The big smoke

One of my best friends, Caroline, and her husband made the decision to move back to London – the opposite to what most people do, especially of ‘mature’ years, but I looked forward to going to visit them with excitement, and to revisiting old stamping grounds.

I’ve probably only been to London once or at most twice a year since moving to Cumbria, and didn’t at all for several years when I first moved up here and then had a baby. The train journey is only 3 and a bit hours and public transport in London has always been good: what struck me this time was that it’s now even better. When I lived in London, Battersea Power Station was an enormous empty building which nobody knew what to do with: now it’s been redeveloped and the Northern Line has been extended to it. The DLR now goes down to Deptford/Greenwich instead of just stopping at Island Gardens; and the day after I left the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) was about to open.

I still find London exciting, and it was great not only to catch up with Caroline but also with my aunt and another friend who also has just recently moved back to London. I had plenty of time to walk around and the weather was great. Ros (my aunt) and I had a walk over Hampstead Heath and passed one of the swimming ponds (nothing like the lakes…); I looked at the Gherkin from the other side of the river (I love the way it’s lit up at night); I wandered through Temple Chambers; spotted a building which stated it was one of the few on Fleet Street to have survived the fire of London; browsed the shops in Covent Garden; enjoyed the design of the seats at Liverpool Street station.

Caroline and I went to the opera at Covent Garden, which was only the second time I’d ever been there: the last time was when I was still at school and before it was redeveloped. It has a massive amount of circulation space now, which is great (the redevelopment was probably carried out about 20 or 25 years ago!). We also went running in Greenwich Park and up on Blackheath, close to places I had lived. I was shocked to realise it was half a lifetime ago.

We also went out to dinner along by the river, at a restaurant which again hadn’t been there when I lived in the area or previously had friends living in the area. It made me feel young again: there’s a, possibly unique, energy to London – I loved looking out of my bedroom window at night and seeing the lights and hearing the hum. I’m looking forward to going down again sometime!

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!

Movement Meditation (thank you Hannah)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you my friends.

Running, reading and riding

The past year has meant running and cycling a lot of the same routes near home, varying them to make them longer or shorter to fit my mood: but one thing I’m grateful for living round here is that there is a wide choice. Even so, it’s still good to get a little further afield and to do routes which are new or which I’ve only done once or twice before.

This evening Anne and I had agreed to meet up at Kershope to do the route which Penny and I had first done back at the end of December when there was ice on the ground (the photo below is from December). Today, in contrast, was t-shirt weather and beautifully sunny, although the shady bits in between the trees – which had been so ice-covered in mid-winter – were still chilly. I’d also forgotten how much hill there was in the run; and then managed to go the wrong way at about the 8km mark, resulting in a lovely run along a track and then a gorgeous path between the trees, jumping over fallen trunks. Unfortunately it meant a fairly long final stretch back along the road but I was enjoying being out in the evening sun and with such glorious views.

I’d been waiting until the non-essential shops had re-opened to get new running shoes, and today was the first opportunity I had to make an appointment at Chivers, the excellent running shoe shop in Carlisle (they sell other things too but their core business seems to be running shoes, and they know what they’re talking about). My preferred brand is Saucony – I’ve had several pairs now and been very happy with them – but I was thinking of changing style, and I wanted to try them out before I bought them. I’d seen the Peregrine trail shoes online and whilst it was partly the colours that attracted me, they are also a good shoe – the guy in the shop said they’re a best seller this year. I think I’ll buy myself another Goretex pair as well though, as I’m a convert to having shoes where you don’t get your feet soaking wet unless you’re in water that’s more than ankle-deep. But I really like the cushioning and the lugs on the new shoes, as well as the colours.

Apparently the company was founded besides the Saucony creek, and it should be pronounced ‘sock – a – knee’. The company’s website also says “The word Saucony comes from the Lenni Lenape Native American word “saconk,” meaning “where two rivers run together. Inspired by the original location on the Saucony Creek, our logo represents a running river marked by three boulders.”

I had a real fascination with the Native Americans when I was a kid/teenager: I was probably more in sympathy with the Native Americans than I was with the Cowboys. I particularly felt cross about the way the buffalo had been hunted wastefully by white immigrants to America. I had a book called American Indian Myths and Legends which I absolutely loved, which contained their version of the creation story plus lovely stories about animals as well as people. Every so often I have tried to find another copy: it was unfortunately one of those ones which I sent to the charity shop or something, along with an extremely good book I had about Mathematics (all I can remember about that now was that one was almost square and had bright red boards underneath the dust jacket; but that it also explained maths in a very pictorial way, which is one of my preferred learning styles).

I copied out the Native American poem which begins something along the lines of “I do not want to die a white man’s death, sealed alone and inside a metal box” and stuck it in my scrapbook – I still have it somewhere. I probably started being more interested in the outside world at that point: not in gardening nor even in going for walks with my parents, but just in how I felt if I stood outside bare-footed in the grass at sunrise in summer; or if I stood and listened to the rushing of a brook over stones.

Reading has always been one of my loves and about a month ago I started a book group, prompted by a passing remark from a friend. Our suggested book was Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell; having read that I passed it on to someone else, who lent me three books in return. I have now read those three as well: Toby’s Room by Pat Barker, War Doctor by David Nott and another one which was so memorable I have completely forgotten what it was… I’m now on to Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming. As much as anything I wanted the book group to be an opportunity to chat about books generally and to perhaps share books; I didn’t want people to feel that it was compulsory to read the suggested book. We’ve had some fantastic whatsapp chats about poetry and crime novels; meanwhile I have a big pile next to my bed as I bought quite a few when I got some ‘bonus money’ last month, ranging from a history and novels to philosophy.

I find very often nowadays that when I watch a film or documentary or read a book, I look up more details online (isn’t the internet a wonderful thing from that point of view: an enormous and easily accessible encyclopaedia). One thing leads to another and I come round full circle and am then planning bike routes or runs… one of my vague ambitions is to cycle up to Orkney; perhaps not along quite the same lines but Michelle Obama’s book and her comment to ‘tell your story’ has made me completely revise the two books I was trying (very slowly) to write… I may have 6 at 60 challenges but my bucket list of things I want to do and places I want to visit (by bike, by train or on foot) is almost endless!

Lockdown one year on

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friendships

Some people are naturally hermit-like, but that’s fairly unusual and most of us rely on our relationships with our fellow humans. Since the time of the industrial revolution, if not before, people have been attracted to towns and cities, to live with other people: even before the industrial revolution meeting up with others, for example for markets or festivals, was part of the fabric of human interaction.

Lockdown enforced a solitariness, to a greater or lesser extent, on all of us: we have all been restricted in some way. For some people it has been far worse than for others, but it’s made most of us think about our relationships. It’s made us value the good ones and perhaps, if possible, cast off the bad ones. One thing which is certain is that the emotional and mental health consequences are not yet clear.

I thought I had coped fairly well with lockdown, although I was delighted to be able to meet up with friends again and for the number of people I saw gently to grow as restrictions grew lighter. However, spending a lot of time on my own – even with others at the end of the phone or a zoom call or in a what’sapp group – has inevitably made me more thoughtful and introspective than I would have been if I was still rushing around trying to make sure I caught the train to work, or got to meetings on time (although the not rushing has also made me more relaxed, and my work-life balance has improved considerably). The times I have been with a group of like-minded people has been few and far between. To start with that didn’t matter but I found by the end of August/beginning of September that I was becoming convinced that some people didn’t like me any longer; that they weren’t that bothered about my friendship, or that I had annoyed them in some way. It seemed that people didn’t really want to meet up.

My birthday weekend in particular demonstrated to me that it wasn’t the case. Friends do still want to get together in (small) groups, to see each other and including me. I guess as an ‘extroverted’ personality (I’m not a wild extrovert or exhibitionist, but I definitely relish the feedback of group situations) I am happiest when able to meet up with groups on a fairly regular basis, and that then sustains me and helps me appreciate the times on my own. Since finally having the occasional group situation again – WastFest in particular – life has felt more sociable, in a similar way to pre-lockdown but with face masks and social distancing as accessories. And yes, it’s a bit peculiar and still feels a bit odd, but at the same time it’s also becoming normal.

On Friday I finished work and went for a run with two friends before fetching Edward from school. When I got back home one friend was still at my house (in my garden), talking to Bella and to a neighbour – who is a friend as well – who then stayed for a cup of tea. Later I met a friend at the station who came to stay for the weekend: we talked a lot, did yoga, ran, and she played the piano while I sang. We went into Carlisle for dinner: I felt fine at Pizza Express (who had emailed me with the offer of a bottle of prosecco for my birthday if I bought two main courses), which I hadn’t particularly the first time when I’d taken Bella to their branch at Gretna. However I have to admit sitting outside a bar for a pre-dinner drink with a lot of people milling around in their Saturday night ‘finery’ and being seemingly completely oblivious to any sort of social distancing, did not feel so great (at least we were outside though).

On Sunday afternoon I then met another friend for tea and cake at Cakes and Ale, the cafe adjoining Bookends/Bookcase book shop in Carlisle. Again, we sat outside and it was great to catch up in the afternoon sun – and then have a wander round the fantastic Aladdin’s Cave of a bookshop (it’s in a beautiful building, and is literally floor to ceiling books: from cellar to attic).

There was nothing overly expensive or even wildly exciting about anything I did: but everything was done with friends, and I felt grateful and happy.

And it struck me that perhaps none of us ever gets the perfect balance between time alone; time with a partner (or partner and children); and time with friends. People who constantly have other people around feel they don’t have enough time to themselves; people who live alone sometimes feel the lack of other people. But so long as we have friends, and people in our life who care about us, we’ll be OK.

Post-lockdown but still viral; Loweswater

So often whatever I’m reading will seem to reflect thoughts of my own, or will put into words something I haven’t yet formulated myself.

I’ve been reading a lot of Alexander McCall Smith recently. Having gone through the ‘Bertie’/44 Scotland Street series, I’ve now read most of the Isabel Dalhousie series. They’re well written but an easy and enjoyable read, with references to art, philosophy, music and poetry – specifically WH Auden. The author really seems to be able to get under the skin of his characters, and the books are full of comments that strike a chord. It’s only with some restraint that I haven’t quoted widely from them previously!

However some comments particularly reverberated recently as I’ve been through a slightly introspective phase, worrying that I was upsetting people or that they didn’t like me. Whilst I’m rarely lonely, there are times when I’d like to meet up with someone or with a group of people, but I feel as if people forget that I spend a huge amount of time on my own: after all, it seems that most people in relationships are only too happy to have some time to themselves and envy me my solo time, but of course when they get time to themselves, or time to enjoy something with friends, they generally have someone to go home to talk to about their day, or to share thoughts with. So I felt that these two particular quotes were especially relevant to the strange times in which we find ourselves:

remember what you have and what other people don’t have

ordinary exchanges… the natural cement of any group… we need[ed] it… because we were lonely without such exchanges“.

So recently I’ve rather felt the lack of choir, the running group and chatting to people across the desk or in the kitchen at work. But I’m fortunate in that I have still been able to go running with Penny – and Anne is now starting to join us from time to time as well, as she needs to get some off-road training in for Coniston 10km this October – and that last Saturday the weather was unexpectedly good enough to go open water swimming.

Three of us headed towards Crummock Water. Having just turned off the road which goes to Loweswater, a car coming in the opposite direction stopped us and said there had been a crash up ahead and the road was blocked. We decided to turn round and try out Loweswater instead.

This relatively small lake has had significant problems in terms of water quality over recent years, and has been one of the West Cumbria Rivers Trust’s priorities for improvement, with the Environment Agency monitoring water quality regularly. However Jo had been given a book for her birthday which recommended it: “come on in, the water’s lovely“, so having initially suggested we remove it from our list of lakes, it had been left on.

The writer of the book (Suzanna Cruickshank) was quite right: not only did we find a parking space near to the lake and close to a small beach area, but the water was lovely: and also relatively warm as the lake is quite shallow. We swam out to the EA’s pontoon and back, and then took our wetsuits off and carried on in the water, swimming and chatting. We were in the water for about an hour in total, and then sat on the beach eating cake and shortbread (I had made a cherry bakewell cake – a recipe I hadn’t used since David’s 39th birthday, a few months before he left 6 years ago).

We were so enthusiastic about Loweswater that it was clear it was going to score quite highly on our score card, and indeed it’s up there with Wastwater, Bowscale tarn and Harrop tarn. All of the lake district lakes and tarns are beautiful and we are so lucky to live so near them – but some are definitely more beautiful than others!

August goals

My runs have been mostly on my normal routes recently; I haven’t had time to run anywhere further afield, other than one warm sunny evening when I persuaded Penny to make the most of the good weather and swim in Ullswater rather than running. We were both dressed for running but had taken our wetsuits down to Pooley Bridge, and were glad we opted for swimming: although it was fairly busy (and the lake is not beautifully clear and stony but a bit weedy) it was nice to swim, and the weather forecast proved to be wet with rain the following few days. I also bought some very nice gin and tonics in the shop at Pooley Bridge!

With the rain my roof started leaking again, but neighbour-Mark knew a man who might be able to fix it. Mick Nolan turned up when he said he would and got it sorted; it turned out to be a lovely hot dry day when he mended it, and it looks as if it’s held against today’s downpour. Hooray!

There was a bit of a misadventure running in Gelt Woods one day last weekend, when I was extremely glad not to have been on my own: trying for a 15km run (which we succeeded in doing), I tripped over a stone and fell flat, face down in to the mud. It actually looked worse than it was (blood and mud on my face; mud all over my clothes) and now, about a week later, the grazes on my face have almost disappeared. Penny very kindly purchased me one of those arm-band things for carrying my phone in, as it was probably trying not to land on my phone which made me do the face-plant.

I then gave blood on Wednesday evening and have been surprised how long it’s taken me to feel as if I’m back to anything like running normality – today, Sunday, I ran just under 10km at about my normal speed. Every-so-often over the past few days I’ve felt a bit light-headed/wobbly and tired; I guess if you have less blood then you have less iron too. I had steak pie for dinner last night, which perhaps helped!

As I ran today I thought about my goals for this month (and going forward). I really want to start doing triathlon again. Head Torches has reached its goal of 2020km already, so we’re now aiming for 2020 miles by mid-October. I decided that in August I’m going to try to concentrate on distance rather than speed and aim to do 4 runs, each of between 5 and 10 miles, each week with a goal of doing 150km in the month (in July I managed 130km but in June I did 140km). Then I’m also going to try to do one ‘brick’ session each week, of an hour’s bike ride followed by 30 minutes’ running.

And of course there will still be wild swimming to do: after the trip to Ullswater, Anne and I took Bella and Edward to Rydal Water on Friday afternoon, which was great. I was really proud of them both as Bella swam a long way with Anne, and Edward loved being in the water (and would have swum with them if I’d let him – but I’m not quite confident enough about his swimming yet) – we will be going again! However I now need to buy myself a new swimming wetsuit as Bella seems to have appropriated mine…

Silent Noon

I started singing when I was walking up to a tarn for a swim the other day, and then again when I was out on my bike. The summer weather – albeit a little on the chilly side – and the countryside around me perfectly matched Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s words, set to music by that archetypal British composer Vaughan Williams:

The pasture gleams and glooms

‘Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.

All round our nest, far as the eye can pass,

Are golden kingcup fields with silver edge

Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn hedge“.

In fact the colour of which I was most aware wasn’t yellow – though there were plenty of yellow buttercups, as opposed to kingcups, and white cow parsley – but purple. Thistles with their vibrant pinky-violet; the more delicate mauves of campanula; stately foxgloves; and then others which I wasn’t sure about but one of which looked a bit like a very large version of wild garlic or overgrown chives. It was beautiful and I kept meaning to stop to take a photo, but when I’m on my bike I always have this urge to keep bowling along. I did however stop to take a photo of the billowing clouds which were amassing more than they were scattering.

This week the weather has been a bit iffy and the forecast for Saturday was not brilliant. After some deliberation and quite a few WhatsApp messages the swimming group decided to try out Harrop Tarn. Initially we were going to go early to avoid People; in the end as sunshine was forecast for the afternoon and early evening we opted to meet at the car park below the tarn at about 4.30pm, hoping that most People would have gone home. It turned out to be the right option as it was indeed sunny and dry: however the car park was still busy and there were people on the path and we could then spot them scattered in the woods around the tarn – some camping and some with campfires, both of which are dis-allowed (banning campfires is of course a precaution against someone setting the entire wood alight: I did comment that at least if the wood did catch fire then at least being in the lake might be the best place to be).

I hadn’t heard of Harrop Tarn before I went there and researching it came across a description which said the scenery there was like Canada. I’ve never been to Canada and imagine that everything would be on a far bigger scale, but from photos I’ve seen I can see what the writer meant.

Out of all the tarns I’ve swum in it was perhaps the most beautiful location; it didn’t have the threatening grandeur of Wastwater but was in a glorious tree lined corrie. There was a pleasant walk up between the trees to get there, passing a waterfall towards the top of the path. Not longer after the waterfall – Dob Gill – you come out into the open and there, partly hidden, is the most beautiful, water-lily dressed, tarn. It only has one tiny stony beach and fortunately the people who had just swum were leaving (well, perhaps they didn’t want to leave and we spoilt their peace). We got changed into wetsuits and started swimming: while we were on the other side of the tarn a family came along and perched on another bit of the beach, the other side of a stream. We initially resented them spoiling ‘our’ spot but then acknowledged that we’d done exactly the same to the people before us – and in fact the family left before we did. And why shouldn’t everyone enjoy these places? It’s such a pity that we’re all having to be so careful about not being too near others at the moment!

We thought it was too cold to take off our wetsuits but in fact three of us did take them off after an initial swim, and swam in just swimsuits. The coldness of the water makes you feel slightly tingly and as if your muscles are shrinking closer to your bones!

Meanwhile I’m still reading 1599, which I mentioned in my previous post, and catching up on watching Shakespeare plays on the television. The BBC Culture in Quarantine ‘channel’ now has Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing available; I’ve watched 3 of the others but decided not to watch Midsummer Night’s Dream after seeing the first 10 minutes or so as I preferred the version I’d already seen from The Globe.

I also watched La Boheme from the Royal Opera House. I’m not a huge Puccini fan in general, although I love one or two of his better known arias (particularly O Mio Babbino Caro), but I found this compelling viewing. I particularly liked the Rodolfo (Michael Fabiano): not only because of his singing but also because of his hair, I think! It’s such a gloriously romantic and passionate opera and had me in tears: but there are also light-hearted, if not funny, moments. I’ll end with a clip from YouTube of that famous moment when he sings to Mimi ‘your tiny hand is frozen’, but if you look on YouTube there are several clips from the same production of this lovely opera. I’m a convert! https://youtu.be/–L3uqoQUV4

At the moment I feel so full of health, strength and happiness, and am glad to be alive.

Shakespeare

In terms of runs there weren’t any new routes this week, but what I did do was combine ‘old’ routes together and on Sunday ran 13km locally. Other than that I haven’t done a lot of mileage, but I did have my hair cut.

A few people haven’t noticed as they thought I just had my hair in a pony tail, but on the whole the feedback has been positive. Of course I can’t make it look half as good as the hairdresser did.

It was an interesting experience in some ways but not a surprising one. I had to fill in a form (for track and trace purposes) when I arrived, and use hand sanitiser. I managed to squirt a load of it over the form I’d just filled in. My poor hairdresser had a plastic visor thing over her face which was great for me as I didn’t need to wear a mask, but she was developing a headache. I had to put my coat in a plastic bag and apparently they were washing every gown worn at 60 degrees after each client. It wasn’t how things used to be, but it was nice to see her and it didn’t feel unduly stressful.

Whilst I’ve fitted in quite a few runs, work was also busy: I went to Carlisle Castle for some meetings on Tuesday, Newcastle to the office to pick up some stuff on Wednesday, and Carrawburgh Roman Fort about a grazing licence on Thursday. It was a reminder of how the hours speed away when you’re out on site a lot, and how you then get back in to a load of emails and paperwork to do (I have several reports I need to get out). It’s always good to get out though and it was nice to see real people again, rather than just meeting over Zoom.

On Saturday a small group of us had decided to go swimming in the hidden tarn that Penny and I had previously run to. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t brilliant – it was quite chilly and we all put wetsuits on (and felt cold even so) – but the tarn was beautifully clean, a perfect size for a good swim, and there were no other people on ‘our’ shore. Despite the greyness of the day we had a lovely swim, and the others were delighted with their ‘magical mystery tour’.

We had the obligatory picnic afterwards: all the more special because it was Jo’s birthday. I had made two cakes, which had to be carried up the hill to the Tarn: Lemon and Poppy seed (with a layer of lemon curd spread in the middle) and Cappuccino Squares (with coffee butter icing as well as coffee sponge, partly because I’d run out of vanilla). The chocolate ‘sprinkles’ on the top are lovely Hotel Chocolat hot chocolate, so not any old powdered chocolatey dust but real chocolate.

Otherwise I’ve been doing some singing and reading and am trying to watch some more of the plays on television, as I’ve missed a couple of weeks of the National Theatre at Home now – early on in lockdown that had been my special Thursday night ‘thing’.

I’m re-reading 1599, a book about that particular year in Shakespeare’s life. It’s as enthralling this time round as it was the first time I read it: it relates what was going on in England at that time to the plays which Shakespeare wrote during that year. The Globe theatre was being built: the main structure was taken down at dead of night from its location within the City of London to be established at Southwark, outside the remit of the City. Elizabeth I had decided to send troops to Ireland to quell the rebellious Irish. Led by her once-favourite, Robert Devereux Earl of Essex, it was a bit of a disaster: and the conflicting national feelings are reflected in both Henry V and Julius Caesar.

Reading this made me go away and look up what was on not only on the Globe’s YouTube channel but also the National Theatre’s: and discovered that the BBC iPlayer has ‘Culture in Quarantine’, including some of the Globe Shakespeare plays. I’ve just watched The Tempest and now have The Merchant of Venice, Othello and Midsummer Night’s Dream to catch up on – as well as the National Theatre’s The Deep Blue Sea. I don’t think I’ve had such a rich cultural life for years, if ever. As Jo said, I’ve begun to enjoy staying home in the evenings (though getting out for some exercise, fresh air and vitamin D every day is also a priority).

Meanwhile when Edward’s here we’ve started on another Horrible Histories book, this time Measly Middle Ages (I bought him a boxed set of all the particularly horrible Horrible Histories for Christmas). Reading about the plague of course initiates comparisons with the current pandemic: there were wild rumours about how it was caused (the medieval equivalent of 5G masts); about where it had come from (Arabs, the Spanish, lepers); and there were some wacky cures (powdered emeralds; sitting in a sewer – both probably no better nor worse than swallowing bleach). And somehow the fact that it was spread by fleas jumping off dead rats on to humans seems all too similar to a virus passing from animals to humans.

The other thing about the plague was that people of the time never knew exactly when it was going to go away nor when it was going to come back. We think we’re so much more clever nowadays – and I think it would be true to say that we have far more scientific knowledge – and yet we still seem to be floundering around trying to work out exactly where this virus came from, how it’s spread, and what (if anything) will stop it.

On that point, as I don’t really have anything else to write, I shall stop. This evening I had an extremely pleasant run to Lanercost (a fascinating site with a history which belies its current tranquillity: English and Scottish Kings made it their base or raided it; the Tudors ransacked it in the dissolution of the monasteries but allowed the locals to keep the nave as their church; a local wealthy family then converted part of it into their home) and back with Penny and Tim, the sun finally appearing in time to make it feel like a summer’s evening rather than an autumn one!

Penny’s had a haircut too, but you can’t tell under her hat.