Swim, bike, run… hills and water (1)

ABC: Buttermere, Ambleside and the River Caldew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reminiscent of Simonside…

…but SO much more fun! Third time lucky for Loughrigg Fell.

When the two older kids were quite young, we had a holiday in Ambleside (in fact we had quite a few holidays in Ambleside – this was a summer holiday and I think Edward must have been about 1 or 2). We attempted a walk up Loughrigg Fell, but Alex – unusually for him as he’s normally pretty stoic – was lagging, so he and I turned round and went back down to the house.

Then a few months ago my friend Jo and I thought we’d do a walk which would take in Loughrigg Tarn, Loughrigg Terrace and then come back up over the fell. We had Edward with us, who complained bitterly and lagged behind from the beginning: as a result we got as far as Lily Tarn and then turned round and went back down.

When it turned out that both Penny and I were free for a run this Sunday morning, and that it meant I could pick up the kids from their Dad’s house in Penrith on the way back home, I suggested we try this route. We started in Rothay Park with our fingers crossed that it wasn’t going to rain the entire time: ascending the steep initial hill (Penny at a jog, me mostly walking) quickly warmed us up and then we were out on the Fell, on a fairly easy stony path which led to Loughrigg Tarn.

I hadn’t been to the Tarn for many years, since David and I had brought Alex and Bella up here one summer’s day. It was bigger than I remembered, and it’s one on the list of tarns that we’re going to swim in to mark Anne’s 60th birthday year. Today wasn’t the best day for admiring the lake, but I loved the neat stone culvert that had been provided for one of the streams leading down to it.

Having crossed the road, a dog tried to get us tied up in his lead as we went through the gate. A rocky path ensued, wending its meandering, undulating way through some trees. As we came out at the other side I slipped in some mud: and not only fell over but then slid a couple of feet. I had wet mud all the way up my right hand side and could feel it through all my layers of clothes. This was the first thing which was reminiscent of Simonside (Duergar Nightcrawler), where people were sliding around in mud from early on in the run. At least today it wasn’t snowing.

We joined the road again for a short distance before turning off amongst the trees again towards Loughrigg Terrace. There was a lovely view of Grasmere and the river leading towards Rydal Water, and we could have carried on along here and round the hill to go back to Ambleside: but I particularly wanted to get up to the top of Loughrigg.

We turned up some stone steps which led steeply uphill, again reminiscent of Simonside but at least today it was light and the stones weren’t covered in ice. Even so it was steep enough and the steps irregular and mostly high enough to make running up there more or less impossible – unless you’re a mountain goat or a very fit fell runner. We walked. Towards the top we saw the dog which had tried to tie himself round us earlier, with his owner.

There were a few people gathered around the cairn, but nobody was hanging around long as the wind was blowing rather wildly – I thought about taking the map out but decided against it in case it just blew away (it rather looks as if my hair was trying to blow off my head). We just made a rough guess at which way we needed to descend, which fortunately turned out to be right.

I was really enjoying this run, unlike Simonside – I think being able to see helped, and not having sleet and snow blowing at you sideways. I was warmer, despite being wet, and felt more confident running downhill despite the wetness and, in places, slipperiness of the ground: and some of the particularly technical descents weren’t covered in ice.

From the cairn it was more or less downhill all the way, having to wade through various streams which had created grassy pools and where you weren’t quite sure how deep you were going to sink in – in fact mostly we were fine (and we both have goretex running shoes). Before long we could see a recognisable clump of trees ahead of us – one of the gates on the track leading back down to Rothay Park. It was only a short run downhill from there and we were back by the river Rothay, the grey day brightened by some kayakers. A kind father offered to take a photo of us as I struggled with my selfie angles, with the kayakers in the background.

I had initially thought of buying a new pair of running leggings in Ambleside so that I could wear something dry to a cafe: in fact we decided to head straight back to the car and go to the community cafe at Threlkeld, which will have featured before in my posts: I put my long down coat on and that protected the seats from the mud on my trousers. After a tasty bowl of Thai sweet potato and coriander soup with a cheese scone and a cappuccino, it was time to get back to Penrith and to pick up my kids.

The coronavirus might limit how far and how much people travel, but at least I can get out in the hills without worrying too much about infecting other people – I hope.