Water, water everywhere (almost)

The day started OK. Edward was playing football at William Howard – and looking surprisingly like a footballer, despite the fact that he has only played about twice in his entire life (he’s now keen to find a club to join). It was a bit chilly and the weather forecast was not good, but fortunately the actual rain held off while I watched him, chatted to one of the other Mums, and he handed out the scones he’d made yesterday. Food is always important to Edward…

At 11 a.m. David came to take over parental supervisory duties and I drove down to Coniston. As I went past various of the lakes it was already raining: Thirlmere still looked quite low, although there were plenty of streams rushing down into it, but the beaches usually apparent at Rydal Water had disappeared. Already the ground by Coniston Hall was looking muddy, and there were mats for cars to get a bit of grip as they drove on to the field. Remembering the time several of us had had problems getting off the parking area at Patterdale, I worried that we’d have a repeat performance: however there were so many of us I rather assumed (fingers crossed) that the organisers had got a backup plan in the event that tons of cars got stuck.

I kept on my double layer of clothing, warmed by the journey in the car with the heater on almost full blast, and went to get my number and go to the loo. En route it was good to see the smiling face of a guy from work – who I haven’t seen since before the first lockdown – and to have a brief catch up. Then it was back to the car to change into my waterproof jacket and to put my race number on before going to the start and sheltering under a tree: and another quick chat with the guy from work before the race began and he sped off.

The run starts off along the half marathon route but after the initial uphill bit towards the Coppermines, the two diverge. Today we went on past the Coppermines on a firm, wide and stony track which turned to go fairly steeply uphill. If I ran I overtook a few people; they then overtook me when I walked a bit (I also stopped to take a photo of a very noisy waterfall, although there was an even better one later on). I really do need to improve my uphills, but on the other hand at least by walking some of the steeper parts I conserve energy and then have more ‘in the tank’ for the downhills and flatter bits.

The track narrowed which was fine going uphill (everyone was walking) but then made it a bit tricky to overtake people once it had levelled out. I got chatting to a young guy, and then to a girl, both new to the run: and then started talking to a guy who turned out also to have turned 60 this year, and who played bass guitar and also did triathlon. I wasn’t sure whether he wanted to carry on talking to me and my shoe laces came undone anyway, so I dropped back a bit.

After a relatively long stony downhill bit, we hit some tarmac where the other 60-year-old went to overtake a couple of people and I ran past him. Across a field or two and I fell over in some mud in front of someone I’d just overtaken – by coincidence I met him at the end of the race as he turned out to be the brother in law of a friend of mine. (he has a bad knee so even completing a 15km run is impressive).

Along a narrow path that was more stream than path I overtook some more people before going past the friend-with-the-brother-in-law through the woods. It was probably mean of me not to slow up to chat, but he’s got a bad knee so even completing 15km is impressive and I don’t think he would have expected me to wait for him there.

We eventually came out on the lake shore path, which is relatively level, and my mind went briefly back to the day when Penny and I ran round the whole of Coniston as one of the 16 lakes at 50 (i.e. for her 50th birthday). I’d like to run round Coniston again – it was a nice route with very little on road. By now I was beginning to feel a bit tired but there were runners in front of me who I wanted to overtake. My competitive spirit has definitely re-appeared after several years of not being fit enough to be competitive!

Just before the end there was a stream running down into the lake, and the only way was through it (“we’re going on a bear hunt… we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we’ll have to go through it...splishy splashy splishy splashy“). There were some people standing there waiting for family and friends to run past: as I splashed into water up to my bottom I realised why (memories of the Crossbay Challenge, where you run through about 3 rivers).

There was nobody to see me over the line, but I went back to cheer on firstly the young guy (who avoided looking at me – perhaps I was too wet to be recognisable) and the 60-year old guy (who kind of smiled), and then Nick as he ran on despite his knee hurting. He reminds me of Penny: pushes through the pain. I’m not sure I would, and I’m not sure whether I’m intrinsically lazy or just self-protective. I respect people who keep going, and I can understand the frustration at having a long-term injury and wanting to get moving again. I guess I wasn’t terribly sensible after my caesareans…

After a cappuccino (with cream, biscoff syrup and two tiny biscuits) and a brief chat with Nick and his brother in law (the one I had fallen over in front of), I walked back to the car, keeping my fingers crossed that it would move. It did and I headed home in more pouring rain, with water oozing from me on to the seat and the heating up full blast again.

6 at 60: turning 60

Every time I write or think those words – that I am now 60 – it is difficult to believe. After all 60 is grown-up, right: middle-aged even. But somehow I feel more like I did when I turned 40; 50 sounded older but 60 sounds fun. Perhaps it’s also because I’m happy on my own again, and achieving things which matter to me: at 50 I had a baby, two young children, no career and was in a marriage which was not bitterly unhappy but was not happy either.

Perhaps the lesson is that when I’m doing the things I love – enjoyable work; exercising; music; time with people I love – then I am happy and feel energised. Life feels abundant; but I’m also perhaps more confident than I’ve ever been before.

The week started with a spa day with Anne. The treatments which we’d booked had to be cancelled as they were short-staffed: but we were amply compensated with a glass of champagne each, a free side order with lunch, and another half day, with the missed treatments, at the spa in November.

On my actual birthday I travelled down to Kent via London. I hadn’t been to St Pancras International since it had been redeveloped: it’s now an amazing location to spend time between trains, with far too many tempting shops and wine bars. Getting on the fast train to Kent was amazing: it zooms out of St Pancras between huge concrete walls, arriving at Stratford in about 5 minutes; unfortunately once it gets into Kent it slows down somewhat, and I then had to change at Faversham on to a bog-standard suburban train.

I was staying with Jo and Mike – the pair who came up in the summer – and we went into Whitstable for dinner, picking up Jo’s daughter en route, and walking to a lovely fish restaurant by the sea. My shoes were already hurting so I took them off and walked barefoot: but it was hardly a sandy beach, unfortunately. It didn’t matter though – it was a great evening and to see someone who I had looked after from time to time as a small child and who is now a beautiful adult was great.

There was a two-day work conference at the castles in Dover, Deal and Walmer and my memories – although the content was interesting – are of seeing the white cliffs of France in the sunlight on the other side of the channel; running up on to the white cliffs of Dover and into the National Trust nature reserve; and of the sun being out and walking around the gardens at Walmer and then along the shore to Deal. I am resolved to go back sometime and take the boys, as I think they’d love it.

Having arrived home late on the Thursday night, Friday was then a day of whizzing around and friends arriving before I got up early on Saturday to drive down to Cartmel for the Cartmel trail race (10km challenge). I was really pleased as it was actually 11km and I ran it in an hour and 6 minutes; my 10km time was about 1.01 (I’d love to get it under an hour!). The results were all over the place, but it looks as if I was second in my age group – having just sneaked now into the Female Vet 60 age group.

I got back home to find my lovely friends had prepared some food for the soiree; I got changed and headed down to Lanercost to set up the Dacre Hall and have a final rehearsal. I had an incredible amount of help from my generous friends – generous with their time and support as well as with their donations of food for the party, presents and with their contributions to my chosen charity.

The party/soiree went well and people seemed to enjoy it; I was delighted that my two older children were there and proud to see them being so charming to my friends. Bella in fact enjoyed it so much that she wants me to organise something similar every year. Rather than reproduce the entire programme, I will just upload a handful of photos (I thought, having subscribed, I’d be able to upload a video but it appears I can’t – unless I perhaps do it via YouTube – there are two here now if you click on those two links – one of the others that I wanted to post is sideways for some reason). I do realise that I sound very amateur when compared to other renditions on YouTube – but as I love singing and have no ambitions to be a professional singer, I guess that’s OK. It’s the music that matters.

Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory“. Percy Bysshe Shelley

6 at 60: Keswick trail race

I’ve just finished reading The Edge of the World: how the North Sea made us who we are (Michael Pye). It’s a fascinating ‘ramble’ (and I do NOT use that word pejoratively) around the countries surrounding the North Sea and through the centuries. The introduction starts in Scarborough but moves quickly and memorably to Domburg, and the various discoveries there of ancient remains including a temple to the goddess Nehalennia (who I had never heard of before). It continues by looking at the Frisians and the invention of money, and covers how money developed from paying for ‘things’ to purchasing more abstract items (insurance); it looks at the Vikings, those incredible explorers; and discusses politics, fashion, religion and travelling. It’s the sort of history book I love: a delve into social history and how the so-called dark ages evolved into modern life.

However there were certain thoughts that kept popping into my head as I read it. One was how human nature really does not change much. Another was that ‘back then’ people were always looking for signs about when the world would end. It struck me that we do that to a certain extent even now: there definitely is an ‘imminent disaster’ feeling about climate change. Whilst I do believe that climate change is real and has been exacerbated by human greed, at the same time the climate of the planet does change naturally from time to time – there were floods and famines in the past – and seeing signs that the world will end is nothing new. Don’t get me wrong – I believe fervently that we should be using fewer of this beautiful planet’s resources, and also taking more care of it; and I’m very conscious that as a ‘westerner’ I am one of the greedy guzzlers who uses so much of those resources.

The other theme that seemed topical was that of plague. The Black Death was as terrifying as Covid and as highly transmissable. The book has an entire chapter entitled ‘The Plague Laws’ and, having been published in 2014/15 states: “Like terrorism, like AIDS in our time, it settled in memory and panic and stung a sense of guilt into life”. It led to rules controlling travel and for a long time nobody knew what caused it nor how to prevent its spread. It has struck me often recently how a year and a half ago when Covid first became prevalent, there was a sense of panic but also perhaps our adrenalin was running high: certainly I was emotional when I first had to queue up at the supermarket, or had to queue outside an empty secondary school to pick up a Doctor’s prescription.

In terms of the series of trail races I’m running as one of my 6 at 60 challenges, there are still some safety precautions in place – likewise for choir. Lakeland Trails, who organise the races, ask that all entrants take a lateral flow test prior to racing; they also ask that we wear facemasks in the marquee, and provide hand sanitiser in the marquee.

Yesterday’s race took place at Keswick, in the heart of the Lake District. Having dropped the kids off at their Dad’s house, I thought I’d allowed plenty of time to park: after all the schools were back or going back on Monday, so could Keswick really be that busy? After driving around one car park twice I went to another – on the second loop I spotted someone leaving. Hooray! I paid for parking, ran through the town centre – the market was on, so it was busy – went to the toilet and registered and got to the start of the race a little flustered but with 10 minutes to go.

I’d opted for the mass start but a lot of people are still choosing to pick a time and do a wave start. Ironically, I think they’re limiting numbers to 30 for the wave starts and there were only 33 of us on the mass start… I seemed to be with a lot of young, fit, men and kept trying to make sure I didn’t start off too fast. After a short trot along the old railway line (now a multi-use track which I’ve previously cycled along – see https://runningin3time.wordpress.com/2021/03/28/return-to-the-lake-district/) we veered off to run up a gravelly track, which I think had been created to help with the tree clearing (the hillside looks denuded at present). We ran along an undulating track, but mostly uphill, around the southern side of Latrigg, and then along towards the Glenderaterra valley.

I’d run much of the course from this point several years ago: and conveniently had forgotten how it’s mostly a continuous but gradual uphill. At the northern end of the valley the route cuts up across the ‘Glenderaterra bogs’ – the long marsh grass lay underfoot like reeds, but hiding some very wet mud – and also at times stones. A young guy overtook me at one point and his left leg disappeared at the same time up to the ankle in mud. Through here even the young, fit runners were walking – and there was little room to overtake anyway.

At the top of the valley you cross a couple of streams and then after another short – but this time stony – uphill, you’re then on a gorgeous track which wends around Lonscale Fell – not much good for people with vertigo though – and then starts to go downhill. The car park on Latrigg was further away than I remembered, but at one point there was a lovely view of Derwentwater, and it’s basically downhill all the way – and the sun had come out. I’d previously run/walked up the path which goes up the northern/north western side of Latrigg, so it was great to be running down it. At one point I was overtaken by a very fast young man with rabbit ears on and an orange skirt. His t-shirt said ‘Matt’s Stag’.

By the time I got back to Fitz Park I was beginning to feel the effect of running 15km: but I knew that although plenty of young men had overtaken me (and a few older men), not many women had, and in fact I had overtaken a handful of people.

The results seem to indicate that out of the 33 people who did the mass start, I was 2nd woman, with a time of 1.42. That doesn’t really say much though – when I compare my time with the 335 people in all the wave starts it looks as if I would have come around 125th overall – and about 5th in the FV50 category.

If you’ve managed to read to the end of this with no photos, I hope you won’t mind if I now ‘advertise’ my fundraising page – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sarah-lewis-briggs I’m using my 6 at 60 challenges to raise money for Medecins sans Frontieres (sorry – haven’t worked out how to put accents in to wordpress) and it would be great if you felt like sponsoring me.

Meanwhile here’s a photo to brighten things up.

So what’s new?

It doesn’t feel as if I’ve been anywhere particularly novel recently, nor done anything new – the summer remained grey and damp for a couple of weeks, and I continued to try to go out for my lunchtime run while working from home, including attempting to include some hillier runs in order to improve my uphill running. I had plans of running from Walltown Crags to Housesteads and back (quite a long way) but didn’t do it – instead I did a brick session (bike followed by run) in training for the triathlon I have coming up mid-September. It feels as if things are building to a peak in terms of the 6 at 60 – September isn’t only my birthday and the triathlon but two Lakeland trails races, swimming Snowdon and some more singing.

Then I’ve also just entered a cycle sportive in November: I’ve kept meaning to enter a sportive and never got round to it, so when I saw this one advertised and checked the date and found I was free, I decided to enter. And I’m now thinking of doing my Trinity College of Music performance diploma, having done the ARSM (Associate of the Royal Schools of Music).

Having had a week off with the kids, I then booked a few more days off. I met Jane in Lancaster on a glorious sunny day which made us feel all summery again. I haven’t been to Lancaster for a few years, and even then it had been most often to look at the fire station (it was redeveloped a few years ago and I had to value it). This day Jane and I went up to Williamson Park and the memorial that you see from the motorway, as well as the butterfly house and mini-zoo, and then after lunch in the city centre went into the Castle. I was really impressed by what the Duchy of Lancaster have done with the Castle – it made me wonder if we (English Heritage) could do something as good with Carlisle Castle. Both cities are similar in many ways – roughly the same population; near the M6; ‘stop off’ places en route to other places (the Lake District; Scotland); and both have universities, although Lancaster ranks 10th out of UK Universities while the rather newer Cumbria University ranks 114th (and Lancaster is also home to UCLAN which is 87th and apparently has a campus in Cyprus).

I look forward to going back to Lancaster Castle when the interiors are open; and next time I shall make sure I haven’t just had lunch, so I can try out the cafe: created from the former prison canteen and by extending into the courtyard.

I hadn’t seen Jane for ages – and it was great to catch up with her. Likewise it’s been good to go out running with Anne and I was able to introduce her to Askham Fell (with apologies to Penny, who is still recovering from injuries). We chose another rainy day to do the 10km route which Penny and Tim had introduced me to on New Year’s day: a lovely run which goes along by the river Eamont before heading up on to the Fell – absolutely stunning with purple heather – ending with a fantastic long downhill back into Askham. We then went to the cafe at Askham Hall for a late lunch: the stables have been converted and it’s quite rustic but really nice. The pizzas seem to be popular and I wondered if they’d be as good as the Mill Yard cafe at Morland.

Whilst I have my 6 at 60 to complete (before I turn 61, I reckon), Head Torches are currently running, cycling or walking from Lands End to John O’Groats (LE JoG). There’s a great app. called Myles which will record mileages of challenges and, I realised last week, also shows you on a map where you’ve got to. Meanwhile in terms of the 6 at 60 I ticked off one more unofficial swimming location: swimming on the Scottish-English border at Penton.

The week before I had been on a Border Reivers tour with Off the Wall tours – a fascinating tour around Arthuret, Langholm, Newcastleton and Bewcastle. We’d travelled back and forth across the border, highlighting the mixed heritage of this area in many ways, and stopped at some great spots – I loved the Gilnockie Tower, and the rainy, misty day made Langholm Moor atmospheric. I decided that at some point I’m going to cycle across there, taking in Hermitage Castle one way. It feels incredibly remote and not the sort of place you’d want to break down, especially not in the winter.

Penton fits into a similar category. The countryside around there feels really remote, and yet it’s also spell-binding. Laura mentioned that it might be worth trying the river Liddel for swimming, and I took a Friday off work. Hannah arranged to drive across and, having been held up on the A69 and the Military Road, arrived an hour late but brought the sun and warmth with her – she was obviously meant to arrive later!

It’s only half an hour’s drive from Brampton, with a small parking spot just off the road. We parked in Scotland and swam up and down the border. The rocks make it easy to get in so long as you’re prepared for sudden drop-offs – in places the banks of pebbles keep the water shallow but in other places the river has cut a deep channel through the rocks. At other places there are shallow rapids; the river rushes through, creating white water; in other places the rocks lie almost flat and create good picnic areas. It was teeming with small fish, making us think the water must be clean. After the initial chilly feeling and a bit of swimming, I took my wetsuit off, enjoying the tingly feeling and freedom of the cold water on my skin: and then we all sat in the sun and enjoyed a picnic lunch. It was lovely to be able to wild swim again – I’ve really missed it with the rather cool, damp, weather of recent weeks.

I’ve also just set up a JustGiving page: if anyone feels like sponsoring my 6 at 60 in aid of MSF (Medecins sans Frontieres), then please visit this page, which will also have regular updates on progress: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sarah-lewis-briggs. Many thanks to those who have sponsored me so far.

More hills and water: Stickle Tarn and Hawkshead trail race

I’ve wanted to swim in Stickle Tarn ever since I was up there one November on a walk leaders’ assessment. When Anne and I were compiling the list of lakes and tarns to swim in, firstly as she was turning 60 and then because I was, I felt it had to go on the list.

It was a beautiful warm sunny summer afternoon when a handful of us drove to Stickle Ghyll car park (National Trust) which I had anticipated, being large, would have plenty of room. There weren’t a lot of spaces but we only needed two and sure enough I had just pulled in when Hannah and her family also drove up and found a space nearby.

What I hadn’t properly remembered was how steep the path becomes – partly because in fact when we did our walk leaders’ assessment we had turned off the path about halfway up and the steepest part is at the top. It’s also quite rocky so a bit of clambering is needed; slightly easier today as the ghyll had almost dried up, so at least the rocks weren’t slippery.

In some ways it was a bit of repeat of going up to Sprinkling Tarn with Jo and Mike. I seem to be able to forget the most strenuous bits of walks – perhaps because swimming in the tarns at the top is so exhilarating. It was again a warm, close, day and as we got higher and the walk got tougher Hannah’s asthma got the better of her and even Laura had to sit down for a rest. Penny’s bad back was OK… on the way up…

It was worth it however for the stunning views, even if a pity that the usually attractive ghyll was a series of trickles and puddles rather than a splashing torrent with rock pools. The tarn water level didn’t in fact seem too low, and it was as beautiful as I remembered, surrounded by the various Langdale peaks: in particular Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle. We stripped down to swimsuits and got in, glad of the coolness of the water after the warmth of the sun.

Walking down in some ways was trickier than walking up – it’s always harder on your knees and your quad muscles when there are big steps down. Penny’s back was suffering before long, and I took her bag for her as it was hurting her back. We got to the bottom in, of course, far less time than it took to walk up, and went to the pub for a drink before getting back in the car to go home.

The weather changed not long after this: in some ways it was a relief as we definitely needed some water for the streams and lakes (Thirlmere has been looking ridiculously low – I’m not sure whether people in Manchester are having their water rationed at the moment), and with cooler weather it was easier to run. It did of course become more slippery underfoot – I managed to fall over in front of a guy who was walking his dog in Gelt Woods, and realised about a week later that I had a brightly multi-coloured bruise on my right thigh as well as grazes on my right calf and right shoulder.

I then had a week with no running and no yoga as I went down to Somerset with the children, to see my parents. Not surprisingly my Dad’s alzheimers doesn’t get any better and, I felt, was noticeably worse. However it was good to see them and also to see my sister and her boyfriend. Bella and Edward loved Bristol Zoo and I think they enjoyed the Roman Baths, but there was the usual bickering and plenty of disagreements over where to go. We then had a gruesome journey back up the M5 and M6 – possibly the slowest and worst drive I’ve ever had.

By the Saturday morning I’d had a good night’s sleep in my own bed however, and drove down to Hawkshead to do the Lakeland Trails Hawkshead 16km trail challenge. It wasn’t raining when I left home, and optimistically I had not taken a waterproof jacket nor a change of clothes. The heavens opened as I past Penrith and other than a couple of short respites stayed that way for the rest of the day.

Because of the weather there weren’t as many people milling around at the start/finish ground as there might have been, and although I had opted for the ‘mass start’, there were only about 45 of us – a lot of people must have still chosen to do the staggered starts. As I started across the line a few people overtook me, but I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as many as I’d feared.

The first hill was already slippery and muddy, and runners from earlier races were coming down in the opposite direction. It’s a fairly rocky path uphill after the initial on-road start before you turn to go across an area of open land, and past Moss Eccles tarn (and some smaller ones) – another one I want to swim in some time. I kept thinking of how last time I’d done more or less this route, with Penny, it had been just as rainy and wet as it was today.

Photo courtesy of James Kirby/Lakeland Trails – hair courtesy of RainyDays

We came down to one of the Sawreys – I can never remember whether it’s near or far – and after a brief spell on the road turned off uphill again. Just as I went round the corner something flew out of the hedge and bit me on my left thigh (I think it was attracted to the orange go-faster stripe on my leggings). It hurt, and as I ran I could feel it throbbing. I briefly thought of going back to the medic truck which I had just passed, but decided I’d live until I got to the paramedic at the end of the race.

A windy rocky path led down to the shores of Windermere, before going along the shore on the firmer track which runs through the woods, from about Claife Heights to Wray. Then you turn to run up the Coffin Trail: a mile long climb which starts by going up stone steps before turning back into a rocky path. It’s the third main ascent of the 16km route, but once you reach the top it’s downhill all the way to the finish.

I had anticipated that so long as I was careful I would be able to overtake people on the downhill sections, and that indeed turned out to be the case – although the really fast runners overtook me. At one point I’d just overtaken a couple of people and felt a slight slip under my feet, when I heard someone behind me fall over: a couple of times I had slightly slipped but fortunately not fallen.

I completed the race in just under 2 hours, which I think is the fastest I’ve ever done it – I would have liked to have run more of the uphill sections, so that’s something I need to work on. But having not run all week I was just trying to enjoy it – despite the horsefly bite.

Which was what it turned out to be, and a couple of days later it was red, sore and blistering. A visit to the Doctors and some antihistamine and fingers crossed it will all be fine. The next race is Keswick at the beginning of September, followed a couple of weeks after by Cartmel.

Swim, bike, run… hills and water (1)

ABC: Buttermere, Ambleside and the River Caldew

There’s a reason Buttermere is so popular. The 4-mile walk around the lake is a fairly level, easy one, with a fun tunnel; the landscape is pretty; and there are good places to eat, drink and get ice cream. Parking is, as a result, often horrendous – so when Anne and I decided to go down there a couple of weekends ago, we weren’t quite sure what we’d find.

In fact we found a parking space with no problem, in the Lake District National Park pay & display car park – which also has toilets. The parking has maybe been helped somewhat by the fact that the farmer at the south-eastern end of the lake has opened up a couple of fields for parking – a the reasonable charge of about £5 (maybe £6) per day. As Laura and I had agreed when we went down to Lancrigg/Grasmere, I have no objection to paying for parking in busy places; likewise I have no objection to paying for the toilets if they’re kept clean.

Anne and I had agreed we’d run round the lake and then swim in it. It was an overcast day and quite muggy, and when I’d picked her up her husband had said there were thunderstorms on the way. With this in mind I had packed my waterproof jacket and two towels in case one got too wet. I was, I thought, prepared for everything.

The run round the lake is really lovely. We went round in an anti-clockwise direction, through the woods along the southern shore to start with. You then cross open land at the end of the lake before having to do a short section on road – a bit hairy as the road is fairly narrow so there is hardly room for two cars to pass each other, let alone pass each other and pedestrians. People were swimming from stony beaches as we dropped back down on to the track away from the road; it looked inviting: and the sun was coming out and beginning to burn away the cloud.

Anne loved the tunnel, which just adds a bit of individual quirkiness to this particular run. After that there’s another mile or so through trees – unfortunately the National Trust seems to have closed off the track which goes around the lake shore – then through the yard of the ice cream farm before getting back to the car park.

We then went for a swim from the north western beach. It was great – it’s incredibly shallow (deep enough for swimming) with beautifully clear water above a stony bed. I found I’d forgotten my swimsuit; Anne had forgotten her wetsuit. She went in in her swimsuit with a t-shirt over it and I went in in my running gear. At a very rough estimate we swam about 600m across almost to the other side and back, and then went for a late lunch at Croft House Farm cafe, which I would highly recommend.

A week later and I was in Ambleside, slightly nervously awaiting the start of the Lakeland Trails Ambleside 14km trail run. I hadn’t done many long runs and had been really struggling – I think with the warm weather – so I wasn’t at all sure how I’d feel. Penny had come along as ‘support crew’, and it was great to have someone to talk to and to look out for me along the course and at the end – the staggered starts mean that it’s relatively quiet and a bit strange hanging around at the start, and can be a bit flat at the end.

Whereas with the Coniston half she almost missed me at Tarn Howes because I’d run faster than expected, this time she was wondering where I’d got to at Rydal Water as I took longer than she’d expected. I found it a tough race – not only was it warm but the run takes you uphill out of Ambleside to High Sweden Bridge before a stunning but rocky downhill down through Rydal Hall and across the road to run alongside Rydal Water. At this point we met up with another race, the Breca Coniston swimrun. Running in wetsuits looks hard (and hot), though the swimming bit would be a nice cool down on a day like this – at least, a nice gentle swim would be. I guess a race swim is less cooling.

Penny and I then drove up past Mungrisdale to have a dip in the river Caldew: something I’ve wanted to do since I first saw the waterfalls and so forth last year. It was chilly, but invigorating – and doubtless good for my sore muscles – and just as we were getting changed the heavens opened, torrentially. I leapt into the car to finish changing – several days later I found my swimsuit under my seat…

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.

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.

Wetter and wetter…

Our spell of weather which was growing warmer and sunnier unfortunately came to an end. Having not had many April showers, as May popped its head over the horizon the rain came too.

Penny and I arranged to go for a bike ride on the bank holiday Monday at the beginning of May. We agreed we’d finish the ride we’d cut short previously, aiming to do a 20 mile loop from Langwathby up through Melmerby and back through Kirkoswald (one of my favourite Cumbrian villages) and Lazonby. This loop also meant that in terms of cycling around the edge of Cumbria, I would have completed the circuit up the Eden valley from Kirby Stephen northwards; and in fact in terms of the overall route the only section(s) now missing are from Grange over Sands to Kirby Stephen.

However the weather was not kind to us. We met on a grey chilly day at Langwathby station and cycled north towards Little Salkeld, although we turned to the east before we got into the village: on a nice day and further on into a ride it would be a good place to stop as there are the standing stones of Long Meg and her daughters to see, a working flour mill, and Lacey’s caves down by the river.

We cycled east to Ousby where we picked up the route we’d turned off from before, going almost due north to Melmerby and then Gamblesby. So many of the villages are attractive in the Eden valley, but this was not a day for stopping, so we just admired them as we pedalled through, chatting as we went – Penny’s father in law had recently died and Penny and Tim had been to the funeral on the Friday, so there was a lot to talk about. Fortunately it was relatively easy cycling, without any major hills, so it was quite easy to chat.

At a five-way junction near Busk we turned to the west again, along a lovely undulating road which then plummeted down into Kirkoswald (or KO as many local people call it). We came out at the bottom of the hill which leads down through the village. When driving through the village from the other direction I’d often wondered where the road we came down led; now I knew; looking at the map apparently we’d come past the remains of the castle as well (next time I’ll have to remember not to enjoy the speed so much, and try to take some notice).

It was then a straightforward ride on the ‘main’ B road back through Lazonby and down to Langwathby – but the wind was against us, the rain was coming straight at us, and the 4 miles south felt further and a bit of a drag. We got back to the cars drenched and chilled.

On the way home I stopped at the motorway services to use the toilets – I literally had to peel my clothes off as they were stuck to me, they were so wet; and my car seat was also drenched with the rain water oozing out of my garments. Even with the car heater on full blast I was chilly – when I got home I got straight into a nice deep, warm, bath.

I then went down with a head cold on the Tuesday and Wednesday (I blame Edward and school), which was annoying as I’d been hoping to get some extra running mileage in with the first of the Lakeland trails races at the weekend: however I figured that a couple of days’ rest wouldn’t hurt, and might mean the cold disappeared that much more quickly. I had forgotten what having a cold was like: my brain was like cotton wool and the pile of tissues in the waste paper basket was growing higher and higher.

I’d love to be able to say that Saturday dawned bright and sunny, ready for the run – but it didn’t. I layered up, took spare clothes and shoes, and headed down the motorway to Staveley, near Windermere. I could feel the car slipping a bit on the grass of the field being used for parking, and hoped that I wasn’t going to get stuck – a few years ago I got stuck after the Ullswater trail race and it was a real effort to get the car out. At least there were plenty of parking attendants around, so presumably they’d be able to call a tractor if people started getting stuck.

Hanging around at the start line was quiet and a little strange compared with previous races. We were being started in groups of up to 6 each minute, and for some start times there were no runners. My 1.30 slot however was fully booked, with me and 5 men lining up ready for the off. We’d been asked to arrive only 15 minutes before the start, so hadn’t been waiting long but were already getting wet: though not as wet or cold as the poor marshalls, many of whom would have been standing around for hours.

The route was on bluebell-lined tarmac out of the village for quite a way before turning off to head over the fell. A stony track went downhill before some more hard surface, and even running through the yard of a factory of some sort. Most of the middle part of the race is a bit of a blur, partly as I had no idea how far I’d come or had to go. There was a longish section on top of another fell though, with a lot of mud and water across the path: in places huge muddy puddles covered a wide area and it was difficult to know whether just to run straight through or to go round the edges.

Finally we started crossing fields, at each stone wall having to clamber over a stone stile, before heading up the last hill for ‘the sting in the tail’. I must admit I quite enjoyed that last grassy wiggly hill – it wasn’t as bad as I had expected and I knew there was a downhill section coming up afterwards. The photographer was waiting there: I haven’t yet dared to look at my photo as I dread to think what my hair looked like, I was so wet.

On the enjoyable long downhill section I overtook a couple of people, which was gratifying, and then there was a run along the road to get back to the recreation ground and the finish. I managed a bit of extra effort to get over the line but not having run 18km for a while I also felt a little bit tired for the rest of the day.

At the finish there weren’t crowds milling around; the whole atmosphere was, like at the start, somewhat muted compared to previous years’ trail races. It was more like doing a triathlon than a normal running race – you’re far more spread out in a triathlon normally due to different swim waves/start times, and before too long the competitors are strung out along the course. One of the features of the Lakeland trails, and other trail races, has been the camaraderie: however the marshalls were all friendly and out on the course whenever people passed each other they’d say hello. It may have been a slightly lonelier experience than before, but it was extremely well-managed and Covid-safe: and at the end of the day great to be able to race again.

According to the stats I completed the course in 2 hours and 7 mins. They’ve put me in the FV50 category whereas I thought I was due to be in FV60 this year; but it doesn’t really matter. It looked as if the fastest female in my race was in the FV70 category, so it goes to show that age doesn’t necessarily affect your running ability!

Now to get in some extra miles so I’m ready for the half marathon in a few weeks’ time… but meanwhile I cooked lunch for some friends on the Sunday. The weather stayed dry – otherwise the lunch would have become a take-away – and we enjoyed a cold cucumber soup, followed by roast lamb with pomegranate, two salads, and then Ruins of a Russian Count’s Castle. I think this could become ‘a Thing’.

Old and new

We are currently enjoying a spell of mostly warm, sunny, weather reminiscent of Lockdown One this time last year. Some of my friends were brave enough to go open water swimming last weekend; I plucked up the courage this weekend (with moral support).

Now that we are allowed out in groups of 6 and that most of my peers have had their first vaccine at least, people have got more relaxed about meeting up – outside – and it’s been great to see more of my friends once again. I have various whatsapp groups and some people belong to most or all of them. The chats have been great, but meeting up face to face is definitely best!

I met Clare at Chesters Roman Fort on Friday (my non-working day) and we wandered around the ruins and down by the river Tyne. Most Roman Fort sites, even if they all seem much the same, actually have something unique about their particular ruins. At Chesters it’s because it was a cavalry fort and you can see the barracks where the men slept with their horses; there are remains of the large parade ground; and remains of the bath house by the river.

It was lovely to be able to wander around the site and then to sit outside the cafe with a coffee and a sandwich.

On Saturday I met a volunteer for some of the Hadrian’s Wall sites. As everybody knows everybody around here, it was no surprise to have found out that we vaguely knew each other; but it was good to walk from Poltross Burn to Birdoswald and chat about all and sundry. She knows far more about the wall than I do and will be a superb volunteer; I then ran from Birdoswald via Gilsland along the wall trail to Walltown, and then back to Gilsland where I had left the car. I haven’t run that part of the wall route for several years, and it was lovely to retrace footsteps – this time on quite dry ground, whereas my memories of doing it before are of plenty of water-logged, sodden ground and of trying to stay on the higher parts of the path rather than in the bottom of what I think is the ‘vallum’ (the ditch the Romans built alongside the wall). I had in fact intended to attempt to run a half marathon but I’d misread the map and it was very warm so when I got to Walltown I ran round the labyrinth in the nature reserve there, and then turned back to Gilsland. It’s not a fast run – you cross the railway twice and there are lots of gates and stiles which slow you up, plus there were plenty of sheep being very protective of their lambs.

Today’s forecast was for cloud but we’ve had blue skies and sun all day. A group of us walked to Broomlee Lough for a swim, somewhere I’ve written about in this blog before and where I’ve just been waiting for the right time to swim. Today was the day, and it was glorious – the walk is pleasant without being too demanding, and takes in plenty of Hadrian’s Wall sites (depending which route you choose); the ground was mostly dry to get there; and then the lough itself………. there was a stony entry, but not for very far, and then a sandy bottom; we picnicked under a crag which was sheltered and sunny; and whilst it’s early in the year so the water was cold, it wasn’t unbearable. We were the only people there, so it felt like our own private lake.

Finally, in contrast to all the joy of the weekend, I played – on my new phone – a recording of me singing Dowland’s Flow My Tears, accompanied by talented guitarist Jim Booth. It was recorded at Bewcastle church when we were practicing for a series of concerts. Previously I’ve always found listening to myself uncomfortable and I definitely have not liked the sound of my own voice; listening to it again recently I feel fairly pleased with it – though of course listening to it more times I then pick up all sorts of faults, as is of course the trouble with listening to yourself sing. Unfortunately having tried to upload it here or to YouTube it’s the wrong file format, apparently, and I can’t. But in this year that I turn 60, I’d like to get my voice recorded a few more times as well as doing my ARSM: if I’m not too dissatisfied with the results I’m hoping to be able to turn them into a short film. Watch this space!