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? 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 ( 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 – ( 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!

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.