Bob Graham and the final lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Windermere: a weekend of running

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

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

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

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

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

Starting out at Wray Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Swan Hotel was down there……..

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

Day two: Newby Bridge to Wray

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

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

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

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

High Dam was gorgeous

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

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

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

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

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

We made it! 30 miles or just over!

Haweswater – 2/16

I had completely forgotten that I had said I’d go running with my friend Penny on Friday 13th April – instead she stayed at work late and I went out drinking prosecco at another friend’s exhibition opening.  As it turned out it was the right decision however, as Friday was rather a rainy day and Saturday 14th, when we ended up running, was glorious.

I hadn’t really been to Haweswater properly before.  I’d driven as far as the hotel to fetch a soaking wet ex-husband (when he was still my husband) when he was training for the Lakeland 50; I’d cycled through nearby Bampton; and I’d read the novel about the building of the dam and flooding of the village of Mardale (and not really thought that much of it – the novel, that is).  So this was the first time I’d actually seen the lake properly ‘up close and personal’ as it were.

I should perhaps explain why I was here, about to run 10 miles around a lake I hardly knew, and feeling a little the worse for wear from prosecco consumption.  Penny turns 50 this year and wanted a challenge.  After thinking about it for a while she decided that her challenge would be running round all 16 of the largest lake district lakes.  As we’ve been running partners, on and off, for several years now – we became friends because we started going running together some work lunchtimes – I got roped in too.  And actually to be honest I’d probably have been a bit disappointed if I hadn’t been, even though the longest run looks as if it’s going to be 40 miles around Windermere…

Hence the 2/16 in the title – Crummock Water was 1/16 when we did Buttermere Trail Race a couple of weeks ago (in fact Penny has also run Brotherswater recently so I suppose strictly this should be 3/16 but I think I’ll number them according to when I do them and write them up).

We parked at Burn Banks, a village which was built as a temporary village for dam workers.  The temporary houses (which apparently had cast iron frames, which you’d imagine would go rusty) mostly look as they’ve now been replaced – either reclad or completely replaced – some in particular now providing rather fine residences.  In some ways it would be a lovely place to live – in other ways it might be a bit too remote and potentially cut off in hard winters.

Burn Banks is at the north-east end of the lake, the end where the dam is and where the road heads out into ‘the rest of the world’ along a beautiful valley which the river Lowther flows through.  The walk along this northern shore of the Lake is actually part of the Coast to Coast walk so it’s well-waymarked and easy to follow.  You start running along by the trees – we thought we spotted a red squirrel though he was so still it was difficult to tell, but I don’t think it was just an overgrown pinecone.  There’s a also a deer fence though we didn’t see any deer in this particular area of lakeshore.

IMG-0087

There are absolutely loads of waterfalls and streams to cross over; as we’d had a fair amount of rain recently the rocks were a bit slippy in some places.  The water was sparklingly clean; I would really like to have swum or paddled in some of it, though of course it would still be freezing cold at this time of year (there is still snow high up on the fells) and also you’re not allowed to as they try to prevent any type of dirt getting into the lake at all – obviously it means fewer chemicals needed to treat it for the folk in Manchester to drink if they don’t have too much contamination.

My overindulgence in prosecco had gone along with not having any supper, so I was beginning to feel a bit wobbly by here (already!).  Hooray for raspberry flapjacks!  Flapjacks and cheese bagels are probably my go-to food for long runs: if I eat too much I just end up feeling uncomfortable if not downright ill, but nor is running on a completely empty stomach (well, 2 coffees) much good either.

We met a few people coming in the other direction, mostly male.  Penny commented that she felt she should carry a survey with her “are you single?  do you live round here?” etc. – we both have estranged husbands and recovering broken hearts and it shows that it was a light-hearted happy sort of day that we were joking about how to find the next men in our lives… but this was the sort of day when people generally were in a good mood, so everyone we met had the potential to be a friend.

A lovely stony descent – my favourite sort of running as it’s about the only time I’m faster than Penny – and we came down to the southern end of Haweswater and our halfway mark.  Here a path which we guessed might be quite an old path is marked by upright stones, and several small rivers flow into the lake.  One had loads of tiny tadpoles spilling around the stones: I tried not to tread on any but it wasn’t that easy to miss them as you had to step into the water whether or not you wanted to.  One of the rivers flows down from Blea Tarn which is in a corrie up towards High Street which looms in the background; one down from the quaintly-named Small Water.

Haweswater 14th April (14)

We sat on some warm stones overlooking the popular car park, ate flapjack, drank water and watched cyclists coming down from the pass.  Some had those motorbike-type tyres which must be a complete pain on the road; another had a self-built tricycle with the two wheels at the front rather than the back.  We had a chat to him as we jogged past him, as he was putting his bike into the back of his car – but I’m still not totally clear why he wanted two wheels at the front rather than the back.  He said he’d been working on the bike 5 hours a day, every day.  It’ll be interesting to see if it makes it into the shops…  I think he was pleased we showed some interest though, and he gave us a friendly wave when he passed us not long afterwards as we tried to find the path.

Haweswater 14th April (16)

The map seemed to show a path along this other side of the lake, and we could see what looked like a path from the road.  In the end we got off the road and tried to follow a trail, but it’s not to be recommended; it was on quite a camber when we could find it, had fallen away in places and then further along the lake was overgrown with brambles.  However we did see a deer and there were daffodils and primroses popping up all over the place and in quite surprising places.  It was no surprise finally to get to a gate and find there was a sign on it saying the path was closed for health and safety reasons!  They could do with taking down the signage and the remains of footbridges though really so that idiots like Penny and I who spot what looks like a path from the road, are not tempted to try to follow it.  It reminded me of when I was working in the Pyrenees and trying to find new routes for holiday makers – one time we got in a stream and followed it as the path had completely vanished.

The last few miles were on road – and downhill – so we were able to keep up a steady pace, though neither of us is a keen roadrunner and we would far prefer being on trails.  As we ran through the trees back to the car park we met a (male) runner we had been past earlier – he had gone round the lake in the other direction to us, and taken the road for the first half (we recognised him because he had an orange top, his dog had a matching orange jacket, and he had a nice smile).  “Oh yes”, he said “that path has been closed for two or three years”.  It’s a pity as it would be lovely to be able to get around the entire lake without having to go on the road.  You can just spot him in the photo below.

Haweswater 14th April (17)So there we were, finally back at the car after a ridiculously long amount of time, as we’d walked probably a good 4 miles or so of the run.  But we could say we’d done it – we had run, or attempted to, round all of Haweswater.  The first half would be a great run for the Head Torches bunch…

We celebrated by trying to go to the Mill Cafe at Morland for lunch, or whatever you call lunch when it’s almost tea-time, but they had stopped serving – so instead we went somewhere I have been meaning to go for ages, and which was absolutely stunning (though they were only serving drinks and cakes): Larch Cottage Nursery.  The italio-phile in me absolutely loved it, and it was the perfect afternoon for lazing around having tea and cake and then doing a bit of window shopping.  I shall be going there again…

And my mood of despondency which I’d woken up in had completely lifted.  Hooray for running, friendship, nature, sunshine and cake!