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.