On the edge at Easter

Annoyingly, I wrote this entire post last night – photos and all – and then wordpress didn’t save it for some reason. So here we go again…

From the first time I experimented with a different, cross-country route, home from Keswick I have loved Caldbeck Fell. On Easter Monday, as I had a cake to deliver to Dalston, I suggested to Penny that we meet to run either in Dalston and south along the Cumbria Way, or at Caldbeck. As an aside, for anyone who doesn’t know, the Cumbria Way is one of those long-distance, mostly off-road trails: it traverses the entire length of Cumbria from Ulverston in the south to Carlisle in the north; from Morecambe Bay to the Solway Forth. The total distance is about 70 miles and whilst my ex-husband has run it in its totality, being one of those loopy ultra-types, it’s something I’d like to cover at some point but in bite-sized chunks.

Good Friday and the Saturday were lovely and warm and sunny, and Edward had friends round for a barbecue and Bella was able to meet up with friends outside. However on the Sunday it turned really cold and there was a frosting of snow on the roof of my car when I got up in the morning.

I did nothing on the Sunday as I felt rather wiped out from my Astra-Zeneca covid jab, but on Monday I dropped the cake off in Dalston and headed south towards Caldbeck Fell. After crossing the Wigton-Penrith road, the southbound road goes up quite a steep hill (on the way home as you turn over the top you feel as if you’re plunging down almost uncontrollably). At the top of the hill, as it levels off, there is a right-angled-right-hand bend. The view from here is spectacular. You’ve just ascended an escarpment from the low-lying hills bounding the Solway plain, and there in front of you are the Lake District Fells in all their glory, their slopes folding over and pierced by steep, narrow, mountain streams which you just know come rushing down noisily over rocks.

It struck me that this is an area where you’re ‘on the edge’: on the edge of the Lake District fells and lakes; on the edge of the Solway plain; looking towards the east you gaze across the Eden valley to the Pennines; looking north-west, as the road turns to the west, you see the Solway plain laid out below you (which only a few minutes ago, by car, you were traversing), and the bristles of wind turbines guarding the plain and travelling well over into Scotland. Even the clouds looked as if they were being drawn towards Dumfries and Galloway on the other side of the Forth. I’m always reminded of a bit in a book about St. Bega. Legend tells how she’d walked from St Bees, or possibly from Bassenthwaite, across the fells, came to about this spot and saw the Solway plain there below her and then walked on to Carlisle.

It was bitterly cold as I dropped down the other side of the hill and into Caldbeck village. The car park was full so I contacted Penny to tell her to doublepark in front of my car further up the hill, out of the village, and waited in the warmth of the car.

We started our run by heading down the road and past a pond with houses scattered in a rather socially-distanced way around it, commenting on the number of desiccated frogs who had clearly been squashed en route to the pond. Picking up the Cumbria way north of the beck – the Cald Beck, which later on becomes the river Caldew and is one of three which flows into Carlisle – we followed this until we were almost due north of Hesket Newmarket (in fact we went a bit further and then realised I’d missed the turning we were meant to take). Once we were back on the right path, it dropped down to the river and crossed it via a footbridge. This was a beautiful bit of the run, and it was interesting to see how the river had carved out blocks of stone along its banks, so they almost looked manmade; you could see how it was slowly doing the same on its bed, where big slabs of stone were being hollowed out underneath by the water.

At Hesket Newmarket we headed out along the road we’d cycled into the village on a few weeks earlier, until we spotted, almost by chance, the footpath sign we wanted, pointing across a farmyard. We headed uphill and across some fields to another farm, passing heavily pregnant sheep nervously avoiding us as we went, until we came out on another road. A short way down here another footpath sign took us on to a trail which went up towards the fell – this was not so well-signposted and we only knew when to turn along the way we wanted because there was a stile. What was then a little unnerving was that as we ran past a wood, keeping a stone wall on our right, there was a sign at a gate saying ‘danger – disused mine workings’. I just hoped that the farmer wouldn’t be keeping his or her sheep in there if there was any real danger, but kept a careful eye on where my feet were going just in case.

After the mines-field we crossed a couple of fields with a broken down wall in the middle to come out again on the Cumbria Way. By now it was on road, and as Penny has recently had a leg injury she decided to walk this bit. I ran on ahead – only to find I’d gone the wrong way again and had to retrace my footsteps. I got to Penny just about at the point where I should have turned onto another footpath.

This was a well-used and well-maintained path which took us down the side of some houses, including a big house which had THREE extensions – 2 quite pleasant ones and one which was entirely out of keeping and looked hideous (brown UVPC). They also seemed to be creating a lake in their garden – also large – from the river.

As we came out on the road a very narrow set of steps led up between two stone walls to upper road – far too narrow for anyone overly large to ascend – and jogged back into Caldbeck to finish our run. I had done a total of about 13 km due to having gone the wrong way a couple of times!

Now that we’re allowed to meet up outside for picnics as well as for exercise, we enjoyed a guilt-free, legal, cup of coffee by the cars and talked about running sometime up on the Fell, before heading home in our separate directions: me to stop and look at the stunning views one more time, Penny wondering whether Tim would have finished the path they’d been building.

The following day I ran up on the Ridge, which I’ve written about lots of times: the hills felt like hard work but the Ridge just seemed to be calling to me. The following day I did a short, flatter run which took me through fields of lambs. And then today I had the enormous pleasure of running to Lanercost and back with two friends whom I haven’t seen for months, literally.

The weather may be cold but being able to get together with more people fills me with happiness and excitement, and I’m beginning to look forward to all the races I’ve entered this year.

Return to the Lake District

With lockdown and the Government exhorting us to ‘stay home/stay local’, I felt that perhaps going into the Lake District was going a little bit far. However as things have begun to relax a little bit and as they’re encouraging you to drive 40 miles for a Covid vaccination, I began to think that perhaps driving to the edges of the Lake District, close to Penrith, or to Whinlatter Forest, where I have a membership parking pass, might be permissible.

I’m also trying to get further afield on my bike, and having rediscovered my Ordnance Survey book Cycle Tours – Cumbria and the Lakes – I was keen to try out more of the routes. I’ve long wanted to do the bike ride ‘around the back of Blencathra’ so was pleased to discover that one route did exactly that.

Instead of meeting in the middle of Keswick, Penny and I decided we’d meet at the eastern end of the route at a car park we’ve used when we’ve run up towards Bowscale. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday and cars filled the parking places at Mungrisdale and lined the road further up the valley, but as I went further north there were fewer cars, and the car park we’d chosen was empty other than our two Volvos.

I can honestly say I think this is one of the best bike rides I have ever done. Of course the weather helped, but also the route was quite varied, traversing open fells to Hesket Newmarket…

passing little-known Over Water…

cutting along quiet country lanes near Bassenthwaite village and lake…

spinning along the old railway line from Keswick to Threlkeld (shared with pedestrians, so no racing along there)…

and finally cutting along a gated road up and over the hills and back to the start.

Unfortunately I’d left my phone at home so I was unable to record how far we’d gone and unable to take photos. Penny’s Garmin however told us we’d done about 52km (32 miles) and she’s far better at photography than I am anyway (NB. credit for all the photos above to Penny).

We stopped at The Old Sawmill Tea room for a delicious hot chocolate and flapjack, enjoying our take-aways in the sun and glad to see that the toilets were open.

Penny’s had an ankle injury recently and hasn’t been running much, but a week after the above bike ride she felt ready to do a long run. I suggested Whinlatter, which has a plethora of trails but also has a marked 10km route, which I’ve written about us running over the Christmas period.

The temperature had plummeted since last weekend and there was snow on the fell tops as I drove south down the motorway, firstly to drop my youngest as his Dad’s in Penrith and then to turn to the west to ascend to Whinlatter. It was more-or-less exactly 3 months since I’d last run there and I’d forgotten how hilly the course is – whereas my average route locally entails about 60-120m of elevation, this one gains 308m: mostly over two quite long climbs. It also is NOT quite 10km according to Strava – the three times I’ve run it it’s measured around 9.2km, except that this time I ran around the car park at the end to bring it up to 10km.

Penny told me about helicopter tree logging that had been carried out this week, which got some press coverage: the recently sawn trunks were still burnished and the stacked up logs we passed still had that lovely smell of freshly cut wood. I should point out, that the felling was necessary: it’s terribly sad to see great swathes of wood cut down, but the larch has suffered from Phytophthora Ramorum. The video shows how the timberjacks had to remove the tops of the trees first as the helicopter has a restricted load; and the helicopter and felling crew are Swiss experts because we don’t have that expertise in the UK. I’ll add another video here which shows how tiny the helicopter appears.

As the (extremely good) cafe at Whinlatter was closed even for take aways, we went back to Dodd Woods to the Old Sawmill Tearoom. This time I had cappuccino while Penny had hot chocolate, and we had some absolutely gorgeous lemon drizzle cake – not only did it have the drizzle on top but also had lemon curd between two layers of sponge, and was gloriously lemony. And, as we’d been less than 20 minutes, parking was free!

I drove back home across Caldbeck Fell, retracing part of the route I’d cycled just a week earlier, and feeling happy.

Meanwhile, if anyone hasn’t yet seen my ‘starring’ role in a film, I attach a link here. I should add that you don’t need a subscription – you just need to click on the ‘play’ button when it appears on the picture (it takes a moment or two to appear).