leaving my showerproof, fleece-lined jacket at home and with putting on a short-sleeved t-shirt.

Mark, from Stocksfield, picked me up on his way over and we drove to Keswick: the Bob Graham officially starts from the Moot Hall in Keswick (which I have previously valued) and Mark was keen to recce the route with a view to possibly doing the whole thing next year sometime. I knew we’d be going up Skiddaw but hadn’t really studied the route in much more detail, other than seeing that it ended up coming down Blencathra and into Threlkeld – where I know there’s a really lovely community cafe.

It all started well. Mark had no aspirations to run up every hill, so we made our way up Latrigg and then started on Skiddaw, him telling me about how he’d done a run which included Goat Fell on Arran the weekend before… As we got higher up Skiddaw the weather deteriorated. Only a bit – just a bit of Lakeland drizzle… we ran down the back of Skiddaw and headed towards Great Calva, and I was already beginning to feel tired. However once you’re in the valley at the back of Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra, there’s nowhere to go other than back up a hill to get out… it’s really lovely and unspoilt, and there was a surprising number of other people trying out Leg 1 as well – and overtaking us as I was going so slowly…

Coming down from Great Calva was steep and my quads were already tight so I wasn’t as relaxed as I normally am when I’m running downhill. We got to the bottom and crossed a river before starting off up the backside of Blencathra. By now I was getting really wet and if somebody had said I could stop and get a lift, I would have done. However there are no roads to be seen and you have to walk on.

By the time we go to the top of Blencathra we were in mist. We met a walker and his dog (even he was walking faster than me), dressed sensibly in overtrousers and a waterproof jacket, who advised us not to go down Halls Fell as it would be slippery and difficult to see where we were meant to be going. We took the route to the west down instead, turning off the main path to head into Threlkeld and the cafe.

A cup of coffee later and I was feeling a lot better. Only 4 miles or so to jog back to Keswick – and with only one bus an hour that seemed like the best option. With the disused railway line track having been washed away in the floods, and still not re-opened, much of it was on road but the rain had more or less stopped and I knew we didn’t have too far to go. We passed Castlerigg Stone Circle and were soon back in the town centre, before taking the footpath up to where the car was parked.

I had already provisionally agreed with Penny that we’d run Esthwaite Water on the Bank Holiday Monday, and so having seen my children for the morning I handed them over to their father and met Penny in Penrith before driving down through Hawkshead, past Hawkshead Brewery, and parking at the trout farm car park. Again the weather seemed reasonable but this time I was taking no chances and had put a pair of dry socks, a dry sweatshirt and a pair of boots in the car.

I have to admit that I didn’t even really know Esthwaite Water existed until we started these runs. It’s just south of Hawkshead, but because there are signs for the Windermere Ferry at Hawkshead and the Hawkshead Trail Race goes up the hill and down along the western shore of Windermere, I’ve always tended to think that Windermere is ‘the lake’ for the village: and when you go up to Grizedale, just above Hawkshead, you’re then above Coniston. Also Esthwaite Water just isn’t one you hear about a lot or drive past that much; and much of the shore is privately owned.

It’s quite an attractive lake though, and we were fortunate to find that there is public footpath around quite a bit of it, although we got shouted at by a farmer at one point as we were running across his field rather than sticking to the path (in our defence, it wasn’t at all clear where the path went). I’d noticed while driving from Sawrey to Wray recently that an off-road footpath had been created in places on the eastern side, so that was a bonus; it must be quite recent as it wasn’t on Penny’s maps. As we ran along it we found that it’s the Claife Bridleway.

My legs were still suffering so I was hobbling rather than running, and the promising weather had again been deceptive and we were getting wet. The small amount of uphill just past the Brewery and back to the Trout Farm wasn’t easy – although if anything running down the other side on road was worse. We got back to the car park and found that we’d run a mere 5 miles or so: but as much as anything I was just glad I’d done it, and pleased that we’d completed Penny’s challenge.

We had completed the goal of running round all 16 of the Lake District lakes. As we drove towards the Daffodil Hotel at Grasmere for a celebratory glass of prosecco, we discussed which our favourites were: Derwentwater was definitely one of the best ones, partly as we had stunning weather but also because most of the path is close to the Lake and very little is on road. We agreed we also liked Ullswater, although part of the Ullswater Way takes you a long way away from the Lake; and that we’d like to run Windermere again, but this time have a better idea about where the footpaths actually go.

I had also learnt a few things about myself. I am perfectly capable of running 19 miles or so if I’m not racing and don’t feel I have to run every step of the way; I am also quite capable (especially with a sports massage to help) of running a long distance two days on the trot; and I am even capable of running when my legs hurt (albeit slowly – once upon a time if my legs felt the way they did I’d have rested until they felt better). I’ve seen parts of the Lake District I hadn’t seen before: we’re used to climbing hills and seeing the Lakes from the top, but there’s a lot of beauty from staying low as well. And I definitely, definitely, do not want to do any ultras and have no aspirations whatsoever to do the Bob Graham round: a half marathon is about my optimum.

But I love being outside in nature, whatever the weather, and I’m looking forward to retracing my steps on some of these lakeside runs again sometime.

Following the daffodils: the Ullswater Way and memories

Daffodils merrily in bloom

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

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

Two jackets, hat, gloves, buff…

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

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

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

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

Only one jacket

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good view but not quite as sunny as the morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remind me to #UllswaterWay

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

Glorious view down the lake

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


Coniston

After an attempt to get down to Coniston when the temperature was -5 and the handbrake froze on my car, allowing me to go nowhere, a couple of weeks later the appropriate day arrived. The weather had changed with temperatures in the mid-teens and a feeling of early spring, snowdrops, crocuses and even daffodils popping up all around.

Even with such warm temperatures, I had packed hat, buff, gloves, sheepskin boots and down coat ‘just in case’ and was wearing a long sleeved top and a running jacket which had a lightweight fleecy lining (I must get a lightweight fleece that I can wear for running… also some new running leggings as I only have one full-length pair, and my fab. Goretex shoes have developed holes). The weather forecast had said that temperatures were going to drop to feel like 4 degrees, and that there was a chance of rain… Penny’s weather forecast, on the other hand, was completely different. So who knew what we were going to encounter. Unlike me, who is a chilly body, Penny had debated whether to wear shorts, and had a vest top on under her running top and jacket.

We arrived in Coniston village and parked in the Sports and Social club car park – just away from the centre but only £4 for the whole day, and your fee contributes towards the sporting life of the village. From there we walked to the main car park to use the loos – which were in a disgusting state and not worth the 30p we had to pay. I felt sorry for the guy who was on-site ready to clean them, plunger in hand.

As we set off we hadn’t gone far before we felt hot. Jackets came off and were wrapped round our waists as we paused to take photos from the northern end of the lake. We were running around the lake clockwise, so uphill towards Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin, who built a dining room extension on to the previously relatively small house with superb views of the lake. Just before Brantwood we turned up a public footpath/bridleway which took us up into Forestry Commission owned land: the western edges of Grizedale Forest.

Grizedale is possibly my favourite of the forestry commission forests that I know, and as we ran along we were discussing this as it’s Penny’s favourite too. The others are great as well but there is something special about Grizedale. Maybe, for me, it’s because it was the first place I ever did ‘proper’ mountain biking on my first ever visit to the Lake District – when I fell headlong in love with the place – and maybe it’s also because over the years it’s somewhere I’ve frequently returned to with or without the children, exploring more of the forest as time has gone by. One of my favourite short runs (about 4 miles) takes you from the Visitor Centre up to Carron Crag – a run I wrote up for a running magazine several years ago but which still brings vivid picture memories to my head whenever I think about it.

We ran along the wall which bounds Brantwood and then uphill, passing the remains of one of the woodland sculptures – a seat – and then up past Lawson Park where Adam Sutherland’s Grizedale Arts is based. The house has as stunning a position as Brantwood, whilst being even less accessible and private, surrounded by the forest.

Running on uphill (if we had turned downhill at this point we would have ended up back on the road), some forestry operations had been in progress. I always think this makes the landscape look like one of those Paul Nash First World War paintings, although of course it looks like that for completely different reasons: for reasons of good tree management rather than death and destruction.

Turning off the forest road on to a single track path, Penny pointed out the lichen on the trees, demonstrating how clean the air is – unfortunately at this point my camera developed a problem with focussing and from this point on it was a bit hit and miss as to whether my photos were blurry or not, irritatingly. There were dark pools of clear water, and staring up through the denser parts of the forest I always imagine is like Mirk Wood, although again not as threatening.

Coming out on Park Moor (National Trust), we were treated to a magnificent view of Coniston water. Exposed and high up, it looked as if there was rain over to our west (the other side of Coniston Old Man), and Penny was glad that after all she hadn’t worn shorts.

There are unclassified old county roads up here and Penny was saying what a problem the motorbikes and 4x4s can be, as they’re perfectly entitled to use these old roads but don’t always help with their maintenance – as a result of which some have eroded in places to bare rock. As we dropped down the hill having gone past ‘the cottage in the clouds’ (stunning location, but how do you get there?) we met some motorcyclists coming up – or trying to come up – a particularly rocky section of track. As I bounced down the track while they waited, my eyes met those of one of the men – and there was that brief frisson of mutual attraction… and then we were gone and they were left to try to scramble their bikes up over the rocks.

The track comes out in the village of High Nibthwaite and a short jog along the road took us to a footpath which crossed a field to cut off a corner. The river Crake flows out of the lake here – and ultimately into Morecambe Bay – and was high and fast today. In places the field was below water level, as I particularly found out when I took a route which was slightly squishier than I had thought. Goretex trainers are great when they don’t have holes in and when the water level doesn’t go up above the tops of them………

We stopped on the bridge – repaired after floods in 2009 – ate flapjacks and checked whether Strava (me) and Penny’s Garmin thought we’d done the same mileage and time (they did, more or less). A bunch of 4×4 jeeps went past us, presumably heading for the same track that the motorcyclists had been struggling up. I had visions of the 4x4s going up meeting motorcyclists coming down: not a good combination as the unclassified road is not very wide.

There is then about 3.5km of run on the road, with no alternative other than miles up hill on to Blawith Fells. Tracks entice you off road but only lead down to the lakeshore, partly as so much of it is privately owned. We both commented how as drivers when we’re on roads like this we always wonder why on earth people walk or run along them – narrow, with blind bends and blind summits – but sometimes it is of course that there is no reasonable alternative. However at Sunny Bank – where there is a collection of houses alongside the Mere Beck, including at least one which looks like a former mill – several paths join and cross the road, including the Cumbria Way. This now was going to take us all the way back to Coniston.

It hugs the shore and you dodge rocks and tree roots as hard as rocks and wonder in places if it is going to erode from under your feet, winding amongst trees and with views of the lake and its clear waters lapping around the tree roots. It’s beautiful, and not surprisingly on this dry spring day, we met several walkers coming in the other direction and a man seated on the springy turf eating his sandwiches. Nearer to Coniston – you cross land owned by Birmingham University’s sports dept., and think what a fantastic place it would be to study Sports Science if they bring you here – families were playing, a large flock of geese had gathered in a field, and sheep ‘were safely grazing’. At Coniston Hall memories of the Lakeland Half and of the Lakeland Marathon (Penny ran the latter a few years ago in boiling hot weather; we both ran the half a few years earlier in hot weather but at least it was half the distance) came to mind; and from there it is a short, level run along a good quality path back into the centre of Coniston. In some ways it’s the worst part of the run as for both of us it brought back memories of blisteringly hot summer days and running along with the sun beating up from the path: it’s the last mile or so of the half marathon (other than an annoying run around the field before you get to the finish line), and is one of those times when you can see the finish and yet it’s irritatingly and hotly an effort to get there.

Today Penny was determined to run to the very point at which we had started and we ended up back at the car park and a minature model of the Bluebird.

We considered tea in Coniston but to be completely honest I’ve never been much of a fan of the place. I suggested Chesters at Skelwith Bridge, but it was heaving, with nowhere to park, so we went on to Ambleside where we were able to park on the street in a disc zone. Esquires served a delicious Brie, Avocado and Tomato ciabatta and after that and a drink it was time to get our by now stiffening-up legs home. We have now run around the 3rd biggest lake in the lake district – although ironically Bassenthwaite was further, due purely to where the footpaths go. Just Ullswater and Windermere still to do – and then Esthwaite Water and Brothers Water to finish off as a celebratory run, followed by prosecco somewhere.

Catherine’s success

Written by Catherine Tomkins… dancer to half-marathoner! 

We are all proud of you Catherine!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I really did it! I’ve run my very first half marathon!  If you’d told me a year ago that I would be running – let alone running a HALF MARATHON, I would have keeled over with laughter.

Now I’m 2 weeks post-half marathon, and the only things left to make me realise it wasn’t a dream are the slow healing blisters and the medal hanging on my mirror.

It started in the Easter hols last year.  I arrived home from university feeling rather podgy, having been sitting around revising for months on end, shovelling chocolate into my face – which IS brain food…honest!

 

And so, I was dragged along to ‘Head Torches’ running group with my mum….WELL… just one lap of Talkin Tarn (2.4-ish km) was enough to kill me off completely, I couldn’t even get around the whole thing. But, reluctantly, I kept at it, and a couple of weeks later (of running twice weekly) this turned into completing full 2 laps around the tarn – a great achievement for a non-runner such as myself – I even have the certificate to prove it!

Robin Hood Half Marathon
Robin Hood half marathon

Then, out of the blue, a bunch of my friends signed up for the Robin Hood half marathon in September…well I suppose I had to sign up too…I’d been running a bit anyway? But after weeks of intermittent training, I started to feel a twinge, and then more, in my hip and after visiting an osteopath I was advised to withdraw a week prior to the race. I still went along and supported everyone involved. The atmosphere was incredible and the whole place was buzzing – not to mention it was an absolutely beautiful day. I watched as they ran over the start line, and as collected their medals after the finish – the look of pure joy and utter disbelief on each face as they met us at the end was enough for me – I was signing up for another one, I wasn’t getting out of it that easily!

Post-training student life is sofa-bound, carb-full
Post-training student life: sofa-bound and carb.-full

I arrived at Uni the following day, and my housemate and I began running, primarily to keep us sane – nothing big…3km here and there, and maybe even 5km on the days where we really felt like pushing ourselves!At the back of my head, I had the drive in me from the half marathon I’d witnessed and she’d always wanted to complete one. So, on one late library stint of revision after Christmas, when we couldn’t think of anything else to do to procrastinate, we signed up for the Liverpool Half in March. We are in our third year, and it was midway between exam periods. If there was a time to do it, it was now.

We began by making a rough plan and increasing our running to three times a week: one short, one long, and one that had a few hill sprints. The plan fluctuated from week to week, sometimes we did it…and sometimes we ran diddly squat!

My fundraising kit arrives for Parkinson's UK, followed by my number...
My fundraising kit arrives for Parkinson’s UK, followed by my number…insert fb post here…

Then about three weeks prior to the big day, we went out for a shorter jog in the nippy evening air, came back, and sank deep into the cheap student sofas. And I think this was the moment it became a bit more real for me. We stayed up ’til 10pm composing the stories for our JustGiving pages for each of our charities, and began the fundraising journey. Mine was Parkinson’s disease, chosen for my Granny – a great, great sportswoman, who battled for years with the chronic disease, and throughout her life was an extremely determined lady and kept very active.  My friend and running partner chose Alzheimer’s disease – again a very prevalent and debilitating disease. Both of us coincidently chose our dissertations covering these diseases too (if you fancy donating – here’s the link: Catherine’s fund-raising page).

Sefton Park
Sefton Park and its little lake – and the run these photos were taken on!

Those last weeks flew by and it was the Sunday before the race (DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUNNN!!!). We were meant to be running a 10mile version of the route, but due to our dissertation demands it was pushed back to Monday…and then to Tuesday. That 10 mile run was one of the hardest I have ever done. Not only was it a mental challenge to keep pushing, but my hip began to twinge again 4 miles before the end, and I begrudgingly finished by powerwalking the last part. This did NOT bode well for Sunday. We went home, rested, ate chocolate and ice-cream; drank water and waited for the big day.

Saturday night, pre-race evening, and all our clothes were laid out on our beds, along with a bottle of trusty Lucozade sport. We ate a carb-loaded meal (or two..hehe..) as pesto pasta is a student staple and favourite! And we watched the film Run Fat Boy Run. If you ever need some motivation and a bit of a giggle – this is definitely the thing to watch. Then we ‘hit the sack’ so to speak, at around 10pm.

6am Race Day, and reluctantly, up we got: as the clocks had moved forward, it was really 5am (damn this daylight-saving time lark!). We nibbled at as much breakfast as our nervous stomachs could take, got dressed, and headed down to the Liver buildings.

We arrived at the start line: what a place to start!!! Every time I take a stroll down to the Liverpool docks, I always marvel at the beauty of the magnificent buildings that line the waterfront! We warmed up and stretched in the morning sunshine, and undertook our pre-run ritual (toilet dash!). Then mum and the fan club arrived – comprising a springer spaniel and two seasoned rowers – and they stood at the start, with cameras at the ready.

The energy was electric and at 9am the “pistol” went and we were swept along with the crowd. As we headed through the docks and up towards the Anglican cathedral, I soon realised I was running at a pace too quick for me, and so began to slow. By the end of the first mile, the dreaded hill approached and I took the executive decision to walk up the hill and save my energy for the rest of the race. This definitely made a difference as I managed to keep going after that, all the way to the end of Sefton park. This was when I began to falter, BUT… firstly, I turned a corner and BAM!! I was hit with a massive, sarcastic sign, and cheers and shouts from two of my amazing flat mates that showed up to cheer us along. Side note: never, ever underestimate how important you are as a supporter – the boost you give to that person AND any other stranger you clap and cheer around that course is second to none.  If anyone is wondering the sign read (bear in mind it was written by students): Keep running – You paid for this! And it deserved a hefty giggle.

Then secondly, without me realising, a group of pacers had crept up behind me and slowly began to overtake. That really knocked me as I had been determined to stay ahead of them. But in a thick Liverpudlian accent, one pacer looked over his shoulder as he passed: “Come on love!” he said, “Let’s go” and off I went again.

the never-ending promenade
The never-ending promenade.  If you look closely, and I mean really REALLY closely…there is a finish line…somewhere…in the distance…

It wasn’t until the end of the second park – Otterspool park, where it opened out onto the long, 4-mile promenade, leading back along the Mersey to the Liver buildings, that I lost the pacers to the dispersed crowd ahead. This was the toughest part for me. Not only mentally, but my old enemy came back to haunt me and my hip began to hurt. Thinking of my Granny, that amazing woman, and all those other people I was running for, I gritted my teeth and kicked on. To quote a fellow Head-Torcher: It was only in my head, I had to keep going.

I forced myself to notice my surroundings more to distract me, and I spotted a group of runners ahead. Dressed in 80s shell-suits, big wigs, and handlebar moustaches, I eavesdropped their conversation: “…Seriously, it’s as if they’ve planned the route to deliberately avoid alcohol….” and off they ran – weird? About a mile later, we came across a pub, and sure enough, there they were, downing a couple of pints before heading back onto the course. The cheek of it! 😉

Weaving through the boat yards, and old warehouses, with the sea breeze stinging my face, I started to see more and more people slow to a walk. Some were being helped along by ‘Race Angels’. If you haven’t heard of this term before, it’s a group of runners that shuttle back and forth along the last 2 miles(ish), talking and running with people at their pace, reigniting their motivation. What a great idea!

I began to realise I was nearing the finish, as more and more people were appearing around and about. I don’t think it had dawned on me prior to the race, especially as I was running without music, just how quiet a long race is. And so as the hustle and bustle got louder, I kept my steady pace.

Then I turned a corner, and there, standing on a bench, beside the Liverpool banana-lambs, was my very own fan club, shouting and cheering and waving me on. And I cried (how embarrassing). I never thought that I would feel so relieved to see them, and so overwhelmed that I was so close to finishing a half marathon. I picked up the pace and pushed around the corner, and over the finish line.

Oh. My. God. I’d done it.

Medal in one hand, banana in the other…been there, done that…and I got a T shirt!!

Hobbling out of the crowd, I found my friend, who, being a much better runner than I, sped ahead after the ‘Hill of doom’. We hugged each other in disbelief. And then our fan club appeared! Mum, being the best P.E. teacher, opened her bag and presented us with oranges at the end of the race. By this, I mean an orange label on a large bottle of prosecco! Winner winner chicken dinner!

The end
Happiness, shock… utter disbelief!

And now, at the end of this blogpost, I want to say a few ‘thank yous’:

  • Thank you to everyone who has supported me through this craaaazyy idea that came out of a lack of sleep, and procrastination before exams.
  • Thank you to the people that have donated to this amazing cause. It still hasn’t quite sunk in, but I’ve doubled my fundraising target, reaching over £400!!!!! Let’s hope that one day, we can find a way to prevent and eventually cure this awful, chronic disease!
  • Another thank you goes to the Head Torches. If our lovely leader, Sarah, hadn’t set this group up, and if I’d never done that first lap of Talkin Tarn with Mum and Laura, this would never have happened.
  • And finally a huge thank you to everyone who supported me that day: Mum, Tom, Chunk, Emily, Feyi and Max (woof, woof) – not to forget my amazing running buddy Ro! (WE DID IT!)

Thanks guys xx

sunset at the tarn
Sunset at the Tarn