Other than going to Paris I did not have any more leave booked until the end of the summer. Being conscious that I hadn’t taken the boys away I decided to have some days out in this country with them, ideally at places they wanted to go to.
As I don’t work on Friday afternoons and had a meeting in York one Friday morning, it seemed a good opportunity to take them to see Clifford’s Tower. I was last there when the ‘insert’ was still under construction and rather than stairs one had to climb ladders to get to the roof. The finished structure is amazing; the roof feels a lot higher up (it is), the views of York are as good as ever; you see more of the actual building as there are more levels; and being able to go in the chapel with its leaning front wall is an interesting, if slightly disorienting, experience. The boys were appropriately impressed and keen to make another trip to York despite the 2 hour journey.
As they were happy to travel down to York again I booked us tickets for Jorvik and Castle Howard. One of the things about the boys, compared with Bella, is that they don’t seem to spend so long looking at things. The best bit of Jorvik is in any case the ‘ride’, which only takes somewhere between 30 and 40 minutes anyway. I find it interesting and informative, but I wish the narrator wouldn’t keep talking over all the things the mannequins are saying: I’d have liked to have heard how people think the vikings and other people from the 9th century spoke (especially as I had just read a book about the Anglo Saxons, which covered the Viking era and Viking rule in England).
Our tour of Castle Howard itself was quite rapid – not helped by the fact that not all rooms were open to the public anyway – and we then had a run around the grounds. The eastern side of the country is so much drier than Cumbria! Castle Howard is interesting because of the family links with Naworth Castle near us here in Brampton; and George Howard was one of the Earls of Carlisle who lived both at Naworth and at Castle Howard. He was also friends with the pre-Raphaelites, including Burne Jones and William Morris, and a talented painter himself. The property has featured on-screen often – perhaps most notably in Brideshead Revisited – and the story of its destruction by fire and reconstruction is an interesting one. So many grand houses have, of course, been destroyed by fire in the past.
Another castle which has undergone much reconstruction over the centuries is Bamburgh. The boys had been there before, with their father, and I had only ever been past it – mostly seeing it in the distance from the train or the A1 against a backdrop of sea; and earlier in the year doing a half marathon that ended there, clambering up over the sanddunes beneath its walls. I hadn’t realised that the Armstrong family who own(ed) it were also the owners of Cragside, the first house to have electricity in the country. Although the ‘main’ Armstrong had developed and traded arms, he’d also invented other things and was a shipbuilder; Vickers-Armstrong and ultimately the British Aircraft Corporation (now BAE, who build submarines in Barrow in Furness) grew from his original company. As with so many things or people, Armstrong wasn’t all bad (the arms business has rather blackened his name in some circles).
The views from Bamburgh are amazing, as they also are from Dunstanburgh: I had promised the boys fish and chips but the trade off was that we drove down the coastal route, as they hadn’t allowed me to go on the beach at Bamburgh (the North sea beaches in Northumberland are absolutely stunning: most of them have miles of clean sand with hardly any people). There’s not really a lot to see at Dunstanburgh but again its story is interesting: Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh were both involved in the wars of the Roses in various ways, which resulted ultimately in the Yorkist Edward IV retaining the throne, followed by his brother Richard (links there to Cumbria: to Carlisle and Penrith in particular as he was Warden of the West March) who was then killed at the battle of Bosworth, heralding the end of the Plantagenets and the beginning of the Tudors. One thing Dunstanburgh does have nowadays however is composting toilets; and the walk from the car park at Craster and back helped justify the fish and chips later.
The final castle Edward and I visited was Lowther Castle and Gardens, closer to home (having also been down to Somerset just before these trips, I was beginning to get a bit fed up with driving long distances). I don’t completely approve of the £ms that the Lowther family has had to restore the gardens and castle ruins, especially as it’s not cheap to get in nor to eat in the cafe, but I do very much like what they have done: and Edward and a friend spent hours happily playing in the wooden ‘castle’ in the woods while I read and made phone calls. It’s another place I thought I’d go back to sometime on my own, so I can look around the exhibition about its history at my own pace and in detail!
Meanwhile my own ‘castle’ is on the market as I’m hoping to sell up and move to Penrith to be nearer the children: which will give me a whole new area to explore in more detail. I was back at Lowther for lunch at the end of a bike ride with Penny just a week after visiting with Edward: as I get to know Penrith and its surroundings in more detail I feel that I could be happy living there.
The school summer holidays haven’t really seemed to exist this year – whilst home-schooling stopped, not much really changed between one day and the next other than not having to battle to get at least a few pieces of work done each day.
However the relaxation of lockdown restrictions did mean that at least we (the children and I) could travel down to Somerset to see my parents, who, we realised, hadn’t seen their grandchildren for a year: for various reasons we hadn’t met at Christmas and my parents were going to come up to Cumbria ‘when the weather gets better’. Then, of course, as they were beginning to think about it, coronavirus hit.
We stopped off near Stafford en route south, to see a friend of mine. The kids were, of course, complaining bitterly about doing something that was not orientated around them: in the end Bella was keen to stop off on the way back as well as she had an enjoyable time playing piano duets!
We stayed in a hotel, which made life easier all round, and whilst we saw my parents at breakfast and dinner times, we didn’t spend all day, every day, with them. They’ve been shielding and hardly been out of their house and garden until the last few weeks – even now they are understandably hesitant. I’ve seen it with younger people as well: we all became used to keeping our distance and to not going out, to a greater or lesser extent, and starting to get back to a type of normality can feel strange at the least and scary at best. I’ve now been to shops a few times but I always feel more relaxed when the shops aren’t busy: I was relieved when we didn’t have to queue for school shoes for Edward the other day.
Somerset was, of course, busy: it’s a popular tourist area and along with the rest of the country seems to be getting increased numbers of visitors this year. Brexit started it with the poor exchange rate; coronavirus has now had an effect, and I think climate change/global warming has also made this country more attractive (the weather we had during lockdown in the spring was absolutely glorious, and I’m sure not a one-off).
The boys and I went – and took my Dad – to the Helicopter Museum in Weston-super-Mare, which was not massively busy: they have the largest collection of helicopters in the world and for someone who knows little about helicopters it was quite an eye-opener. Some of them are so huge: and some of them terrifying, the way they bristle with guns and cannons and rockets (one Russian one in particular). It saddened me in a way as it was a reminder of a world at war: being keen on history though I’m too conscious that war and the movement of peoples is something which has always happened, and doubtless always will.
We also went to Wookey Hole caves: highly commercialised and probably the most intimidating place I’ve been recently in terms of having to queue and having people around you all the time, but some stunning rock formations inside, all atmospherically lit. Bella was keen to do a cave adventure walk type thing, which I wouldn’t mind doing sometime: but at £50 per head and with Edward not being able to do it, that will have to wait for another day (it includes abseiling, ladders over deep water, and via ferrata, and you get to see bits of the caves that the normal visitors don’t). Of course there was the usual shop on the way out, where I bought some cave-aged Cheddar cheese and some cherry mead.
Finally we met up with my sister and her partner, Ross, at Cleeve Abbey – somewhere I hadn’t been since going there with my grandmother when I was a teenager. It was such a contrast to many monastic ruins, which don’t really give you any idea of how the monks lived: often the church remains and possibly part of the cloisters, but nothing else. Here the dormitory area is still in existence but nothing other than a few stones remain of the church. There is also a stunning example of a coloured tiled pavement – the photo below doesn’t do it justice. It’s somewhere I’d highly recommend if you like that sort of history.
We had a lovely, relaxing few days and I was impressed by how considerate and helpful my older two in particular were towards my Mum and Dad. As for so many parents, it’s a delight to see your children developing into decent adults; into people of whom you are genuinely proud.
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…
Week 2 didn’t start well. I went to do my washing up and found the sink was full of dirty water which hadn’t drained from the night before. Even prodding around with a brush and a knife didn’t help… I undid some of the pipes, dirty water splashing into and around the bowl I put under the connections, and trying to work out where the blockage was. I went down to the hardware store (still open) and got some nasty chemicals – a big bottle of Mr Muscle – and stuck half down the plughole and half down the plughole in the shower upstairs, which had also been running slow.
That didn’t work in the kitchen sink and despite the fact that I was also trying to work, I spent my lunch hour sending desperate messages and receiving helpful hints via various whatsapp groups about what I could do. In the end I gave up, leaving a pool of disgusting water in the sink, and decided I’d go away and leave it until the end of the working day. I guess it’s a bit like turning the computer off and walking away from it, when that’s not behaving.
Sure enough when I went back after work the sink had, miraculously, cleared. I was a bit doubtful about whether this was a lasting ‘fix’ but I’m pleased to say that two days later it’s still running free. I should also add that I am EXTREMELY careful not to put loads of nasty stuff down the sink nor into the dishwasher – years ago when I worked at Railtrack we had a catering business tenant who didn’t have grease traps in his drains. He almost undermined a whole railway embankment at Finchley Road, and next door’s toilet was backing up due to his blocked drains. Yuck. That was the first time I served a s.146 notice on a tenant.
I’ve been doing my morning yoga regularly and really enjoying it. About 20 minutes is the perfect amount for me, and it sets me up ready to work. On Tuesday I missed going for a run as I didn’t have time – although my singing lesson also got cancelled as my teacher’s boiler had split (it was obviously one of Those Days). And the CPD webinar I joined was booooorrrringggg…
That’s the great thing at the moment though – there is loads of free stuff online, far more than usual. On Wednesday I joined a webinar about co-working. Nothing terribly mind-blowing but a good webinar (and an hour’s CPD), and it made me wonder again what will happen when this is all over. I actually think this is the final death-knell to our high streets as people will have got used to shopping online and to home deliveries: unless everybody goes mad when we’re finally released and hits the high street with all the cash they’ve saved from not going out (?). Have you? Are you saving much money being at home? I am, but the temptation is to go mad online.
The frenzy of whatsapp seems to have died down – I wonder if, one week in, people are becoming a little more relaxed about keeping in touch with people. I’m trying to phone them rather than just whatsapp or email, but I have to admit that so far I’m quite relishing not having the commute to work (I maybe said that last week as well). Today, for example, I did yoga before work, started about 8.30a.m., went for a run at lunchtime, and then worked until about 7p.m. when the National Theatre’s free streaming began.
I think this is such a great idea, and they showed a slightly slapstick comedy which in some ways was a little trite, but I think was exactly what was needed at the moment. I really enjoyed it and am going to try to ‘go to the theatre’ every week. A lot of it would be stuff I wouldn’t dream of buying a ticket for, and other than being tempted to go out into the kitchen to cook dinner in the middle, it’s very pleasant being able to sit in your own home and watch top class theatre. It’s not quite the same as live streaming of opera, plays or ballet in the cinema – it doesn’t have the same sense of occasion – but even so I made sure that I’d put my laptop away and my phone to one side.
Tomorrow the kids will be here – or some of them should be (if I’m going all the way down to Penrith I very much hope they WILL be here) and Bella and I could watch ballet from the Royal Opera House. But until then, I’ve opened and drank far too much of my ‘interval bottle’ of prosecco, and feel ready to fall into bed and slumber.
Sunday 5th April
On Friday morning after yoga and a short run I headed down to Penrith to fetch the children, stopping at Cranstons Penrith food hall en route (which was incredibly quiet – certainly the desperation for food and other necessities seems to have calmed). The kids seemed content to be heading back with me and Bella and Edward in particular were talking about how excited they were to see our cat, Artemis.
Once the kids were here I realised that the ‘loneliness’ I sometimes feel, and which can make me feel really low, isn’t so much from being alone as from feeling unloved – something which I think most parents feel to a greater or lesser extent. Almost as soon as they came in the house, and after they’d made a fuss of the cat, one of the children started demanding to be bought things. My arguments that I don’t know whether I may be furloughed on 80% pay, can’t keep going out to the shops (and don’t want to) and don’t want to run out of this month’s salary too soon, fell on deaf (teenage) ears. True I’m not paying for train fares and various lessons, but I don’t feel I can just go out and spend willy-nilly.
So having wondered why on earth I bothered to fetch them, there was then the pleasure of going for a walk with my two boys – even if the younger was being painfully slow and making a meal of it – and of doing sewing and then watching TV with my daughter. I guess the other thing is that they all want to do, and are capable of doing, such different things. And, whilst I don’t want to do the whole ‘it’s hard being a single parent’ thing, it is definitely far more difficult trying to deal with three kids on your own than when there are two (or even more) adults around: I’m definitely ‘Outnumbered‘.
Having taken this coming week as annual leave, to have the kids over the Easter holidays, it now looks as if none of them will be here. Bella complains bitterly if I ever go abroad without her (I can’t afford to take all the children – even my own holiday to Finland earlier this year was all paid for by credit card and is still being just slowly paid off (something I was hoping to pay off a bit more of if I was able to spend a bit less this month and next)), but I now feel that I may as well use my annual leave for myself if all they’re going to do is be at David’s when I’m in my house on my own while I’m on leave. The last 10 days or so have shown me that I can cope quite happily on my own – in fact the sad thing is that it’s a lot more tranquil when I’m on my own. I love my kids to bits and even though they drive me bonkers I still think they’re amazing in their own, very individual and completely different ways, and it makes me sad that they churn me up so much.
Speaking of being churned up, there’s now the fear of a more strict lockdown being enforced, as crowds of stupid people have been out in parks sunbathing. I’m somewhat less worked up about this than I was about the initial lockdown, but – what idiots! I can completely and utterly sympathise with people in city flats wanting to get out, but as someone said, why not just go for a walk and avoid other people, rather than sitting in a park making it obvious that you’re ignoring social distancing rules. I have been really enjoying my daily yoga and daily bike ride or run and feeling fitter and healthier than I have for ages; I shall be gutted if those of us who want to keep fit and healthy have to stop because of some selfish minority who think they’re not affected by the rules the rest of us are living by (and what about the Scottish Health Minister – what a twit, and what arrogance! She should be sacked. She doesn’t even deserve two houses at a time when some people are facing all sorts of financial problems).
I wonder how many circuits of my house would make up 5km? Would Strava even be able to measure such a short lap?
Monday 6th April – day 14
Well, that’s a fortnight gone, and no rumours on today’s News of lockdown getting more restrictive (I wonder how a sunny Easter weekend will affect people and lockdown, though). My children have gone back to their Dad’s. I did at least manage to get the boys out for a walk again today, and Edward helped a bit in the garden earlier. It’s been such a gorgeous day I’m amazed they weren’t champing at the bit to be outside all day. Edward’s hair is getting curly at the back as it’s getting longer; Alex is developing a floppy fringe in contrast to his normally acutely short ‘army cadet’ cut. I like them both with slightly longer hair!
Having dropped them off I decided I’d drive back on the country roads – along the lower slopes of the north Pennines, up through Lazonby, Kirkoswald, Croglin, Newbiggin and Castle Carrock. For a start it stopped me being tempted to nip into the Co-op for wine and chocolate; and also it’s a beautiful drive. I had ClassicFM on the radio, and passed plenty of people out for their evening exercise: we are so lucky living up here, surrounded by hills and greenery and gorgeous views.
I haven’t done much exercise myself the past few days as it doesn’t fit in with having the kids, and I’m getting itchy feet to be out on my bike. I need to fetch some toilet rolls at some point so if the weather continues like this I will fetch them by bike rather than in the car!
As I drove back I heard the news for the first time in ages. There were fewer deaths from Covid-19 today than yesterday but the Health Minister or someone said it’s too soon to speak of relaxing lockdown (clearly). It brought me up with a start: having been so worried about the restrictions of lockdown, I suddenly realised that I’m not ready for it to finish yet! The status of our lockdown at the moment – where you can still go to the supermarkets etc. for necessities, and when you can go out exercising once a day – has been suiting me fine. I’ve altered my pace of life, and want to be able to continue to do yoga every morning before work and to go for a run at lunchtime or in the evening, and a bike ride on the days when the kids aren’t with me!
People I’ve chatted to are already saying possibly this will change the way we live. I hope so; I really hope so. I’m somewhat sceptical about human greed though.
Meanwhile I’ve started a Garden Project so next week’s Lockdown Diary is going to be less about the logistics of lockdown and more about my garden. I should add that I’m not normally terribly keen on gardening, but this is an opportunity to do some major digging and redesigning (rather than just weeding): a bit like altering rooms inside the house. I’m thinking about a pond, although I know nothing about establishing one and last time I had a pond I killed off all the fish as I treated the water for algae bloom a little too vigorously. What I’d really love is some sort of cascading water feature, but I think that would be far to expensive and time-consuming to install and maintain.
Christmas should be a time for rejoicing and sharing. For some people it’s not – it’s a lonely, sad time. However looking back over 2019 I was conscious that most of the highlights of my year have been moments with friends, old and new, and family. In particular some of the best times have been outdoors.
I thought therefore that I’d like to post some of my favourite memories and I hope my friends won’t object if they’re in any of the photos.
And finally we arrive at December. We had the Head Torches run, cake and certificates evening. One of the best things I ever did was start that running group – partly from selfish reasons as I wanted people to run with when it was dark and cold in the winter. We will soon have our own logo and t-shirts and I’m looking forward to seeing what everybody achieves in 2020. Who knows what else the new year will hold – but if it has as many good times with good friends and with my family as this year, I shall be happy.
Merry Christmas everyone, and best wishes for a very happy New Year.
Easter was stunning this year. Days of sunshine and warm weather; the Lake
District honeypots were bustling with people: walkers with their poles,
families with their dogs, children and cars… it took us an hour to get on to
the Windermere ferry, Isabella complaining about the wait but Edward and I keen
to enjoy the quirky journey – which in fact was probably still quicker than
driving around the wiggly lanes, reversing every so often into a passing place,
squeezing past cars and cyclists, queuing to get through Ambleside…
I love the Lakes even when they’re busy. I think 15 years of living in London has inured me to queues and traffic – it was always quicker to cycle than to drive in London, especially in the rush hour. So complaints about how busy the Lake District gets tend to make me smile internally in a superior sort of fashion and to say to myself ‘you’ve obviously never lived in London’ (the same applies to people who think that they have to have a house with a garage….). I do wish, however, that the economic benefits brought to the Lake District – indeed to Cumbria as a whole – by the visitors were balanced by more environmental benefits. The various authorities are making efforts (more buses; buses with bike racks; reminders about not walking where you shouldn’t, keeping your dogs on leads near livestock, not dropping litter) but I can’t help thinking how wasteful we humans are. I’m as guilty as any – I drive to the Lake District, I buy food in cafes, some of which have plastic straws or plastic single use pots, I trample the various paths… (apparently I saved approximately 25 miles by taking the ferry rather than driving – a mere drop in the Environmental ocean…).
One of the things about the Lake District is the narrow windy, undulating roads with stone walls on either side. Cycling doesn’t particularly appeal to me, unless at least some of the roads could be made car-free (maybe that’s the answer?). Whilst I would love to be out on my bike, if I fall off I might fall into a wall; alternatively I could be suddenly squashed into a wall or knocked off my bike by a car – or van – coming too fast round a corner and not seeing me until it was too late. That’s not to say I wouldn’t cycle in the Lake District, but I can see what deters people.
Northumberland on the other hand is perfect cycling country. On Easter Monday I went eastwards to drop a bike off to a friend near Corbridge. From there I drove more or less due north along back routes to the A697 to go to Wooler. All day in Northumberland I was to see cyclists, singly and in groups. Even the quieter roads are relatively wide with grass verges, and many of them have long straight sections, providing great visibility (the grass verges also mean that if you fall off you’ll have a slightly softer landing than against a stone wall). What’s missing of course are the high fells and the lakes: but the Cheviots are beautiful and provide stunning views, including to the North Sea.
Today was colder and windier than the past few days had been but there was still a heat haze in the distance. At Wooler I parked in a free car park near the Tourist Centre (in what seemed to be a rather nice community centre) and walked up the road towards the hamlet of Humbleton. I crossed over a field adjoining a campsite – and through a bower of white flowered bushes into the next field. There were some beautiful cottages at Humbleton and I paused to admire them before taking a left-hand track slightly uphill towards the hill itself, stopping again to read the interpretation panel about the battle of Humbleton Hill – which happened on my birthday but in 1402 (does anyone else ever feel that things happening on their birth date feels significant?). The ravine which would have been useful to corralling cattle was clear on my right, and I stood on a grassy knoll trying to imagine what it would have felt like to have seen the battle taking place. I wonder if archaeology was carried out whether there would be any remains of soldiers’ bones or artefacts? Were the fields soaked red with the blood of the Scottish soldiers that day? Apparently English losses were minimal: the English archers efficiently slaughtered most of the Scottish.
The track to the top of the hill bends to the south west and continues to climb – a grassy route and presumably ancient. Would the Iron Age people who lived here have walked this route before me, all those centuries ago? The wind was strong and lent an exhilarating chill to the air, but when in sheltered sunny areas warmth soaked into your being. Internal cobwebs were blown away one moment, to be replaced by warmth and well-being the next. What an amazing place to have lived, albeit exposed.
I had particularly wanted to visit this hill fort since picking up a leaflet about it in a visitor centre somewhere else. I remember going to a hill fort in the south – I think it may have been Cadbury – as a child and being singularly unimpressed whilst my mother raved on about how amazing it was. To me it was just grassy mounds and some trees on top of a hill. Humbleton Hill is different, and far more exciting – though I’m not sure that my children would be any more excited than I was as a child. The remains of the inner and outer enclosure walls can be seen at the top, and clear grass circles of where the huts were situated. In the distance you could see the North Sea and could understand why people would have wanted to live here. You could see for miles around, and any unwanted guests would be spotted climbing the hill in plenty of time to work out what to do about them.
At the top the National Park has built a cairn (made with bits of the old enclosure walls??? Presumably not) and then provided thick planks of wood to sit on. Several people were up there – someone spoke to me but the wind just threw her words away from me, although she seemed to hear what I said in reply all right.
Coming down the hill, and as I was wearing my trail running shoes – even though I was otherwise in normal clothes, including jeans – I couldn’t help but run for a bit, my heart singing in my chest, wondering again if Iron Age people had done the same. The grassy track just invited it – if I’d been in running gear I’d have spread my arms and run down, the closest to flying on the ground that a human being can get!
I chose then to take the slightly longer route back to Wooler through some woods (the path through them is part of St Cuthbert’s Way, another route I’d like to walk or run) and then over Wooler Common, which the Forestry Commission have turned into a lovely and educational wildlife habitat. I got back to the car with time to get to Wallington (National Trust) before closing time. Here nature has been tamed to an extent, but I loved the walk through the woodland to the walled garden and back and the vivid splashes of colour provided by spring flowers. And whilst the café only had egg and cress sandwiches left, it was pleasant to sit in the Courtyard Café and watch people enjoying the good weather: lazing in deckchairs; picnicking on the grass; chatting at the cafe tables; playing football or frizbee. In my opinion the National Trust has improved its ‘offer’ vastly over the past decade or two, and there are several properties in this part of the world where you could spend several hours on a visit – Cragside, just up the road from Wallington, is another.
I drove home along the old military road to be met by my oldest son as I turned into my road. He had been at cadet camp and been promoted, and having not seen him much over the past few weeks it was pleasant to spend an hour or so with him. It had been a glorious Easter.
The great thing about Cumbria is that you can find almost unknown treasures just off the
beaten track. Sometimes you wonder how they survive; others seem to be thriving
despite not being anywhere obvious, nor well-signposted.
An example is the delightful little museum at Bewcastle – out in the middle of wild, almost-unvisited, haunted Reiver country. It doesn’t take long to look around, but it tells the story of Bewcastle for those lone visitors who trek up to this remote part of north Cumbria.
Today we went to Threlkeld Mining Museum, which sits within the Lake District National Park just outside sometimes-crowded (relatively speaking) Keswick. It represents one of the contradictions of the Lake District, even of Cumbria itself: this now idyllically rural county once made its wealth from industry, the landscape being gouged to free various valuable minerals. Copper, lead, slate, graphite and even coal have been taken from the fells, valleys and coast that sheep now roam over and walkers ramble across.
Threlkeld Mining Museum appears not much more than a collection of rusty excavators in a quarry at first glance, but spending some time there is rewarding. There’s a short ride on a narrow gauge steam train which takes you up to a quarry which is still worked – perhaps recently most significantly to help repair the road past Thirlmere (Keswick to Ambleside) which collapsed when the side of Hevellyn suffered a major landslip in the floods of December 2015 – and a tour of the old mine workings. The guides are informative and enthusiastic and you come away with an enhanced understanding of how unsafe and unhealthy conditions were working underground – children carrying large tubs of excretia away at the ends of shifts; pit ponies and men falling down shafts, to be left at the bottom to rot; poisonous lead; children laying explosives, made from goose quills filled with powder, at close range because they were more expendable than adults… the social history is fascinating and humbling.
The Museum has no flash modern cafe facilities but during the gap between our train ride and our underground tour, one of the Museum staff pointed us in the direction of the cafe in Threlkeld village (the excellent Village Coffee Shop). This was another ‘find’. The village is bypassed by the A66 but if you bother to turn off the main road and head into the village there is a sign for a cafe. This is situated in a beautifully refurbished village hall with superb views across to the quarry and the fells beyond. It’s a community enterprise project (I can’t remember the exact name) so the cafe is run by paid members of staff but any profit it makes is ploughed back into the community. It’s no amateur tea-room either: the coffee was lovely, the cakes looked superb, and the toilets were clean and nicely decorated with fresh flowers.
And friends I worked with at British Waterways may be amused to see that one of BW’s rusty excavators now lives at the Mining Museum!
Half term has been and gone in a flash. Last weekend was David’s turn to have the children, although I had them on Friday night and Saturday night, which meant that I had time for a run on Askham Fell with Penny on Sunday. Both of us had work to do so after a late lunch at the cafe at Askham Hall, it was time to head home. I drove back over the hills rather than up the motorway, and came to the conclusion that one day I shall live in Penrith or Kirkoswald, high up a hill and with a view.
On Monday Edward and Bella were keen to go to Energi, the new(ish) trampolining place in Carlisle. I jumped too… I’m not very good as whilst I don’t mind jumping high, I’m not very brave at jumping over on to the next trampoline – though I did manage it a few times. I also landed on the hard bit in between a couple of times, which is rather jarring on the ankles. I wonder if I was the oldest jumper in the place? I’m now thinking it would be good to go to one of the ‘Energi Fit’ classes.
Tuesday I had a conference and choir, so the children were with David Monday night and Tuesday night and back to me on Wednesday morning. We had various dentists and opticians appointments all week, Edward had a swimming lesson every afternoon, and Bella was booked on to a Robotics course on Wednesday. She found it boring as all they did was make robots out of cardboard, but at least she didn’t learn how to hack the school computer and write rude things on it, which was what happened after the Coding course… we also did some cooking that afternoon – she made a flourless chocolate cake and I made banana cake. As nobody wanted to eat the banana cake (none of us is a fan of bananas, it seems) we gave it away, and I understand it was enjoyed by the recipients.
On Thursday the ‘treat’ was the Lego Batman movie, along with popcorn and hotdogs. It hasn’t been a particularly healthy week food-wise, the more so as the kids seem to be rebelling against my tendency to want to eat fish as my main protein rather than red meat. So this week we have had spaghetti bolognese, chicken curry, and chilli with tacos – I’ve also made lamb tagine which I’m going to add butternut squash to before serving it with couscous, but I’m not sure what the trio’s reaction will be to that.
I had arranged to meet a friend at Whinlatter on Friday and as we drove down there the weather was colourful. The sky was bright azure blue, the main central lakeland fells were covered in snow, and the plantlife was a mix of golden russet brown and vibrant-about-to-be-spring green. The kids had a good time running around in the playground, although Alex tried to be too old and too cool for it. Judging by my garden, spring is definitely on its way, and despite Storm Doris (a bit of a non-event up here in Cumbria), the weather hasn’t even been particularly cold.
Not until today, that is – and even then it was only cold on Talkin Fell. Alex had a friend, Luke, to stay for the weekend. We had a militaristic day yesterday with a visit to Carlisle Castle and the Regimental Museum followed by the Roman Gallery at Tullie House and then today decided we’d walk up Talkin Fell.
It all started well enough but became windier, wetter and wilder the higher we got. Bella then fell over in some mud (as happened last time we went up there as well – spot the brown-ness of her black jeans), and the happy mood of the day changed to grumpiness. As by then we were all getting colder and wetter we decided perhaps we wouldn’t go all the way to the top and eat our picnic up by the cairns: and the two older boys suggested sensibly that we should walk back to the car and eat the picnic in the car.
Edward has got happily filthy every day this holiday week; they have all eaten a lot of rubbish food (as well as plenty of good food as well) – and despite the inevitable arguments, anger and tellings off – it’s been a fab. week.
I’ve had some fab. times with the kids recently, and the beauty of where we live has been emphasised to me once again. When I think that back in the early spring I thought I might lose them all together… it’s not that we don’t have a lot of shouting and turmoil (Bella still tells me she hates me from time to time), but I’m now confident that I am who I am and that being me doesn’t make me a bad mother. I’m their mother, and whatever I give them will be exactly that – something I give them, which nobody else can. I may be volatile, emotional, frequently broke, money-wise (and therefore stressed) and – as they once said in a card to me – ‘the shouty fairy’, but I’m their Mum and I’m Me. My way of dealing with life is not the same as their Dad’s, nor as some other people’s parents, but it doesn’t matter – it’s my way. Some people will be similar to me – some won’t – and there’s not a right way nor a wrong way.
Over half term we went out and about: I know I’ve said it before here but the weather really has been fantastic recently. We walked to Lanercost via the Ridge and Quarry Beck woods – my ex father in law picked up the boys from Lanercost but Bella and I walked back again; we went to Edinburgh and met up with my parents and went in the place that’s similar to the Puzzling Place; we went to Acorn Bank = spot the photo which is similar to one from when Edward was only two! – which was fantastic (and followed it with Rheged, where we had an argument but resolved it with ice creams).
More recently I’ve had a long weekend in London with Bella: thanks I have to admit to my generous parents, who paid for us to stay with them at the Regents Park Marriott, which was fab. (it has a Carluccio’s as a dining room and such, such fantastic and friendly service). It was great to cover old stamping grounds and exciting for both my daughter and me.
I haven’t had much time for writing recently so I’m just including a whole load of photos. It perhaps says something for my mental and emotional state that I haven’t written much – writing for me is a release in times of emotional turbulence (not always very appropriately, but it’s what helps me – I perhaps just need to remember not to be too public) – and generally (other than HMRC, grrrrr….) things have been pretty good recently.
Which reminds me that I must get on with some professional writing…
It was late on an August Friday evening that three excited children and I sat at Newcastle airport waiting to fly off on holiday. We weren’t going abroad but to Exeter – it just seemed so much less hassle to jump on an aeroplane and arrive in Devon an hour later instead of being stuck on the M6/M5 with three children who were likely to get bored and start fighting.
I have to admit I’m not the world’s best flyer. Like so many people, I think, there’s something completely illogical about being in a metal tube in the sky, even though I’m the daughter of an aerodynamicist so know the basic principles of how these things work. However I love the vantage point of seeing the world lying beneath you like a map: on the way down we flew over Leeds, Liverpool and North Wales in the dark, the lights of the Wirral divided from those of Liverpool by a dark band of river. On the way back it was light so the distinctive shapes of England and Wales were even more clear.
My sister met us at Exeter airport and we drove down to the English Riviera – to Paignton. It’s part of the world which my crowd-hating parents steered us clear of when we were younger even though we only lived an hour or two’s drive away. We were staying in a house which had been recently completely refurbished to provide accommodation for 10, and was on a site with the owners’ house, three other cottages and a swimming pool (Blagdon House Country Cottages). Needless to say whatever the weather the children insisted on going swimming at least once a day, and several times I had a battle to get them out when my fingers had turned green with cold (‘Yoda fingers’ according to Edward) and it was time to get on and do something else. I’m so proud that my oldest two are such confident swimmers though, and that Edward is getting there – I was still nervous into adulthood.
As you’d expect from an English summer, the weather was mixed but on the whole most days were dry and several were warm and sunny. There was only one day, when we went to Agatha Christie’s home, Greenway, when Bella and I did not take jumpers or waterproof jackets and both suffered (not in silence, in her case!). It struck me how much National Trust properties have improved since I was a child. You no longer have to traipse round looking at paintings, china and furniture in museum mode, but the experience has become more interactive and also the outdoors seems to have more on offer as well, with playgrounds and games. This was especially the case at Killerton, which we went to on our last day.
Although we didn’t play on the beach at all we went on steam trains and boats and explored castles and houses. Dinner in Brixham near the Golden Hind was popular, where we watched a dog on a first floor windowsill (now called De Locus Dog by Edward and Alex), as was crabbing from the quayside in Dartmouth.
And the heroes? While we were crabbing Bella managed to drop the bucket in the water, which was several feet below us, and Edward burst into noisy tears. On hearing Edward, a lovely man in a pinkish coloured T-shirt with pointy ears (the man that is, not the T-shirt – I think he may have been an elf) manoeuvred his boat to fish it out for us, throwing it up to a cheering crowd on the quayside and to an impressed five-year old boy whose tears had been stopped by this hero. Then on the ferry back to Kingswear, as we went past the Royal Navy ship anchored in the river and I was encouraging Edward to wave, two Royal Navy officers looked through their binoculars at us and waved back – and one then raised his cap and saluted (I think my Mum was a little envious as she said something about liking the Royal Navy uniform best of the forces uniforms and how smart it is… which is similar to my boss assuming that I like going on inspections of Fire Stations because of the firemen in uniform. Actually I’m not a great ‘uniform’ fan – it’s a bit too formal and smart for me – but it was rather an ego boost being saluted). Having a five-year old, like having a dog I guess, can be quite an ice-breaker…
We finished the holiday with a lovely few hours and an al fresco meal at my Uncle’s and his wife’s. They have a fantastic garden, including a stream and an adjacent field with cows, for the children to run around in and there are all sorts of things to discover including wooden statues carved – impressively – with a chainsaw. My uncle also has an infra-red camera so was later able to send some images of a fox and a hedgehog eating our leftovers that night.
It wasn’t exactly a highly relaxing week as the children fought and wound each other and everyone else up (especially my parents) – but it did make me think that the French custom of taking the whole of August off is rather a good one, and if I can afford it next year, that is what I would really like to do – and spend time going around and about doing exciting things and exploring places with my children.
I even have a bit of a tan. And when Edward found he had left Darth Vadar and Chewbacca at the holiday cottage, the obliging owners posted them back the following day. There’s service!