Round Cumbria on a bike: the final stage

It’s taken several years, but Penny and I have now cycled around all of the borders of Cumbria. I’ve done variations to parts of the route, and the one bit I haven’t yet done is to cycle from Alston to Brampton – partly because quite a bit of that section goes into Northumberland.

After a rainy and chilly day attempting to swim in Burnmoor Tarn, the sun was out on the Monday and it was great to have a day off work. I still got up early – I had to drop my daughter off at school – but it meant that Penny and I met at Langwathby station at the leisurely time of just before 10 a.m., in order to catch the train up to Carlisle. Strictly speaking this meant we were finishing the route backwards, but we felt it was better to catch the train and then cycle, as if we cycled and then got the train we could easily miss a train or be waiting hours for one. I guess in some ways it would be easiest to think of the route as going from Carlisle round in a circle rather than from Brampton, as there are four different railway routes going out from Carlisle: but the border slopes quite steeply in a north easterly direction up from Carlisle, and we needed to include places like Roadhead and Bewcastle.

I’ll summarise below the main places, linked to this cycle route, of each railway line – anyone who isn’t that bothered, skip these bullet points:

  • west coast mainline, London Euston to Glasgow. Stops at Carlisle, Penrith and Oxenholme in terms of connecting to the various bike routes
  • Cumbrian coastal line, Carlisle to Barrow/Carnforth. We used it from/to Dalston, Maryport, Ravenglass, Barrow in Furness and Grange over Sands
  • Carlisle and Settle line: beautiful line which links Carlisle to Skipton and Leeds, via the Yorkshire Dales. We could have used it from Garsdale Head up to Langwathby; we did use it from Langwathby to Carlisle, as today
  • Carlisle to Newcastle line: some of the services stop at Brampton and at Wetheral, again useful for parts of our cycling tour. If you wanted to go further east it also stops at Hexham and at Haltwhistle.

As I’ve cycled a lot of the roads around Brampton in various directions, I felt that it wouldn’t really be ‘cheating’ to take Penny from Carlisle and down through Wetheral before joining the B6413 (this goes from Brampton and down through Castle Carrock and Croglin to Kirksowald). We had previously cycled from Brampton out to Castle Carrock anyway – there’s a loop which forms the Talkin Tarn triathlon route and which from Brampton provides a nice 14-mile circuit. The route from Carlisle out to Wetheral is also a lot more pleasant than going along either the airport road or the A69, with their lorries and speeding cars.

The train was almost half an hour late, but at least it was running – you never know with all the rail strikes at the moment, though they do tend to be quite well publicised. And whilst the website says that there is only room for 2 bikes on each train, and that you can’t pre-book, actually because there is plenty of room for wheelchairs then in fact if there are no wheelchairs in the carriage you can put your bikes there. I thought that 10 a.m. on a Monday morning would also be quite a quiet time – in fact the train was surprisingly full. We trundled through some lovely countryside and pulled into Carlisle at about 11 a.m.

We got on our bikes and set off down Botchergate, before turning off into a side street and into Portland Square. This is a square of lovely Victorian (I think) terraced houses, which were used as offices – many by the County Council – before the Council built itself a new building. The Halston group is now converting them into apartments, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I want to move to Penrith rather than Carlisle I could be very tempted by one: for a start they’re doing one of my favourite things, which is bringing old buildings back into beneficial use. If you want to see what they are going to look like, visit the website here.

We joined Warwick Road – another lovely road of terraced Victorian or Edwardian houses, but which unfortunately floods – and headed east out of the city until we hit a traffic jam, where we turned off to cut through Botcherby and along Durranhill Road, over the motorway (more road works) and into Scotby. For me this was retracing a route I used to use to cycle home from work occasionally, when I worked in Carlisle, but for Penny it was all new.

From Scotby we turned along parallel to the railway line and into Wetheral, to walk over the railway bridge to Great Corby. This bridge is way up high above the river Eden, and there are several ‘if you need help, speak to the Samaritans’ signs. It’s not the bridge to cross if you have vertigo, but the buildings around the station and the bridge itself are charmingly old and reminiscent of the days of the railway children and steam trains.

We cycled through Great Corby and along the side of the Corby Castle estate towards Cumwhitton – there’s a great, little-used playground here, which I used to take my children to when they were young. A stream runs through the village which feels as if it’s in the middle of nowhere, although it’s not actually too far from various other places. Shortly after this at Carlatton Mill we joined the Talkin Tarn triathlon route and were soon on the B6413, with its stunning views across to Blencathra and the Lake District. It was amazingly clear today and I just wish I had a better knowledge of the names of all the fells I could see – I can name Blencathra and Skiddaw and I’m pretty sure we could see Hevellyn as well, but I wasn’t sure which were further to the south. Could we see as far as the Old Man of Coniston or Scafell (probably not as we’d be looking from the North East ‘diagonally’ across)?

It was a surprisingly short cycle before we were passing through Croglin, which always makes me think of the story of the Croglin Vampire. It’s worth reading the story in the link, even with the irritating advertisements!

Shortly after this we turned off the ‘main’ road, which goes down to Kirksoswald and then Lazonby, to go to Renwick. This was a stretch of road I hadn’t been along before, and in fact I’ve only passed through Renwick once before when Penny and I cycled from Penrith up Hartside, before having a very cold descent back down the hill on a Sunday afternoon when all the cafes had closed (it was Mothering Sunday 2011, as written up in my previous blog… where does the time go!).

From Renwick rather than retracing our wheel turns to Unthank and Melmerby, I chose to take a different route down past Viol Moor to Little Salkeld. It was a lovely route, with several undulations over becks including one with the lovely name of Hazelrigg Beck. We could have done a short diversion to see Long Meg and her Daughters (I notice from the map that we also cycled past Little Meg); and we could have stopped at the mill cafe at Little Salkeld if it had been open. Instead, we went into Cranstons’ Cafe Oswald in Penrith, which I had visited earlier that day for breakfast. The food in there is great and as I’d had quite a large breakfast I ‘just’ had cake and a drink while Penny had a sort of all-day-vegetarian-type-breakfast, which looked delicious. I can recommend it: the food is good and the service is friendly.

We had done it! We had cycled round all of the outside of Cumbria, and I had done a few extra bits as well. It just remains for me now to write it all up properly; and meanwhile there are plenty of Cumbrian bike rides I still want to do. It’s a beautiful and varied county, and there is so much more to it than just the Lake District.

NB. As ever when I’m out and about with Penny and other friends, not all of the photos are mine – I have to thank Penny in particular for always sharing her photos and for getting some of me.

Feeling good (it’s the little things)

I’m feeling good today.  Happy, in a sort of low-key way – which is good – a sort of calm happy contentment rather than the wild highs of exhilaration.

It helps of course that the weather is perfect.  It feels almost Mediterranean – at least for Cumbria.  It’s been in the high 20s (degrees C) and sunny for a couple of days, but with a lovely warm breeze which reminds me of being by the sea.  Perhaps the fact that it reminds me of the Mediterranean demonstrates just how long it is since I’ve been anywhere near that particular sea, but for now it will do!

It was a good weekend too.  I got some fantastic feedback for my solo (Stanford’s Bluebird) from the choir concerts this weekend – one of Helen’s friends came up and said enthusiastically ‘you have such a beautiful voice’, and Lis, who used to sing with the choir, said it was ‘sensational’ the first night and even better the second.   All very good for the ego and what was nice was that, without meaning to sound big-headed, I felt I had sung well too.  On the second evening I was standing at the opposite end of the church to the choir and they sounded great: you rarely have a chance to hear the choir you sing with properly, particularly not in performance, so I felt privileged to be able to hear them as well as being allowed to sing what is such a beautiful, soaring solo part.

Deborah and I had some photos done on Saturday morning by Phil Robbins – that’s one of me above, my eyes looking, as someone so beautifully described them once, ‘greeny slate’ – for us to use in promoting ‘Two Red Heads and…’  We then had lunch in Number 34 (no. 34 Fisher St., Carlisle) followed by non-alcoholic cocktails specially mixed for us in the Quarter Lounge – both places I can highly recommend and am hoping to go in again (look out for Deborah and me singing at the Quarter Lounge open mic night on June 12th).  The risotto in Number 34 was one of the best I have ever had – not too gloopy but not too dry either, and very tasty.  The cocktail was a citrussy elderflower mix – really refreshing.  Phil took almost 500 photos of us and I’ve seen 3 or 4 so far which look great – I’m really looking forward to seeing some more.  He has a good eye for an unusual camera angle or pose.  We’re also awaiting some photos taken by Claire’s partner Colin at our Songs for Bob recital – she’s told me they’re really good, so I’m awaiting them with bated breath too!

Then on Sunday evening Deborah, Helen and I went to see Florence Foster Jenkins at the cinema – at times hilarious and at other times rather sad – a good evening’s entertainment.

By the end of the weekend and today I felt lovely: somehow slim and attractive: I felt good about myself.  Which is nice as I’ve been feeling that I was looking a bit ugly recently!  And the good feelings continued this morning, despite the fact that it was Monday, when a box of Hotel Chocolat goodies arrived with the postman (they have already all gone, devoured by my two (cuddly) sons and me: they were delicious) as well as some Marks & Spencer vouchers – and I’ve won a ‘Bee’ cleanser which I’m waiting to arrive in the post as well.  Even driving for a work meeting was uplifting as I go down the back roads to Armathwaite and all is green and gorgeous and I can pretend I’m a rally driver (a slowish one at least) on the rural roads, lovely views of fells all around.

It’s funny how it’s little things which can make your spirits gleam.  Perhaps, as is reflected in my last post, it’s to do with being receptive to them.





Musings from my Travels

Carlisle Cathedral 10th March 2016It’s not quite the European travel I’ve always dreamed of, but the recent alteration to my work means I’ve been travelling to Lancashire and to places I have never been before.  I have always enjoyed the ‘getting out and about’ aspect of surveying (British Waterways in particular was great for that and I used to get trains, planes and automobiles all over our island) and as I headed down the M6 just over a week ago I was glad I worked and glad that my profession gives me the opportunity to get out rather than to be in one place.  It goes a little way towards soothing my itchy feet, even if at the same time it whets my appetite and increases my desire to travel further afield.

I like the sense of freedom which travel brings, in whatever form.  I had never previously driven down the A65 and as I headed towards the villages and hills of the Yorkshire Dales, I couldn’t help contrasting it with the more dramatic scenery of the A66 as it winds through County Durham.  I must admit I prefer the more open and wild scenery further north but the road passed through some lovely villages which, if I had had time, I would have stopped to explore.  One route I do love when travelling this way is the Carlisle-Settle railway however: there’s something distinctly eerie about the tunnels and viaducts, in addition to the grandeur of the engineering enterprise as it passes over the fells.

I’ve always thought of this as the real ‘north’: as a southerner Manchester, Leeds and the surrounding conurbations were what were depicted on television as ‘the north’ and for someone whose experience was very much orientated in the south, these seemed a long way from London or from the South West.  When we moved to Cumbria, a couple of hours’ travel further north still, it felt as if we had moved somewhere completely different again: some wild borderland beyond the North, if that was possible.  As a large part of Cumbria is a holiday destination there’s also perhaps a sense of unreality about Cumbria; it’s not ‘real life’ but something you escape when you’ve opted out of the Rat Race.

It struck me, as I drove round sprawling towns and suburbs with cars everywhere that the North – in the sense of Manchester, Leeds. Liverpool etc. – is not so different from the South.  Our small little island is built up nearly wherever you go until you reach the latitude of about Preston (my parents always comment on how the traffic gets a lot lighter on the M6 at Preston).  There is beautiful scenery everywhere but it’s not until you get properly north, to Cumbria, Northumberland and Scotland, that you find the big open countryside and an immense feeling of space.  Even the skies seem larger, and you can travel along roads and tracks where you don’t see another soul for hours at a time: the landscapes are dramatic rather than just a contrast to the urban sprawl and semi urban sprawl and general clutter of masses of human beings.

It’s good to have the contrast though and to escape to the urban bustle for a bit.  Perhaps it makes me value Cumbria all the more.  And whilst it’s easy to lump everywhere urban in together, the different town and cities obviously have their own characteristics and personalities.  I loathe Preston.  I’m sure it’s fine if you live there and know your way around, but I always get lost in Preston.  I find this incredibly irritating as I generally have a really good sense of direction: good enough that I don’t always need to look at a map more than once and I consider satnav is for idiots who can’t read maps.  But Preston throws me and throws my innate sense of direction into turmoil.  It doesn’t help that for years I was convinced it was to the east of the M6 – but now I still find I’m going the wrong way wherever I am, or it takes ages to get around the city because the roads just don’t go quite where I expect them to.  I’m never going the way I think I’m going – I’ll be convinced I’m going north and then I come to some sign or other which tells me to go right in order to head north, meaning that in fact I’d been heading west all along.  And what sort of a name is Preston?  It’s abrupt.  Perhaps that’s why that nasty dog in the the Aardman Animation films was called Preston: perhaps the animators don’t like Preston either.  Sorry Preston.  I’m sure if I got to know you better I’d love you.

(p.s. 22/3/2016 – I do like Preston railway station).

On this particular day however I forgave Blackpool at the times I’ve been there and thought how dire it looked.  As I got to Blackpool the sun came out, the houses looked well-cared-for: and I met a singing fireman.  It’s always good to have a chat with a fellow singer – the other week it was a singing estate agent, and previously I’ve had my hall decorated by a guy who used to sing and been in a business meeting which has turned into a chat about singing.  Funny how the subject always seems to come up.

As I drove back to Cumbria, having seen crocuses bursting out colourfully in the spring sunshine in Lancashire, and having met lots of lovely firemen (the fire service people all seem so lovely – laidback and friendly; relaxed without being unprofessional) I was singing along to Mozart and my heart soared.  The Howgills loomed dramatically black and white: I love seeing them in any season as they change from being velvety to bright to lowering, and their colours change so drastically.  Today they were in shadow but snow on their tops created a harsh contrast.  The Lake District Fells were similarly contrasting except that in the middle ground there was a layer of gold as the evening sun caught some of the hills and in the foreground they were green with spring; whereas over on the Pennines dark bluey-grey clouds hung low, making the hilltops disappear into haze.

I returned to Carlisle, to get to the music festival on a bright spring evening as the warm red glow of the cathedral lit up all around it.  It had been a day of colours and of exploration.  And there had been one slogan, on the side of a school in Lancaster, which stuck with me: aspire not to have more but to be more.   Not to have more worldly goods, but to ‘be’ more in the sense of being true to yourself; expressing your creativity; and being compassionate and kind to others – of being the best you can be and of never stopping trying to learn and to develop yourself.

Snow – rather than rain

Last week the weather finally improved. Driving to and from Whitehaven for work on Thursday was absolutely glorious – and at one point on my way in to Whitehaven there was a stunning view across the harbour to a white-horsed sea and the Isle of Man beyond, thickly and shimmeringly covered in pristine snow.
Driving home from work Thurs 14th Jan. 2016

I had been feeling a lot calmer and more cheerful so had been back to the Doctor to ask how to come off the antidepressants. For almost a week now I have been on half the dosage I was on before, and on Thursday I even forgot to take one, I was in such a rush for work! I have far more energy and am able to concentrate better on things – I’m also eating normally, though I don’t seem to have put much weight back on (my ‘squidgy tummy’, as New Man would call it, is back though – probably because I’ve also been drinking a bit of wine without the adverse after effects I was getting (stinking headaches) before). I can also feel things more genuinely – it’s not as if everything is just supressed.

While in some ways this is bad – I can feel very sad and get very tearful – at the same time I’m glad to be able to feel normally again, and also I’m conscious that I feel sad/get upset rather than being depressed. In fact most of my life is going quite well and moving in the right direction: it’s just New Man who is causing me upset. We haven’t really been ‘together’ since I was first signed off and whilst he said he still adored me and wanted at least to be friends, at times he can appear quite unfriendly. As I’m trying to be friends and not expect anything else it can be rather hurtful, and the lack of communication is frustrating.  A couple of times I have been in floods of tears – and one time, having said I’d pick up a load of stuff for refugees from him, I chickened out and ‘ran away’ instead. Having had such a very, very passionate (and romantic) affair, and having been seemingly worshipped and adored by him, I’ve come to the conclusion that however much I love him and want him, I can only look after myself – concentrate on the things I’m progressing and make sure I don’t get further hurt. As they say, ‘if you love someone, let them go – if they’re yours they’ll come back’. Easier to say when you’re feeling calm than when you’re churned up though!

My singing is, as ever, a palliative though – as is my writing. I’ve just been asked to write a feature about Gelt Gladiator, which I also wrote about last year, and when I get around to doing some pitching I’m sure I’ll get some more commissions. Meanwhile I have got some music I’m meant to be learning off by heart, as well as practicing for the earlier part of the year’s forthcoming musical events. Yesterday I sang in a ‘scratch’ Messiah in St. Cuthberts, Carlisle. By mid-afternoon it was starting to snow quite heavily. When we left the city looked lovely with the fresh snow gleaming under the city lights – some of the Christmas lights were still up, which made the city centre sparklingly beautiful. As I drove up Brampton Road the snow, strangely, suddenly made me realise how many telephone or power lines cross the road – they showed up far more because of the layer of snow on them!

Today I went out for a run up on the Ridge – though I didn’t get up on to the Ridge but only the Moot, as the path up to the Ridge was slippery with hard-compacted snow and also I was running out of time. Loads of people were out enjoying the perfect weather – one even skiing. Wouldn’t it be great if that was the end of all the torrential rain (and flooding) we’ve been having?