Swimming and cycling

It’s definitely autumn. Some days we’ve woken to a heavy frost, and the roofs have stayed white until well into the morning and the car has told me it’s only 2 degrees (celsius), though I don’t know how accurate it is. The trees are still green but browns and yellows are creeping in here and there, and leaves have started to float to the ground, showing their peers the way. We’ve even turned the heating on.

It was thus with some trepidation that I agreed to go swimming – no, I lie, I suggested that a group of us went swimming – in Grasmere. At least it seemed certain there would be no worries about social distancing – surely nobody else would be out swimming now, although the September non-school-holiday walkers would be out and about?

The weather earlier in the day was not particularly great, but as the afternoon progressed and by the time we all met at the White Moss car parks, it was a lovely sunny autumnal late afternoon. I was still convinced that I’d probably dip my toes in the water, decide it was too cold, and get straight out again. Two swimmers were already in the water when we got there, which gave me some comfort – and as it turned out I was the first out of our group into the water and it wasn’t quite as bad as I had feared. Chilly, but with a wetsuit, gloves and neoprene shoes, OK. I swam back and forth a few times before deciding I didn’t want to risk being a long way out and getting colder than I realised and not being able to get back – my biggest fear is of being out in the middle of a lake somewhere and just not having the energy, for one reason or another, to get back to shallow water.

The others stayed in longer than me – I got back in after taking the photos of them, but not for long – but it was lovely sitting there and admiring the surroundings. Grasmere is gorgeous – I really wished I had a GoPro to take a video at ducks-eye level. One day. And one summer day, when the water’s warmer, I will go back and swim to the island and back.

Two other swimmers had got in further up on the northern shore while we were in, but didn’t stay in for long. But as we got out a woman from North Lincolnshire got in, with only a wetsuit (no gloves or footwear). She did a strong front crawl out into the middle of the lake and up to the island, some way away. She looked like a good swimmer but it was a bit unnerving not to be able to see her initially as she came back: her husband seemed rather perturbed as well. Eventually we saw her, but she seemed to be doing a slow breaststroke. I’m sure she got back to shore all right, but I hope she wasn’t struggling with the cold.

On Sunday I felt like going out on my bike rather than running, and looked through various maps and so forth to find out a new route. I drove to Wetheral, walked over the river alongside the railway bridge (people jump off here – I find it quite unnerving and also desperately sad to look down into the rocky, crashing river below – you’d have to be so totally, deeply unhappy to want to throw yourself into that and risk horrendous injuries) and then cycled up towards Cumwhitton. The route took me down the eastern side of the river Eden, though you don’t actually get to see the river much – especially not at the moment when the trees are still in leaf and the undergrowth is verdant.

There were more uphills than I’d expected and also some quite steep downhills – I really noticed the difference between my ‘normal’ bike brakes on my triathlon bike (now about 18 years old) and the disc brakes on my newer road bike. I’d expected the hill down through Kirkoswald to be one of the scariest and in fact it wasn’t, but even so as I tried to get my foot out of the pedal to stop near the church, I failed – and fell off.

Kirkoswald is one of my favourite villages, certainly in the Eden valley. It has a pretty main village street, which rises up the hill from the river, past the church and former castle towards the vicarage, then rises further up a hill lined by old houses and three (!) pubs before dividing in two (with in fact a smaller third road also going back down the hill). One way goes towards Armathwaite (where I had just come from) and a right angled corner takes you on up towards Croglin and Newbiggin higher up on the fells, and ultimately to Brampton.

After stopping by means of falling off, I took a photo of the gatehouse to the former castle then got back on and pedalled on down to cross the river over the lovely packhorse bridge between Kirksowald and Lazonby. This again is a favourite spot – the river meanders between stony beaches and sheep graze in the fields: I always think ‘sheep may safely graze’.

From Lazonby I zigzagged over and under the railway – the romantic, scenic, Carlisle – Settle line, saved from closure not so many years ago (and a slow-ish but lovely way to get to Skipton and Leeds) and back to Armathwaite. From there back to Wetheral was undulating, with wide open views to the fells and to the Solway. When I got back I felt gently tired in a satisfied way: and very hungry.

I love cycling.

Grisedale Tarn; and Crummock Water re-visited

Whilst out running the other day it struck me that there are several different reasons – or motivations – for running. Some people do so just to keep fit; some people do so to get faster and go further. I started running in order to do triathlon; I then began to enjoy it, once I moved to Cumbria and there were plenty of trails (rather than roads); as I got more used to trail running it became an opportunity to enjoy the amazing scenery the county has to offer.

In terms of triathlon, running was always my weakest of the three disciplines. After having children there was less time to do triathlon, or even to do much in the way of keeping fit at all, which meant that running became the only of the three disciplines that I did even vaguely regularly. Even so I’d alternate between phases of feeling relatively OK running-wise and quite enjoying it, and phases of struggling.

Then came lockdown; and furlough; and working from home. For the past 5-6 months I have done as much exercise as I did before having the children. As a result I feel satisfyingly fitter now than I have for ages: and feeling stronger and fitter gives me the confidence to go out again, knowing that it will probably be enjoyable rather than just painful.

So my running is now for two reasons: runs on my own to try to improve my speed and my stamina/distance; and more sociable runs to enjoy the stunning scenery, ideally with friends. After running around the 16 lakes and realising we’d seen bits of the Lake District we’d never seen before, Penny and I decided we’d try to run as many new (to us) routes as possible.

The latest last week started at Glenridding. Arriving just after 4pm, the car park was beginning to become emptier and the people we passed were mostly coming down from the hills rather than heading up into them. We took the path to Lanty’s Tarn (there are two – we took the one which is slightly longer and not quite as steep and stony) and then ran on up the valley, to the north of the river. With the amount of rain we’ve had recently, the streams coming down the hillsides were loud with plentiful water: so different to June/July when after our prolonged period of warm, sunny weather, some streams had more or less dried up.

The Lakeland Trails series runs two races over a weekend in November: the Hevellyn or Glenridding trail race one day and the Ullswater trail race the following day. The race route for the former goes up this valley, turning to cross a footbridge before going back down into Glenridding. Today we carried on: we knew Grisedale Tarn was to the west in the hills, and could see the saddle where we thought the tarn would be.

We ran on past a hut belonging to the Outward Bound Trust, with a memorial plaque to some climbers; looking at the map I realise we were running around the slopes of Dollywagon Pike, a hill whose name I’ve always wondered about – apparently it could be from Old Norse for ‘lifted giant’ (or ‘lifted fiend’). The slope was now stony and in places slippery; it was tricky running at times but I felt sure the tarn was only just ahead. As so often with hills, there was an extra ‘up and down and up again’ before we actually got there, but finally – c.5km from Glenridding – I spotted the glint of water. A few more steps and there was Grisedale Tarn, looking absolutely gorgeous in the late afternoon sun.

Not for the first time we expressed how lucky we are to live here; and that we’d like to come back here to swim. There wasn’t time today and it was getting chilly, so after a Graze bar each and a drink of water we ran back down the hill, this time going down the other side of the beck. What I love about Grisedale Beck is that it has a bed of slate, which gives it a grey colour and makes it seem really clean.

As we ran down I thought about how different runs (and bike rides) have different characteristics. There were bike rides not so long ago when I was highly conscious of colour: predominantly yellow; later on in the year purple. Some runs are very much about feeling: running through woods on springy trails; some have the noise of skylarks, or – like on Talkin Fell – just the noises of nature as well as man (birds, cows, dogs, aeroplanes); today’s run was the noise of water. The beck fills the valley bottom but there are numerous streams falling in waterfalls down the hillsides; no sooner have you left one and run round a corner than you’re met by the noise of the next.

Plenty of famous writers and philosophers have written about the human relationship to water; despite its dangers we are fascinated by it and I think most of us have a compulsion to immerse ourselves in it – within reason. The swimming group I’m part of arranged to go to Crummock Water this weekend, as the weather forecast was meant to be good. We met at the lake at about 3.30pm, by which time most people were leaving, and ended up parking near Hause Point, with close access to a small stony beach and easy entry to the water. The water was cold but clean and inviting, and the slight chill in the air probably made the lakeside less crowded than it might otherwise have been.

It was a pity in a way that yesterday’s weather wasn’t as warm as today’s, which would have been perfect for swimming and picnics, but having done some decorating I decided that it was too good a day to waste: my bike was calling to me. I cycled more-or-less along the river Irthing through Lanercost, Low Row and Nether Denton to Gilsland, right on the Northumberland border. From there I turned back in a westerly direction, until just before West Hall I decided that I’d cycle past the ford (but not through it: the memory of falling in a ford in the Lake District in November lives on, and there’s quite a bit of water around at the moment). I felt that sense of freedom from being on my bike that I’ve expressed before, delighting in the wide open skies above me, the views of hills in the distance, and the layers and clusters of clouds: and I was home in time to have a chat with my sister before dinner.

Silent Noon

I started singing when I was walking up to a tarn for a swim the other day, and then again when I was out on my bike. The summer weather – albeit a little on the chilly side – and the countryside around me perfectly matched Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s words, set to music by that archetypal British composer Vaughan Williams:

The pasture gleams and glooms

‘Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.

All round our nest, far as the eye can pass,

Are golden kingcup fields with silver edge

Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn hedge“.

In fact the colour of which I was most aware wasn’t yellow – though there were plenty of yellow buttercups, as opposed to kingcups, and white cow parsley – but purple. Thistles with their vibrant pinky-violet; the more delicate mauves of campanula; stately foxgloves; and then others which I wasn’t sure about but one of which looked a bit like a very large version of wild garlic or overgrown chives. It was beautiful and I kept meaning to stop to take a photo, but when I’m on my bike I always have this urge to keep bowling along. I did however stop to take a photo of the billowing clouds which were amassing more than they were scattering.

This week the weather has been a bit iffy and the forecast for Saturday was not brilliant. After some deliberation and quite a few WhatsApp messages the swimming group decided to try out Harrop Tarn. Initially we were going to go early to avoid People; in the end as sunshine was forecast for the afternoon and early evening we opted to meet at the car park below the tarn at about 4.30pm, hoping that most People would have gone home. It turned out to be the right option as it was indeed sunny and dry: however the car park was still busy and there were people on the path and we could then spot them scattered in the woods around the tarn – some camping and some with campfires, both of which are dis-allowed (banning campfires is of course a precaution against someone setting the entire wood alight: I did comment that at least if the wood did catch fire then at least being in the lake might be the best place to be).

I hadn’t heard of Harrop Tarn before I went there and researching it came across a description which said the scenery there was like Canada. I’ve never been to Canada and imagine that everything would be on a far bigger scale, but from photos I’ve seen I can see what the writer meant.

Out of all the tarns I’ve swum in it was perhaps the most beautiful location; it didn’t have the threatening grandeur of Wastwater but was in a glorious tree lined corrie. There was a pleasant walk up between the trees to get there, passing a waterfall towards the top of the path. Not longer after the waterfall – Dob Gill – you come out into the open and there, partly hidden, is the most beautiful, water-lily dressed, tarn. It only has one tiny stony beach and fortunately the people who had just swum were leaving (well, perhaps they didn’t want to leave and we spoilt their peace). We got changed into wetsuits and started swimming: while we were on the other side of the tarn a family came along and perched on another bit of the beach, the other side of a stream. We initially resented them spoiling ‘our’ spot but then acknowledged that we’d done exactly the same to the people before us – and in fact the family left before we did. And why shouldn’t everyone enjoy these places? It’s such a pity that we’re all having to be so careful about not being too near others at the moment!

We thought it was too cold to take off our wetsuits but in fact three of us did take them off after an initial swim, and swam in just swimsuits. The coldness of the water makes you feel slightly tingly and as if your muscles are shrinking closer to your bones!

Meanwhile I’m still reading 1599, which I mentioned in my previous post, and catching up on watching Shakespeare plays on the television. The BBC Culture in Quarantine ‘channel’ now has Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing available; I’ve watched 3 of the others but decided not to watch Midsummer Night’s Dream after seeing the first 10 minutes or so as I preferred the version I’d already seen from The Globe.

I also watched La Boheme from the Royal Opera House. I’m not a huge Puccini fan in general, although I love one or two of his better known arias (particularly O Mio Babbino Caro), but I found this compelling viewing. I particularly liked the Rodolfo (Michael Fabiano): not only because of his singing but also because of his hair, I think! It’s such a gloriously romantic and passionate opera and had me in tears: but there are also light-hearted, if not funny, moments. I’ll end with a clip from YouTube of that famous moment when he sings to Mimi ‘your tiny hand is frozen’, but if you look on YouTube there are several clips from the same production of this lovely opera. I’m a convert! https://youtu.be/–L3uqoQUV4

At the moment I feel so full of health, strength and happiness, and am glad to be alive.

Vikings

It’s Friday evening and I’ve been back at work a week. Whilst it’s nice to be back, I don’t quite feel I’ve settled properly back in – partly because I had things booked like the car service but also because I’m trying to work 9 a.m. until 1.30 p.m. but already I’ve had meetings and webinars booked in outside those times! I’ll have to see how it goes, as if work starts creeping too much into my own time (and I am only part-time after all, partly because that was what the job was advertised as but one of its selling points for me was that I wanted time to do my own thing. I’ve also just had to turn down some catering work as I just couldn’t commit enough hours to it).

I’ve read noticeably less this week, which is a pity as I’m reading a really interesting book by Neil Oliver about the Vikings. I hadn’t known that Harald Bluetooth, a king who had unified some disparate tribes, had given not only his name to bluetooth technology but also the symbol is made from the two of the runes of his name. Likewise some Scandinavians use the word ‘lurs’ as a nickname for their mobile phones: the lur was a Viking musical instrument.

What’s fascinating is how far and wide the Vikings spread. As I learn more about them, I am more and more impressed by them: although there is also a comment that Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship was superb and renowned worldwide, and that it may well have been the riches of England and other countries that attracted the Vikings. Certainly the Swedish Vikings spread eastwards towards Russia and further, and were among the first founders of a trading post, Russia’s first-ever town of Staraya Ladoga. This led to them moving southwards along rivers, with portage between them, and trading far afield.

The Norwegian Vikings were the ones who seem to have settled more in the UK, including Dublin in Ireland. I had discovered some time ago that Orkney was on a Viking trade route and an important centre for them: I hadn’t appreciated how important Shetland was as well, and nor had I thought how that also gave them access down the west coast of Scotland and into the Irish Sea. Dublin was a holding point for the Viking slave trade, where Angles, Britons and Picts were traded or held prior to being taken on to other markets. It’s perhaps worth noting – bearing in mind the current climate – that the author quotes an example in 1631 of an entire population of a village in Cork being taken to North Africa as slaves, this time by Barbary pirates. The word ‘enthralled’ comes directly from Old Norse.

A heart-lifting story which I hadn’t heard about before was the ‘Shetland Bus’. Neil Oliver uses this to demonstrate how the population of the Shetlands ties Britain to Scandinavia: the Shetland Bus was used to rescue people from Norway in the Second World War and take them to Britain, away from the Nazis, or to take Agents and equipment to Norway. In good conditions apparently the crossing takes about a day: the Shetland Bus crossings were often in the winter and in small fishing boats.

It’s a fascinating book and coincidentally Edward has just been set some work on the Vikings by school, which Alex is quite happy to help him with. The romance of these warriors still enthralls the hearts of the young (and not only the young) today.

Out on the Fells: Sunday

I was out on a long run today (Sunday) and it suddenly struck me WHY I run. It’s not only to keep fit, or to improve my fitness, but because I love being out on the trails/hills. I love the feeling of being strong and fit; but whilst short runs from home are fine on my own, I like doing things with friends. Experiences on one’s own are fine and uplifting, but a shared experience feels as though it possibly has a chance to create stronger memories: think of all those times when you say ‘do you remember when we…’, especially when you catch up with a friend whom you haven’t seen for a while. I’m really looking forward to getting out running with the rest of my running group again: most of them seem to be somewhat hesitant to meet up yet (it would be rather nice to meet a new man who ran – but not too fast – and cycled, but at least I have a great group of friends to run with when times are more normal).

I’ve got out for some lovely runs again this week, perhaps most notably running 9 miles on Askham Fell with Penny – we went all along to Howtown and then back to Pooley Bridge, followed by a HUGE hill up to Askham Fell to cross over the fell and back to our cars. I then ran in Gelt Woods near me on Friday, which was lovely, and particularly gratifying as I was running quite well and the hills weren’t as intimidating as usual. Then on Saturday as Bella was here and wanted to walk up Talkin Fell with a friend, I decided I’d run up Talkin Fell, over to Simmerson Hill, back to the cairns and then down again.

Sundays when you’re single can sometimes be the loneliest day of the week, but since lockdown David and I have generally split weekends so that he has the children on Saturday and I have them on Sunday. I’d offered to have the boys for longer this week if I could pick them up a lunchtime on Sunday and run in the morning: unfortunately the route Penny suggested (she’s kind of my partner in adventure, as you’ve probably realised by now – her husband had gone off mountain biking with a couple of friends) took a little longer than we’d anticipated. It was a sort of recce for running all of ‘High Street’ – not only the name of a Lake District fell but also of a roman road which linked the fort at Ambleside with the one near Penrith. Like most Roman roads it runs more or less in a straight line over the tops of the hills, and we’ve failed to do it so far due to weather.

So today we started at Pooley Bridge and ran to Howtown, and then up Fusedale. The idea was to follow the footpath up on to Wether Hill and join up with the roman road: but the path didn’t seem to exist. Also by then we’d already taken about 2 hours – of what we’d thought would be a 2 hour run! Fortunately having clambered up the fellside we were then met High Street at the top and it was mostly downhill to get back to Pooley Bridge.

It was a glorious run and despite being incredibly late to pick up the boys, and having creaky knees, I’m looking forward to running High Street from end to end (more or less) next weekend, weather permitting. We’re also going to take our wetsuits and swimming stuff and swim at the end. And it won’t be a day when I need to fetch the children.

Singing

Singing is something else which is fun to do with other people. I’m enough of a performer that I want to do solos: but I want to do solos accompanied by friends, or as part of a concert or recital which friends also take part in. Who knows when choral singing will be permitted again? Meanwhile I’m trying to get a 35-minute programme together for my performance diploma, the main problem being having to stick to a time limit: potentially it could only be about 6-8 pieces. My friend Caroline has recorded some backing tracks for me for practicing, and I’ve suggested to her that when we’re allowed we should get together for a practice, with a view to doing a joint recital at some point. She’s just heard that she may be able to record her (piano) pieces for her next performance diploma, for submission in August, so she’s working hard on that now anyway.

Perhaps most things are more fun done together than solo: I’ve loved watching plays and operas during lockdown, but I like discussing them with friends later; wild swimming is not only more fun with others but also feels safer; and I love sitting and enjoying good food.

With a long run (probably about 15 miles) planned for next Saturday, I might go out on my bike more this week than running. And whilst running today Penny mentioned something which gave me an idea for what to do next year, when I turn 60 – the entire Lakeland Trails series. ‘Inspiring races in beautiful places’: I do hope that we’ll be more or less back to normal by then.

Lockdown 10; furballed 7: travel dreams

A few days ago I was told by work that I’d be returning on 8th June. By then I will have been furloughed for 8 weeks, and I must admit that I’m rather relieved that there will again be some structure and purpose to my day. Today – Monday 1st June – I have been feeling particularly bored with the ongoing situation and whilst I don’t want things to go back exactly to how they were before – although all the signs are that they will, with people already queuing for IKEA as if there was a shortage of furniture and cheap crockery, far more traffic on the roads, and vapour trails in the skies – I’m looking forward to having something to think about and tasks to do.

There will be less time to read, but reading travel books and watching travel programmes on the television is something of a double-edged sword. It’s great to see places and start dreaming about when and how to get there: but sometimes reality hits and you realise that not only is coronavirus stopping travel but also with the debt of my skiing holiday still to pay off, it’s going to be some time before I can afford another holiday anyway!

So whilst I’ve been looking up ways to get to Finland by train, which route I’d take to get there and which to get back, I haven’t actually planned it in much detail. It’s a pipedream as yet and I look at the Railway Map of Europe longingly and wistfully; and dream also of all the other places I’d like to go, such as the ‘stans’. The map below shows how it’s quite possible to get from mainland Europe (and hence, via the channel tunnel, the UK) to Finland and places further east. Also on my bucket list are Tromso in Norway, Copenhagen in Denmark, and Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia (having watched Michael Portillo’s railway journeys). In fact I’d just like to explore more of Scandinavia, let alone the Baltic states; and getting to places like Baku, Tashkent and Samarkand needs plenty of time (and is therefore probably a retirement project).

I’m now reading a book about those great travellers/explorers, the Vikings, having finished Around the World in 80 Trains and also The Beekeeper of Aleppo. I warmly recommend both books for totally different reasons. The latter serves to remind us of the plight and trauma of refugees throughout the world and of the destruction of beautiful and historic places by war. The former had many comments which seemed relevant to our current status of isolation and of a slower life, but one where – at its best – communities seem(ed) to be pulling together.

One of the words which the author learned as she travelled was the Dutch word gezellig, which apparently means “no boundaries and everyone is sharing and getting along with everyone else”. It reminded me of those other terms which are also not easily translated into English, and which also have a feel good factor to them: the Swedish words fika and lagom and the Danish hygge.

A couple of other quotations from the book which I wanted to highlight were:

“For the first time in months, reading had become meditation again, almost medicinal in its healing. With a last look at the jacket, I left the book on the table for someone else to enjoy.” This is something I do with my books – unless I feel that I’d read them again and again. I leave them on trains for other people to enjoy. And reading is definitely meditation, if not, at least at times, escapism.

“Being on the road frees you from the burden of the everyday… yet I often had moments on my travels when I was overwhelmed by loneliness, and sank into troughs of depression deeper than those I had at home.” This reminds me of when I worked abroad, firstly in France and then in Norway. For the majority of the time I had a fantastic experience and enjoyed myself hugely: but when I got low I got very low, and far more so than I would at home. It’s perhaps because if you’re alone abroad it can be far more difficult to get out of that pit than when you’re at home and surrounded by friends and family.

Selfishness?

One of the things about lockdown however has been that friends and family are not always there. The sense of community increased initially: people looked out for their neighbours, shopped locally, bought local, and didn’t move (on the whole) far beyond their local area. However there was also from the beginning a strong sense of protectiveness, which potentially meant that rather than acting as part of a community, people only protected their own and stayed inside well away from anyone else (I wonder if they would have been quite so moralistic about it if there was no internet, telephone, etc. etc., and if they hadn’t so easily been able to communicate with people?).

I have really struggled with the idea of complete self-isolation: of being a hermit. At its most extreme, as at least one person seemed to suggest, it would have meant not seeing the kids and being on my own in my house and garden: and post-furlough with no work to keep my mind occupied either. I’ve mentioned in earlier blogposts that being able to get out on my bike or for runs (or even walks) has lifted my mood at times: I’ve at times got quite annoyed about how certain judgmental people who are in houses with their own families don’t seem to stop and think what it’s like for people on their own (and in fact the people who are most vociferous about self-isolation are rarely practicing it completely themselves, but are still going to the shops, for example).

The other morning a friend very honestly said that she’s having a rather ‘self-defensive, protective, selfish’ life at the moment, making sure her family are OK, and that she’s scared stiff of getting coronavirus.  I respected and liked her for saying it, and it made me feel a lot better, because I had been thinking that I was the one being selfish because I find the isolation and restrictions of being at home and on my own a lot very hard at times, and I feel criticised for going out at all.

I guess at the end of the day we’re all dealing with this in our own way and a certain amount of tolerance and understanding wouldn’t go amiss. I am quite happy limiting the number of times I go to the shops, and I don’t miss ‘going shopping’ in terms of visiting High Streets. But cut me off from the Fells and woods, lakes and rivers and I would be utterly miserable.

That’s not to say I’m jumping into my car to visit Lake District hotspots – I wouldn’t dream of walking up Cat Bells at the moment, and the sides of Ullswater as I drove past on a sunny Sunday were like any normal (non-viral) summer holiday. But the joy from being able to go for a walk in one of the less well-known areas and to swim in several of the lakes was a real treat at the weekend: and whilst parking areas were busy, if you avoid the ‘honeypots’ then it is easy to socially distance.

Beautiful, quiet Hayeswater

It annoys me when people leave litter, park and/or drive inconsiderately, and don’t bother to think about where they could go which might not be so crowded: but on the other hand I also think there is an element of nimby-ism to the so-called locals who complain so bitterly about visitors to this beautiful county that we’re lucky enough to live in. We are privileged to live here and not in a densely populated city but if people want to enjoy the beauty then they should also respect it.

It feels as if the end of furlough and the gradual relaxation of lockdown may signal the end not only of this series of posts, but also of this blog: I need to think of a theme for the next one as it feels as if I’m writing about similar things now. Next week I will try to sum up the change in the emotions from the beginning of lockdown to the end of furlough. Meanwhile… stay safe.

Lockdown 9/Furlough 6: socially distanced exercise

As I travel down to Penrith once a week anyway to drop the kids off at their Dad’s, it seemed fair enough that I could – now we’re allowed to meet up in a socially distanced way with one other person – go running with Penny again. She’s been really busy through lockdown, working long hours – as has her husband even though theoretically he has part-time work – and so not only had we not seen each other for a while, but we had only spoken once.

You never know quite what people’s attitudes are going to be about meeting up, even when you’re sticking to the rules: fortunately Penny’s take on it is much the same as mine, and we arranged to go for a run on Askham Fell. We’ve run up there several times before – for Penny and Tim it’s a fairly regular route, or was before lockdown – and I left Brampton on a fairly grey, dull afternoon and travelled down the motorway to Penrith.

Just 20 miles or so further south, Penrith was lovely and sunny. The kids jumped out of the car and I went a couple of miles further through Askham to Helton and up on to the Fell (Penny and I met in the centre of Askham, which for those of you who don’t know it is one of those lovely old Cumbrian villages with stone cottages and a river (the Eamont) at the bottom of the hill. There are also some quite average modern houses, and the village also benefits from an outdoor swimming pool which is normally open in the summer).

With the lack of rain recently the Fell was really dry: even places where there would have been large puddles/small ponds had dried up, becks were running lower than normal, and boggy bits of the Fell were firm and dry. I love the feeling of being out in the open and up high, and whilst Askham Fell may not be particularly high in terms of the Cumbrian Fells generally, it provides some glorious views of Ullswater. It was one of those evenings when it would have been nice to have sat down outside in the sun after running and to have had a picnic (with of course a nice chilled glass of prosecco or similar): as it looked as if two guys, also socially distancing (like us, in two separate vehicles), who ran past us were going to do.

As we ran Penny suggested that the ground was so good and the weather so lovely that it might be time to do a long-planned run: High Street (an old Roman route) from end to end.

On Wednesday I was still feeling full of energy and optimism from Tuesday’s run and decided I’d do a brick session (bike then run); on Thursday I went out on my bike and did the previous day’s bike ride in reverse, this time to stop to take some photos as the sun shone down on the Northern Pennines and the Lake District fells could be seen in the background. All was green and white: hawthorn, elderflower and cow parsley in white bloom against the green of the hills and fields. On Friday I was due to meet up with a friend and go open water swimming in the river Tyne, but my car got a puncture and I could only book it in for 4pm: too late to get over for swimming, but perhaps just as well as the weather had become extremely windy.

I was hoping it would calm down overnight but it didn’t, and the forecast for further south and into the central Lake District area – where we were due to start the High Street run – was even worse. As we’re busy clocking up the km to raise funds for Cumbria Mountain Rescue, we didn’t feel that risking potentially being rescued ourselves – or worse still, blown off the top of a Fell – would be that good an idea. We met on Askham Fell and went for an incredibly wet, windy and cold 7 mile run roughly over the same ground as Tuesday’s run but with a lot more bogginess. We had thought of going as far as Loadpot Hill and then dropping down to Howtown before coming back on the lower path (part of the Ullswater Trail) but decided that retracing our footsteps over familiar ground was probably a better idea. High Street can wait for better weather.

Reading and thinking

I finished The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared this week, which I really enjoyed – I then watched the film which was nothing like as good as the book. I’m now reading Monisha Rajesh’s Around the World in 80 Trains. She makes the point that not only do you see more travelling by train than you do when flying, but actually you also need to be selective about which trains you use: bullet trains etc. just swoosh you along so fast that the countryside is a blur and you don’t see anything that way either.

The book fits in rather well with having watched Race Across the World on the BBC iPlayer, where contestants have to travel 1000s of miles and cannot use planes: they also have a limited budget. The first series was definitely a race, and I felt it would have been nice to have seen more of the places the teams went through. In the second series the teams wanted to experience some of the places they went through – which led to one team running out of money on the penultimate leg – which I felt was a far healthier attitude and made for a far more interesting series (the winners also gave at least half of their winnings to south American charities, or at least said they were going to).

This, along with coronavirus lockdown, has reminded me once more of one reason I moved to Cumbria and of why, much as I need a job which I find mentally stimulating and which I enjoy, I also want time to do the things which are important to me. City life down south – or perhaps city life generally – is incredibly rushed. People rush not to be late to work, or rush to get home, tired after rushing through tons of emails at work (and often, I think, generating more work for themselves or for others in the process); buildings are thrown up as quickly as possible in order to get rent in as soon as possible, or to sell the property and move on to the next development; we all zoom around in cars or on trains, getting frustrated by traffic jams or the slow driver in front of us.

Monisha Rajesh puts it very well in her book, with words which I am completely in accord with, and I hope she won’t mind if I quote her here. She’s talking about her thoughts having been watching old women doing t’ai chi in Hanoi:

“As a people we’d become obsessed with speed, checking our watches, glancing at the clock, running for the Tube, inventing bullet trains, faster internet and instant coffee, yet where was the extra time we were saving? And what were we doing with it? If speed was improving our lives, then why were the days busier, longer and harder, our minds overburdened and tired?… Leaving my job, my home and my possessions had quietened the noise in my head… The less I carried, the less I worried.”

Monisha Rajesh, Around the Globe in 80 Trains

Obviously there are problems with lockdown, primarily economic: and yet the flip side is that it has given the entire planet a ‘pause’, or at least those who aren’t working silly hours. And yet as soon lockdown was eased just a small amount, there were pictures of crowded commuter trains, reports of airlines being angry about quarantine, and the fear that people would flock to beauty spots for the bank holiday weekend. But working from home should give people an extra hour or two each day, if not longer: for me I’ll use that time to do yoga and keep running more regularly than I am able to when I’m commuting to Newcastle. But perhaps at the end of the day we humans just find it incredibly difficult to strike a balance; to hit a happy medium. We certainly seem to find it difficult not to want ‘stuff’ when we see all that people around us have, and as soon as time is freed up we fill it with something else. I wonder what Ms Rajesh is doing having got back home from her travels…

Lockdown 5/Furlough 2

I forgot that my ‘major’ problem last week was cat fleas. At least, I think that’s what it was: it might have been something I picked up out running. Every-so-often I seem to get this problem where my ankles get bitten (whatever it is seems to get just inside the top of my socks, where I get the impression that it goes mad because it can’t get out and bites me in frustration).

Last week it seemed to be worse overnight and I got to the stage where I was wondering about not sleeping in my own bed, but in the spare bed. However having sprayed various rooms in the house, washed tons and tons of bed linen (and my younger son’s duvet – just in case), vacuumed like a loony, stuck extra flea-stuff on the cat and slept with a bowl of washing up liquid under my bed, the problem doesn’t seem quite so bad. Fingers crossed.

I’m really enjoying my daily Yoga with Adriene. Having started on her 2015 30 days of yoga but added in a couple of other classes, I’ve just now done day 23 on 22nd April. Next I’m going to do some yoga for the lower back as I have a feeling that might also help my shoulder – I’ve had some sort of shoulder problem (stiffness/pain) which seems to have been exacerbated by doing Duolingo on my phone on the train on the way to work: definitely doing less of that plus some shoulder mobility and stretching exercises helped (and I should probably do more), but yoga and not travelling so much definitely seems to be the real key.

I keep wondering what the world is going to look like; what things we’ll go back to and what we won’t go back to after this virus is ‘over’: if it ever really is. I was doing a CPD webinar yesterday about Permitted Development rights – I don’t know about the planning system in other countries, but over here there are certain changes you can make without planning permission. One of them is changing offices to residential, which has apparently been somewhat contentious as it’s resulted in some very poor quality (and small) residential units. I asked the question at the end of the webinar about why we didn’t, and whether we should, have similar legislation helping the change from retail to residential: our town and city centres years ago suffered from office uses moving out to cheaper and more car-friendly locations on outskirts (a mistake, to my mind, for all sorts of reasons, though you can see why economically it suited people). But nowadays retail is also under pressure and I really think the answer is to bring more residential uses into town and city centres (parking will need some creative thinking, including some way of trying to get us all out of our cars, especially in towns and cities which don’t have good public transport. My aunt, in London (zone 2, so fairly central but not right in the middle), has a car but rarely uses it – but then she also has a bus pass and there is great public transport in London (and a congestion charge)). I’m attending a webinar on the future of the High Street this evening, and am also contributing some questions and thoughts on the subject: I’ll get back to you on this later. Meanwhile I’m off out for a bike ride in the sun (I’m not feeling very motivated to run at the moment).

Later

It was quite breezy out on the bike but yet another glorious sunny day (in fact I think we probably could really do with some rain, or at least the gardeners and farmers could). I was on my triathlon bike, which I haven’t cycled for ages. I’d been wondering how different it would feel from my other road bike – the answer was, surprisingly so! The gearing means it’s faster on the flat, but harder work uphill – but on the other hand the wheels/tyres are also narrower, which helps. What surprised me – as I’m not terribly technical about bikes – was how different it felt size/shape wise – the frame geometry is more different than I’d expected. And also the saddle is a lot more comfortable – mental note to self to get a different saddle for my other bike, which is overall a more comfortable ride for longer distances (you don’t feel the bumps quite so much).

I loved being out on my bike and decided that I’d cycle this week rather than running – although not tomorrow as I’m ‘at’ an all day online conference and then it’s theatre night, so I shall just go for a quick run at some point. It’s a real luxury having the time to be able to cycle at the moment, so I may as well make the most of it.

When I got home I then finished moving the paving slabs in the garden and planted some pea seeds. I also noticed that loads of lovely tulips are coming into flower: and the african violets are spreading well around the garden!

English

I definitely have more time for one of my favourite pastimes, reading, at the moment: I ‘treat’ myself each morning to some time reading while I drink that so-important first coffee of the day. Fortunately I had a pile of books by my bed and a friend has now also dropped a boxful of books off, so I’ve had plenty of reading material.

A book which was recommended to me was The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg, and I’ve just started it. I’ve always been fascinated by language but also by history – I loved the period of history, the so-called dark ages and early medieval, that I did at school. I’d always felt that we (the English) fought so much with the French because we were closely related to them – like brother and sister. In fact we’re probably more closely related to them by going back to Celtic times than through the Normans – but what Melvyn Bragg’s book points out is how closely related the two languages are, and how English very nearly ‘lost’ out to French. I knew that French had carried on being the language of the aristocracy for hundreds of years (rather, I would assume, as it was in Russia?), and I’d always thought that despite being a so-called Germanic language, English actually has a lot in common with Romance languages. I hadn’t fully appreciated or considered just how much of the vocabulary of current day English comes from French, nor that French was, in medieval times, the language of trade (which is how words from Arabic have also come into our language). It’s amazing really when you think that English is now the language of commerce for the entire world.

The other thing, harking back to when I read The Origins of the British, is that English was actually brought into the country by a minority elite, and a minority who only initially ruled the south of the country – who almost lost out to the Vikings. That this language was then nearly overcome by another ruling minority – the Normans – and that they then became almost more English than the English, makes for a fascinating read.

Perhaps rather appropriate that I’m writing this on St. George’s Day – though in fact he was born in Turkey and became a soldier in the Roman army. Perhaps his heritage in some way reflects the rich mongrel mix that is English.

Running vs. cycling

I mentioned that I’d be going for a short run today as there wasn’t time to cycle. In fact my short run turned into a nature walk as after a couple of km I started feeling weird – I get this low blood sugar thing where I start to feel light headed/dizzy, a bit sweaty and a bit shaky – at its worst I get so dizzy that everything goes black; if the kids are around I can also get quite short-tempered and snarly (“stop winding me up and get me food NOW!”).

As I ran/walked I was thinking about the different aspects of running and cycling. What I really love are my long runs with my friend Penny – they’re not in order to get fit, although we do challenge ourselves, but are as much about getting out and exploring places. Having run the 16 biggest lakes of the Lake District for her 50th, I’ve suggested we run 60 of Cumbria’s tarns and small waters for my 60th: we could do some lovely long exploratory runs which would take in 3 or 4 tarns at a time.

Unless you’re a completely dedicated ultra-marathoner, you can’t run really long distances without the odd break for photos, flapjack, etc.: and that’s part of the pleasure of these runs. Cycling, on the other hand, is more relentless somehow: it’s not quite as easy to stop to take photos, and I’m often tempted to stop but instead just keep bowling along – especially if I’ve got up a good pace.

They’re both great in their own way: if I want to start doing triathlon again I’m going to have to get quicker and more consistent with my running; but for now just getting out and about every day is far, far more than I’ve been doing for years! Meanwhile I notice that the wild garlic is beginning to come out: this year I really must collect a load and make soup!

Monday 27th April

So that’s the end of another slightly strange week. Compared with the end of last week (or slightly before), my mood is far better: and from talking to other people I think a lot of people have had a bit of a low this past 10 days or so. It’s maybe just getting used to this different pace of life. I went out for another, longer bike ride – up to Bewcastle. It’s incredibly isolated up there and as I cycled back an amazing panoramic view opened up into the far distance – across to Northumberland, the northern Pennines, the Lake District. I wish my words could describe it better and that a camera could portray it better. You’re not particularly high up at Bewcastle, but you feel far away both in space and time, and as if you’re at the edge of something. The sky is gigantically huge, the sheep spill out on to the road as if cars didn’t exist and it feels as if it wouldn’t be surprising if Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons or Vikings suddenly appeared: or a bunch of marauding Border Reivers (English or Scottish) driving cattle.

At the end of this week I am close to having finished my 30 days of yoga; I have had some video singing lessons; I have spoken to friends, some of whom I haven’t spoken to for ages; I’ve done a bit of Italian though not as much as I intended; and I have tried to do home-schooling (surprisingly hard when you’re also trying to be a mother and when the children are actually far more interested in the xbox). I’ve also mused over many things, and whilst I’ve tried to get some of those thoughts down here, as with so many thoughts which are emotional in basis, some of them are less relevant today than they were on the day I had them, and it’s probably as well that transient grumpiness or paranoia doesn’t get written down in a blog.

What am I aiming to achieve in this coming week? Do I really ‘need’ to achieve anything, or is life currently about enjoying what I can, and doing so contentedly, rather than pushing to achieve all the time?