Hello 2022!

Happy New Year everyone! As I haven’t written since November this is a bit of a retrospective as well as looking forward.

Advent is one of my favourite times of year. I love singing carols, and the way that the winter nights are brightened up by Christmas lights. However for the first three weeks of December I had a massive amount of assignment-marking to do on top of my normal job: a great way to earn some more money (I’m saving up to take Bella to Paris after her GCSEs next summer) but when I still had 30-odd to mark and only 2 weeks left to do them in, I was getting rather stressed.

I bought my tree at Whinlatter forest the first weekend of Advent: it was a lovely fat tree but a day or so after I’d decorated it fell over. After that it lent against the wall rather drunkenly. But the build up to Christmas, for me, does not start – and should not start – until 1st December.

I was also singing the soprano solo, Pie Jesu, in the Faure Requiem with choir – possibly one of the most difficult pieces I have ever sung, as it’s so sustained and exposed. The good news was that the concert took place at Lanercost Priory (and still went ahead, despite increasing scares about Omicron – the entire audience had to wear facemasks). Lanercost has an amazing acoustic, which is really kind to the singer; and singing accompanied by a really good organist also helps the nerves. The organist playing for the concert plays at Carlisle Cathedral, and will also be Musical Director for the choir as this (January 2022) term. I felt I hadn’t sung it terribly well as I was so nervous, but the recording doesn’t sound too awful.

Once I’d got the solo out of the way, I then sang in two local carol services. Bella came to one of them and played the piano, which was lovely: it was also nice for her to see Andrew, a friend from school who is now studying singing and music in Wales. They were able to have a chat about classical music, which she says none of her other friends know anything about! On the way home she said “Christmas services are almost enough to make you feel you could be Christian”: I knew what she meant.

By 21st December I’d finished all my marking and although I was still working, I felt I could really relax and begin to enjoy the final lead-up to Christmas, and to having a holiday from work for the best part of two weeks (I’m conscious that in the States people are lucky if they get more than two weeks’ holiday for a whole year – I wonder if it makes people’s stress levels higher?). I watched Lucy Worsley’s history of Christmas carols (I’m not sure if this link will work for anyone abroad, and I think it’s only available on the iPlayer for about a year), which was fascinating, watched some silly Christmas films, and generally was in a joyful and excited mood. I really don’t think it matters whether or not you believe in the Christian god – for me the fab. thing about Christmas is having some joy at the darkest time of the year, and to end the year with a celebration: but I also think it’s important to be reminded to be kind to each other. I tried not to buy the children so many presents this year, as they have plenty of ‘stuff’ already: I love buying presents for people but we really don’t need thousands and thousands more Things.

Penny and I met up for a run at Whinlatter on Christmas Eve: it feels as if it’s becoming a bit of a tradition (I hope it is – it’s a really good one). Having had a bit of time off from running after doing the Dirty Double in November, it was good to do the 10km route with her when we bought the christmas trees and then again on Christmas Eve. We also had lunch in Siskins cafe, though we did wonder if we should have gone to the fab. cafe at Dodds Wood or the Threlkeld community cafe (both previously mentioned in this blog).

Christmas Day was spent at David’s house – my ex, with my three children, his new partner and their 5-month old daughter (who is cute), his parents, his sister and her three children, and one of his friends who I hadn’t seen for years. I ran in the morning before going down there, and after getting home in the evening went round to Mark and Laura’s for a drink and to play a new card game they’d bought. I can’t remember what it was called but it was really good – each card has a question on with a choice of answers, and you each have to guess which is right. It engendered some interesting discussions!

On Boxing Day Bella and I drove down to my sister’s, stopping off to see my parents en route. Bella was keen to spend her christmas money (and mine…) and we went to Sherborne, although a lot of the shops were closed. That evening we went to see the lights in the grounds of Killerton House – rather overpriced but really impressive. No prizes for guessing what my christmas cards next year are going to be…

As Ross works at King’s College Taunton, he sorted out being able to go in so Bella could practice on one of their pianos. Unfortunately she now wants to go to the school… It did sound good but unfortunately I can’t upload that particular file type (I think it’s probably been recorded on an iPhone so won’t talk to my laptop).

We also went up to stay with my parents for a day, and went shopping in Bristol, where Bella bought a new violin. The shop was fab. – it was serendipitous that they happened to have time to see us, despite us not having made an appointment, and that they had a few violins in stock which were perfect. She needed some new pointe shoes as well but unfortunately none of the ballet shoe shops were open: however we found one in Newcastle who fitted her in today (2nd Jan.). Again, a fab. shop which we’ll recommend to everyone we can: https://thedancerspointe.co.uk/

I’ve already run both days of this new year, my heart singing and the countryside I live in looking glorious. My immediate goal is a half marathon at the end of February. I’ve also started practicing singing again, working towards Carlisle Music Festival in March and then, I hope, taking my ATCL (Associate of Trinity College of Music London) later in the year.

And meanwhile it’s back to work on Wednesday. The festive season has been great.

January 1st 2021: 6 at 60

I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions as such, but as I turn 60 this year I felt I should endeavour to complete some challenges. 2020 has made us all more aware than ever I think that we really cannot guarantee that plans will go as desired; so I’ve made these challenges in the full knowledge that acts of God or man or just my lack of ability, time or money may mean that I don’t achieve all the goals. I felt however that it was important to try to achieve something in 6 of the areas of my life that mean a lot to me.

The 6 areas are singing, cycling, swimming, running, writing and Italian (there is cooking as well, but I’m not 100% sure when I’ll be able to host any dinner parties again, and also I wanted to try to achieve things I hadn’t done before).

The goals for each area are:

Running – complete 9 Lakeland Trails (both ‘series’ and the half marathon)

Swimming – I have a list of lakes and a river I still want to swim in, plus ‘Swim Snowdon’ (walk/swim about 6 miles up and down Snowdon, swimming in the various lakes and tarns en route)

Cycling – I’d like to complete my circuit of Cumbria and then Writing – finish writing up ‘Round the Edges’, which is about running and cycling around Cumbria.

I’d also like to do a standard distance triathlon – perhaps Windermere – which would of course combine running, cycling and swimming.

Italian – I thought about doing Italian GCSE. I’d still like to but I’ve done very little italian study recently, and missed quite a few of the conversation group sessions. Still, there are 6 months until GCSEs are taken, if they happen at all this year. As an alternative I’d like to go somewhere in Italy and speak a lot of Italian.

Singing – I’ve been working towards doing some sort of Performance exam, probably my ARSM (sort of ‘Grade 9’). I’d love to do some more live singing this year before my voice gets too old and knackered, and I have some fab. repertoire. If circumstances permit I’d also like to do an outdoor garden party with live music in aid of charity – not just me performing but various of my musician friends as well.

And a venue is already booked for my birthday party in September; we’ll just have to see nearer the time how many people I’m allowed to invite (if any at all); and at the very least I think people will be keen to do WastFest again.

2020 started me on a journey of being fitter: it’s enabled me to get outside regularly and improved my mood when I’ve felt low. It’s a path I want to remain on for the rest of my life, but if I can use my brain for things like languages, writing, and reading history books as well, then life should be pretty full and good. Not forgetting friends and family to do all these things with when possible.


Birthday 2020: where will I be in 2021?

Running and rain

It’s been raining here. It feels as if it hasn’t stopped since sometime in November – if not August. The ground is getting more and more sodden, grassy tracks have turned to mud, it’s impossible to run without slipping; the days have been dull and short. I really haven’t had much new to write about, running-wise: my ankle began to feel OK again (and to stop waking me up in the night with a dull ache) and my running fitness began to show signs of going back to where it was before I hurt my ankle. However motivating myself to get out and run – and then once I was out, actually to run more than 4km or so – has been difficult the past few weeks.

Until this last week, when I seem to have turned a bit of a running corner: and also to have got out on a new(ish) route. Plus Anne is now no longer in lockdown, so we’ve been able to meet up to run again.

That’s not to say there haven’t been some lovely runs up on Askham Fell, which always lifts the spirits – Penny and I managed to get out one unusually sunny afternoon at the end of November, and then we also ran down there in the dark one work evening under stunning skies (her husband was meant to come too – he was busy on a work call in the car, and we eventually saw the little light of his head torch coming towards us just as we had reached the halfway mark and were about to head back).

Over the past few days the rain has continued but there have been brief moments of sun. Today, as I ran towards Talkin Tarn, I had to stop for two trains and to tie up my shoe laces. As I waited I looked towards the west and saw a beautiful sky. The dark grey clouds were blowing over and the blue sky was expanding, while I love the silhouettes of the trees on the skyline.

Yesterday I met Penny to run at Greystoke Forest. Unfortunately even the permissive paths are closed at the moment, and rather than risk getting shouted at (or shot at?), we decided to take note of the several signs which made it quite clear that we wouldn’t be welcome. It opens again in April apparently. We’d wanted to run somewhere under tree cover in the hope it would be less wet: instead we ended up at Mosedale, near Bowscale Tarn, where we ran and some of us swam back in the summer/autumn.

We started up the road, the wind against us and the rain beating against our faces. As we climbed further up the hill we got closer to the river Caldew, crashing down over the rocks and not looking half so inviting as it did back in the summer. We turned south along the Cumbria Way after about 4km and ran for another 1km or so, the path firm but covered in water-filled-potholes. By the time your feet are wet (despite Goretex running shoes), you feel you may as well just run through the puddles anyway. The great thing was that the water was clean for a change – because the surface was stony, although there was a LOT of water, it wasn’t muddy.

We had aimed to do about 10km so at the 5km mark we turned round, after taking a few photos. My thighs were cold from having been facing into the wind and rain but as we turned back the worst of the weather was behind us rather than against us – and also we were mostly running downhill. It’s a beautiful valley and we agreed we’d go back another time and come back on the track which goes over the top of the hills and drops down towards Bowscale Tarn, rather than doing an out and back run.

As we ran back along the road we met an elderly man walking his two dogs. His hat blew off as we approached him; he greeted us in a friendly manner and then said “I’ve met you before, haven’t I?” It was the same gentleman whom we had met back in the summer, who had told us about the pools in the river – pools which we had driven to look at in the summer but had run past today. There was something very pleasing about meeting him again: the rain started pouring down even more heavily shortly after but he looked quite well-prepared, so I hope he enjoyed his walk.

We were drenched: my legs were wet up to my thighs; but it struck me that it was probably quite good training for winter open water swimming. The swimming group has decided to try to swim (outside) every month of 2021. In wetsuits, I’m glad to say.

Christmas cooking

I’m not quite sure why, but this year I decided I’d make a lot of edible Christmas gifts for people. So since the end of November I have been busy each weekend baking a range of things, and then being inspired to dig out more recipes when I had ‘spare’ ingredients (bananas; chocolate; egg yolks…). I’ve had classicfm on in the background – their christmas playlist is lovely – and even had a request read out one morning as I was making carrot cakes.

Many of the recipes came from my Scandinavian Christmas book – I think the guaranteed snow in most of Scandinavia and the fact that Father Christmas probably comes from Lapland (as opposed to the North Pole, where of course there is only ice and no land) somehow makes the Scandinavians the experts in ‘christmas’, or at least in ‘winter food’. And of course there’s lagom, and fika, and hyyge…

So without any further ado, here is a pictorial list of what I made, with some comments I’ve tried to keep brief.

These first few did not come from the Scandinavian book; the Clementine and Mustard Seed chutney was in the Waitrose Christmas magazine (slightly adapted); I can’t remember where the Orange and Fig wine and white Mulled wine came from. The other chutney is a very similar one but made with apples. I’m going to my neighbours (they’re my bubble) on Christmas Day, and they’ve assured me they love chutney… I have a feeling this could keep them going a while, so I hope they don’t have too much in stock already. And when someone’s letting you share their christmas dinner you have to take something to drink with you. The mulled wine needs to be served warm; the orange and fig wine like an apertif, really cold.

Cake is always popular, and M&S had a nice recipe for carrot cake in their christmas food brochure (again, slightly adjusted). I had some bananas left, so an old favourite out of Cake (the recipe book by Rachel someone) got made, and then topped with chocolate and stars to make it more christmassy. The spiced Christmas cake drizzled with white chocolate which is meant to look like a christmas tree, came from the Scandinavian book – I think the Cardamon cake did too (the Scandinavians seem to love cardamon – it was in SO many of the recipes – I’ve now run out of cardamon).

These are probably two of the things I was most pleased with. The Brown Cookies (containing spices and candied peel) were really popular – it’s a recipe I’d definitely make again – and my macarons could be improved but weren’t bad. Booths supermarket posted an extremely good video by ‘chef Paul’ on how to make macarons; for mine I actually used an Italian meringue rather than a French meringue, but I made some before these to try out his method. The only problem was that a lot of them stuck to the greaseproof paper, and they’re so delicate they of course broke. Oh well – it meant that I was able to taste test them…

The stollen, surprisingly, wasn’t from the Scandinavian book but from Raymond Blanc’s Christmas, a recipe book I’ve had for years and used several times. The Honey cakes were from the Scandinavian book, but what the recipe didn’t say was ‘DO NOT use runny honey’: my mixture was impossible to roll out and cut into shapes which could then have been covered in tempered dark chocolate. I understand that the cakes tasted good though. One of my favourites however was the Venetian Focaccia above, from Venezia – a beautiful recipe book by the Tessa Kiros, the same author of Like Apples for Jam and Falling Cloudberries. It creates an incredibly light cake, something of a cross between panatone and brioche (probably more like the former), and lemony. I doubled the amount of lemon zest in it but you could easily triple it if you love lemon (as I do).

Almost equally as light was Pulla Bread (Scandinavian again). I don’t like raisins but it seems to me that you could easily make it without raisins – or alternatively if you want an alcoholic version, you could cut down the amount of milk in the recipe and add brandy-soaked-raisins (which, by the way, are in my carrot cakes).

Finally, one of my friends said she didn’t like spiced cakes particularly: and I know she loves chocolate. So here is a dark and white chocolate cake (with actual chocolate in the sponge as well as on top). The recipe is from BBC Good Food, which is a great resource if you just want to find a recipe for something online and be fairly sure it will work (the Waitrose website is also good. I used to use Great British Chefs and Great Italian Chefs, but they now charge).

The only things left for me to make now are Honey Roast Parsnips and roast potatoes for the main course on Christmas Day, and bruschetta/crostini (of various types) as a starter.

Happy Christmas!

Lockdown 8/Furlough 5

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.

Lockdown 7/Furlough 4: a social week

I forgot to mention that our cat turned one on 4th May (Star Wars day). We made her a cake.

Where has the time gone – already into week 7! I thought I’d try to keep this week short and to the point, as I’m conscious that I sometimes ramble – though one thing at the moment (and being alone) is that I have plenty of time to muse.

Tuesday 5th May

Got up, made (and drank) coffee, fed the cat, did yoga (Yoga with Adriene ‘Home’ day 5 – I’m in line with the date this month so I don’t forget where I’ve got to!).

RICS Planning and Development conference. Got bored in the middle and went for a run, put clean sheet’s on Alex’s bed, emptied the bins. The bluebells still look great in the woods (the photo doesn’t do them justice).

The other parts of the conference were, however, excellent. Speakers mentioned the lessons learned from the pandemic, and how it has sped up some of the things that were already happening (as I think/hope I said a couple of weeks ago). There is no doubt that the pandemic has sped up the rate of change towards home working; the decline of our High Streets as we know them; an increase in online shopping and possibly an increase in ‘community’ and neighbourliness.

Personally I think we should get rid of our out-of-town shopping, keep retail in-town, and change the out of town retail areas to residential. After all most out of town units are of a pretty simple construction (steel portal frame and cladding) which would be cheap to take down and which could be recycled.

Zoom meeting with Caroline and Jo – singing while Caroline played the piano prior to Jo joining us. As nowadays I feel a bit sluggish after drinking alcohol, I have a bottle of prosecco to last for all 3 catch-ups this week and then I’m going teetotal for 3 weeks.


Why oh why did I drink so much prosecco last night? I woke up with a headache, having not slept brilliantly, and feeling a bit ‘meh’. Fortunately after a nurofen, a coffee, yoga and a chat with my boss I felt OK: and decided (after cleaning the downstairs windows) to take advantage of the still-warm-and-sunny weather and go for a run.

Talkin Fell is one of my favourite places ever. Today the clarity from the top made me feel more than ever as if I was on top of the world. I had decided to then try out a new route, so I ran over towards Forest Head and then from there back up the eastern side of Simmerson Hill to Gairs, before turning back towards the car.

It was an eventful run. There’s a lot of industrial heritage up round Forest Head: the remains of mines and quarries and (I think) lime kilns; part of the run was along a disused railway line. I saw a deer watching me, on high alert and ready to run if I proved to be dangerous; more domestically a donkey lazily stared at me, wondering why I was up there.

As I ran back towards Gairs I saw a bird of prey overhead, which looked a bit like a Spitfire; I was also looking out for black grouse. Just as I got to Gairs I met a guy carrying a camera and binoculars, who was out wildlife spotting: he told me the bird of prey might have been a Merlin, and that there are lots of black grouse up there. He also said there are a lot of voles this year, so there are many predators around.

I’d seen some cows as I ran down the hill, and he warned me they were a bit aggressive – mothers with their calves. As I ran along the track to get back to the gate to go downhill, I had to slow up, the cows looking at me very distrustingly.

I got home and had a cup of tea in the sun in the garden.

Thursday 7th May

I love Zoom. Last night the commercial property team from work, of which I am part, had a quiz night (the boss won – I could say that we let him win to be diplomatic, but we didn’t – he just knew more than we did). There was then a work zoom catch up this afternoon, with some talk about how and when we might possibly re-open sites and get back to work; and then another catch up call with my ‘Chatty Bessies’ mates (the people I sit closest to in the office).

My run today was just under 10km as a sort of recce to find a 10km route for the virtual Staveley trail race on Saturday, which my Head Torches friends and I are doing. I wish there was a way we could all run and talk at the same time – though I suppose in a real race we wouldn’t but would just chat at the end. Perhaps I’ll suggest that we ‘Zoom’ at the beginning and at the end.

Then of course as it’s Thursday it’s theatre night. I’m just finishing off some Italian, going to do some singing practice, and will then sit down with a bowl of one or both of the lovely soups I’ve made, and enjoy Antony and Cleopatra from the National Theatre.

Cycling makes me happy

Antony and Cleopatra was fantastic: Ralph Fiennes was dead fanciable as Antony, and the story meant far more to me now than it had to me forty years ago when I studied it for A level. Tonight as I’m writing this I’m watching La Traviata from the Royal Opera House – another story of the conflict between passion and duty.

I was feeling a bit low this morning, partly I think because of the news that it may not be possible to do choral singing until a vaccine has been found. My singing teacher feels really low: singing has been her almost her whole life. She’s such a lovely bubbly person that it made me even sadder that she was sad. My singing lesson was cancelled as well as she had slept badly and was in pain.

So I didn’t feel particularly inclined to do any exercise, and the yoga class this morning was a relaxing one rather than an energising one. However the weather was dry and not windy, and I started thinking that I’d probably feel more cheerful if I did go for a bike ride. Out I went (rather than cleaning my upstairs windows), and within minutes felt that sense of freedom and exhilaration that comes from being on the open road under your own power. I cycled up to Anne & Mark’s to deliver some books, and then sat in their garden at a safe distance from them and had a chat. It was lovely to see them, and cycling home felt a lot easier than cycling up there had.

The Weekend

Saturday was the Lakeland Trails Stay at Home Staveley trail race. At 10.30 a.m. a whole load of us ‘Head Torches’ left our various houses to run 5km, 10km or – in Mark’s case – 18km. It was a beautiful but already warm day (and Strava measured my distance wrong – I did the same route as Thursday but with an extra bit, and Strava told me it was slightly shorter – I checked it on a couple of websites when I got home).

The kids were meant to be arriving on Saturday but decided to come on Sunday instead, so I made some cakes for people – having finally obtained self-raising flour and yeast – and delivered them.

The children being here ended up being really difficult. I think they’re probably getting a bit wound up at the restrictions in their lives: they probably couldn’t express exactly how they’re feeling, but there’s now no real routine to their life (I try to impose some but it doesn’t go down well; and I try to spend time with them but they don’t want to do many of the things I suggest, although Bella and I did play Trivial Pursuit) and they don’t know when they’ll be going back to school. It’s a strange time for them, as for all of us: but I’m determined they’re not just going to spend the entire time on the xbox.

As a result of their bad behaviour I took them back to David’s two days earlier than I had intended. I feel disappointed and a failure as a mother – it always seems that other people manage to control their children far better, though I’m not sure that really they do.

I’m so sad that the coronavirus has set people against each other at a time when we need to pull together: that people are getting angry with each other for having different opinions, in the same way as they got angry with each other about Brexit or about climate change. It’s human to feel passionately about issues but there’s far too awful a history of people’s strong beliefs ending in bloodshed. On top of my sadness about the anger thrashing around at the moment is my sadness about the way we’re treating our beautiful planet, which deserves to be cherished; and then a sadness that I see my children so rarely and that it is so stressful sometimes when I do. Perhaps when I see them next we’ll have a lovely time.

Lockdown update

Meanwhile our lockdown has been very slightly lifted and it will be interesting to see whether people go mad over the next few days and weeks and we end up with increasing numbers of virus sufferers; I think I could now meet up with Penny to go for a run in a quiet part of the Lake District, but I’m not totally sure I want to quite at the moment: it doesn’t feel quite right. I also found out that apparently we’re not allowed into people’s gardens – which seems a bit crazy if it doesn’t entail going through their house and you keep 2m distance. Hey ho. Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.

Tonight was Macbeth from The Globe – another great theatre providing free streaming. Looking back over this I haven’t been brief; and in fact quite a lot has happened in a week – last Monday feels a long time ago!

Time with friends

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

They say “make new friends but keep the old: one is silver, the other gold”.

I’ve always had a bit of a problem with this saying, as it seems to imply that newer friends are somehow inferior to older ones. I suppose the thing is that you don’t always know how newer friends are going to turn out in the friendship stakes: and the ones who have hung around ‘forever’ are indeed precious. And they were new friends once upon a time.

I remember when I was quite young making the deliberate decision that I was going to be someone who had friends. I can hear you ask – “doesn’t everybody?” but sometimes making friends has to be worked on. I wasn’t brought up to be outgoing; nor was I brought up to show my feelings, being frequently told not to wear my heart on my sleeve. I made a conscious decision to go against my upbringing and be a sociable sort of person: even moving to London, which the rest of my family thought was bonkers.

I’m not sure how I came across to friends in my 20s and 30s, but I know that something happened inside me when I was about to turn 40 which meant that I became far happier and more confident about myself. Then I met the man who was going to become the father of my children; had my children, who are perhaps the biggest achievement of my life, and also moved to Cumbria.

I have been lucky enough since moving to Cumbria to have seen more of old friends but also to have made new friends, who I hope in time will become old friends. Living somewhere rural is in fact far more sociable than living in a big city, and far less lonely if you don’t want it to be. There are friends who have, inevitably, fallen by the wayside (some of whom I wonder about: where are they; what are they doing?) but my social life is truly rich. And not only on a superficial level: my friends are there to support, cajole, and have picked up the pieces when I’ve needed it.

So I wanted to write a blogpost about two weekends: one with two old friends and one with two new ones (of the ‘I hope they’ll become old ones’ variety).

I was at university with Caroline; when I moved to London I registered with the temp agency which she had registered with. As a result I met Jo: and because Jo wanted to work at the BBC I introduced her to Caroline, who had moved on from the temp agency to work as a Studio Manager at the BBC. I have known these two since my early 20s, and at one point we all lived near each other in Greenwich/Blackheath and share memories of times together, which often get referred to when we meet up. We don’t see each other often but when we do there is a lot of talking: sharing anecdotes of family life; discussing problems; reminiscing about times we have shared.

We met in the Peak District a few weeks ago. We all had a hideous journey to get there and the weather was rainy for most of the weekend, but we were staying in a lovely cottage – the Tudor Cottage at Foolow – we found through AirBnB – right next door to a lovely, friendly pub – the Bull’s Head.

Having got over our awful journeys and sorted out who was sleeping where, we headed to the pub. One of the highlights of the weekend was how friendly people were in the various pubs and cafes we went in. I know in a tourist area they have to be, but you’d have thought that this late in the season some ennui might have set in (maybe the seasonal staff have left and the more career-minded are left).

On the Saturday – after I’d burnt the croissants and we’d done yoga – we did a 9-mile walk from Foolow down Cressbrook Dale, along the Monsal Trail and then back over the hills. En route we found another lovely pub, The Packhorse Inn at Little Longstone. They didn’t have room for us for lunch that day but we booked for the next day – finding that they’re so popular that spaces are limited!

That night after a meal at the Bull’s Head we went back and played Trivial Pursuit, adding in charades… I still chuckle at the video, which probably would not be at all funny to anyone who wasn’t there. On the Sunday we visited the ‘plague village’, Eyam, just along the valley – and again went in a brilliant cafe, the Coolstone. I took photos of their authentic recipes and said I’d try them out, but haven’t yet. If I worked full-time in catering that’s the sort of place I’d want to work or own/manage.

Only a few weeks later and I had a day out in the Lake District with newer friends, Anne and Mark. We visited Wray Castle – where I bumped into the members of staff who I had met when Penny and I ran round Windermere, which seems an awfully long time ago now (6 months ago, in April) – then went to Claife Viewing Station before going to Stott Park Bobbin Mill. The steam engine was working so our tour didn’t only involve seeing bobbins being made but also hearing about this beautiful piece of machinery. You get a real sense of what it would have been like to have worked there: the noise, the sawdust, the dangers of the machinery.

We came back across Windermere by the ferry, which always seems like a ‘holiday’ thing to do. Both were occasions I shall remember for a long time. This is, for me, what life is about – being out and about, ideally with good friends. And in fact whilst I love travelling abroad, there is plenty to see in the UK alone.

An almost-bonus lake

and a new challenge (or two)

“What run shall we do next?” and “so what’s your next challenge?” were questions running around in my head unanswered. That’s the trouble when you’ve achieved a goal: it can be a bit of an anti-climax, like the weird time after exams when all of a sudden there’s extra time and you’re not quite sure what to do with yourself.

Fortunately with ‘exercise’ type goals there doesn’t ever seem to be an end. Even for ultra-marathoners there’s always that new race to do or a set-back such as an injury or illness can mean going back a few steps and having to start again. So it wasn’t long before – almost accidentally – a couple of new challenges popped their heads up.

One of the challenges to decide on is for the year I turn 60. The year I turned 50 I had a baby, and so the following year I attempted Kielder marathon (having said I’d never run a marathon), just after I turned 51. For my 60th birthday I was recently reading something which gave me the idea for a cycling and walking challenge – but it’s still more than two years away and so far it’s only an initial idea, so I won’t say any more here and now.

But back to the Lakes. Penny wanted to go for a run, as did I. She’d been on holiday with her husband and then to Lundy for a weekend with a friend, and in between the two her mother had died. She’d done very little running but also, I sensed, needed to get up into the hills for a run. I made a few suggestions based around the fact that at some point we both want to run the entire length of High Street, from Pooley Bridge to Ambleside (c. 23 miles ‘from Fort to Fort’). Penny pointed out that Askham Fell would be really wet, so we opted to drive down to the car park at Brotherswater, just south of Patterdale, and run from Hartsop and up past to Hayeswater to High Street and then back down.

The track goes uphill from the beginning, alongside the Gill which splashes down in leaps and small waterfalls from the lake, which is at 425m (1,400 ft). Towards the top just before we met the lake, there was a small pool which, had the weather been warmer, would have been tempting to splash or swim in.

Whilst we were warm from ascending the track (at a walk rather than a run I must add!), there was a strong wind and I was beginning to wonder about the advisability of going up on to High Street, which we could see ahead of us and which would be very exposed. We’d been through one rain shower already, you hear frequently on the local news about the unwary being caught out and about people being blown off hilltop ridges, and all the people we met were going in the other direction to us – i.e. downhill. It may have been my imagination but I got the impression that they thought we were nuts, if not even totally irresponsible, to be out on the hills in running gear when the weather was so changeable.

The lake itself is beautiful: the slopes plunge down into it in a way reminiscent but not as grey or threatening as Wastwater – the scree is surrounded by grass, giving the valley a softer impression than Wastwater. The wind was rushing through the valley and we headed to where we thought there was a bridge over the stream, which showed that there was then a clear route up to Great Knott and High Street. Although the Gill looked ford-able at this point, we decided that today was not really a day for getting soaking wet (i.e. accidentally falling in), and instead turned back a short way to a foot bridge. Having been reading up about Hayeswater in order to write this post, it seems that when United Utilities stopped using Hayeswater as a reservoir, the National Trust took over and installed a micro hydro-electric scheme and carried out repairs to the footbridge and tracks. The scheme is not visible: photos on the National Trust webpage show a small powerhouse looking like a traditional barn.

From the footbridge we could see some walkers coming down from the High Street direction, and we followed a slightly indistinct grassy path uphill towards them, before joining a better path higher up. The wind had not lessened, and Penny pointed out another track to our left, heading in a northerly direction. We passed this and went higher up – stunning views of Hayeswater and a brief lull in the wind meant we were able to open the map. Deciding being safe was better than going up on to High Street, which would be exposed on both sides, we turned a few yards back to this other path.

This was a joy to run on. A stony path headed downhill, clearly manmade, and continued to undulate over the hills to Angle Tarn, splashing occasionally through some small becks. The wind was still strong – I had to borrow Penny’s buff as I couldn’t see for my swirling hair – and pushed us against the hill, but it at least meant that the rainclouds which we could see in the west got blown away over us without us getting wet.

Neither of us had been along this track before and we were both enjoying it. At Angle Tarn we spotted a little red tent and we both commented on what a lovely place it would to camp; the Tarn itself looked gorgeous on this sunny blustery day, its wiggly edges surrounding a few islets. Somewhere else to go wild swimming when it’s warmer.

From here the path wound its way up and round until suddenly a wide grassy pass opened out before us: my first thoughts were ‘the promised land’. I could imagine being a weary foot traveller, slogging through the mountains, to suddenly come out on these verdant meadows, still high enough for spectacular views towards the separate ends of Ullswater, but with a less wild, isolated and rugged feeling than previously. Perhaps not surprisingly we came out on to a small level area where there were signs of industry – there had clearly once been a power supply or something here, and there was further evidence of this as we descended a stony and initially steep track down towards Patterdale and the valley floor.

We ignored the track which went down into Patterdale itself and instead headed in a southerly direction down and back towards Hartsop, passing Hartsop Fold holiday lodges (I commented how much nicer these looked than those green plasticky ones you see so often around the Lake District). A short jog back along the road and we were at the car, talking about doing the run again but taking the route we had originally intended; debating how far it was along High Street Roman Road; and commenting on how this was a potential ‘bonus lake’, reiterating how lovely it was, and how lovely to see bits of the Lake District we hadn’t before. The comment ‘this is why we live here’ is one which we’ve both stated plenty of times while out running. There is little that can beat being out exploring this gorgeous landscape under your own steam: in all weathers, but especially when the weather is good.

We had covered about 6.4 miles but as we headed towards the bar of the hotel in Glenridding for a quick drink before going home, we also discovered and agreed on our next challenge: to try, each time we go running in the Lake District, to run (off-road) routes that we haven’t run before.

I think we’ll have a lot of options!

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.

Brampton: Artists’ town?

Back in February, after several hours of fascinating interviews with some amazing, interesting, people, I completed a feature for Cumbria magazine.  I was pleased with it – but the magazine then didn’t want it (despite a couple of edits on my part).  Out running today I decided I’d publish it here instead so that my efforts, and the time granted to me by the interviewees, at least see the light of day.

One of Cumbria magazine’s comments was that it was too subjective.  However it expresses the feelings many of us – particularly perhaps the creative people and the outdoors people – share about living up here, in this truly rural part of the country (England, that is – obviously Scotland has wilder and more remote parts) so far from the traffic jams and bustle of big cities. 

Sadly, Front Room will be closing in 2019, but I hope somehow someone finds a way of carrying on an ‘artists’ hub’ in the way that Nancye and Steve have started.  Please follow links to see the artists’ work!

With over 8 million visitors a year it’s no surprise that the Lake District is well-known and also that people tend to associate Cumbria with the Lake District.  The areas outside the National Park are relatively unknown in comparison and yet the Eden valley is a beautiful, fertile corridor which leads at its southern end into the glorious Yorkshire Dales (another National Park); the west coast has miles of unspoilt beaches, an interesting industrial past, and views out over the Irish sea; and the north-east corner of the county has Hadrian’s Wall.

Brampton is the main town for this corner of the county and not only is it situated just a couple of miles south of Hadrian’s Wall amongst stunning rugged countryside – from the Moot or the Ridge on the edge of the town you can see to Scotland, the Northern Pennines, the Lake District fells and the Solway plain, and the countryside has a wild character of its own – but it is full of surprises which are not obvious to a visitor and which only reveal themselves once you live there and start to look around and explore.

Hidden in sandstone cottages in the lanes around Brampton, or living in the centre of the town ‘hidden in clear sight’ is a wealth of talented artists and craftspeople.  Some are little known locally because they exhibit further afield in the big cities, either because that is where the more affluent markets are or because they have moved to the area from those big cities and still have contacts there.  But dig under the surface and it becomes clear that for decades artists have been choosing to live in this area.  The landscapes around provide them with inspiration; the town is well-located and accessible for reaching further afield.

The local Howard family has been influential in the area for centuries, and notably George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle (1843-1911), was a talented artist and pre-Raphaelite.  When he commissioned Philip Webb to design St. Martin’s church in Brampton, the windows were designed by his friend Burne-Jones and executed in the William Morris studio (as an aside, the only stable block Philip Webb ever designed was at the Four Gables estate on the edge of Brampton: the house being designed by Webb for the Earl’s factor).  The Earl was a man who believed ‘art’ was a vital part of life which should be encouraged.  He was an inspiring mentor to his grand-daughter, renowned artist Winifred Nicholson, whose home was near Lanercost and who in turn became a mentor to her grand-daughter, painter Rafaele Appleby.  Rafaele still lives locally and her studio has a large panoramic window with an incredible view of the north Pennines.  She says on her website “I work in my studio on Hadrian’s Wall with views of the Cumbrian fells to the south… Paintings and pastel drawings are often inspired by, but not limited to, the nature around me”.

Rafaele’s comments are echoed by many of the other artists.  Painter Rachel Gibson, who has lived in the area almost 50 years after growing up in Berkshire and then studying in Newcastle, says she “loves the openness; the fells; how wild, rugged and empty the area is” and how history has become nature.  Hadrian’s Wall is as much a part of the landscape as the trees and hills.  She also uses nature more fundamentally with her use of pigment from Florence Mine in Egremont, West Cumbria: subtle colours of the earth also used by other artists to echo colours used by Fell shepherds or the hand prints of Elizabethan miners throughout Cumbria.  In this now quiet countryside the remains of mine workings, like the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall, have begun to merge back into the landscape, the noise and fuss of the industrial age no more than a whisper, revealed only by the route of disused railways and empty stone ruins at Forest Head and through Geltsdale.

An artist who lives outside Brampton in the hills of the northern Pennines is another painter, Carol McDermott: although she’s keen to point out that despite the isolation there is also a wood turner, a fine art print maker and a guitar maker in her village.  Like Rachel, she moved to the area after training and living elsewhere: for her living up in the hills and being able to see the stars at night became important.  Again she loves the untamed ruggedness of the area and gets much of her inspiration from the landscape, for example when walking the dog.  Despite living somewhere quite remote, she says “the internet connects you to the world.  I have Facebook friends in America and Germany.  I don’t feel isolated at all”.

Carol expressed the view that creative people are more empathetic than most and that she’s become accustomed to ‘tuning in’ and going with the flow.  For her, being a painter is her language – art speaks for her.  Gillian Naylor would agree:  she says that for her “the answer comes in a visual image”; that her paintings tell a story and are ‘visual philosophy’.   Gillian is originally from Wasdale but made the comment that “this area pulls you in… and then you stay because it’s interesting”.  She loves the feeling of connection to people from the past; the sense of being a continuation of history. Gillian is working with Rafaele Appleby and Kenyan-based Sophie Walbeoffe on a project based around locations in Cumbria where Wordsworth wrote his poems, and perhaps not surprisingly loves Lanercost Priory with its deep-rooted history: its connection to Edward I, Robert the Bruce, the Dacre and (again) Howard families.  Like Carol, for Gillian it was necessary to be able to balance bringing up children with working as an artist: she found that balance in Brampton where she has ‘found her flock of people’.  Both Carol and Gillian echo words of Winifred Nicholson, who wrote about balancing bringing up children with being an artist and also about art as a means of communication.

Other artists have grown up locally and flown the nest, to return later in life.  After a ‘feral childhood’ near Bewcastle with two artist parents, painter and felt-sculpture maker Ness Bamkin moved away but now lives in the centre of Brampton and works in the Art department at William Howard secondary school, in addition to creating her own artworks; self-styled Arts Photographer Tricia Meynell, another well-known name in local art circles, also teaches at the school.  Photographer Paul Stewart, on the other hand, was a student at William Howard school, has travelled extensively and lives abroad.  He now frequently comes home and says “It was the return to the region that was inspirational. After 30 years I’d forgotten how beautiful it was and that it was as exotic as any tropical jungle or far away place that I had visited on my travels.  Photographing the region again… was a real reward. It was a rediscovery of the nooks and crannies that I enjoyed as a child but now saw with a mature eye.”  Paul’s photographs of Brampton and of ‘nooks and crannies’ such as the marsh area off Black Path are hauntingly evocative, and his words again echo some of Winifred Nicholson’s, who wrote about obtaining as much inspiration from the flowers of Cumberland as from those of more exotic countries.

And then there are the more recent incomers, who find themselves, as Gillian Naylor did, pulled into the area almost as if by an unseen force.  Ceramicist Carolyn Marr “enjoys incorporating locally-found materials into [her] pieces” and points out that there are several different networks for artists and craftspeople locally.  Nancye Church was going to buy a property in Cockermouth but it fell through and she happened to be told about Brampton through contacts in Malta.  Now Nancye not only makes her jewellery here and takes some of her inspiration from Hadrian’s Wall, but opening The Front Room in Brampton and putting on exhibitions of local artists’ work has provided a year-round focal point for the sector.

Other focal points include the Abstract Gallery at New Mills Trout Farm and exhibitions in Off the Wall coffee shop.  Local arts groups should also be remembered, with The Hut (a former World War I gym building from Eastriggs at Gretna, and previously used by the White House School) providing a wide range of groups and classes and artist Trish Parry, originally from Manchester, running courses from her home at Milton.

And with that sense of circles within history and of only three degrees of separation which is so prevalent in Cumbria, perhaps The Front Room is a sort of reincarnation of Li Yuan-Chia’s ‘Museum’ up at Banks.  A prominent Taiwanese artist, Li was friends with Winifred Nicholson and chose to live near Brampton and Hadrian’s Wall and then attracted a wide variety of artists to exhibit in his space.   Some were or became household names, amongst them Paul Nash, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Andy Goldsworthy and Jenny Cowan.  Are we now, at The Front Room, seeing artists who will be similarly well-known in the future?