Cumbria Way in pieces (part 5)

Looking at the map (but not in much detail), the next stage of the Cumbria way looked shorter at around 16km, as if it was going to be a bit wiggly and potentially trickier to navigate, but also very pretty.

Whilst the weather had got a lot colder – we’d had snow mid-week – it was at least dry and the forecast for Sunday was also dry, at least until about 5pm. Penny and I met in the car park at Old Dungeon Ghyll, from which we’d started our previous 25km run to Keswick, and drove down to Coniston in my car. The car parks weren’t as busy as they had been previously, which was a bit surprising considering that the Easter holidays have just started – but which also made it far easier to park.

Leaving the centre of Coniston we turned on to a footpath which led across part of the former Monk Coniston estate, and soon saw a folly. Fortunately there was some great interpretation inside it, which not only told us about the estate generally, and how much of the landscape had been created by the family who owned the estate in the 19th century, but also that this particular folly had been created to mimic medieval dog kennels.

We dropped down towards Low Yewdale from where the path crossed fields and went through woods towards Tarn Hows, again man-made but one of the prettiest tarns in the lake district. Penny and I have both run the Coniston half marathon a couple of times (and she has done the full marathon) so we’ve run around Tarn Hows before, but we hadn’t approached it and left it on the same paths as today. The Cumbria Way leaves the tarn near to its northernmost point and after running past a field of Belted Galloways, we were on an old county byroad: and having to jump on to the verge to let a convoy of 4x4s go past.

We were truly in the heart of the Lake District today, mostly on glorious rolling gravelly paths which undulated through woods, or on grassy paths crossing rolling fields. Whereas going from Langdale north to Keswick had meant crossing stunning but quite isolated land, today’s route was chocolate-box-lakeland prettiness.

At Hollin Bank we didn’t follow the road but crossed through Tongue Intake Plantation before realising our ‘mistake’ and doing an extra loop to take us past Colwith Force – a waterfall on the beck which runs from Little Langdale tarn to Elter Water. Before long the path brings you out near to Skelwith Bridge, where a modern metal bridge crosses the river Brathay. For a time now I was on familiar ground: I can’t remember the number of times, when the children were young, that we’d bring visitors down to Skelwith Bridge and walk from there along to Elterwater, or vice versa: at least if they’d comply. I do remember one day when Isabella refused to walk and after a bit David and I ended up carrying her on our shoulders, before turning round and going back to the cafe!

I love the lakeland slate: it has a greeny tinge to it (especially the Honister slate) and makes the water have a similarly clear, greeny tinge. You can see it above in the water under the bridge in Elterwater village, but it was even more obvious when we again took an unintended detour up to the Burlington Stone quarry. Here I was acutely conscious of the industrial side of Cumbria: much is hidden nowadays but the entire county would have echoed with the sounds of quarrying and mining at one point. This is still a working quarry, which you don’t notice as you pass your touristic way from Elterwater and Chapel Stile up to Great Langdale: now I know it’s there I can imagine I shall be looking out for the huge hills of stone every time I drive that way. For all that it’s man made, it’s rather stunning, and a direct connection with the old quarries and mines which you see on walks or which have become visitor attractions. It also feels like a deep-rooted link to the Vikings and even earlier peoples, who created axe heads from the stone in the Langdale (‘long valley’) valley which were possibly traded at Castlerigg Stone circle, outside Keswick over the hills to the north (I wonder if some of those traders followed the route that Penny and I had run a couple of weeks ago?).

Although we had managed to veer off the Cumbria Way, I’m glad we saw this. We had an option of following this other footpath on further towards Great Langdale or dropping down past a campsite to rejoin the Cumbria way as it ran alongside the Great Langdale Beck, and chose to rejoin the Cumbria way. After some undulations up and down the lower slopes of Oak Howe Needle, at the foot of Lingmoor Fell, we finally dropped down the hillside and crossed the river to come out at the New Dungeon Ghyll (Stickle Barn). Once again we detoured slightly from the Cumbria way and followed a path through fields and back to Penny’s car.

We’d completed almost 20km along a lovely route which I would really like to do again sometime. It had all that is prettiest about the Lake District: views of the fells, woods, stony paths, clear-watered streams, and plenty of Herdwick sheep to look at. I didn’t take any photos of the herdies unfortunately but I love their sturdy legs, the curly hair on their thick tails, and their friendly, smiley faces. No wonder ‘Herdy’ has become such a popular brand: and not only does the Herdy website sell all their fab. stuff, but it also tells you about contour lines: https://www.herdy.co.uk/did-ewe-know/contour-lines-mysterious-squiggly-lines-on-maps/.

Next time: Coniston to Ulverston.

The Cumbria Way in pieces (part four)

I’d had a week or so of feeling quite tired and low, and hadn’t got outside much. After the run along Hadrian’s Wall the weather had reverted to being a bit wet and miserable, and my mood matched it. I was also out quite a lot for work, which is enjoyable but does limit how much time I get for exercise – especially as the evenings are still dark and I don’t find it easy to motivate myself to run alone in the dark.

Anne told me it’s because we were in Pisces and that my mood would change after 21st March: which also happened to be Alex’s 18th birthday. Yes, my oldest child is now officially an adult. I cooked him and 6 of his friends a 4-course meal in celebration. They must have enjoyed it as he said he’d like to do it again, perhaps in the summer. Just for the record, the menu was:

Blini with a mix of smoked salmon, cream cheese, smoked trout mousse, trout caviar

– served with champagne

Roast beef with roasted root veg., roast potatoes, green veg., yorkshire puddings and gravy

– served with red wine

Berry Pavlova

– served with dessert wine

A selection of cheese and biscuits

– served with port

There was also a chocolate birthday cake, which didn’t get eaten on the day but taken into school the following day.

The weather turned warmer and sunnier and Penny and I decided it was time to do the next stage of the Cumbria Way: she suggested Langdale to Keswick. We again needed to leave one car at one end and one at the other, and the best bet looked like leaving one near the A66 just outside Portinscale and Keswick, and the other at Langdale. Having found a space for the first, what we hadn’t anticipated was that Langdale was heaving: however we were lucky and someone left the third car park, next to the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel, we tried just as we were circling it for a second time.

There’s a nice clear sign indicating that you’re on the right path at the start. I have to say that after this however, waymarking was sadly lacking. Every time I run part of the Cumbria Way I think of David (my ex) doing the entire thing a few years ago, some of it in the dark. It’s just as well he’s good at navigating.

The route wends its way along the Mickleden valley, the river bubbling away next to you, before you get to a junction. The righthand (western) leads up past one of the Angle Tarns (one I haven’t been to) before heading along/over Esk Pike and ultimately, if you want, to Scafell. The path we were taking was one which goes up the side of Stake Gill (ghyll?) and over Stake Pass towards Keswick. Once you’re at the top, High Raise is on your right and Glaramara on your left (if you’re going north). There are absolutely no roads up here, and you get a real sense of remoteness even though we saw quite a few walkers out and about.

A zigzag path leads down from Stake Pass: I loved running down this, but people with vertigo might not be quite so keen. And, of course, if you want to admire the view it’s better not to go too fast – get to the bottom too quickly and you miss out on the enjoyment. You can just see me in the photo (below) which Penny took.

Something I hadn’t appreciated – and didn’t get a photo of – is that once we were in the Langastrath valley at the bottom, we ran past Black Moss Pot, one of THE places to have a dip in terms of wild swimming in the Lake District. We saw plenty of places where we said ‘it would be nice to have a dip in there’, but didn’t take any photos of them. Am I becoming a little complacent about being able so easily to access these stunning locations?! I’m certainly not bored by them – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve thought or said ‘we’re so lucky to live here’ – but I do end up with 100s of rather similar-looking photographs. The wonderful landscape makes me all the more determined to stay fit and active as I get older, however: Penny and I had both had stressful weeks, and being out in this luscious scenery and running and feeling alive was the perfect antidote.

The path isn’t that easy to run as it’s quite rocky and uneven (we did wonder if the other side of the gill would have been easier) but it eventually comes out where the Langastrath Beck – the one we’d been following – joins either (according to the map) Greenup Gill or Willygrass Gill. I did take some photos here as the water bounds over the rocks. It’s obviously a bit of a tourist destination: only a short-ish walk from Stonethwaite or Rosthwaite and therefore fairly accessible from Keswick.

At Rosthwaite we found some public toilets, which is always useful, and ran past a barn serving tea and cake. It was tempting to stop but we’d already taken far longer than we expected and still weren’t at the bottom of Derwentwater.

We’d previously run a loop round this area from Grange and back, passing Castle Crags. The Cumbria Way uses a slightly more easterly route, which means not needing to go quite so far uphill again. There’s a short section on road in and just after Grange, before the path drops down towards the lake. This southern end of the lake is clearly quite marshy but also quite well-trodden, as it’s criss-crossed with boardwalks. It brought back memories of our ‘miles for Matt’ when we had run around Derwentwater as one of the 16 lakes for Penny’s 50th birthday: not long after the floods of 2015, as some bridges had needed rebuilding, including a footbridge over the Derwent where it flows into the lake at this end.

We didn’t need to cross that bridge today as we were already on the western side of the lake, and we were soon running along grassy paths, the lake gleaming on our right. It was getting late however, and we still had a few miles to go.

With tired legs we finally came out in Portinscale and walked round to Harry’s coffee stand. We had covered 25km (15.5 miles). It was good to get a drink and something to eat before getting in Penny’s car and driving back down to Langdale to fetch mine.

It was one of those days when it would have been lovely to have stayed out and relaxed into the evening: but Penny needed to get home to help Tim with their campervan and motorbikes, and I needed to get back to Keswick to take Alex to a friend’s party, to fetch Bella and to get home in time for a Sainsbury’s delivery. I made the Sainsbury’s delivery but Penny was late for Tim and I was about 10 minutes late dropping Alex off.

It had taken longer than we’d expected and we’d had all the extra miles to drive because of doing a linear route, but in terms of ‘headspace’ it was well worth it: as I said to Penny, if we hadn’t got out then we’d still have felt stressed from our working weeks. As I write this I’m at the Sage in Newcastle-Gateshead: it’s great to hear music and to be in a city (I had a lovely wander around the Quayside market earlier), but to really sort your head out nothing beats being out in stunning countryside in beautiful weather. I think next time we’ll aim for a shorter stage though!

Another bit of Hadrian’s Wall

One of my favourite lengths of Hadrian’s Wall is the area around Housesteads: I’ve previously posted photos of Broomlee Lough, one of my favourite places to swim (unfortunately the NT has now said that swimming isn’t allowed as the area is ecologically too sensitive), taken from the Wall astride the Whin Sill.

I’d been saying for a while that it would be good to run from Housesteads to Wall Town crags, and the opportunity presented itself a couple of weekends ago. It had been the music festival on the Friday evening and Saturday, and Penny’s husband was away, so she came to see the festival and then stayed at mine. As it’s a linear run we needed two cars, and left one at Wall Town crags before driving along and parking near Housesteads. We didn’t actually go through the fort itself but instead took the path which is just to the west of the fort area (it’s worth noting that there are public footpaths which cross the National Trust land surrounding the ‘playing card’ area, but I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of explaining that we weren’t going to pay as we weren’t visiting the fort) and which leads across the fields and up the hill to the wall path.

Obviously navigating the wall trail is relatively easy – mostly. This section in particular was easy: not only does it literally follow the remains of the wall itself, which are above ground in most places, but also there were plenty of other people out and about (for some reason they seemed to be going in the opposite direction to us, which meant they were going into the wind rather than having it behind them).

As it turned out, this is my favourite section of the wall. There is plenty to see, and perhaps a visual guide is the best way of representing it.

This is a view I’ve taken photos of several times before: that’s Broomlee Lough in the background, and we’ve just come across the field from the left of the picture and gone up the slope you can see. There are plenty of paths criss-crossing this area: we could have chosen to stay lower, but why stay low when you can go high and get a better view?
This is Crag Lough. I was keen to see whether there might be somewhere else to swim: unfortunately I think the only suitable entry point for this lough is at this end, and I’m not sure how accessible it would be: I don’t know if the track up to the farm is a private track, and have a feeling it may be. The other end is not too far from Steel Rigg car park, but is very weedy/grassy.

The path goes through the woods, though there were signs up advising people not to go through it at the moment as there are trees down due to storm Arwen (the evidence of Arwen is still clearly visible on both sides of the country up here). However as some people were coming through the woods we checked with them and they said it was fine, and that you just had to skirt round some trees. I guess for people who are a bit nervous about slopes and uneven ground it wouldn’t be such a great route: but we’re trail runners and uneven ground is our natural habitat.

Before arriving at Steel Rigg car park we came out at one of the best-known features of Hadrian’s Wall: so well known that I don’t even need to mention it’s name. I have to say that it’s far more distinctive from a distance than close up!

This photo, like the first, I think captures the essence of this part of the wall. It goes up and down constantly along the Whin Sill – some of the ascents/descents are quite steep – with stunning views in all directions. I love it.

The history of the area isn’t all Roman, either. I had never been to Cawfields quarry before, and the interpretation there showed industrial buildings from a far more recent era than the romans. It’s a pity that swimming isn’t allowed in the quarry, as the lake looked enticing: but I guess there could well be the remains of industrial kit under the water.

A quick google indicates that the romans may well have mined here, but that the more recent mining was from 1902 until 1952 – when people started to want to protect the older heritage more. It reminds me of Bath – apparently it was only in the 1960s, when a lot of new development was proposed, that people began to realise that actually Bath, with its Roman baths and beautiful Georgian houses, should be protected rather than destroyed. It’s interesting how some ruins, such as some of the ruined castles, were visited and (to a certain extent) protected during the 19th century, because they were viewed as romantic: but it took until the late 20th century for some other parts of our heritage to be protected.

One of the things I loved about this part of the wall, however – and I noticed this again yesterday, when I was out on a bike ride along part of the wall nearer to home – is that you spot all sorts of bits of roman ‘stuff’ which, not being in public or charitable ownership, doesn’t get commented on much. For example I had not been aware of Great Chesters Fort and milecastle 43, located in farmland to the west of Cawfields. It’s clear on a google maps satellite view from the air, but on the ground you’re running along navigating a farm, when first you see an arch and then what looks like the remains of rooms (barrack blocks?). But that’s what I also love about Hadrian’s Wall generally, and have done ever since I first visited part of it, many years ago: there it is, in a field, and you can just go up to it and touch it, and try to imagine what it would have been like almost two thousand years ago.

There’s some more up and down, and a turret (44b?) where you can sit and have a few minutes’ shelter if you need it, balancing your cup of coffee on a fallen archway, before seeing another lake, shaped a bit like a glass flask (a wider bottom and a narrow entrance) and then dropping down to Wall Town turret (45). From here you then drop further down, away from the wall – which more or less falls off the Whin Sill – and down to Wall Town quarry and country park. I wrote about this a while ago when I ran from Gilsland to Wall Town and back: it’s worth having a quick look on the Northumberland National Park Wall Town website as well as there is a stunning view of the crags at night. In fact it’s probably worth saying that the Northumberland National Park has invested quite a bit in visitor centres and so forth along the Wall in the past few years, and in my view have done a really good job.

This was possibly one of my favourite stretches of the Wall trail: although I also love the bit from Walltown to Birdoswald. I think it’s partly because of the quantity of roman remains there are to see, but also because the geology just makes it so stunning: whatever the weather.

The Cumbria Way in Pieces (part two)

One of the reasons for doing some fairly lengthy runs recently was because Penny and I had both entered the Northumberland Coast half marathon. It’s a run I’ve been wanting to do for years: there are various different organisations which arrange one, and various different distances (the Castles and Coast half is, however, a road race rather than off-road).

The run starts at Craster, just south of Dunstanburgh castle, and finishes at Bamburgh Castle. Both – especially Bamburgh – are visible from the east coast mainline railway, but I’ve never actually visited either (and still haven’t). Bamburgh is an impressive site, perhaps the more so because it’s been extensively restored rather than just being some ruins falling into the sea. Don’t get me wrong – some ruins are really impressive, but I was really impressed by Bamburgh even if some of it is ‘modern’ (VIctorian) and not the original. The site is incredibly historic as it was a fort in the time of the ancient Britons and possibly the capital of the kingdom of Bernicia; Bernicia and Deira became Northumbria. I seem vaguely to remember reading that it’s possible King Oswald was born there, and lived there until his Uncle Edwin took over the Kingdom: Oswald came back later having grown up on Iona.

I didn’t see any references to any of this on the day we arrived early at Bamburgh to get the coach down to the start line at Craster. A wide open swathe of grass sloped gently above the North Sea, the sun shining brightly and highlighting the white horses on the waves. The bunch of runners eventually set off in a northerly direction, Penny and me somewhere towards the back. I have learnt from hard experience not to start too near the front – I optimistically then get swept up into going far too fast at the start.

Unfortunately around Dunstanburgh Castle it was single file and a lot of people had slowed to a walk, but we soon managed to pick up our pace again. I can’t remember exactly where the first sand dunes of the day were, but they were slidey soft, dry, sand before we got on to the firmer sand of the beach. I made the mistake of running too close to the water, thinking the sand would be firmer there: I was quickly wet up to the tops of my legs (it didn’t take long to dry out).

We ran past some rather ugly beach huts, commenting that they wouldn’t get planning permission nowadays, before coming out at Beadnell where the 10km run had started. The path took us on and off the beach and over rocky foreshore, and then through Seahouses on the road before dropping back on to a wide open stretch of sandy beach. We could see Bamburgh castle ahead of us, but I was starting to flag: keeping going along the beach just felt like hard work. And even when we saw a flag marking the exit off the beach, there were still several 100m to go through the dunes before finally running over the finish line.

I was tired, my feet were sore and my knee ached, but it had been a great run. And a few days later I found out that I had come first in my age group, by a margin of about 16 minutes. Very gratifying.

A busy week followed, with several days out of the office, Head Teacher interviews, and giving blood. There was only time for a short run Wednesday lunchtime, and even so I felt sluggish. That evening I gave blood so I didn’t even think about trying to run on Thursday, when I was in York for work anyway. So when Penny suggested a long run on Saturday I wasn’t sure how motivated I felt. I also had a singing lesson (Music Festival) and had to my car tyres checked (MOT) so wasn’t sure whether my arrangements would fit in with Penny.

As it turned out my car tyres were fine and so I got down to Penrith to meet Penny a lot earlier than expected. We decided to do a one-way leg of the Cumbria Way, leaving cars at either end. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and rather than starting in Keswick and having to find a parking space and then run uphill out of Keswick to Latrigg, we drove up past Underscar hotel and stopped at the top of the hill. I’d last run down past here during the Keswick trail race, and really enjoyed the long, fast downhill into Keswick. Today we were running uphill, but the scenery was stunning, with snow on top of the highest fells under a clear blue sky.

Today our route took us in a northerly direction towards Skiddaw House. A sign told us that it was originally built as a shooting lodge in the 1800s; now it is a Youth Hostel. From here the path led downhill, badly eroded at times as the mix of wet peat and mountain bikes/people doesn’t seem to have been a happy one. It was one of those times when I was really enjoying running just for running’s sake, and enjoying being alive: the weather could not have been much better, and both Penny and I kept stopping to take photos.

Although we had not run fast it seemed hardly any time before we were back on a track we’d run on before, in very different weather. We’d been thinking of doing a loop around Bowscale about a year ago, but it had been rainy and wet and cold and we’d ended up turning round and going back the way we came (https://runningin3time.blog/2020/12/20/running-and-rain/). The puddles weren’t as big today, and despite a chilly northerly wind, in the sun it felt warm. We ran past a hunt and then down the road into Mosedale and back to the car, talking about getting some of our other running buddies to do this run with us and to then swim in the Caldew or down at Keswick.

I haven’t mentioned Ukraine, as what can one say? There is nothing I can do about it other than pray that the madness ends soon. I love this world we human beings call home: and I want it to carry on being somewhere beautiful. The situation over there has made me appreciate what I have here more than ever, and the beautiful Cumbrian countryside which I am lucky enough to call home.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.

The Cumbria Way in pieces (part one)

New year, new running routes… having run round the 16 biggest lakes in the Lake District for Penny’s 50th, and then done the entire Lakeland Trails series for my 60th, the question was what the next challenge would be.

A book which I was given a copy of last year was Over the Hill at 60 Something? https://www.inspiredbylakeland.co.uk/products/over-the-hill-at-60-something. Finding a copy in Booths, I bought Penny a copy and then also, for Christmas, David and Jo. It’s a beautifully illustrated and inspiring book of runs throughout the Lake District, written by the author as he ran 214 Wainwrights to celebrate his 60th year. Definitely something to emulate, and as we run around Whinlatter doing the 10km route ‘backwards’ (which seems to be hillier, but ends with a blast back to the car park) and then a new route which takes us up into bits of Whinlatter which aren’t on the maps you pick up at the visitor centre, Penny informs me there are about 3 routes in the book which take in Whinlatter. She’s always wanted to go up Grisedale Pike, which beckons temptingly (or not, on wild days) from one of the corners of the forest route.

The new Whinlatter route brings us back down to familiar territory but from a different angle: we’ve run past the ponds above several times when doing the ‘official’ 10km route, but not come up to them after running down the side of a beck before. We discover all sorts of new and lovely bits of forest which we hadn’t seen before, and I love the textures in the photo above left. I commented that it would make a good cushion cover: years ago I wrote a feature about a woman who created exactly those sorts of cushion covers, from wool (I think she knitted them but I can’t remember now: every time I drive through Armathwaite I go past her house and wonder if she’s still selling the kits and making the covers).

At the moment we’re both training for a half marathon however, and with time being limited because the evenings get dark and commitments such as children, work, etc., I thought it would be useful to find somewhere that was approximately halfway to meet to run. I wondered about Dalston, as it looked as if there were footpaths along by the river: and having started running some of them, we then remembered that we wanted to run the entire Cumbria Way. This is a 70 mile route which goes from Ulverston in South Lakeland to Carlisle in the north of the county (or of course, the other way round). A few years ago my ex ran it, and Bella and I went to meet him in the early hours of a summer morning at Carlisle Castle. We waited and waited and wondered why he didn’t turn up – it turned out he’d had a sleep of about an hour at Caldbeck. These ultra-runners take it easy – they stop for sleeps, long meals……… (I have no aspirations whatsoever to be an ultra-runner, partly as it’s not something you can do without doing any training, but also because it’s just gruelling).

The first time we ran from Dalston along the dual use cycle route/footpath towards Carlisle. At Denton Holme we turned round and headed back before following a lesser-used footpath through some woods. This turned out to be more of a scramble and a mystery tour, as the path clearly had not been used by many people recently. What had started off being quite a quick run ended up being a slow one, and we eventually got back to the car park in Dalston as darkness was falling.

A week or so later we did a quick out and back run, but then started thinking about the Cumbria Way to the south of Dalston rather than the north. I checked out the map – if we did nothing more than just run south for 5 or 6 miles and then back, it would be great half marathon training and should be easy to navigate along by the river.

It was, and we were lucky that there hadn’t been much rain and so the river wasn’t running too high and the path wasn’t too muddy. We could see where the river was undercutting the bank: it looks as if it’s being allowed to flow naturally now, and its meanders are being reformed. Banks of large stones are deposited by it on one side, as it undercuts the other and the path, fence and grass fall into the water! At one place there are the remains of a kissing gate, which leans at a drunken angle out over the water – it wouldn’t surprise me if next time I run that way I have to go through the large gate on the farmer’s track which crosses the middle of the field, rather than squeezing through the gap created between the end of the fence and the lopsided hanging post of the kissing gate.

We ran through the grounds of Limehouse school and past Rose Castle, the home until recently of the Bishops of Carlisle and now some sort of conference centre/events venue (https://www.rosecastle.com/). At one point it was going to be some sort of peace retreat for all faiths, but I’m not sure whether that’s part of their ethos still or not. It looks as if the place has been redecorated and smartened up: I sang in a concert in the chapel once, which had a glorious acoustic – but everything seemed a bit worn at that point.

We ran to Bell Bridge, then turned round and ran back to Dalston, again arriving back at the car park as dark was falling. I promised to trust Penny’s navigation in future as I would have taken us the wrong way a couple of times: just as well I haven’t done any walk leading for HF holidays…

Previously when we’d been up Bowscale Fell to run – in December 2020 – (https://wordpress.com/post/runningin3time.blog/6313) we had said we would one day do a longer loop and go along the Cumbria Way further; last summer we ran a loop from Caldbeck to Hesket Newmarket and back, which took in parts of the CW. So, we thought we’d try running from Bowscale to Bell Bridge: probably about a half marathon distance and it would take us up over High Pike or around its slopes.

When I woke up I checked the weather forecast. The Met. Office said that it was going to be minus 2 and snowing heavily at Caldbeck. Texting each other before we left, we agreed we’d meet at Bell Bridge as arranged, take one car to Bowscale, and then start running and see how we got on.

As we drove down the side roads (ones we’d previously cycled), there were big puddles and it was rainy or sleety and the trees were blowing in the wind. In places the road was slightly slippy, where the water was slushy. We arrived at Bowscale and parked: I got out of the car and the wind blew the door closed. It was cold and gusting strongly. We jumped back in the car to discuss what to do, and decided that going up over the fells on a day like this was not a good idea: so I drove up the motorway (fewer large puddles) and back to Caldbeck.

We started running the same route as we had previously, but this time instead of turning off to go to Hesket Newmarket, we went straight on. Through the woods was great and fairly sheltered, but as I took off my hat sleet started coming down (so I put it back on). It was fairly undulating and very slippery underfoot, and the river was a lot livelier and fuller than last weekend: but it was a great route, and would be fantastic on a dry summer’s day.

There was a short section on road at Sebergham, until we turned on to a track again opposite the cute church. It wasn’t far then back to Bell Bridge, where we decided to retrace last weekend’s footsteps – until Penny’s leg (an old injury) started hurting and we turned round and went back to the car. As we did so the sun came out, and a patch of snowdrops by the river gleamed white.

Driving back to my car at Caldbeck, the fells were still under thick cloud and there was a coating of snow on them; as we drove down into the village there was slush on the road. We went into the Oddfellows Arms and each had a delicious bowl of their homemade Jerusalem artichoke and thyme soup (I must find a recipe…). Feeling warmer we came out to blue skies and sunlight, only to see the cars were covered in snow – it had snowed while we were having lunch! It then snowed again when I got home: goodness knows what weather will greet us tomorrow morning. And next weekend for our long run we’re going to have 3 options, so we can decide which to do according to the weather. Meanwhile Penny’s off to the physio again to check out her leg, hoping that it was just the cold weather that sparked it off.

Look out for our next foray along the Cumbria Way!

Hello 2022!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 at 60: it’s people who matter

This weekend I completed the Lakeland Trails series – 9 (I think) trail runs, all 14-15km except Cartmel 10km, and ending with the ‘dirty double’ this weekend at Glenridding.

My emotions and physical ‘oomph’ definitely fluctuate through the year, and recently I’d been feeling less enthusiastic about this particular challenge. I haven’t done quite as much training, I’d given blood about 2 weeks ago, and the change to autumn and the dark mornings and dark nights is getting to me a bit. BUT excuses out of the way, this was the weekend for doing 2 trail runs back to back.

Helvellyn on Saturday had also been entered by 4 of my friends, so it felt like a team effort. I’ve done the route and parts of the route before – most recently on my birthday in 2020 when Penny and I had walked up to Grisedale Tarn for a swim, just a couple of weeks after running up there (see https://runningin3time.blog/2020/08/31/grisedale-tarn-and-crummock-water-re-visited/ and https://runningin3time.blog/2020/09/15/birthday-micro-adventures/) – but last time I’d run the trail run route I’d been suffering from a broken heart. All I could remember today as I ascended the first hill towards the YHA was how physically heart-broken I’d felt that day: and in fact it’s not surprising as the physical effort does make your chest almost ache.

The rain was coming down and the wind was against us, taking our breath away, until we turned along a bit of stony, muddy single track. This is the sort of running I love – the wind behind me, my footing relatively secure, and a rocky, muddy path beneath my feet. I should add that it has taken me YEARS of practice to get more confident on this sort of trail, and even so yesterday I slipped about 4 times.

We dropped down between the valleys before rising up again towards Lanty’s Tarn – where it was very muddy and I fell over, fortunately on to grass. Anne was not so lucky later on – when we met her at the finishing line she had a lump on her head which by Sunday had turned into a colourful ‘black’ (blue/purple) eye. From Lanty’s Tarn we were again heading into the wind, with the rain slashing across us from the side: at one point a gust almost blew me sideways. I was already wet through to my underwear.

Wet through to my underwear (but still cheerful).

Rather than continuing on to Grisedale Tarn we then cut across the valley (I felt sorry for the marshals, but particularly for the one up here, exposed to the elements) and there was then a track followed by road all the way back down hill. Towards the end I was feeling tired – I should have stopped to eat a Graze bar, but didn’t want to undo my jacket to get to my bumbag – but I continued along the road and on to the finishing field. As I turned the corner into the home straight I saw Mark behind me – and picked up the pace to make sure he didn’t get past me! Mind you, it was close: and Penny came in about 5 minutes later, followed after a bit by Anne with her black eye but in a buoyant mood, and Tricia – who has done very little running recently but still managed to complete 15km and be smiling at the end (and who was going to be camping over night with her husband!).

Unfortunately it wasn’t a day for hanging around and exchanging stories, as we were all so wet, the rain was still coming down, and we were getting cold. I was staying at Penny’s overnight (it was nearer than going all the way back to Brampton, and my fab. neighbours and friends Mark and Laura had said they’d feed the cat) and I spent a lovely half hour warming up in the bath and watching an Italian show on Netflix – there’s a rather scathing review of it here but for a tired body and brain after a soaking wet run it’s fun (the reviewer is critical of Luna Park too, but I also enjoyed that – sometimes trite predictability is exactly what you want. Who says you have to be thoughtful all the time? And also both are helping me with my Italian).

After risotto and apple crumble (great carbo loading) and watching Strictly Come Dancing and part of Lord of the Rings I, I fell into bed and slept until about 8a.m. A bowl of granola and a coffee and it was time to get going again: this time Penny was coming along to support me (and leaving her husband to play with motorbike parts and watch motorbike racing).

Fortunately the weather was a LOT nicer and despite dire warnings about not being able to park, we parked at the Glenridding ferry car park – the steamers weren’t running which probably meant more spaces for runners. It did however mean that rather than the lovely boat ride over to Howtown to start the run, we were running from the same starting point as yesterday: the mud slides had amazingly drained a bit overnight, so the ground wasn’t too bad to walk on.

The run took us south to start with and past the field that we would have parked on if it hadn’t turned into a mud bath yesterday (this is where my car got stuck last time I did the Helvellyn run: it was bad enough having a broken heart but then to get your car stuck as well…). The stony path undulates through some grassy land before dropping down to come out just near a pub at Patterdale: across and down the road a short way and we then ran down the track towards the farm which advertises wool for sale, and from there turned to go along the lower path which runs parallel to the lake. I’ve only ever run this the other way round – once when I did the Ullswater trail race from Howtown and another time when Penny and I ran all the way round Ullswater (only two and a half years ago! https://runningin3time.blog/2019/03/25/following-the-daffodils-the-ullswater-way-and-memories/) when we were running round lakes for her 50th birthday.

It’s a beautiful route, and flashes of memory came back from running it before: some of the larger stones looked familiar. This time we rounded a corner and there was a climb straight up a hill. As I hadn’t studied my map properly I thought this was the only major hill (it was fairly small) and enjoyed the consequent descent back along a path which ran parallel to but higher up than the one we’d just run along. At one point I fell over but bounced up again: a guy behind me a bit later wasn’t so lucky and I didn’t see him again (I should have stopped to check he was OK but I’m afraid I didn’t).

Then there was a HILL. A steep, long hill. Strava was later to tell me that the total elevation for this run was 454m – about 120m higher than yesterday when we were going up the side of one of the highest hills in the Lake District. I think today we may have been running (ha! nobody was running – everybody but everybody was walking) up the side of Place Fell.

We came out near the top on a plateau which isn’t far from Angle Tarn, and ran down a steep track which I had previously been down after ‘running’ up to Hayeswater and along to Angle Tarn (https://runningin3time.blog/2019/06/23/an-almost-bonus-lake/). At the bottom instead of running into Hartsop – which is what we’d done before – the route turned back towards Patterdale, before retracing our footsteps back to the pub. This time we went a different way across the grassy bit before running downhill to the main road. I was struggling by now and walking bits and only crossed the finishing line after 1hr 53 mins (yesterday it was 1hr 39 mins). Even so it looks as if I did OK for my age group.

This is is something which really upsets me and disappoints me about the overall series, as they’ve told me that they’ll be measuring my overall performance on the FV50 age group not the FV60 age group – in triathlon it’s how old you are on 31st December in the relevant year, which would put me in the FV60 age group. I also didn’t get a t-shirt for this final race, which I’m quite, quite sure was the only one I HAD ordered a t-shirt for. So all in all despite some fantastic routes, I finished the series in tears – probably partly just due to tiredness: the t-shirt for today was black, so it didn’t look that great and isn’t that much of a miss and certainly not worth getting upset about. It’s just a pity that I’ll have nothing to celebrate having completed the entire series other than these blogposts (maybe they’ll have to do).

Fortunately Penny was there with a small bottle of fizz and we celebrated me finishing another challenge, before going to have lunch in one of the Glenridding cafes. I then picked up my car from her house and she gave me another bottle of fizz to take home, picked up two of my children from their Dad’s (the other one is self-isolating for 2 more days) and drove back to Brampton, to home and another warm bath.

Thank goodness for the moral support of friends.

Fab. times with Friends

Whether it’s the pandemic or turning 60, I’ve been thinking about what I want from life quite a bit recently. Obviously there are lots of things I want to do: but with two of the children likely to be at the grammar school in Penrith as of next year, and one at University, I’m wondering if it’s time to move to Penrith or near there. I’ve been considering why I like living where I do and came to the decision that it’s the open space and being near the hills and trees.

The worst thing about the pandemic at its worst was the lockdowns, and not being able to see friends. I can cope with not going abroad, but not to be able to go into the Lake District to run or cycle or swim with friends was hard. Fortunately I’ve actually managed to do a lot of that and restrictions on seeing friends were short-lived. But, like when I was expecting Edward and he was a baby and toddler, it also made me appreciate living here: living in the countryside where you don’t have to go shopping and spend money and go into crowded spaces to find fulfilment.

But having all these thoughts is not really any good unless you share them with other people; and I’m lucky enough to have brilliant friends who listen and share their own thoughts in return.

The past two weekends have been particularly fantastic for spending time with friends. Firstly I managed to get Claire out on a bike ride. We stopped for coffee at the Rickerby Retreat – it was the first time I’d ever been in there and we had a lovely cappuccino and scones and decided we’d organise a group of us to go there one evening. I’d also just got a new cycling top from Le Col which I wanted to try out: it’s great and does everything it said it would (shower resistant; breathable; warm).

That evening Penny came round for dinner and stayed over so we could go for a run the next day: we did the lengthened Gelt Woods run, which is about 17km and takes in the ‘Railway Children’ loop. It was a bit wet, but still enjoyable, and good to get in several km ready for Hevellyn on 6th November. I wore my new cycling top, but it wasn’t as good for running – the length at the back rides up and is a bit irritating. But then it wasn’t designed for running, although the fabric would be good for a winter running top.

It was Book Group that afternoon and we were discussing The Overstory (reviewed here by GoodReads) by Richard Powers. Anne had written some brilliant notes which sparked off a lively discussion: some of us had found it quite hard to get into, but most had started loving it as they got into it. The conversation went off at (related) tangents and then came back again and two hours had passed before we stopped chatting away.

On Friday I’d taken a day off work as Hannah had said she’d take me out for lunch as a birthday present. She arrived about 11 and we chatted a bit before heading down towards the Lake District. En route we started talking about meditation and yoga retreats, and instead of going directly to Elterwater – the original plan – I said I’d show her the Buddhist temple near Ulverston. The majority of it was closed to the public but we were able to sneak a quick look at the temple from a distance, and soak up some of the atmosphere.

We then drove up towards Coniston (having stopped at Booths to pick up their Christmas book). The lake looked beautiful, and we stopped to take photos. In one of those moments when you’re thinking the same thing as a friend, we both suggested we swim here rather than at Elterwater. It was sunny, the lake shore was fairly stony, and the lake itself quite shallow along this shoreline so the water was surprisingly warm: warmer than I’d expected. Even so when I put my face in to do front crawl I knew I wouldn’t be able to do so for very long.

As we got out it started trying to rain, but after moments had stopped again. A glorious rainbow came out on the other side of the lake; as we drove away a double rainbow appeared ahead of us, and a well-placed layby meant we were able to stop for more photos (lower 3 photos courtesy of Hannah).

We arrived at Chesters at Skelwith Bridge – one of my favourite cafes and shops of all time – just in time to have a delicious lunch of Colcannon Mac and Cheese, Chocolate and Raspberry Cake, and a drink. It was a fantastic day, with lots of discussion about all sorts of things ranging from work to moving to children to relationships.

On Saturday I had arranged to meet Penny for a swim and a run: having carefully packed all the kit I’d need for swimming, I got to her house and knocked on the door. She opened it – there were her running shoes on the doormat, ready for action. I was wearing my boots and suddenly realised I had completely forgotten to bring either of my pairs of running shoes. Penny’s feet are longer than mine so borrowing a pair of hers wasn’t an option.

We decided to go swimming anyway and rather than going to Moss Eccles Tarn, which had been the original plan (we had been thinking of doing the Hawkshead trail race route), we went to Grasmere. It was a bit rainy and we ended up walking back to the car in our wetsuits, thinking we could change under the semi-protection of the car boot (as it turned out the rain stopped by the time we got back). Grasmere itself was rather on the chilly side – Penny was far braver about doing front crawl than I was – and I think that was probably my last open water swim of the year.

I dropped Penny back to her house and went home, sorted a few things out, and then Penny came up (her husband was away so she had to feed their cat). We drove up to Kershope, which I ran at back in the summer with Anne – and went the wrong way – and had previously run at with Penny back in January, in ice. This time we ran the correct route, which turned out to be about 11km.

On Sunday Anne was coming over for a run so Penny stayed over again and the three of us went out hill training on the Ridge, doing about 7 ascents. Penny then left as she’d had a message from Tim that he was on his way home, and Anne and I chatted for a bit about choir and potentially moving. She said she felt that change was in the air for a lot of people, and I think she’s probably right – I think the pandemic has made a lot of people re-assess their lives and consider where they actually want to live and what they want their lives to look like.

I know that one of the most important things for me is to be able to get out into lovely countryside to cycle, swim and run: but also that these things are definitely more fun when done with friends.

Anne by Penny – 24th October 2021.

Water, water everywhere (almost)

The day started OK. Edward was playing football at William Howard – and looking surprisingly like a footballer, despite the fact that he has only played about twice in his entire life (he’s now keen to find a club to join). It was a bit chilly and the weather forecast was not good, but fortunately the actual rain held off while I watched him, chatted to one of the other Mums, and he handed out the scones he’d made yesterday. Food is always important to Edward…

At 11 a.m. David came to take over parental supervisory duties and I drove down to Coniston. As I went past various of the lakes it was already raining: Thirlmere still looked quite low, although there were plenty of streams rushing down into it, but the beaches usually apparent at Rydal Water had disappeared. Already the ground by Coniston Hall was looking muddy, and there were mats for cars to get a bit of grip as they drove on to the field. Remembering the time several of us had had problems getting off the parking area at Patterdale, I worried that we’d have a repeat performance: however there were so many of us I rather assumed (fingers crossed) that the organisers had got a backup plan in the event that tons of cars got stuck.

I kept on my double layer of clothing, warmed by the journey in the car with the heater on almost full blast, and went to get my number and go to the loo. En route it was good to see the smiling face of a guy from work – who I haven’t seen since before the first lockdown – and to have a brief catch up. Then it was back to the car to change into my waterproof jacket and to put my race number on before going to the start and sheltering under a tree: and another quick chat with the guy from work before the race began and he sped off.

The run starts off along the half marathon route but after the initial uphill bit towards the Coppermines, the two diverge. Today we went on past the Coppermines on a firm, wide and stony track which turned to go fairly steeply uphill. If I ran I overtook a few people; they then overtook me when I walked a bit (I also stopped to take a photo of a very noisy waterfall, although there was an even better one later on). I really do need to improve my uphills, but on the other hand at least by walking some of the steeper parts I conserve energy and then have more ‘in the tank’ for the downhills and flatter bits.

The track narrowed which was fine going uphill (everyone was walking) but then made it a bit tricky to overtake people once it had levelled out. I got chatting to a young guy, and then to a girl, both new to the run: and then started talking to a guy who turned out also to have turned 60 this year, and who played bass guitar and also did triathlon. I wasn’t sure whether he wanted to carry on talking to me and my shoe laces came undone anyway, so I dropped back a bit.

After a relatively long stony downhill bit, we hit some tarmac where the other 60-year-old went to overtake a couple of people and I ran past him. Across a field or two and I fell over in some mud in front of someone I’d just overtaken – by coincidence I met him at the end of the race as he turned out to be the brother in law of a friend of mine. (he has a bad knee so even completing a 15km run is impressive).

Along a narrow path that was more stream than path I overtook some more people before going past the friend-with-the-brother-in-law through the woods. It was probably mean of me not to slow up to chat, but he’s got a bad knee so even completing 15km is impressive and I don’t think he would have expected me to wait for him there.

We eventually came out on the lake shore path, which is relatively level, and my mind went briefly back to the day when Penny and I ran round the whole of Coniston as one of the 16 lakes at 50 (i.e. for her 50th birthday). I’d like to run round Coniston again – it was a nice route with very little on road. By now I was beginning to feel a bit tired but there were runners in front of me who I wanted to overtake. My competitive spirit has definitely re-appeared after several years of not being fit enough to be competitive!

Just before the end there was a stream running down into the lake, and the only way was through it (“we’re going on a bear hunt… we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we’ll have to go through it...splishy splashy splishy splashy“). There were some people standing there waiting for family and friends to run past: as I splashed into water up to my bottom I realised why (memories of the Crossbay Challenge, where you run through about 3 rivers).

There was nobody to see me over the line, but I went back to cheer on firstly the young guy (who avoided looking at me – perhaps I was too wet to be recognisable) and the 60-year old guy (who kind of smiled), and then Nick as he ran on despite his knee hurting. He reminds me of Penny: pushes through the pain. I’m not sure I would, and I’m not sure whether I’m intrinsically lazy or just self-protective. I respect people who keep going, and I can understand the frustration at having a long-term injury and wanting to get moving again. I guess I wasn’t terribly sensible after my caesareans…

After a cappuccino (with cream, biscoff syrup and two tiny biscuits) and a brief chat with Nick and his brother in law (the one I had fallen over in front of), I walked back to the car, keeping my fingers crossed that it would move. It did and I headed home in more pouring rain, with water oozing from me on to the seat and the heating up full blast again.

Not swimming Snowdon

As the weather got chillier and greyer, swimming Snowdon was beginning to lose its appeal. Whilst I’ve walked up a little bit of a hill in a wetsuit before (between Styhead Tarn and Sprinkling Tarn – see post of 23rd May), I didn’t really fancy walking all the way up Snowdon and down the other side in a wetsuit. I’d been hoping that September/early October weather and water temperature would be warm; but it didn’t look very likely. Then, unfortunately, Penny’s bad back flared up, making sitting in a car almost impossible for her, and injured Tim fell out of bed so she felt she couldn’t leave him for the entire weekend anyway.

With Coniston 14km trail race coming up next weekend (only 2 left to go after that, to complete the series) and a 60 mile bike ride at the end of November, it was quite good to have the opportunity to relax and get some long runs/bike rides in. Plans for the weekend fluctuated and it wasn’t until Saturday morning, after coffee and a read in bed, that I decided that I’d go for a bike ride. It took eating breakfast to decide which bike ride to do: would I go up to Alston and Nenthead (hilly but interesting) or should I opt for a route out of the Ordnance Survey Cycle Tours – Cumbria and the Lakes book? In the end, feeling a bit lazy, I chose to do a route from the latter which was going to overlap day 2 of the cycling around Cumbria ‘project’. It looked flat; it would take me along that magical coast line which seems so different from the rest of Cumbria; and it was 30 miles.

I stopped at Burgh by Sands and used a revolting portaloo in the car park before realising that I didn’t need to start the ride there, but a few miles further along, nearer to Port Carlisle. It meant I didn’t cycle across the long straight road which crosses the marshes, with flood warning signs at frequent intervals and humps which roads to higher ground lead off. Instead I stopped in a parking bay at a corner where the road drops down towards the Solway, and started cycling, passing through Port Carlisle – a strange linear place with a handful of attractive Victorian (?) houses but not much more. Apparently it was originally named Fisher’s Cross but was renamed when the canal was built which linked Carlisle to the Solway.

Going through Bowness on Solway I noticed flags with suns on and signs about art open days. People were ambling up the main road – I had to make ‘ding ding’ noises so they noticed me – and then I saw two people I knew. I smiled and called out: but then felt guilty for not stopping to say hello properly and to have a chat. The Garrison bistro looks promising: I must go back there sometime.

I remembered from cycling this way before that we’d had to stop to open gates at the nature reserve: now there are brand new cattlegrids which mean you don’t have to stop. From now on the radio masts at Cardurnock/Anthorn made a clear landmark for nearly all the rest of the ride, the bends in the coast and the road making it appear sometimes closer than it would have been if I’d needed to cycle there.

There were also what looked like brick look out posts; two at least now being used to store hay bales, which struck me as eminently sensible. They presumably date from the 2nd world war: there were air fields and military bases all round the area. If anyone is interested in finding out more, it looks as if the Solway Firth Partnership promotes various trails: https://www.solwaymilitarytrail.co.uk/trails/

The amazing thing around this entire area is that although there are plenty of ugly modern buildings, and old buildings left to go to rack and ruin, there are also some beautiful ones. As you cycle into Anthorn you pass some attractive old buildings, before going past a particularly ugly more modern housing estate. As you turn off the road to go down to Kirkbride, a particularly dilapidated signpost rather sadly gives out your options: but Kirkbride is lovely and the signpost is presumably just waiting to be budgeted for in the right financial year. Around Kirkbride Penny and I had previously been overtaken by a group of fast (young, male) road cyclists; today I kept coming across groups in blue going in the other direction, and I wondered if there was some sort of event on.

At this point I was about halfway through my ride, and it struck me how liberating cycling is. I always love being out on my bike and feel as if I could cycle for ever: but then as I get back towards the end I look forward to finishing and to getting home. I sometimes have the same feeling whilst running, though as running is generally harder work the end can be more of a relief: though the great thing about feeling quite fit is that you get to the end and wonder if you could have gone further.

What this signpost highlights is how the roads around here can only be a mile or two away from sending you back to where you started from: it’s actually quite a small area geographically, but there are plenty of roads linking the villages to each other. So much so that I had to check the map quite often, and then the time I didn’t check the map I ended up missing out Wigton: no bad thing as it frequently smells and, being on one of the A59-somethings, it wasn’t really a great loss. Having said that, the John Peel theatre is great and I believe there are also several good restaurants in the town, plus it also has a station: https://wigtontheatre.org/. I found I was spending quite a lot of the ride checking out nice houses and wondering if I could live in any of them: but one of my criteria for wherever I move to is that I should be near a station.

Having turned left instead of right at Lessonhall I crossed what seemed like quite a main road (it wasn’t – but it was straight) and past a farm where a wedding was taking place: the sun seemed to be about to come out just as they were taking photos. Having read that the route was flat, I was then surprised to find that I plunged down a small hill, and then another: I had obviously cycled up a very gradual gradient without realising it, which made sense as I was no longer on land that looked marshy and as if it might flood. Not, that is, until I passed Wampool where there were some slightly alarming signs about the road being liable to flooding, ‘turn here’. I cycled along wondering if I might have to turn back at any point, but fortunately the ground is still quite dry at the moment and the worst I had to cycle through was dried cowpats. The river Wampool and the river Waver, both of which I’d cycled alongside, empty out into the Solway Firth and the land is criss-crossed by drains and marshes.

Signs pointed back towards Bowness on Solway and an ice cream van I’d seen earlier in the afternoon passed me at the junction: but I turned towards Glasson, seeing Bowness on a distant rise. Past Glasson as I turned back onto the coast road to get back to the car, I noticed the tide had come in and panicked briefly that I would find my car under water. Fortunately high tide at the moment didn’t mean ‘ridiculously high tide’ and I got back with enough grass to walk across to take a photo of the River Eden outflow/the Solway. As I got back in my car from taking photos, some more cyclists in blue passed me and I realised it was the last of the groups I’d seen before.

Driving back to Carlisle I went past some more groups in blue, and then having been to Sainsburys passed them again. They had ‘AAK’ (I think it was) on their shirts and something about being in aid of the blind; so I assume it’s a company doing a charity ride. I wish I’d stopped to ask them: I wonder if they’re doing the entire Hadrian’s Wall cycle route. I hope they enjoy it and raise plenty of funds. I had done 52km.