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

Going places

We now have ‘the rule of 6’ (or two households) indoors and can hug our friends. Life feels pretty normal, despite the obligatory facemasks, social distancing, track and trace and doing Lateral Flow tests. Certainly our cities, towns and roads seem busy. I can’t remember last May half term – I was furloughed and the kids were being home-schooled when it wasn’t half term – but this May half term has seemed like any ‘normal’ half term. We may not have so many international visitors here, but then neither are UK residents going abroad, instead choosing to explore their own countries.

I rather get the impression that people are getting somewhat fatigued with WhatsApp and virtual communication and are keen to get out and about; particularly to see friends and family in the flesh. It’s helped by the lovely weather which has suddenly – thank goodness – started. Only two weeks ago Penny and I were swimming in Sprinkling and Sty Head Tarns and feeling cold, even in wetsuits; when out running I never knew whether I was going to get soaking wet and be too hot or too cold. Fortunately the sun came out and the weather grew warm, just in time for the half term holiday.

The first trip out was nothing unusual. Bella and I drove down to the western side of Windermere, to find the car park at Wray full but a car on the side of the road just leaving. We slipped into the space and walked down to the lake, which was not only busy with people picnicking and playing games along the shore but also with boats, paddleboards and a horse (which was really enjoying having a splash in the shallow waters of a small bay). The others arrived bit by bit and put on wetsuits; the water was fairly warm and after a bit I peeled off my wetsuit and just went in in my swimsuit. We then lingered in the sun chatting, eating and drinking. Credit for the photos to Mark Britton.

My sister Rachel and her boyfriend Ross then came up on Bank Holiday Monday to stay for the week. Bella was keen to go to Edinburgh to buy pointe shoes so I had booked us into the Ibis Styles hotel in St Andrews Square, and Rachel and Ross had then booked in as well. We travelled up by train and had time to drop our bags off and admire the hotel before meeting Anne at the Scott Memorial. The hotel ticked all the boxes – central; nice rooms (especially the one Bella and I were sharing, which had a bay window with a view of the square and a small sofa in the bay); friendly staff; and good value for money.

After meeting Anne we had lunch in the cafe at the National Gallery, which has an outdoor terrace overlooking Princes Street Gardens (as well as an indoor area); we then walked all the way down to Stockbridge as Anne and Rachel were keen to go to Toast. On the way back we walked past my aunt Janet’s flat in the New Town: when she died we inherited some money, which enabled me to buy my grand piano and also contributed towards a large proportion of my house.

Anne, Bella and I then went shopping. Having a daughter is expensive; having bought her some new clothes in Princes Street, the next day we went to buy pointe shoes and a new leotard for dancing. Walking back we went through the Meadows, which was a part of the city I’d never seen before, and past the University. Bella loved Edinburgh and is now thinking that she might do her clinical year there after her undergraduate medical degree… she’s not yet 16 so her plans may change, though the plan to go to Edinburgh for her 16th birthday probably won’t.

We went to Amarone for dinner that night, generously funded by our Mum. I rashly promised Bella that I’d take her and two of her friends there for her 16th birthday. These photos were taken in the restaurant by Rachel. The food and the cocktails were superb.

The next day we also went to the Botanic Gardens and Valvona and Crolla, before seeing Bella off at the station – she was meeting her Dad and co. to go camping. Rachel, Ross and I headed up into the Old Town and found a tapas bar called Piggs where we had more delicious food and drink before catching our own train.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city and the centre is walkable: if I had to live in a city it would be one of my first choices and always has been, although it’s expensive (I reckoned I could afford a one-bedroom flat). However once we got home and I took Rachel and Ross out on a ‘local tour’, I remembered how much I love living where I do. Ross hadn’t seen Hadrian’s Wall properly before so we went to Chesters Roman Fort. We were then planning on swimming in the river Tyne; having picnicked near Chesters on the banks of the river, I didn’t really fancy swimming there and we decided to go into Hexham to Waitrose and then drive across country to Featherstone. Rachel and Ross prefer more wooded, rolling hills to the rather rugged landscape we have up here, although they admired its openness and space.

They both loved swimming in the south Tyne though, when we eventually found somewhere to park the car and where we could access the river (the road we had wanted to go down was closed, so we stopped a mile or so south of Featherstone itself). I didn’t even bother to put my wetsuit on – it took a while to get used to the water temperature but once I was in I really enjoyed it and swam up and down a few times. It was too shallow to swim much, but very enjoyable: beautifully clear water so you could see the stones clearly, and small black and white fish. Ross’s reaction was much the same as Hannah’s when she had swum at Broomlee Lough – sheer delight – which was gratifying. There really is something profoundly thrilling about wild swimming: it’s partly the closeness to nature; partly the physical tingling sensation of the cold, crystal clear water on your skin; but also, partly, I think, the sense of achievement of having actually done it, particularly when the water is so cold that you have to grit your teeth to get in. I’m looking forward to swimming more and further throughout the summer.

Sty Head and Sprinkling Tarns

Two more tarns ticked off the list of tarns and lakes to swim in this year!

Though whether it could accurately be called ‘swimming’ is perhaps a bit of a moot point… (where does that term come from? Ah… something debated in the moot? Yes – the internet has just confirmed that law students used to debate legal points in the moot).

The weather has continued to be rather wet and rainy, alternating with sun; wind from the non-prevailing north and east; and temperatures varying from quite warm to rather cold. I’d suggested to the Ladies of the Lakes whatsapp group that we should swim on Sunday 23rd. However the forecast looked dire, so when Penny said she was free on the Saturday and I knew I’d have to take the children down to Penrith, we made tentative plans to do something. The children’s plans then changed as well and in fact I only needed to take Edward down to his Dad’s at lunchtime, which gave me more of the day free. As it was chilly but relatively dry and Penny is still recovering from injuries, I suggested we walk and swim – there’s a 10km walk which starts from Seathwaite in the Borrowdale valley, and passes Sty Head tarn and Sprinkling tarn.

When we arrived at Seathwaite there were lots of cars parked on verges, and for a moment or two we wondered whether we’d get a space. I was optimistic that people would be beginning to leave, and in fact we found a space on a stony verge (as opposed to a grassy one) right up near the farm. Usefully, there are toilets there – they’re not huge and they’re a bit smelly (so were my feet after swimming and walking in wet trainers), but it’s nice not to have to look for bushes to hide behind.

The walk starts going through the farm, where there were cows sitting on and close to the path, which would be intimidating for some people and where it was definitely a case of trying to avoid cowpats. You rather got the impression that the farmer was trying to deter walkers – but judging by the number of walkers and tents we saw along the entire route, it’s a popular walk.

We went uphill up a stony bridle path – the paths on this walk were clearly man-made, with some bridges in places and signs of repairs in others. A waterfall could be seen cascading down the hillside, but the path took us away from this until it meandered its way back towards the gill at the top of the waterfall. Because of the rain recently the streams are quite full and flowing quite fast, unlike this time last year when a lot of them had dried up completely. Penny was regretting not having worn walking boots; I was happy in my trail shoes but we were joking that I looked a bit ‘ignorant’ walking along in jeans and trainers and carrying a paper bag (it had a cake in which I didn’t want to squash in my rucksack) and drinking from a can. I looked like the sort of person who gets criticised when Mountain Rescue gets called out – however I have to say that at least the tread is still good on my old trail shoes, even if the goretex uppers have holes in. I was also far too hot but knew that I’d need my waterproof jacket and its fleece inner after swimming.

We arrived at Sty Head Tarn having met a lot of people coming in the other direction, including a friendly, chatty Australian guy. It’s funny how some people walk past with their heads down and trying to avoid looking at you, as if they could get Covid from the word ‘hello’ (or perhaps they just don’t want to be sociable and would prefer to be on their own in the hills), whereas the vast majority will at least say hello and a friendly minority will chat.

At Sty Head tarn there were a few tents but it felt a little exposed, with a northerly wind creating little waves on the surface of the water. The path ran quite closely past the western side of the lake, and there were a few stony beaches to choose from. As we approached the water we could see how beautifully clear it was: although we could also see that it shelved quite steeply down. I got changed with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, and stepped into the water – the stony bit sloped down quite quickly and within little more than a meter of the edge I was out of my depth. And it was cold! I didn’t feel like putting my face in, though Penny put hers in and confirmed how clear the water was.

We didn’t stay in long as it was so cold: especially having a second tarn to swim in as well. After all, we said, this isn’t about how far we swim or how long we stay in but about trying out different tarns and lakes, often with different ways of getting there. We kept our wetsuits on and walked on uphill in the direction of Sprinkling Tarn, ‘wowing’ the views as we went.

We passed a couple walking in the other direction who we had been walking behind heading away from the farm (they’d taken the route directly to Sprinkling Tarn whereas we’d gone the other way). We were almost at the brow of a hill and they told us that the tarn was literally a few yards ahead. Sure enough we got to the top of the brow and there it was. It was a stunning way to approach it as you almost come across it by surprise, and it has more dramatic surroundings than Sty Head tarn. In some ways it’s reminiscent of Angle Tarn, but the more I think about the two of them the more I think of their differences. Both are gorgeous!

We got in quite quickly and again the water was incredibly clear. I still wasn’t brave enough to put my face in, and doing breast stroke was making my neck ache, so I didn’t stay in long: Penny swam for a bit longer and then once we were both dry we sat and shared the cake (out of my paper bag) and drank coffee. Sprinking tarn hadn’t seemed quite so cold as Sty Head, and was probably a little less exposed. We agreed it would definitely be one to come back to when it was warmer. Little did we know how much this view would be confirmed on the walk back down.

If we thought the walk up was pretty, the walk down was stunning. There’s a fairly steep descent immediately to the east of the gill (it’s called something at the top and then becomes Grain Gill lower down), which plunges down the hillside through a rock-sided chasm to start with and with waterfalls and plunge pools. The water in the pools lower down is a clear green-ish colour, which I wonder is due to Borrowdale slate; there were also some almost pure white stones on the path. At times you could see Derwentwater in the background; and we were lucky that the sky was fairly clear, although it was grey to the west. It was absolutely stunning and we agreed that we definitely needed to come back in warmer weather, and bring the others up there too: we agreed we needed to make it an all-day trip so that we didn’t feel the need to rush.

Meanwhile I needed to get home to my daughter, but I’m really hoping to be able to swim in Sprinkling tarn and the rock pools when the weather – and the water – is warmer.

Movement Meditation (thank you Hannah)

Since my head cold and the 18km trail race, I must admit to having been feeling a bit sluggish. Somehow I just didn’t have my usual energy levels. I wasn’t sure whether it was the aftermath of the cold and the race combined or just a phase in the ups and downs of life. As the next race is at the beginning of June, however, and is a half marathon, I was conscious of not having much time to increase the distance I was running, and the couple of short runs I got in during the working week felt hard.

On Friday 14th May, Hannah – whom I know from work – and I had arranged to meet up, and possibly go for a swim in Broomlee Lough. We were both excited – she’s been more or less shielding for most of the pandemic, but had also joined the Ladies of the Lakes Whatsapp group and bought herself a wetsuit – and I was just looking forward to meeting up with a friend and also potentially swimming in Broomlee Lough again.

With the weather we’d had I wasn’t sure how warm it would be, but thought that perhaps as it’s relatively shallow it wouldn’t have got too much colder since the group of us had last swum there. The weather that morning was a little dull and we were messaging each other about whether to take wetsuits or not – I decided I would take mine in the car, and the nearer I got to Housesteads the more I felt that it would be worth going swimming anyway, even if it wasn’t for long.

When we arrived we found out from the member of National Trust staff at the gate that in fact we need not have booked tickets. A public footpath leads straight across the site, so as long as you don’t want to visit the ruins of the fort then you’re allowed to cross the larger site. It makes for a shorter walk than from the layby on the road, although you do then have to cross the boggiest part of the field. I had wellies on but Hannah hadn’t managed to find hers, nor her walking boots – her (fortunately old) trainers were excessively muddy by the time we’d walked up and back.

There’s something very special about swimming in lakes and tarns anyway, and I feel it even more so up at Broomlee Lough, where the Romans swam. We discussed how they’d have felt swimming north of the wall ‘outside the Empire’ and decided that perhaps it was confirmation that it was more of a boundary marker and trading post than a constantly-fought-over frontier. And in fact, thinking that it stood for about 300 years or more, there must surely have been times when the frontier was quite stable and peaceful?

Hannah absolutely loved swimming in the lough, comparing it favourably even to Lake Garda: partly as it’s so much quieter and more remote. I got a few photos and a video of her but I’m not going to post them here as they’re not the most flattering of her. But the big joyful smile on her face was like the sun, and a photo can’t in any case accurately show how someone feels on top of the world and pleased with her achievement: it was as if she had won the Olympics. We spoke about ‘movement meditation’, or mindfulness, and how the physical, emotional and mental sides of us are interconnected.

The National Trust has changed the shop and ticket office at the entrance to the larger site into a cafe and we stopped there for ice cream on the way out, and to admire how tame the birds were. A chaffinch was hopping about, and then a bright yellow bird which looked almost tropical. Penny knew what it was when I showed her the photo – a siskin. Now I know why the cafe at Whinlatter is called Siskins.

Later that day Penny and I went for a cycle ride from Walton, round in a 25 mile loop. The sun by now had come out and whilst we’d hoped to be able to do the Border Reivers 40 mile route, Penny’s husband had said he’d be coming past to fetch her at about 5.30pm, so we had to do a shorter version. As it turned out we got back to my house about 5 or 10 minutes before Tim turned up, in time to have a quick cup of tea.

It had been a brilliant day: I’d been outside almost all day, met up with two fab. friends, and done two of my favourite things, swimming and cycling. That evening as I did my singing practice I contemplated that I was feeling more energetic than I had for a couple of weeks. As I ran on Sunday, although it was a fairly long run (17km), I felt ‘normal’ again: and my cold seemed to have gone. I’d got my Mojo back.

Thank you my friends.