The main final part of the Cumbria Way was the stage from Ulverston to Coniston (or vice versa). People who run the entire route in one go start at Ulverston; although we did this stage last, we also started at the sculpture which marks the beginning. The wiggly line on it is apparently a ‘map’ of the route.
There was a lot of stopping and starting along the route as the waymarkers varied from being clear to being non-existent, so we went a longer way around some fields than we needed to, and there were also many stiles and gates: some a little wonky. The overall run was only about 20km/12 miles, but took us ages with all the stopping and starting: fortunately most of it was runnable, but not all of it.
The best part of today’s run was probably the bit up to and after Beacon Tarn, by which time we were within the Lake District National Park and on ‘familiar’-feeling Lakeland fells, with paths which were alternatively stony and muddy. It was also slightly easier to navigate than when crossing fields and farmland.
We had decided to leave the route at Sunny Bank, because we’d run the rest of the way, along the lake shore, into Coniston village itself previously, when we’d run around Coniston Water. We’d had to park in a layby slightly further south so the last bit of the ‘run’ was a walk back to the car: where we’d left our swimming stuff, intending to drive to Water Yeat and walk to Beacon Tarn. However the weather wasn’t great so instead we had a quick dip in Coniston instead before driving back to Ulverston where my car had been left.
This wasn’t my favourite leg of the Cumbria Way. There were some good views of Morecambe Bay as we climbed away from Ulverston, and we went through some pretty villages and past some lovely houses – Gawthwaite was perhaps the prettiest – and the part past Beacon Tarn and to Sunny Bank was attractive in a proper ‘wild’ way, apart from the telegraph poles alongside the path. The bog area just past Beacon Tarn was really interesting (Penny said something about it being called a high level mere or something). I think it’s called Stable Harvey Moss, or Mere Moss: looking at the map there are several ‘mosses’ in the area, but this one had a lot of water on it and water lilies (Beacon Tarn also had water lilies in it).
The weather wasn’t brilliant, which perhaps didn’t help: but we can now say that we have done all of the Cumbria Way other than the part from near Bowscale to Caldbeck – that was delayed due to extremely bad weather on the day we had thought of trying. We now need to think of another challenge, although in addition to the Bowscale to Caldbeck section we also need to finish cycling around Cumbria (Melmerby to Brampton) and swimming in various lakes and tarns. But I think I might look up the Lakeland 100 course and do it in 10 sections of 10 miles each…
All of a sudden the house is empty and quiet; I’m conscious of the spaces. One moment the boys were here, playing on the xbox and chatting; Bella arrived, bounding in to grab some of her things and a hug with cat; then all three piled into David’s car and were off, gone, it felt, with no transition. It’s often the way: more so since lockdown. My schizophrenic life feels more obviously schizophrenic when they’re here one minute and gone the next and I’m here every day.
Being furloughed made me more aware of the differences: potentially there was the noisy chaos and hugs & battles of children in the house, followed by silence and calm: sometimes a desirable thing which I welcomed with a sigh of relief, sometimes less welcome and it took an hour or so to get used to being on my own again, and the quietness. I think what lockdown and furlough has taught me is that I do have inner resources and I’m not lonely nor as mentally unstable as I feared, whether or not the children are here and however much they create upheaval (or not – I have some lovely moments with them as well, and I perhaps need to concentrate on those more).
Right at the beginning of lockdown – pre-lockdown, even – my biggest fear was that being on my own I would crumble and drop into an abyss of loneliness and despair. It has been a relief that that hasn’t happened.
It’s made me think that one of our biggest emotional problems as human beings is not the actual problems but the fear of them. Fear can be paralysing, resulting in inaction; it can result in anger and aggression (we are, after all, animals); it can result in defensiveness and self-protection. For me the fear – which made me emotional and angry and then made me ‘close up’ and cut myself off from people for a brief while – was not of the virus itself but of the effect it was going to have on my life. Thank goodness for our amazing modern technology, which has been truly put to the test and, I think, come up trumps; and thank goodness that I was still allowed out running and cycling, and that I have lovely places around here to practice them both.
The exercise in itself has not only been an emotional support but also has proved to me that despite my age I can still improve my fitness and stamina and feel faster and more competitive: what’s interesting is that I also enjoy the non-competitive ‘pootling’ type of runs and bike rides (when I was younger I was always trying to beat my best time, always pushing myself). I’ve never been in any doubt about the benefits of exercise generally, being fit and getting outside – not since I first decided to get fitter at the age of about 30, when as I got fitter my insecurities about all sorts of things including my body image reduced enormously – but it’s always nice to have one’s views confirmed.
Moving to Cumbria, to somewhere rural, opened and continues to open my eyes wide to the amazing fulfilment that comes from living somewhere where you can get close to nature. I grew up in Somerset, in a village about the same size as the town I now live in: and loathed it. I couldn’t wait to escape to the city: ideally as far away from family and what I saw, at that point, as restrictions, as possible (Nottingham was the University the furthest south that I applied to). I still don’t think of Somerset as ‘really rural’ or ‘the real countryside’, though it does have much beauty (and much traffic), but I can now understand the appeal of not living in a big city, and it struck me early in lockdown how glad – and lucky – I am to live where I do.
I have also learnt to be a bit calmer and slower: to allow myself to say ‘well, there’s no rush to do that’ or to allow myself to read a book for hours. I noticed this particularly at the beginning of furlough: I’m so used to (often self-imposed) deadlines and to Doing Things that sometimes it’s difficult to stop. On the other hand I always have a lot of things I want to do! But I think I appreciate more than ever that a day when I don’t do any singing practice, or don’t run, doesn’t actually make me worse at those things. In fact I think if anything being calmer about life overall makes me better at them.
So, work on Monday (8th June). I will continue with my daily yoga and almost daily running or cycling; I will try to get out open water swimming when it is safe and warm enough to do so. I will be baking fewer cakes (though a couple of friends have birthdays coming up…) and will not have time for Friday morning Italian conversation: but I think on the whole to be back at work and feel that I’m actually earning my living, and using my brain, will be a good thing. I feel quite spoilt to have had this time.
I don’t know when I’ll write again: I spoke of possibly winding up this blog. However there are lots of new routes to discover still and tarns and lakes to swim in, so you may be regaled with stories of the mini-adventures of my friends and I in this gorgeous corner of the world. Scattered through this post, just to demonstrate it, are some photos as despite rain – and hail – I have had some lovely outings in this, my final week of furlough.
I’ve mentioned anger a couple of times. It seems that at the moment the United States is a sad and angry place; that anger has spilled over into public demonstrations here. I do not condone any cruelty to one’s fellow man, but unfortunately it seems to me that there are some people who will use any excuse to destroy rather than to build bridges, and there are always people at extremes. Will humankind ever learn to live in peace; will men ever learn to tolerate and accept? There are those who lead a glowing way, such as Jacinta Aherne, the Prime Minister of New Zealand; but sadly somehow I think people like her are in a minority (and also managing a less densely located and smaller population). I said the other day to a friend that I hoped I’d got more tolerant as I’d got older: but even so there are things which I get angry about (litter in beautiful countryside; people not being environmentally aware; hypocrisy). And yes, I’m sure I’m a hypocrite. I think we all are.
At the beginning of this week I’m still struggling with sadness, and waking up in the morning feeling purposeless. My biggest worry is not in fact coronavirus but the future of the planet – we have an incredible opportunity to make something better of our world at the moment (and to pull together more than ever), but instead some people are becoming more isolation-ist, on all sorts of levels, and I’m not sure that the improvements to the environment will continue. On a global level it is, as usual, the really poor who will suffer – the refugees and the crowded shanty towns – and I just don’t know what to do about them.
Making cake sounds superficial in comparison, but allowing my creative baker some rein – now I have flour, yeast, etc. – makes me feel that at least I’m doing something that’s a very small treat for people. It’s nothing in the overall scheme of things but for me there’s something therapeutic about cooking (funnily enough I have just been asked to quote for catering for a hen party in August – I wonder if it will actually happen…).
‘On order’ are Rum Babas (bouchon) for Clare and Colin, a chive and cheese loaf for Clare’s Dad, and another St Clement’s drizzle cake.
I also got out on my bike today. After 3 days of not doing any exercise and not spending long in the open air, it confirmed my belief (and the scientific research) that one of the best things for people is to be outside and exercising. What with the bike ride and then delivering the cake to Jo and Jerry, my mood has been quite restored.
Saturday 16th May
Sometimes I just need to speak to people, and to stop analysing and worrying about whether or not I’m a good mother. Kids can be rotten: and whilst mine don’t seem anxious at all at the moment, they are out of their usual routine and (like me; like us all) not able to see their friends and family. Not only have I been outside exercising, but I’ve also had a socially-distanced walk with my lovely friend and neighbour Laura today, and that was also uplifting. We came across an enormous bank of wild garlic – unfortunately I didn’t have a bag to collect any but I think there will be lots in Gelt Woods for a week or so yet.
I’m going to write elsewhere about yesterday’s 8-mile (13km) sight-seeing run along Hadrian’s Wall but in the meantime the Rum Babas/bouchon are soaking in rum syrup and the cheese and chive bread rolls have been delivered (after I’d tested one just to make sure they were OK). I now have more orders for another St Clement’s Drizzle cake, and am going to make Drunken Raisin ice cream and oatcakes for a friend. Very satisfying.
Pub quizzes and chats
You know how it is when you chat to people: you realise that actually you’re not alone in your thoughts and there are plenty of other people out there thinking along similar lines.
Chatting to my friend Kath on Thursday evening she said “I don’t want to go back to how we were before: I don’t need shops and all this overwhelming stuff”. It reminded me of walking through a store in Bristol around Christmas one year in my pre-children adulthood and feeling swamped by Stuff; it reminds me of shopping in Oxford St. and not being able to find what I wanted because there was too much choice. And, like Kath, I haven’t missed shops: my type of shopping tends to be when I have a specific list and I zip around trying to find exactly what I want before then dashing away again. I don’t particularly enjoy window shopping, and although I like to be able to see some clothes and books in a shop rather than online – and shoes need to be tried on – I do order things online and I enjoy waiting for the postman to arrive.
Having had a chat with Kath I then tried out an online pub quiz in aid of Alzheimer’s Research. I felt quite emotional as the amount being raised went up and up, matched by thousands by a wealth management company; but I also felt sad that charities such as Alzheimer’s (and Cumbria Mountain Rescue, which I have just donated to as well) are having to furlough staff and are struggling financially. It made me think that charities which deal with human life and death are perhaps far more important to society than those which are heritage-based. Don’t get me wrong: I’m proud to work for English Heritage and I absolutely adore (most) old buildings, and love the stories they tell – but at the end of the day, whilst our heritage is important (and an integral part of who we are), struggling human life is more important. On the other hand I also feel that the National Trust and similar ‘landscape’ charities are important from an environmental point of view.
I’ve struggled this week, in my glass-half-empty-this-week mindset, to see how on earth humans will ever change or make the world a better place. We need more kindness, more calmness; less greed and less speed and pressure; but as soon as lockdown was even slightly lifted we were all back in our cars and there was footage of people commuting to work as if life hadn’t changed in the slightest. Easy for me to be critical from rural Cumbria, however.
I will know by Friday 22nd whether I’m being furloughed for longer – potentially until October. Meanwhile a bunch of us from work, all furloughed, met up over Zoom: we’re feeling guilty that we’re being paid to have a lazy time but also finding it hard not to be involved in making things happen and in decision-making.
Whatever happens, I’ve decided I really need to get my ‘glass-half-full’ head back on and enjoy myself. If I’m furloughed for even longer I’ll definitely be ready to do a triathlon to celebrate my 60th birthday – if not before.
There are plenty of people saying the same sorts of things as I’m about to say in this post: but I still feel it’s important to write it. After all, if enough of us say it perhaps it will actually happen.
I was talking to two friends today; as I have been speaking to many people since lockdown. Even prior to lockdown I wanted to do something about the environment: working in the property industry I have long tried to push for more sustainable development, and have tried to learn more about how to ensure new buildings are environmentally friendly and, just as importantly, and perhaps more challengingly, how to bring our huge stock of old buildings up to modern standards.
In the early 1990s there was a significant recession in Britain, with property values dropping drastically, it seemed almost overnight. I remember questioning at the time with a fellow surveyor why we always had to have economic growth. It seemed to me that there was a huge pressure on people to make things quickly in order to create huge amounts of money in order to pay shareholders huge dividends., and a constant increase in goods and services just didn’t seem sustainable. A few years later I remember walking through a shop just before Christmas and it hitting me hard how much ‘stuff’ there was – far too much choice and far more than any of us needed.
I’m no paragon when it comes to not having stuff, but I definitely feel less need of ‘stuff’ than I used to: and I’ve always felt strongly that we shouldn’t waste resources, and should recycle as much as possible. What was heartening from one of the conferences I was ‘at’ recently was hearing that young people nowadays don’t want stuff – they want experiences (though I’m not sure my teenage daughter would agree: however for my teenage son ‘experiences’ make good presents).
It would seem that the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the speed of change on the High Street: more online shopping is being done (for obvious reasons) and if there really is a move towards buying experiences rather than stuff then perhaps – once we can be less socially distant again – our High Streets will more and more become the focus for communities and for people to relax and socialise.
However people have to get to their High Streets and at the moment there has been more emphasis on walking to local shops and buying local. It would be great for all these small businesses economically if that continued; but it would also be better for the environment if we didn’t all leap back into our cars.
Unfortunately I think we’re going to feel safer in our vehicles than on public transport, but as one of my friends pointed out today, if local authorities could tap into the current demand for cycling – and make it safer for people to cycle – that would help. The possibility of people working from home more and cycling when they do need to get to work could be a huge change in the world: and people would be healthier.
I think perhaps the demand for offices will also decrease: it’s been shown how well we can all work from home, and whilst the need and desire for face-to-face meetings will continue, will we ever really want to go back to all having to commute to work and work in the same room as a bunch of other people? We can save so much time and energy by not commuting too: my train journey to work takes about an hour and a half each way, and I really appreciate the extra time I have (to run, do yoga and have a proper breakfast and dinner) when I’m not having to commute. I am calmer and my shoulders are less tense.
There is a golden opportunity here. I just hope enough of us want to grasp it, so that something positive comes out of the sadness of coronavirus. It’s about time we human beings changed our greedy ways. Let’s take note of Sir David Attenborough and not waste things; and of Sir Michael Palin and have holidays closer to home: and at least take our time and go by train if we go abroad.