Four Tarns

I’m not a winter open water swimmer: I swim for the experience – getting there and the scenery – not just for the swimming. When it’s raining (or worse) and bitterly cold I want to be out running, with lots of layers on, a dry change of clothes in the car, and a cafe at the end where I can warm up (or, of course, just my house). Getting changed in cold air at the side of a cold lake, possibly in wet weather as well, has no appeal to me whatsoever: I love swimming but in terms of winter swimming training and improving my swimming stamina, I’d rather go to a leisure centre pool and have a warm shower straight afterwards.

It’s therefore always a bit dodgy arranging to do any open water swimming at the end of September, especially an extended swimming trip which entails getting in and out of wet swimsuits, wetsuits, gloves, etc. I’d had an idea of ‘swimming Snowdon’ as part of my 6 at 60 challenges, but in the end decided that actually I’d far rather just have a weekend of trying to complete swimming in the lakes and tarns of Cumbria: there were about 6 left (though of course as soon as you talk to anyone about it they say ‘oh, have you tried…’ and a new idea gets added to the list).

Penny agreed to join me on another mini-adventure, and so I booked a yurt via AirBnB in the Wasdale valley, originally thinking that we might have time to do 4 tarns in a day and 2 the following day ‘on the way home’. However it became clear when thinking about logistics that actually it was more likely to be 3 on one day and then 1, possibly 2, the following day (when I got home and counted up how many lakes and tarns I had swum in in total it came out at 28, so although there are still more to try, I feel I’ve had a pretty good go at the challenge).

I drove down to Penny & Tim’s house on the Friday evening, stopping off to say ‘hello’ to my children en route, and we went to the Millyard Cafe at Morland for pizza. I’ve mentioned them before but they deserve to be mentioned again as it is literally some of the best pizza I have ever had: the other food is good as well and it’s a great place to stop during a bike ride or walk, or just because you want something to eat. Penny and Tim go there regularly.

On Saturday we got up and fuelled up on granola before setting off to the Lake District, having to divert through Matterdale and up to the A66 towards Keswick, as the road down past Ullswater was blocked off by police (we never found out why). The first stop was to be Moss Eccles Tarn, at Far Sawrey (not far from Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop). We’d run past this several times when doing the Hawkshead trail race/trail race route, and I’d always thought the rocks at the southern end looked like an inviting place to get in and swim. We parked in a church car park (opposite the Cuckoo Brow Inn) which asked for a £2 donation (willingly given), and walked up the track towards the Tarn. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and we were quickly quite warm.

The tarn itself was quite busy. We had a chat with a couple of other women who were sitting enjoying the sun, and then a bunch of teenagers came along with a radio and sat and chatted, followed by some dog walkers and then, as we were leaving again after swimming, another group of teenagers (doing Outward Bound or Duke of Edinburgh or something, I would guess). It was a glorious day to be out, so not surprising that there were plenty of people around.

I swam over to the little island you can see towards the background of the picture, but it was a bit squishy underfoot (I’m not good with squishy), so I turned straight round and came back again. Penny really liked the fact that alder had self-seeded at the side of the water; I liked the various flowering plants we saw.

From Sawrey we drove southwards and parallel to the western shore of Windermere, to Stott Park. There are several car parks here as the walk up to High Dam is a popular one; a Lake District National Park car park and a farmer’s car park. If you fancy going to see Stott Park bobbin mill as well, which to my mind is one of the most interesting of all English Heritage sites, especially if you get the opportunity to go on a tour and especially if the steam engine is running, then the bobbin mill also has a car park.

We were going up to High Dam, which is owned by the Lake District National Park Authority but which once upon a time was the top lake which fed the stream which powered the water wheel for the bobbin mill: this was in the days before steam. The trees all around would have provided wood for the bobbins – hence the log stacks in the photo above – and if any readers remember wooden ‘Silko’ bobbins then that’s the type of thing which was more latterly made at the bobbin mill; also wooden duffle coat toggles.

High Dam was also busy with people, with several people already in or on the water, and others walking and sitting around. It’s a lovely spot but you don’t have the magical peace and tranquillity that you get from some of the more remote tarns, and we were also a little worried about our bags. It was probably these two tarns that made me consider what it is I want from wild swimming, and hence my initial comments: Penny and I were discussing that if swimming was our main ‘sport’ then we’d be more likely to go to a lake or tarn closer to home and more easy to walk to, and not be bothered how many people were there; but what we were looking for were those tarns which are just that little bit extra-special. Having said that, swimming in Buttermere was one of my favourite swimming experiences and one I would like to repeat, and Buttermere is always popular.

Again we swam over to some islands – this time I found some rocks to perch on – before swimming back to rescue our bags, getting dry, and then driving on to our next tarn.

It was a longer walk to our next tarn and I was pleased with myself that I managed to navigate us correctly up there – I’m not the most reliable of navigators on walking routes (I’m fine on roads, but put me in the middle of the countryside and I forget to check contour lines and have little sense of how far distance on a map equates to on the ground). We had parked at Blawith, just south of Water Yeat (aren’t Cumbria place names great!), and started walking along a lane still rich with juicy sweet blackberries. This meandered up between some lovely cottages, before becoming a grassy lane where an old pony was tethered, with strict instructions on each gate not to feed him as the vet has put him on a very restrictive diet.

Crossing the fields to farm, we came out at the lane which leads up from Water Yeat, before taking a path that wiggled through ferns and gorse and crossed streams, leading slightly uphill. I kept thinking we’d come out at Beacon Tarn: finally we did, and there it was, glistening in the sun under a blue sky. A woman was getting dry having had a swim; as we got ready two more people got in, without wetsuits. We swam around in our wetsuits for a bit and then got out, took them off, and got back in in just swimsuits. It was chilly but bracing and invigorating, and we agreed that it had been the best tarn of the day and was probably a new favourite. I would definitely like to swim there again, and for longer – it was about the right size that you felt you could swim the length of it and back, possibly even more than once, without worrying about it being enormously deep or being too far from the shore or there being enormous (potentially vicious) fish… (I always have visions of something similar to the Loch Ness monster suddenly snapping at my feet from the depths of Ullswater or Wastwater – the problem is that you just don’t know what is down there, lurking in the depths).

After that there was only time to drive across Corney Fell, with an amazing view of the Isle of Man looking clearer than I ever remember seeing it before, and to find our yurt, which was just to the east of Gosforth. I can recommend it: The Yurt by the Stream. We walked into Gosforth for dinner at the Kellbank, which was also good (the vegetables were a bit overcooked, but the steak and ale pie was delicious), and which has a lamb who visits and which apparently behaves far better than many dogs or humans. Walking back the night sky was stunningly full of stars, an a line of red lights out at sea indicated the row of wind turbines marching away from Barrow.

As we fell asleep with the stars visible through the nightlight of the yurt, a tawny owl (or two?) in the trees nearby called ‘too wit too woo’.

The next morning unfortunately was grey and mizzly. After packing and breakfast we drove up along the side of Wastwater to Wasdale Head, where we parked in the National Trust car park, discussing how for future WastFests it might be good to camp overnight so nobody has to have a two hour drive back afterwards. The track to Burnmoor Tarn looked straight forward, but unfortunately it was all to easy to miss the point at which the bridlepath that we wanted to follow diverged from the footpath up on to the hill above the screes: partly as the footpath had had some maintenance work and so looked like the main path. As we started walking more or less straight up some fairly close-together contour lines, Penny said ‘are we going to the right way?’; as we looked back and across to the east it was clear that we weren’t.

We went back down the hill and managed to pick up the bridlepath we wanted, which was badly eroded in places and which then led over some fairly boggy patches. Burnmoor Tarn is more like an overgrown puddle on a fairly flat boggy bit of ground; it didn’t help that it was grey and damp and that the hill in the background (Great Worm Crag?) was rapidly disappearing behind a layer of cloud. Still, we were here now… we got changed and got into the water, to find that it was very shallow a long way out. Perhaps we should have walked further round, although other writers and swimmers say this is shallower than most of the lakes anyway, but to be honest I wanted to get this over and done with without getting too cold and wet. The water temperature was OK but the air temperature and dampness getting changed wasn’t the best.

All thoughts of swimming in another tarn that day evaporated, and after a couple of failed attempts at finding a cafe which would serve us some warming soup and a cheese scone, we ended up at Granny Dowbekins at Pooley Bridge. The service was friendly and the ham and lentil soup and cheese scone were delicious, the soup containing proper pieces of ham hock. Last time we’d been in there had been at the end of running around Ullswater, before the new bridge had been completed; both times were satisfyingly excellent and it’s somewhere I would have no hesitation in recommending.

It was time to go home, having clocked up 4 tarns in one weekend and having found one more to add to the ‘favourite tarns of all time’ list. But it’s now perhaps time to hang up my wetsuit until next year.

Not much swimming

I haven’t done much swimming this summer. Some summers I’ve been in the water early in the year – in the late 2020 spring/early summer of lockdown and furlough and glorious weather for two months, I swam in Angle Tarn and Hayeswater in about May or June. This year it was too cold and grey: I’m not one of those brave all-the-year-round souls (running warms me up; after a swim in cold weather I will feel cold to the bone for ages). Also people just seemed to be busy, me included – and I’m not too sure about the wisdom of going swimming on my own, though I have friends who do.

However I haven’t finished my list of lakes and tarns to swim in as part of my 6 at 60, so when there has been decent weather and an opportunity for a swim then I’ve taken it. Not long after I’d got back from Paris, Penny and I walked up to Scales Tarn: anyone who’s been reading my blog for over a year will know that we started to walk up the hill to this tarn last year after I’d run the Ambleside 14km trail run, but I had quickly realised that my legs weren’t too happy about it (we ended up in the river Caldew instead, and the heavens opened just as we got out to get changed). This year I was less ambitious.

There’s a steep ascent up to a rolling open plateau with views down into the next valley, before you take a rocky path for the last bit up to the tarn itself. Like so many tarns in the fells, it’s nestled away hidden from sight until almost the last minute.

I had read in another blog that it was really cold: it wasn’t in fact too bad (with a wetsuit) but it does get deep very suddenly – you can swim around just above where it shelves away and see the sudden drop – and the deeper areas were definitely far colder than the shallower ones. I even went back in without my wetsuit on for a bit at the end. The walk itself was lovely as well, and we watched walkers continuing up on to Blencathra along one of the edges (not somewhere you want to be on a windy day or in mist – I remember when I first moved up here I seemed to hear regular reports about walkers getting into trouble on Blencathra’s edges).

Somewhere that Hannah and I had spoken about several times was the North Sea at Tynemouth, and so again when the opportunity presented itself Anne, Laura and I drove over to the East to pick up Hannah and carry on to Tynemouth, to swim in King Edward’s Bay. We’d checked the water quality first: the beaches and water at Tynemouth and at Whitley Bay are Blue Flag standard whereas apparently at times sewage gets put into the sea at Cullercoats, further up the coast. The beaches of the North East are, as I wrote in my post about Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh castles, also lovely – clean golden sand. Again with wetsuits on the sea didn’t feel too bad and we stayed in for ages, just chatting and letting the waves lift us up and down, and swimming for short distances. The water was really clear and as I got out I realised that it was the first time since having Covid that I’d actually felt ‘myself’ again. We drove along to Whitley Bay and ate fish and chips in a shelter by the beach, watching the sea and a ship disappearing towards the Netherlands. It was a magical afternoon.

Not long after that Penny, Laura and I went swimming in the river at Penton Bridge, soon after a rainstorm. The current was quite strong so we had to be careful, but it was fun to be in the river and to swim around.

There had been a fair amount of debate about whether we should hold Wastfest this year: people felt that it was a long way to go, especially if the weather was a bit dodgy. Although the second year we had gone it had been raining and we’d felt a sense of achievement, we didn’t want to go through all that again: partly as getting dry in the rain isn’t the easiest. However we agreed that it was definitely the best place for a sunset swim followed by a picnic, and so we kept our fingers crossed about the weather.

As we left Brampton it was raining… but by the time we reached Wasdale it was sunny. The photographs say it all. Four of the others swam to the other side and back, supported by Mark with his kayak; the other Mark and Tim got the picnic ready; Penny and Laura swam to the middle and back; and I went up to some rocks and back. I’d already been out that morning to an event that gave me a large lunch; I then ate far too much at Wastfest and ended up feeling quite uncomfortable. But it was another brilliant evening, and one which will no doubt be remembered for a while. The one slightly sad thing was that we couldn’t swim around the island – the water levels were too low and it was no longer an island but joined to the mainland!

The colours and light were amazing: this photo is now my wallpaper on my phone. Definitely something to do again next year!

A bit of a catch up!

It’s been a dry but chilly summer so far – that is, until we had a brief heatwave. It seems as if everybody is trying to catch up on all the things they didn’t do during Covid, as well – so it feels busy. Alex did his A levels and left school (his year were lucky enough to have a Leavers’ Ball, and have also been busy celebrating 18th birthdays); Bella did her GCSEs and is hoping to move schools for Sixth Form; and Edward had his SATS and left primary school. In the midst of all this my sister and mother arranged for my Dad to go into a care home for some respite care, which gave my Mum a bit of a break – she travelled up to see me and the children. At the same time my cousin’s daughter was over from Australia with a friend – they commented that the summer (June/July) temperatures in Cumbria were about the same as the winter in Australia! I took them to Hadrian’s Wall and to a ceiledh, and my Mum and I spent some time by the river in Newcastle – seeing the blinking eye bridge open – while Bella was at the Sage.

My own travels started with a work conference in June to Birmingham and Ironbridge. Birmingham is so much nicer a city than it used to be, and we had a great time not only walking around but also kayaking on the canals from the Roundhouse (a property owned by the Canal and Rivers Trust and operated by the National Trust – well worth a visit). We then went to Ironbridge where I ran along the river, saw the ruins of an old furnace, and ran back along the other side of the river before crossing the iron bridge (designed by Thomas Telford) itself to get back to the hotel. On our final day we went to Boscobel, where Prince Charles hid in an oak tree before escaping to France: he was later to come back as Charles II. Again, it’s a property which is well worth a visit.

Having got home from the Midlands, I was then off to Scotland for the wedding of one of my closest and oldest (in terms of time I have known her) friends. I was privileged to have been asked to sing at the wedding, and also to stay in a house the couple had rented for the family: it was a pity I couldn’t take some leave and stay longer. The wedding was at Traquair, which we were able to look around after the wedding service, which was held in the house’s chapel. I didn’t take my phone so I didn’t take any photos, though other people did. Having driven up via Langholm and Eskdalemuir, I drove back past St Mary’s Loch and the Loch of the Lowes before getting on the motorway to come home. There’s a waterfall not far from there, the Grey Mare’s Tail, and one day I shall go back to see the waterfall and swim in the loch(s).

It was a lovely wedding and a lovely weekend: the sort of wedding that makes you think ‘yes, this is why people get married, and why it is right that they should’. The WhatsApp group stayed chatting for a while after we’d all got home.

I was then conscious that I had a hilly 14km run coming up in the middle of July, and that I hadn’t done much running – although I had run while at Traquair, in a forest nearby – nor had Penny, who had also entered it. On the day, having had low temperatures so far this year, it was HOT. However I was really pleased that I came first in my age group, just a minute slower than last year (which wasn’t so hot). We then went for a swim in Brothers’ Water, which was far nicer than it had been the first time we did it. Neither of us had thought to bring our swimming stuff so we improvised with running kit and dry clothes (race t-shirts) for afterwards.

The following day Bella and I went to Paris, but that will be the subject of a separate blogpost. Running up to the end of term Edward had a ‘discovery day’ at his secondary school, and Bella had a sixth form induction day. The end of term was fast approaching and unfortunately due to having a work conference I could only get to the dress rehearsal of Edward’s end of year play, and missed the leavers’ service and picnic – but at least I managed to see the play. He was a pirate and, being Edward, spoke his lines with vigour. He also got his SATS results, which were really good: his end of term report said that he always tries hard, and his new form master remembered him from the Discovery Day, saying that he’d had a ‘very interesting’ conversation with him. It made me proud and made me smile – Edward is quite a philosopher, curious about the world, and very chatty. Thank goodness.

The day after I got back from Paris Penny and I walked up to Scales Tarn. It was still fairly hot and the mid-30s (centigrade/celsius) temperatures we’d had in Paris were due to head over the channel, but not, fortunately, as we walked up a steep hill with backpacks full of swimming kit and picnic. Once you’ve got up the steep hill the gradient isn’t bad at all – there’s a rocky bit towards the tarn – and you have lovely views down to the valley and across to Blencathra and Sharp Edge. It was fairly breezy, and the tarn gets deep very quickly so the water was fairly cold, other than around the edges. We went in with wetsuits on and swam to the other side – Penny swam the circumference of the tarn – and then tried getting in without wetsuits. You get used to it, but neither of us are as hardy as some of our friends, who would swim without wetsuits all year round if they had time to acclimatise (I’m not sure I’d ever acclimatise for the cold weather – but it is far, far easier swimming without the hindrance of a wetsuit).

Then it was off to Hatfield for a conference, in temperatures of around 35-39 degrees. It was great to meet up with my Norwegian friend Eldfrid, whom I haven’t seen for ages, and to meet her husband Steve, but we were all melting. The trains were slow and crowded, though at least I got a seat both ways, and then today I tested positive for Covid… perhaps not surprisingly. At least it gives me an excuse to catch up on my blogpost-writing!

Cumbria Way in Pieces (part 6)

The main final part of the Cumbria Way was the stage from Ulverston to Coniston (or vice versa). People who run the entire route in one go start at Ulverston; although we did this stage last, we also started at the sculpture which marks the beginning. The wiggly line on it is apparently a ‘map’ of the route.

There was a lot of stopping and starting along the route as the waymarkers varied from being clear to being non-existent, so we went a longer way around some fields than we needed to, and there were also many stiles and gates: some a little wonky. The overall run was only about 20km/12 miles, but took us ages with all the stopping and starting: fortunately most of it was runnable, but not all of it.

The best part of today’s run was probably the bit up to and after Beacon Tarn, by which time we were within the Lake District National Park and on ‘familiar’-feeling Lakeland fells, with paths which were alternatively stony and muddy. It was also slightly easier to navigate than when crossing fields and farmland.

We had decided to leave the route at Sunny Bank, because we’d run the rest of the way, along the lake shore, into Coniston village itself previously, when we’d run around Coniston Water. We’d had to park in a layby slightly further south so the last bit of the ‘run’ was a walk back to the car: where we’d left our swimming stuff, intending to drive to Water Yeat and walk to Beacon Tarn. However the weather wasn’t great so instead we had a quick dip in Coniston instead before driving back to Ulverston where my car had been left.

This wasn’t my favourite leg of the Cumbria Way. There were some good views of Morecambe Bay as we climbed away from Ulverston, and we went through some pretty villages and past some lovely houses – Gawthwaite was perhaps the prettiest – and the part past Beacon Tarn and to Sunny Bank was attractive in a proper ‘wild’ way, apart from the telegraph poles alongside the path. The bog area just past Beacon Tarn was really interesting (Penny said something about it being called a high level mere or something). I think it’s called Stable Harvey Moss, or Mere Moss: looking at the map there are several ‘mosses’ in the area, but this one had a lot of water on it and water lilies (Beacon Tarn also had water lilies in it).

The weather wasn’t brilliant, which perhaps didn’t help: but we can now say that we have done all of the Cumbria Way other than the part from near Bowscale to Caldbeck – that was delayed due to extremely bad weather on the day we had thought of trying. We now need to think of another challenge, although in addition to the Bowscale to Caldbeck section we also need to finish cycling around Cumbria (Melmerby to Brampton) and swimming in various lakes and tarns. But I think I might look up the Lakeland 100 course and do it in 10 sections of 10 miles each…

6 at 60: Keswick sprint distance triathlon

The sky was that halfway stage between darkness and daylight as I left that morning, the birds singing to welcome a new day.

I arrived in Keswick at about 7 a.m., and slotted into a parking space more-or-less opposite Tricia and Tim, who had arrived moments before. We assembled the various things you need for triathlon and headed over to registration through the early morning bustle of a mountain festival site beginning the day, people looking either uncertain or very athletic.

At the transition area we had our helmets checked then walked through the wet grass to find our bike racking slots. It was chilly but not too chilly, but as we then waited for the race briefing it started to rain. I borrowed a rain jacket from Tricia and Tim for a few moments then after the briefing headed off for that all-so-important last minute toilet break.

Watching the first waves entering and leaving the water, you could see it wasn’t easy: the long dry spell meant the water level was low and the rocks and weed were making it tricky. As I started the swim I worried that I was going to hate the swim so much that I’d end up bailing out: fortunately one of the kayakers who was looking out for us all told me I’d be in about 2m of water after a few moments, and then I was able to start doing front crawl – so much easier than breast stroke – and my breathing calmed down and I even overtook a couple of people.

Getting out I trailed bits of weed with me, which had entagled themselves in my race number (97), and I ran/jogged up into the transition area. There was Tricia, putting on her cycling top and getting ready to go. I grabbed my helmet, put on my shoes and socks, Tim took a photo, and then taking my bike I was off. Within minutes a smile was on my face: I felt as if I was peddling smoothly and steadily, and slowly I began to overtake a handful of people.

The ride climbed up and along the side of Catbells via Portinscale (I got overtaken by 2 people going up the zigzags – I overtook them both again later, although one then overtook me on the run) before dropping down through Grange, at the southern end of Derwentwater. As I went through Grange a red squirrel dived into the hedge just ahead of me: possibly the highlight of the race for me!

Fortunately there still wasn’t too much traffic on the roads, so overtaking coming back into Keswick wasn’t a problem. I jogged back into transition with my bike and then headed out on the run. This was the bit I’d alway used to worry about when I first did triathlon many years ago, but I also knew that my running has improved tremendously over the past couple of years. Despite breathing fairly heavily I managed to keep up a steady pace and again overtook a handful of people. The run went up through Cockshott Woods, along the path which hides behind the wall going along the road (I could see cyclists coming towards me on the other side of the wall – one guy who had been in my swim wave shouted something at me and I waved back) until turning back to come along the gravelly lake short path.

A short section on road past Theatre by the Lake and I was back on the grass of Crow Park and heading up a small hill to the finish line. Tricia’s husband Tim was waiting there and told me I’d crossed the line at about 10 to 10. I’m not entirely sure what time my swim started – it was due to start about 8.30 but I think it would have been more like 8.15 or 8.20 – but I’m looking forward to seeing the official results when they are posted.

A few minutes later and Penny turned up, and at about 10.30 we jogged back along the running route to see if we could see Tricia. There she was, just coming past Theatre by the Lake, so we ran back alongside her and cheered her over the finishing line.

My enthusiasm for triathlon – sprint distance, at least – has been completely re-ignited. Penny and I drove to Bassenthwaite to meet up with Anne and Laura for a swim – where the sun even came out – and I was chatty; I was buzzing for the rest of the day. I love feeling fit and healthy and strong and days like this just make me want to do more, and to get fitter – I still have an ambition to do a standard distance triathlon and actually manage to run the entire 10km run, instead of walking bits. So I’m already looking at races for next year…

So what’s new?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More hills and water: Stickle Tarn and Hawkshead trail race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swim, bike, run… hills and water (2)

Arnside to Garsdale Head; Devoke Water

Before describing the bike ride I went on the day after the Ambleside trail race, I should put in a mention of the Mill Yard cafe in Morland. Prior to Covid I’d been here a few times, and always enjoyed it: Penny and Tim live nearby so are fairly regular patrons, in particular for the take-away pizzas on a Friday or Saturday night. I’d be invited to stay at their house after the run, and Penny had suggested we go to the cafe that evening.

Wow! I mean, wow! The best pizza I’ve ever had. The base wasn’t so thin that it had burnt, but nor was it too fat (I don’t like thick doughy bases). It was a perfect balance of thin but just risen enough. And the chef is generous with the cheese – gorgeous stringy mozzarella which produces strands almost like spaghetti, and which, like spaghetti,, you can’t – and shouldn’t be expected – to eat neatly. I also like the fact that you get to choose your own toppings – or you can go for the chef’s own option, which is whatever he feels like at the time. The only problem was that Penny and I shared a garlic bread with mozzarella first, and then struggled to eat more than half a pizza each. Tim, late home, benefitted from having the leftovers… I loved eating in their outside yard as well: it is a genuine old mill building, so is a really attractive building anyway, and the yard makes a great outdoor eating area.

The following morning my quads were aching a bit but we had breakfast and then headed off to drop Penny’s car at Garsdale Head before Tim took us and our bikes to Arnside. The weather looked promising: it was still quite muggy but it was dry. It was a relief that Tim had helped out, as it would have meant an awful lot of to-ing and fro-ing at the end of what turned out to be quite a demanding bike ride if we’d then had to drive back to the start to pick up a second car.

Arnside is lovely, but I always find Morecambe Bay and the various estuaries that empty into a bit bizarre. I grew up near the Severn/Bristol Channel, which has one of the highest tidal differences in the world, so you’d think I’d be used to seeing the sea disappear into the distance. I think perhaps what is different about Morecambe Bay is being aware that the tide can come in very, very fast – drownings are not unusual – so I’m always slightly on tenterhooks near it. A siren sounded while we were in the car park unloading our bikes and I wasn’t at all sure that it didn’t mean that the tide was about to rush in and wash us all away.

The initial part of the ride was along fairly flat country lanes. There are a lot of nature reserves and so forth in this area and not a lot of development. It’s not an area I know terribly well, being at the opposite end of Cumbria from where I live, but I do have the experience of having valued Silverdale fire station, just down the coast into Lancashire (if you ever want to see a slightly unusual fire station, that’s the one). Like much of Cumbria you do feel that you are quite a long way from anywhere, although we crossed both the A6 and the M6 as we made our way in an easterly direction along the Cumbria/Lancashire border.

A climb uphill between trees led to a great view in a southerly direction, before going through Hutton Roof (a place whose name has always intrigued me – we didn’t stop to look but apparently it’s got great limestone pavement/crags) and then descending to Kirkby Lonsdale. As we started to go down hill Penny got a bee in her bonnet – sorry, I mean in her helmet – just as three girls of about half our age came up the hill in the opposite direction, looking as if the climb was no effort for them whatsoever.

Kirkby Lonsdale is great. I’d only passed through there before, and not seen the town centre, which has a lovely old market cross – where we stopped and ate ice cream – and also a river which looks like a great place to swim. Definitely worth a return visit sometime.

The route now took us up past Barbon Hall and into Barbondale, which was absolutely beautiful and also really enjoyable cycling. We stopped at a bridge which had been rebuilt after Storm Desmond, doing our usual thing en route of exclaiming how stunning it all was and how lucky we are to live in Cumbria.

We had been gradually and almost imperceptibly climbing, and eventually had a glorious run down into Dentdale before turning eastwards into Dent itself. There were quite a lot of people about – it’s a lovely little village and it looked as if it had some good cafes (they were beginning to close as it was about 4pm on a Sunday afternoon) – and we stopped to use the very good public toilets before bumping over the cobbles and then going downhill some more.

After this our route took us along Dentdale before, at Cowgill, a hamlet at the end of the valley, climbing steeply uphill towards Dent station – about 4 and a half miles away from the actual village of Dent and the highest operational railway station in England. The hill from the valley bottom up to the station had us both beaten – at one point I got back on and started cycling again, but not for long. The station, like Garsdale Head, lies on the Carlisle-Settle line, an amazing – and rather crazy – feat of engineering which was incredibly expensive to build as it has so many tunnels and viaducts. Not surprisingly it suffered when the main west coast line was built; nowadays when you travel on this line you can buy a short history of the railway (although as I haven’t travelled on it for a while I don’t know if Covid has put a stop to that).

After Dent station Penny managed to get back on her bike, but I walked a bit further, until the road levelled out a bit and rolled across some glorious open fell with amazing views all around. Finally there was a steep, fast descent down to Garsdale Head and the car. I had, over a period of time, finally cycled round the whole of Cumbria (we’ve missed a couple of miles in a couple of places to be honest). However we have one more ‘stage’ we both want to do: to cycle from Melmerby up to Alston and then down to Brampton.

The weather finally changed from being overcast and muggy to being sunny, and my legs recovered from their two days of hills. I posted a group message to see if anybody wanted to swim and got several positive replies and some enthusiasm for Devoke Water, which must be one of the furthest west of the Lake District tarns: it took over two hours to drive there. However, it was completely worthwhile.

We turned off the main road at Greenodd towards Broughton in Furness, and then up the Duddon Valley. Some of the open water swimming books recommend the river here, but it looked quite low and also there were a lot of people. We turned to go up towards Birker Fell, crossing some cattle grids and coming out above trees into open fells which looked almost Alpine today. There’s no proper car park but there was enough verge to park on and the tarn is then a short walk along a track. It was absolutely stunning, and we found a beach with a stony entry to the water. It was shallow for quite a way out, before steeply sloping away underwater. Jo and Anne started to swim up to the far end – probably about 1km away – and I zigzagged a bit before thinking about swimming to the island. I didn’t make it as I got a bit bored with not being able to see much below me, and also the island kept looking as if it was not getting any closer.

After a picnic a few of us got back in for a short while – partly to admire the perch I’d initially spotted and got very excited about. Even the most cautious of us swam without wetsuits and it was almost warmer in the water than out in the breeze. There was a lot of merriment and plans for all sorts of other events – we’ve decided that we need to do a breakfast swim in Bassenthwaite with bacon sandwiches, and we talked about having ‘Crab Fest’ at Devoke Water next July as so many in the group are cancerians.

Swim, bike, run… hills and water (1)

ABC: Buttermere, Ambleside and the River Caldew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking, swimming, singing…

Having done the half marathon, I found my enthusiasm or motivation to run had waned a little: even though there are still 7 trail races still to do (the next is the Ambleside 14km on 10th July). I gave blood, which always takes it out of me for a few days, and was working towards my ARSM (Associate of the Royal Schools of Music) exam – a half hour recital. My car – 12 years old – failed its MOT quite drastically as well, so I had to sort out hire cars and buying a new car.

Bella was due to do her Grade 7 piano exam but that morning I had a call from her school saying she needed to self-isolate. She came home, disappointed, but her teacher said that he was confident she would have passed and that she could start to work on Grade 8 instead, though he’d like her to do more performing prior to sitting it. I think it’s partly as whereas for lessons you can make all sorts of excuses for why your playing isn’t fantastic and why you haven’t had time to do as much practice as desired, when you’re performing you have to be at your best. She was also disappointed recently not to get into CAT (Centre for Advanced Training) at the Sage Gateshead – but as much as anything it’s partly as she’s a pianist and not an orchestral player. It’s a pity and I’m sure she’d have loved it, but at least it means we’re not having to get her over to Newcastle every Sunday: and she can try again next year.

My ARSM recital was in the Fratry at Carlisle Cathedral. I hadn’t sung in there since the Music Festival several years ago, when Deborah and I sang the cat duet in there (and came 2nd). With only the examiner and my accompanist in there in addition to me, my voice resonated loudly in the space: which in many ways was a relief as I didn’t need to worry about it carrying. I attach a copy of my programme below – I’m hoping at some point to record it and put it up on YouTube; and I’m doing the Faure again at Christmas in the Solway Singers’ concert at Lanercost.

I may have lacked motivation to run, but the good weather has meant wild swimming has been pleasant. One Saturday afternoon Laura and I walked to Easedale Tarn, which was one of the lakes yet to be ‘ticked off’ on my list. We parked at Lancrigg – the hotel lets you park there for £6, which you get refunded if you buy something in their cafe – and walked up the side of Sourmilk Gill to the Tarn. It’s a lovely walk and the tarn is a good size for swimming; I swam across to a rock that was near to the further side, only getting slightly panicky about the weeds around the rock (I hate the feeling of weeds brushing my legs, and I’m always worried they’re going to ensnare me and I’ll drown). As we left to walk back down – a slightly longer route which crossed over to come down a different beck – the sun came out, creating a lovely reflection in the still water.

A couple of days later a group of us decided to swim in Bowscale Tarn to mark the summer solstice (we chose 21st June rather than the Stonehenge choice of 20th). I found the water quite cold, although Tricia stayed in for ages in just her swimsuit. Penny also tried without her wetsuit and got out again quite quickly! We were incredibly lucky with the weather – after a dull start to the day, the sun came out for our evening walk and swim. It’s possibly one of my favourite tarns as despite the fact that it can be quite chilly as it’s overshadowed by high fells, it’s not weedy. I also love the way that you suddenly come across it – it’s hidden from view until almost the last moment.

Another Tarn which is hidden from view until you crest the brow (from either direction) is Sprinkling Tarn. I’d wanted to return to it since Penny and I had swum there (https://runningin3time.wordpress.com/2021/05/23/sty-head-and-sprinkling-tarns/) and when Jo and Mike came to stay after a weekend in York, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I hadn’t fully appreciated how hard they might find the walk, so I wasn’t the most popular of people that day, but overall I think they felt that they’d done something memorable. I swam without a wetsuit, although it took a few moments for me to adjust to the water temperature – but again there were lots of weeds. I wonder if it’s just the time of year and if the weeds have been growing a lot? They certainly have in my garden.

I had travelled down to York by train after my ARSM recital/exam, to meet up with Jo and Mike and also Caroline. We had a lovely weekend in York – Caroline and I ran along the river; we all went on a boat trip; and we went to Jorvik, as well as shopping and eating (and drinking). Jo and Mike then gave me a lift home, stopping at Barnard Castle en route and then driving across the North Pennines, which is a beautiful and spacious if remote landscape.

They then stayed for a week, and whilst I had things to sort out like buying a new car and doing the school run, we had time not only to do the walk to Sprinkling Tarn but also to go to Lanercost, Carlisle and Birdoswald. It was brilliant to have friends to stay and to show off some of the lovely places locally: and it made me realise that if people come up here on holiday they don’t necessarily then want to travel miles, but to see what’s around here. It might not be the Lake District but it is still a stunning part of the world, and it made me appreciate once more how lucky I am to live here. And Jo managed to get a really funny panorama of Mike and me up above Haytongate…

As a final note, I can highly recommend the cafe at Lanercost, under new ownership. It looks as if their website is still under construction, so I can’t post a link at the moment, although it does look as if they have a new Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Lanercost-Tea-Rooms-and-Gift-Shop-103878225199009