Bob Graham and the final lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter at Brothers Water

After our mammoth efforts around Windermere we only had two more lakes to go of the list that Penny had set – though in fact if we chose to run around all the lakes, waters and tarns of Cumbria we should officially also run around Kielder Water (26 miles) and the list of small tarns is almost endless.  As she had run around Brotherswater on her own at the very beginning of the challenge, when the opportunity arose for me to run around it, I decided it was time that I set out.

It was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon by the time I got to the car park at Cow Bridge, having left the children with David (my ex-husband) at Rheged. This Easter weekend had not only been sunny but warm, with almost summery temperatures, so the Lake District was busy and Edward had already been in the water at Pooley Bridge.  I wasn’t sure there would be parking spaces available but in fact because it was later on in the afternoon and also because Brotherswater is a little off the beaten track, there were several spaces available and I parked easily. 

The car park is on a corner of the road near an old bridge and an old road – presumably the route of the road was ‘improved’ at some point to make the corner less sharp and/or to put in a new bridge, and it created a piece of land with enough space for parking either side of the Goldrill Beck, which flows out of the lake.   I was running clockwise around the lake as from what Penny had told me it sounded as if that would be the easier way to find the path, and I started out along the road which at that point has a pavement.

It wasn’t long before I noticed a pedestrian gate and a path running alongside a field.  This meandered along next to the road but protected from it by a stone wall, and came out at Skyeside Campside. Penny said when she had run along here it had been overgrown and difficult to see the path, so fortunately it looked as if someone had done some maintenance.  I stopped to check that I was on the right route at the campsite reception-cum-shop area: the public footpath goes straight across the campsite, which today was busy due not only to the long weekend but also to the glorious weather. 

Going through a gate you run across National Trust land heading towards Hartsop Hall, a working farm and holiday cottages.  The farm house is grade 1 listed and significant as being one of the earliest remaining farmhouses in the Lake District.  The listing document describes it as a “typical larger Lakeland farmhouse in typically magnificent setting”, and provides the details that the original house dates from the 16th century with wings added in the 17th and 18th centuries.  With the sun shining, spring bursting forth – lambs chasing each other around the fields while their mothers sat contentedly in the warmth – and the lake, it was indeed a beautiful setting and once more I was grateful for these runs and for the areas of the countryside I had seen which I hadn’t seen before.

A good public path then goes straight down the western side of the lake back to the car park, with plenty of alternative route options if you want to go further, perhaps exploring the woods or walking through to Patterdale.  This side of the lake in particular was gorgeous.  As I ran, thoughts and feelings spilled through my head: that when the weather is a beautiful as this I just want to stay outside for hours and hours, which is partly why the long runs are so great (the only thing I really hate is being wet, particularly if I’m cold as well); that I had driven past Brotherswater lots of times but this was the first time I’d actually stopped, slowed up and taken account of the actual lake and its surroundings, instead of hareing up the Kirkstone Pass; and most of all I felt a renewed love of Cumbria and of the Lake District in particular.  When David and I moved to Cumbria it was because we loved the Lake District: frustrations at home, working in Newcastle and travelling around Northumberland and Yorkshire had made me wonder about moving to the North East or to Yorkshire. Running around Windermere and then Brotherswater confirmed to me that this is where my heart is. I’m not sure how accurate DNA ‘ancestry’ tests are but mine showed a strong Celtic heritage, including not only the west country but Wales and what is now Cumbria.  Is there some sort of ‘tribal memory’ which sometimes means that you find yourself in a place where you just feel completely rooted; a part of the entire fabric of the place?  Who knows.

I passed few people around Brotherswater despite the call to be outdoors; and I sat later in happy solitude by the beck and just soaked up the views and the sunshine.  An undulating path lead a golden track up the hill behind Hartsop village and I wanted to follow it to discover where it went (up to High Street perhaps – a route I want to follow from end to end sometime) and what views there might be from the top.  And I harked back to singing in Patterdale church, intending to concentrate on the conductor but instead finding my eyes constantly drawn through the church windows to the hills beyond: the very hills I was now looking at from a lake.

It was only a short run – disappointingly so for a day when I wanted just to sit outside until it grew dark and cold, when I had no pressing need to rush home – so after contemplating life for a while I went into Glenridding, bought myself a drink and sat and read my book in the early evening sun.

Windermere: a weekend of running

Running around Windermere made me appreciate the Lake District all over again. The central lakes – particularly the area around Ambleside and the actual lake of Windermere – is the area of the Lake District I have kept coming back to, time and again. Mountain bike weekends as a single person were followed by family holidays before and even after we moved up here; when we moved from Bristol to Cumbria ideally I would have liked to have lived in Ambleside; when I retire I hope I will, or at least in the town of Windermere.

The Windermere marathon is run on-road; as we were running round the lakes off-road (partly as neither Penny nor I like road running – but also trail running is just more interesting), we knew that Windermere could be up to 40 miles and therefore needed to be run over two days. Even so, two 20-mile runs on consequetive days was going to be hard. Penny looked at the map again and turned up with a coloured-up version with a route which was possibly going to be difficult to navigate in places but which might be more like 30-35 miles.

We were staying at the Swan Hotel at Newby Bridge on the Saturday night, and I booked us sports massages in Backbarrow that evening as well. It would be worth trying to optimise our chances of actually running on the Sunday rather than walking or hobbling. I was hoping that the tweak in my knee wasn’t going to cause problems – and Penny is haunted every so often by previous injuries causing problems.

We arrived at the Swan at 9 o’clock on Saturday morning. I’d been up in plenty of time and bought myself coffee at Tebay services; unfortunately they hadn’t got any plain flapjacks so instead my ‘fuel’ consisted of Graze Bars (perfect running fuel) various other bars, and a sandwich I’d bought at Tebay (which was nice but not good as running fuel – I ate half after Windermere and struggled with my stomach for a bit). It was a beautiful spring day and walking into the reception at the Swan to check it was OK to leave a car and come back later, we were both impressed by the decor. The hotel has a lovely mixture of colours and different wallpapers, but the diversity creates a glorious and surprisingly homongeneous whole. I know my parents and my kids would love the hotel…

We got in my car and headed up to Wray Castle, on the western side of the lake and towards the northern end, Penny’s plan being that we’d do 20-26 miles on Saturday and then only about 11 on Sunday. At Wray the lovely, helpful, National Trust staff were impressed with what we were trying to do and we agreed we’d go back for lunch at the end of the run. I also determined to take the kids there at Easter. Several times during this run I was to comment how well the NT do things: their cafes offer good food; their visitor attractions are far more visitor friendly and child-friendly now than they were when I was young; and they seem to manage to carry out nature and heritage conservation whilst providing attractive places to visit.

Starting out at Wray Castle

From Wray there’s an easy-to-follow footpath around to Ambleside. I love Ambleside, although it’s one of those places where it’s easy to spend money on things which you don’t really need. However we weren’t going to go into the village centre today but instead ran along the road which goes past the vague remains of the Roman Fort (Galava) and to Waterhead. Here we found a footpath going up hill. We went up… and then up some more… and the views of the lake became more and more stunning…

Running around Windermere was to prove to be a bit of a ‘heritage’ run as well as nature. We ran up over land above Ambleside to come out near Townhead, another National Trust property which we both admitted to not having ever visited but to having wanted to (another time!). After a bit of a dilemma going around a farm (the footpath once went straight through but now goes around the farmyard), we ran across rolling grasslands up behind Holehird – another place to be visited sometime – lambs approaching us with curiosity while their mothers kept a cautious eye on us. Time and again I kept thinking about how this area is the Lake District at its best – it was probably spring in England at its best as well. Magnolias were in bloom, and rhododendrons of the most amazing colours – pale pink, fuschia pink – and of course daffodils everywhere. In some places we also saw the first few bluebells, and there was verdant wild garlic growing in profusion, the buds still tightly wrapped in green. How on earth had I ever thought I might want to live in Newcastle?!

We arrived in Windermere and felt that it was time for a coffee, so went into Booths. It also gave us a chance to look at the map as we needed to find our way out of Windermere along the Dales Way. Wiggling through various back streets (I never knew Windermere was so big), we eventually picked it up near Matson Ground, a farm and, by the look of it, stables. We went slightly off-course here but in fact it didn’t matter too much; and eventually ran near Winster (the Brown Horse at Winster has the most amazing selection of gins and tonics). I’d walked across the route we were taking previously with my friends Davina and Colin, who used to live near Blackwell and with whom I walked to the Brown Horse a few times. It’s a funny thing, thinking you recognise somewhere and then realising that you’ve gone west-east across the route instead of the (roughly) north-south we were doing today. Not far past here a man walking his labradors shouted at us which way we needed to go, which was useful as we were dithering!

We kept running past lovely Lake District cottages, wondering how on earth they were accessed and knowing that we’d never seen them before and might well never see them again. When you stick to the main or even secondary roads, there’s a whole load of countryside that you don’t even know exists. It’s not all fields and woods!

We reached a tarn and then turned on to a road. The map looked as if there was a bridleway that we needed to take, but it said it was private land. It turned out that you need to go further up the road before you can cut across a field and follow the footpath. Then the footpath disappeared again and we were wandering around some public access land wondering which direction we were meant to go in. We met a couple, who said it was far easier coming in the other direction but that if we headed south(ish) then we’d meet a path where we needed to turn left (east-ish). We eventually found this, but then arrived at a place where it wasn’t clear which left hand turn we should take – one going slightly back on ourselves up a hill or one the other side of a beck. Fortunately a group of people heading down from the other side of the beck told us they’d come from Gummer’s How, which is where we were heading for.

There was quite a bit of uphill now and I was feeling tired. Whereas we’d seen bus-stops earlier in the run and joked about how we could always catch a bus if we wanted to, there was no way a bus was going to be along in these woods! However we were now on the right track and came out on Gummer’s How to be rewarded with stunning views of Windermere and even to Morecambe Bay. Our legs were tired but ‘all’ we had to do was run down the road from Gummer’s How and then do the last bit along the A591 to our hotel.

The Swan Hotel was down there……..

We arrived back at the hotel at 5.45; just in time to make a quick visit to the spa and relax in the steam room and jacuzzi before heading off for our fab sports massages at Backbarrow. We then went back to the hotel for dinner and treated ourselves to a gin and tonic and lots of tap water; neither of us managed to finish our food however, which was a pity as it was lovely (Penny had fish pie; I had paella). It was then early to bed as we were both tired and also wanted to get going at a reasonable time the next morning. We had run/walked/climbed either 19.4 or 21 miles, depending whether you believed Penny’s Garmin or my Strava.

Day two: Newby Bridge to Wray

Sunday dawned bright again and our legs felt amazingly normal – the effects, we decided, of little alcohol, the jacuzzi, steam room and sports massage and an early night. However having only just had breakfast and as the first part of today’s route was uphill, we took it easy to start with.

We turned along a footpath to Finsthwaite, up through some woods and past Finsthwaite tower. There were some lovely cottages in Finsthwaite and I wondered how much a 1- or 2-bed cottage would cost. Passing into some more woods, we noticed the bleaberrys coming into berry and I wondered if they were what my uncle used to call wortleberries – I remember going to pick them as a family when I was young, I think probably in the Quantocks. Interestingly, one of the roads or lanes in Brampton is called Bleaberry Bent – I shall have to look out for them next time I go along there. I wonder if they are good for cooking with?

We were up above Stott Park Bobbin Mill now and heading up towards High Dam, which I believe used to power the mill. For me this is one of the most interesting of English Heritage properties, partly because it can still produce bobbins (I have one which I’m using for French knitting – it was meant to make a little woollen christmas tree but it will be for Christmas 2019 now). We were later to drive past it on the way back to the Swan Hotel to pick up Penny’s car, and she commented that you’d think a cafe would do quite well there as there are so few places to eat between Hawkshead and Newby Bridge.

High Dam was gorgeous, and we then had a lovely easy run – mostly downhill – over tracks maintained by the Lake District National Park. We did in fact come out on the road in slightly the wrong place, but as there was a footpath on the other side of the road, which led to the YMCA, it was fine.

High Dam was gorgeous

From the YMCA there was a clear footpath which took us through part of the Greythwaite estate and past some gorgeous houses they own. Some are holiday cottages; some are having quite a bit of work done to them, presumably in order to be holiday cottages. The footpath along by the lake was lovely, with all sorts of flowers in bloom and a river joining the lake and creating a stony dam and ripples of its own. It made me really appreciate this western side of the lake, which I think is less well-known than the eastern, more built-up, side.

A quick jog from one of the Sawreys downhill and we were at Claife Heights viewing point – somewhere else neither of us had ever been. There is a great National Trust cafe at the ‘gatehouse’ to the walk up to the Heights – though you have to walk a few minutes to the Ferry ‘terminal’ to use the toilet – which again I’ve resolved I’m going to take the children to. Apparently it was once used for dances and all sorts, before falling into disrepair. It must have been magical to walk up the path to have a superb view over the lake, candlelight twinkling around you.

Fingerposts told us it was now about 4 miles or less to Wray, and we ran across some lovely grassy National Trust land before joining a more stony lakeside path. We had both run this before when doing the Hawkshead Trail race; but the Hawkshead race soon heads up the Coffin Trail to go back over the hill to Hawkshead. We instead kept running along the lake shore, and before long Wray Castle was in sight. Two miles to go; and time for a stretch. As I tried to start running again my tweaky knee was extremely painful, as if my entire left leg had gone into spasm (perhaps it had). I hobbled/tried to run/limped along, cross that after running so well for most of the morning so far after such a long run yesterday, my left leg now had let me down.

However we got back to Wray Castle and had finished our longest run to date. It had been beautiful, although at times a bit chilly and we had covered, in total, somewhere between 30 and 34 miles.

Unfortunately the cafe was full and we needed to sit inside somewhere warm, so we drove to Hawkshead for the obligatory post-run soup. Just Esthwaite Water still to do (and I need to do Brotherswater) and then we’ll have a big celebration!

We made it! 30 miles or just over!

Following the daffodils: the Ullswater Way and memories

Daffodils merrily in bloom

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

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

Two jackets, hat, gloves, buff…

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

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

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

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

Only one jacket

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good view but not quite as sunny as the morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remind me to #UllswaterWay

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

Glorious view down the lake

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Ennerdale

It was a rather dreary October morning when Tim and Tricia C. came to fetch Mark (from across the road), Bella (my daughter) and me in order to drive down to Ennerdale for the Ennerdale trail race.  I realised with surprise that it had been 6 years since I last ran this particular race, organised by High Terrain Events.  I had done the 15-mile route just two weeks after running/walking Kielder marathon – after one of the wettest summers I had ever know, that October had provided glorious sunny autumnal days, and at the end of the race I sat in a deckchair in the sun, drinking a coffee, soaking up the warmth and admiring the view.  Partners and children waiting for runners to complete the race had splashed in the lake in a beach area near to the finish.

Today however was completely different.  As we drove further west the weather deteriorated until there was a persistent chilly rain.  We passed the pub in Ennerdale Bridge where Penny & Tim O. had stayed overnight in their camper van and headed towards the lake, Tim C. thinking he’d drop us off and then go to find somewhere to park.  In fact we were incredibly lucky and got one of the last spaces in the car park by the Scout Hut.

There was the normal milling around before the race began, drinking coffee, getting cold outside and too hot inside, and going to the loo numerous times: and then it was time for the 25km race to begin.  The last time I had done the race all 3 distances had taken place on the same day – this time the 50km ultra (two laps around the lake and up to Black Sail YHA) had taken place the day before.  15 minutes after the 25km runners started, those of us doing the 10km set off.

Ennerdale-Water-mapThe first half of the route is relatively easy and level.  You head around the lake in a clockwise (south-easterly) direction, wending your way on a fairly narrow path with the lake on your right and trees on your left, until you reach Bowness Knott car park (please note we were going in the opposite direction to that shown on the map above).  At Bowness Knott you get on to a forest road which again stays parallel to the edge of the lake.  The land ownership around here is a mixture of National Trust, Forestry Commission and Unitied Utilities, and they’re doing very little in the way of management in order to allow it to be as wild as possible and for nature to get its own way (Wild Ennerdale).

Following the floods of recent years, bridges have been repaired and replaced across the rivers at the eastern end of the lake and Penny was telling me how they had had to work out a solution which fitted with wild Ennerdale but also allowed for flood water.  The bridges are therefore concrete, so water can just wash over them.  We stopped for a photo at this end of the lake: as this was a race I didn’t keep stopping and taking photos like I normally would, hence fewer photos in this blogpost.20181021_1110101.jpg

We now have quite a collection of the two of us looking into the camera with a lake in the background.  This time of course the hills can’t be seen clearly – the rain was persisting and the views were non-existent.

As the path turns up the south-western side of the lake, it wriggles through trees and over/through streams and becomes very rocky.  I love this bit and like the good friend I am (not), as I saw the chance to overtake a few people who were slightly more hesitant on the potentially slippery rocks, my competitive instinct arose.  I left Penny behind – something she has never done to me in all the times we have run together.  I have no excuses – I was enjoying myself.

It’s quite a demanding section as you need to pick a good line through the rocks and make sure you don’t slip and fall.  At one point I slipped into a stream – however by then I was so wet anyway it didn’t really make any difference.  The streams were running quite high and fast with all the rain and they cross the path at relatively frequent intervals.

There’s a bit of a clamber up and over Angler’s Crag, and marshalls were there to make sure you don’t fall in – there’s a significant drop down to the lake.  I knew by now that I wasn’t too far from the end.  As I overtook a couple more people, I wondered if they would overtake me back on the flatter section – always a spur to keep you running!

The beach where previously families with children had been splashing didn’t exist today as the water level was so high, and as I crossed the river Ehen evidence of the water pipeline which is being installed from Thirlmere to Ennerdale was all around to my left, the natural landscape a temporary muddy construction site, the large blue pipes lying on the ground ready to be buried.  I could hear someone coming up behind me, which spurred me on to keep running – and as I headed over the finish line even managed to put on a bit of a sprint.

And there was my daughter, soaking wet and cold and desperate to get home to the warmth: but it was nice to see a family face waiting for me.  Hanging around in the cold and wet is always far worse than running in the cold and wet – I always feel appreciative of the marshalls who stand on the course making sure runners are OK and cheering us on, but who are slowly getting colder and colder waiting for us all to run past. I was so wet I could just have swum across the lake and it would have made little difference, but at least I was warm from running.

We had all run well and as we travelled back in the car chatted happily and debated which run to do next – a night run may well be on the cards.  Penny and I still have Coniston, Ullswater and Windermere to do, the aim being to complete them within the year of starting the ‘runs round the biggest lakes’, which I think means the end of April… it means one 14 mile, and three 20 mile runs (we’re going to split Windermere into two so that we can do the off-road 40 miles route but over two days…).

Wild Ennerdale is a beautiful run – and all off road – and one I’d happily do again.  But I have to admit it is far more beautiful on a sunny day!

And here are some of the official photos (purchased by Mark Britton) as we run along the forest road… Tricia looking happy and fit; me looking worried; Mark already semi-clothed despite the weather; and Penny smiling nicely at the camera.  That pink jacket of mine does not go with that purple top………




Bassenthwaite is one of my favourite lakes.  It doesn’t have the deathly darkness of Wastwater; it doesn’t have the choppy deepness of Ullswater; and it doesn’t have the pollution of people that Windermere has.  It’s not too deep, but still counts as one of the largest of the Lake District lakes – and is, of course, the only one which is officially a lake (as opposed to a mere, water, tarn, etc.).

I have a long-held ambition to do the Bassenthwaite triathlon but as I’m not back into triathlon training yet – and it will be a few years before I am, before I can leave all three children without parental supervision of any form in order to train at all three disciplines regularly – running around Bassenthwaite was something I was looking forward to.  I had no idea whether there were trails or whether we’d have to run alongside the wiggly and potentially dangerous A591 and the dual carriageway of the A66 but Penny assured me that she’d checked the map and it looked as if we’d be able to run off-road nearly all the way round.

As it turned out she was right, and in fact not only did we find trails where she had expected them but also some which weren’t marked on the map (there was one which we got on to and we weren’t quite sure whether it was private land or not, but there were no signs saying ‘keep out’/’private’/’trespassers will be prosecuted’ etc. so we hoped that it was at least open enough that a couple of runners weren’t going to be a problem).

We decided we’d do the trickiest bit first – the bit at the bottom of the lake, where there was a possibility that the path would be diverted due to the pipeline work (Thirlmere to Ennerdale pipeline) and where we would then possibly have to head steeply uphill to avoid the A591.  We parked at Braithwaite, crossed over the A66 and set out towards the lake.

Almost immediately it wasn’t clear where the path went but a kindly local asked what we were looking for and told us we needed to head through the field – the path led straight through the plants!  It then meandered through some fields and over little bridges, all quite clear to follow.

Bassenthwaite 30th Sept. 2018 (1)

When we got to the A591 there was only a short way to run on the road before we started climbing a forest track up towards the Osprey viewpoint.  We weren’t quite sure if we could have turned off before this, but thought doing so would take us through Calvert Trust land and that we might not be too popular.  It was worth the climb anyway – the Bassenthwaite 30th Sept. 2018 (4)view from the Osprey viewpoint was superb, and was followed by a brilliant descent down through Dodd Woods to the Saw Mill tea room (we didn’t stop for tea but it was useful to be able to use the loo and adjust clothing – Penny was wearing a pair of shorts under her leggings and getting far too hot!).

We then crossed back over the road to run around Mire House and along to St Bega’s church.  Having taken off some layers of clothing, it then got windy, rainy and chilly and we needed to put them back on again!  It was to end up being like that all day.

I hadn’t been to St Bega’s before, although I’ve driven past it loads of times.  It’s a really sweet little church with stunning views across the lake – and when we got to the other side we were able to look back and see it again.

This side of the lake the run route is really varied – from St. Bega’s we ran across fields of cows, through woods and came out by the lake at Bowness Bay.  As I have friends who live near Bowness on Windermere I wondered where the name came from – this is what Wikipedia tells us:  ‘Bowness’ (originally ‘Bulnes’) means ” ‘the headland where the bull grazes’, from OE ‘bula’, ‘bull’ and OE ‘næss’ ‘headland’, perhaps referring to the keeping of the parish bull.

There were a lot of stiles and gates but it was a lovely place to run, and then just before an activity centre where people were enjoying themselves in dinghys and on paddleboards, the path turned to a boardwalk through the trees.

There were then signs saying ‘Armathwaite Hall 1.5 miles’ so we knew we were getting towards the top of the lake.  At one point the path wasn’t clear, but purely because a stile was hidden by a tree!  Again we ran past cows and some sheep, and then through a wood.  We could hear the road ahead and knew we were basically at the top of the lake (is that the head, or is where the river enters the head?).

This was where we found a path alongside the lake through more trees, which wasn’t marked on our maps.  It was a gravelled path and clearly quite well-maintained, and a relief rather than running on the quite narrow B5291.  We crossed over the bridge where the river Derwent leaves the lake on its journey towards Cockermouth and Workington, pausing to watch the ducks.  The sun had come out again and it was yet another of those ‘good to be alive’ moments which happen so frequently being out and about in this gorgeous countryside.

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The track down the western side of the lake is then not the most exciting, except when it dips in and out of nature reserves (more unexpected but welcome paths which we hadn’t seen marked on maps), but it’s great that it’s there and it’s a good, level track which means you can get some steady running in (something I need to do more of – I’m getting into stop-start habits which is fine for social runs but not much good in a race).  The track runs parallel to the A66 and is an awful lot nicer than being on a pavement alongside the dual carriageway – thank you Cumbria County Council for building it!  But boo-hoo to all the contractors who left rubbish behind – there were road cones, disused vehicle batteries and empty cement buckets in the woods next to the road!

The path takes you through a tunnel under the road and you then come out in Powter How.  I’ve only just realised that (according to the map on the computer) this is the home of Bedrock Gin!  If only I’d known… except that we would never have made it back.  We knew by this point that we only had a couple of miles to go, but they were all on road – also despite being just about at the bottom of the lake, we had had to run quite a bit further south just because the paths don’t exist to cross all the rivers and streams which go into the lake at its southern point.  So the last bit was a bit of a slog, but eventually we saw the car (hooray!).  I even managed to speed up a bit to get to the car, and was pleased to see from MapMyRun that we had run 14.5 miles.

A short trip to Threlkeld where the brilliant community coffee shop was still open (and served us soup even though officially they had stopped serving food) and then back home.

I think this was possibly my favourite of all the lakes so far: it was as beautiful as the others (in places it was very similar to Thirlmere) and it was trail nearly all the way round.  Derwentwater was another stunning one, but there was less variation in the trail; Haweswater would have been the very best of all if the track on the eastern side was runnable.

I think there are now just 5 to go: Coniston, Ullswater, Windermere, Esthwaite Water and Ennerdale Water.  Even though I know Ullswater and Windermere are going to be really long I’m looking forward to them.

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Two lakes, nine miles, lots of rain

Penny had been on holiday to Cornwall with her husband to celebrate her 50th birthday.  A teenager, busy on a mobile phone, hadn’t seen her and had knocked her off her bike.  Several cracked ribs, a 7/8th broken elbow and various bruises later (just in time for the party with her twin sister) had set back the running a bit… but after a few weeks she felt well enough to give Buttermere and possibly Loweswater a go.

As my birthday is mid-September, I’d had a birthday dinner the night before and been up late drinking prosecco and chatting.  I did not feel great the next morning.  So there we were – one recuperating from injuries and one recuperating from a hangover.

We squeezed into what was almost the last space in the National Trust car park in Buttermere. I’m impressed by their new parking machines, where if you’re a member you can just scan your card and get a ticket: no having to find some cash and then get the money back.  It was a bit drizzly and started raining properly as we headed towards the ‘start line’ at the north western end of the lake.  As we ran along the southern side of the lake it got steadily heavier.  It didn’t deter plenty of walkers though: at only about 4 miles round, and fairly level, it’s a popular route with those who don’t want to scramble over scree or get above the tree line.

The southern part of the lake wends its way through the trees, until you come out at the river crossing and a farm.  The cows were looking as wet and bedraggled as we were.  I did take a photo of one but the poor thing did not look particularly attractive, whereas Penny managed somehow not to look such a mess – probably because she’s got a hat on and her hair tied back, whereas the cow and I both had curly loose locks.  It was warm however, which meant we got some strange looks from walkers wrapped up well against the elements – who were these strange women running along in t-shirts?

Probably the northern side of the lake is the more interesting, as not only do you get a variety of terrain but there is even a rock tunnel to run through.  This was, apparently (according to the National Trust website), carved out by a Manchester Mill Owner.  They don’t tell us why – presumably to continue the path.  We arrived back at the village after 4.5 wet but pleasant miles, with, rewardingly, only a tiny bit on road.  The rain, having drenched us, decided now to stop… typical!

Having completed a circuit of Crummock Water, the ‘twin’ lake to Buttermere just slightly further down the valley, earlier in the year, we headed now to Loweswater.  This was a bit of an unknown quantity to us both – probably the last time either of us had been there was several years ago when we were doing a bike ride (I think it may even have been pre-child-no.3 so that’s 8 or 9 years ago at least).  We decided to park in the lay-by where, all those years ago, we had stopped to get a photo of us with our bikes: it was about half way along what was potentially a road-based stretch of the circuit of the lake.

A short run along the road took us to a larger lay-by which was an official car park, where we turned off the road and ran down past some tents.  What looked as if it was meant to be a bridle path the other side of a couple of fields turned out in fact to be a lane which rose quite steeply up the side of the hill at the western end of the lake.  As we looked ahead I commented that it looked as if Loweswater was in the same valley as Crummock Water and Buttermere.  This was confirmed when we looked at the map later, though the valley sort of turns a southerly corner from Loweswater round to Crummock Water.

The southern side of the lake provided a lovely run amongst the trees, and we also discovered a National Trust bothy.  What an amazing place it would be to stay, particularly if it was a summer like we have had this year: kids could cycle in the woods, you could swim in the lake… though in fact in the height of summer you might not want to as Loweswater has particularly high nitrate levels and therefore a lot of blue green algae.  No sign of that on this dull day though.

Loweswater 2nd Sept. 2018 (1)Loweswater 2nd Sept. 2018 (2)Loweswater 2nd Sept. 2018 (3)

There seemed to be no option but to run along the road once we got to the car park at the eastern end of the lake, but then about a third of the way back along the northern shore there’s an old track signposted towards Mosser.  This is presumably quite a historic route which might once have been quite popular, directly up over the hills instead of around them.  We went up and up and I was beginning to wonder if we’d missed the turning to get back to the beginning.  Eventually however a finger post directed us down a grassy track and past a farm and presently we were back at the car park, only 100m or so away from the lay-by the car was parked in.

And finally the weather had brightened up a bit, and my bedraggled locks were dry – just curlier than ever.  We headed back towards Penrith, stopping en route at the Lakes Distillery for a well-deserved and extremely pleasant lunch.  That’s what this is all about: celebrating the fantastic county we live in with its glorious scenery, great food and good friends!



Wast Water – 7/16

As Penny said as we had nearly finished our run around Wast Water, “you’d think it would be easy to run round lakes”.  It’s not: too many of them do not in fact have a nice trail all the way around and despite what you may think many of them are not flat either.

Wast Water was perhaps in a way the most challenging of the lot so far.  Not in terms of fitness or distance, or even hills – at least not the way we ran round it.  It’s a lake which holds a sinister fascination for me: somehow the water always seems infinitessimally black and The Screes glower over the water menacingly.  Today was no exception: there was low-lying cloud on the fell tops and it was grey and threatening rain in the valley.

We approached from Gosforth and parked just off the road in a gravelly layby.  There was then a couple of miles to run to the National Trust campsite at Wasdale Head, where you get on to the path that takes you round the lake.  I had been told by two friends – one who grew up in Wasdale – that it would be better to go up hill on the southern side of the lake – up over Illgill Head and Whin Rigg.  However the map clearly shows a path along the lake shore… We met a very friendly National Trust man in the car park, who told us that if we were going to follow the lake path over the screes we needed to be very careful – a lot of the rocks were slippery and some of the boulders were enormous.  He thought we’d be better off going up to the hill top and along, even if it was further, and said that the lake shore route started off OK but got a lot, lot worse…

We had a bit of a dilemma.  Penny needed to be home in order to go to a retirement do with her husband and despite an early start we knew that often these runs were taking far more time than a straightforward route would… as so often happens, we decided that we’d go with the challenge and stick by the lake.  The worst bit to start with was the ferns, which had all grown quite high and were wet, and were often hiding holes or rocks in the path.  Then we met the first bit of scree: it seemed OK and we wondered if the friendly National Trust man had been worrying too much.  After all, Penny had admitted to him that she was about to turn 50 and I had said I was nearly 60 (well, I am nearer to 60 than to 50, but yes I was doing it for effect (and I think my daughter’s bad…)) so perhaps he just thought we were two vulnerable middle-aged women?

The penultimate area of scree was a different matter however: the rocks really were bigger and it was a case of 5 points of contact – both feet, both hands and quite often bum as well as it was easier to sit and swing your legs round in places.  We were conscious that we didn’t want to slip, in particular not to slip and cause an avalanche of rocks which would hurtle us into the cold, deep, dark water along with them.  When I created a small rock fall my heart skipped a beat or two.

Then looming ahead of us we saw another area of scree.  Some of the boulders were enormous, and although some helpful person (or persons) had created small cairns every-so-often – I think to show the best route through – there was no obvious path, and it seemed to go on for ever.  At one point Penny said what I was thinking – that if there was any more scree after this she would scream.  The landscape was barren: a bit of moss, lots of lichen; raindrop-bejewelled cobwebs; the odd slug.  Even the hardy fellside sheep hadn’t attempted to cross this scree.


Fortunately there wasn’t any more and after what I am sure was extremely good exercise in terms of twisting and turning your whole body, we got back to the path and to the lovely curly oak trees that seem to be a feature of this valley.  As we headed up to the western end of the lake where the River Irt leaves the lake, we saw a Sellafield Fire and Rescue Service truck, a pump and a large pipe: for some reason they were pumping water out of the lake and then back into the river a little further along, avoiding a rather stagnant shallow-looking area.

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From the western end

From here we ran along the river and then over a lovely old packhorse bridge and through Low Wood, passing the YHA at Wasdale Hall.  What an amazing building for a YHA, with an amazing view.  My guess is that it’s an Arts and Crafts building but if anyone reading this knows its history, let me know!


A short mile or so along the road and we were back at the car, where a man stowing some diving kit in the boot of his truck asked if we were the two girls who had been seen scrambling over the scree on the opposite side of the lake.  We owned up and had a chat with him about how deep the lake was and how there had been a few deaths there: but also how some divers had created a gnomes’ garden at the bottom, which had once had a white picket fence, garden gnomes and table and deckchairs!  The lake is not that wide but is the deepest in the Lake District (79m or 258 feet – the amazing thing is that whilst the surface is 200 feet above sea level, its bottom is then 50 feet below), and we had been able to hear people’s voices from this side when we’d been scrambling on the other side.

There wasn’t time to stop for lunch properly, but we went back via Gosforth where the village store has a delicious range of freshly made sandwiches on various different types of bread, and a good selection of drinks.  It was a pity we didn’t have time to visit the Hungry Parrot eatery upstairs.  There are also public loos in the car park – always useful to know!

We had run 8 miles (13 km) in three hours – but according to Strava about 1 hour 20 of that had not been running time.  It was yet another run around a lake where it had turned into a micro-adventure: and we both agreed that we would go back and do it again, but this time up over Illgill Head and Whin Rigg.  Those screes were an achievement but neither of us would recommend them to anyone else.  The National Trust man and my friends were quite right.

Wast Water 21st July 2018 (21)
The scree from the opposite side… not a path in sight (and the rocks are a lot bigger close up).




Rydal Water and Grasmere

I am afraid to say that I only have hazy memories of running around Rydal Water and Grasmere.

Son no. 1 had arrived back from France at 2 a.m. in the morning, and whilst I had tried to get some sleep before he arrived, I was so afraid of missing the alarm and not being in time to meet him that I had not even managed a short nap.  I had also had no breakfast (whilst I can’t run on a full stomach, nor can I run on empty) and it was a very hot day, right in the middle of the recent heatwave.

We parked on the edge of Grasmere on the roadside, partly as it was free and neither Penny nor I had any change on us for the pay and display car parks!  Grasmere was – not surprisingly for a hot, dry, sunny, summer Saturday – busy and as we took to the road in a westerly direction around the lake, we ran past lots of walkers.  I was already struggling and dying to get off the road, so it seemed to take forever before we found the gate to the path which takes you round the lake.

Everywhere was busy: these two lakes are small and shallow and with the hot weather we’d been having the water was warm: perfect for swimming and splashing around in, and I was soon wishing I was doing just that rather than running.  However the scenery was pretty and neither lake is very big, so it was hardly any time at all before we’d left Grasmere to run alongside the river Rothay towards Rydal Water.

Unfortunately there was a bit of road on the northern side of Rydal Water (and I was glad we didn’t try running along the shore in the normal way we have of trying to keep off-road at almost any cost – it got very narrow and was inhabited by geese) before we were back on to footpaths from White Moss car park.  We could have run on a trail along the northern edge of the lake if we’d crossed the road and gone up hill a bit, but I was not running at all well and felt rubbish – and I was also holding Penny back, who wanted to get home in time to see the football (England were playing someone in the World Cup).

Photographic memories ran through my head of bringing the children down here about 6 years ago: Edward a stocky toddler being held by David in the water; the other two splashing about; a week when we were lucky with the weather and spent a lot of time outdoors and in lakes.

The paths run through Penny Rock Woods – rather appropriately – before, if you want to circumnavigate both lakes, you have to come back out on the road again.  We past the Daffodil Spa Hotel and Wordsworth’s Cottage – both on my ‘to visit sometime’ list – before turning left to get back into the centre of Grasmere.  There was just time for a sandwich, a piece of cake and a drink – we opted for the Grasmere Tea Gardens, with its lovely balcony overlooking the river, although there’s of course plenty of choice in the village – before getting back to Penrith in time for Penny to dash home for the football.

Meanwhile I went into a deserted ‘Go Outdoors’ to buy new running socks for Alex, and found that I could get an enormous discount by being a member, having English Heritage membership and also having a Duke of Edinburgh ‘parent’ card.  I’ll be going there again!