Cycling in Cumbria

I have, basically, cycled around the whole of Cumbria now – over a period of time (several years, to be honest). However of course whichever road you take there are always alternatives, and there is still plenty of this enormous and varied county to explore.

I’m one of those people who collects leaflets and pages from magazines. I had a collection of ‘interesting-places-to-visit-at-some-point’ (I like to think of it as my tourist information point) which I gave to a woman and her husband having met them in the woods nearby while I was out running one day. I should perhaps add that I wasn’t carrying the leaflets with me – she mentioned that she volunteered in a local charity shop, so I dropped them off there.

That left leaflets and magazine pages about runs and cycle rides. These are mostly left in a neat(ish) pile along with the relevant maps, partly as I’m going to turn them into a book one day (!) and partly as I want to try out some of those alternative routes which I haven’t yet done. They’re not all in Cumbria: I really want to explore more of southern Scotland, which lies just to the north of the Solway Firth (and which has sandy beaches rather than muddy marshland) and also Northumberland – which is, of course, another huge county.

Alston is allegedly the highest town in England, and sits close to the Northumberland/ Cumbrian border. It’s about 18 or 19 miles from Brampton, where I live, along a wiggly but interesting road (you even pass the remains of a Roman fort). As the ride I’d decided to do was about 20 miles and hilly, I thought I’d drive to Alston and park in the middle – especially as by the time I’d decided which route I wanted to do it was getting into mid-afternoon. Alston has a reputation for being a bit weird and the home to lots of hippy-types who moved there in the 1960s and never moved away again. I’m not a hippy type, but I do like Alston, but other than a steam railway it suffers from a lack of public transport (I’m sure there’s a bus service, but like so many rural places I would think that you’re basically reliant on having a car and being able to drive).

The start of the bike ride took me downhill out of Alston and then out along a minor road going in a southerly direction towards Garigill (or Garrigill). I was cycling more or less alongside the river South Tyne, which starts up in the Fells to the south of Alston, and passed or crossed several burns or becks which also come down off the fellside into the south Tyne – including one called Dry Burn, which was as its name describes.

The road drops downhill into Garigill and the river valley, and the routemap showed that I should now turn to the south towards Ashgill to go around Flinty Fell. However I decided not to but to follow the Coast to Coast cycle waymarks. This took me up a very steep hill out of Garigill to climb up to a crossroads with the B6277. The lovely weather (sunny, with a bit of a breeze) had brought the boy racers out and three small sporty cars zoomed past before I could get across the road.

It then continues to climb up Nunnery Hill between Middle Fell and Flinty Fell, albeit more gently. The wide open landscape is absolutely stunning and I stopped to get a panoramic photo and to soak up the views. No long after that a male cyclist overtook me, commenting that the hill seemed to go on for ever. I kept him in my sights for a bit (but not long – he was going a lot faster then I), until I stopped again, this time to look at my map.

There then followed an incredibly steep downhill into Nenthead. I was extremely glad to be on my Cannondale Synapse, which has disc brakes and where my feet are not clipped into my pedals!

You’re in real ex-mining country by now: I didn’t pass any mines but nearby Nenthead mines are open to the public a few times a year, and Killhope Mine (County Durham) is not far away.

Today I cycled back along the A689 to drop back down into Alston. A man was singing and playing the guitar outside the pub with a small audience of people enjoying a drink in the late afternoon sun. It was tempting to join them, but I don’t have the confidence to walk up to a group of people out of the blue and introduce myself, so instead I headed home after soaking up the atmosphere for a bit and taking some photos.

The following weekend I decided I’d go out on a slightly flatter ride, and opted to do the one I’d done over the Solway plain but in the opposite direction. It was sunny again, but what I hadn’t factored in was the wind, which was coming from the south/south-west. For most of the ride I was heading straight into the wind, so despite the lack of incline, it was still more effort than it might have been! Never mind – it was worth seeing the Lake District fells from a different angle, and when I arrived at my parking place the tide was in, making the Solway look blue and attractive as it glistened in the sunlight.

I find it hard to believe sometimes that I once thought living in London was the be-all and end-all and that I couldn’t bear to live anywhere else. The countryside is definitely not boring (and I have more friends than ever, I think), and whether you live in a village, town or city it seems that if you want to try out new cycle routes and new runs you often have to drive to get there, unfortunately. At least there are plenty of routes I can do from home as well: ones I rarely write about in this blog as I do them so often, but in between blogpost adventures I am out running around the Tarn, and Gelt Woods, and up on the Ridge. I’ll end with some photos from a springtime but slightly damp run in and around Gelt Woods yesterday.

Not swimming Snowdon

As the weather got chillier and greyer, swimming Snowdon was beginning to lose its appeal. Whilst I’ve walked up a little bit of a hill in a wetsuit before (between Styhead Tarn and Sprinkling Tarn – see post of 23rd May), I didn’t really fancy walking all the way up Snowdon and down the other side in a wetsuit. I’d been hoping that September/early October weather and water temperature would be warm; but it didn’t look very likely. Then, unfortunately, Penny’s bad back flared up, making sitting in a car almost impossible for her, and injured Tim fell out of bed so she felt she couldn’t leave him for the entire weekend anyway.

With Coniston 14km trail race coming up next weekend (only 2 left to go after that, to complete the series) and a 60 mile bike ride at the end of November, it was quite good to have the opportunity to relax and get some long runs/bike rides in. Plans for the weekend fluctuated and it wasn’t until Saturday morning, after coffee and a read in bed, that I decided that I’d go for a bike ride. It took eating breakfast to decide which bike ride to do: would I go up to Alston and Nenthead (hilly but interesting) or should I opt for a route out of the Ordnance Survey Cycle Tours – Cumbria and the Lakes book? In the end, feeling a bit lazy, I chose to do a route from the latter which was going to overlap day 2 of the cycling around Cumbria ‘project’. It looked flat; it would take me along that magical coast line which seems so different from the rest of Cumbria; and it was 30 miles.

I stopped at Burgh by Sands and used a revolting portaloo in the car park before realising that I didn’t need to start the ride there, but a few miles further along, nearer to Port Carlisle. It meant I didn’t cycle across the long straight road which crosses the marshes, with flood warning signs at frequent intervals and humps which roads to higher ground lead off. Instead I stopped in a parking bay at a corner where the road drops down towards the Solway, and started cycling, passing through Port Carlisle – a strange linear place with a handful of attractive Victorian (?) houses but not much more. Apparently it was originally named Fisher’s Cross but was renamed when the canal was built which linked Carlisle to the Solway.

Going through Bowness on Solway I noticed flags with suns on and signs about art open days. People were ambling up the main road – I had to make ‘ding ding’ noises so they noticed me – and then I saw two people I knew. I smiled and called out: but then felt guilty for not stopping to say hello properly and to have a chat. The Garrison bistro looks promising: I must go back there sometime.

I remembered from cycling this way before that we’d had to stop to open gates at the nature reserve: now there are brand new cattlegrids which mean you don’t have to stop. From now on the radio masts at Cardurnock/Anthorn made a clear landmark for nearly all the rest of the ride, the bends in the coast and the road making it appear sometimes closer than it would have been if I’d needed to cycle there.

There were also what looked like brick look out posts; two at least now being used to store hay bales, which struck me as eminently sensible. They presumably date from the 2nd world war: there were air fields and military bases all round the area. If anyone is interested in finding out more, it looks as if the Solway Firth Partnership promotes various trails: https://www.solwaymilitarytrail.co.uk/trails/

The amazing thing around this entire area is that although there are plenty of ugly modern buildings, and old buildings left to go to rack and ruin, there are also some beautiful ones. As you cycle into Anthorn you pass some attractive old buildings, before going past a particularly ugly more modern housing estate. As you turn off the road to go down to Kirkbride, a particularly dilapidated signpost rather sadly gives out your options: but Kirkbride is lovely and the signpost is presumably just waiting to be budgeted for in the right financial year. Around Kirkbride Penny and I had previously been overtaken by a group of fast (young, male) road cyclists; today I kept coming across groups in blue going in the other direction, and I wondered if there was some sort of event on.

At this point I was about halfway through my ride, and it struck me how liberating cycling is. I always love being out on my bike and feel as if I could cycle for ever: but then as I get back towards the end I look forward to finishing and to getting home. I sometimes have the same feeling whilst running, though as running is generally harder work the end can be more of a relief: though the great thing about feeling quite fit is that you get to the end and wonder if you could have gone further.

What this signpost highlights is how the roads around here can only be a mile or two away from sending you back to where you started from: it’s actually quite a small area geographically, but there are plenty of roads linking the villages to each other. So much so that I had to check the map quite often, and then the time I didn’t check the map I ended up missing out Wigton: no bad thing as it frequently smells and, being on one of the A59-somethings, it wasn’t really a great loss. Having said that, the John Peel theatre is great and I believe there are also several good restaurants in the town, plus it also has a station: https://wigtontheatre.org/. I found I was spending quite a lot of the ride checking out nice houses and wondering if I could live in any of them: but one of my criteria for wherever I move to is that I should be near a station.

Having turned left instead of right at Lessonhall I crossed what seemed like quite a main road (it wasn’t – but it was straight) and past a farm where a wedding was taking place: the sun seemed to be about to come out just as they were taking photos. Having read that the route was flat, I was then surprised to find that I plunged down a small hill, and then another: I had obviously cycled up a very gradual gradient without realising it, which made sense as I was no longer on land that looked marshy and as if it might flood. Not, that is, until I passed Wampool where there were some slightly alarming signs about the road being liable to flooding, ‘turn here’. I cycled along wondering if I might have to turn back at any point, but fortunately the ground is still quite dry at the moment and the worst I had to cycle through was dried cowpats. The river Wampool and the river Waver, both of which I’d cycled alongside, empty out into the Solway Firth and the land is criss-crossed by drains and marshes.

Signs pointed back towards Bowness on Solway and an ice cream van I’d seen earlier in the afternoon passed me at the junction: but I turned towards Glasson, seeing Bowness on a distant rise. Past Glasson as I turned back onto the coast road to get back to the car, I noticed the tide had come in and panicked briefly that I would find my car under water. Fortunately high tide at the moment didn’t mean ‘ridiculously high tide’ and I got back with enough grass to walk across to take a photo of the River Eden outflow/the Solway. As I got back in my car from taking photos, some more cyclists in blue passed me and I realised it was the last of the groups I’d seen before.

Driving back to Carlisle I went past some more groups in blue, and then having been to Sainsburys passed them again. They had ‘AAK’ (I think it was) on their shirts and something about being in aid of the blind; so I assume it’s a company doing a charity ride. I wish I’d stopped to ask them: I wonder if they’re doing the entire Hadrian’s Wall cycle route. I hope they enjoy it and raise plenty of funds. I had done 52km.

Twelve days of Christmas

Watching Lucy Worsley present a programme about Tudor Christmasses made me rethink this time of year; as did an email from Lyn Thurman and also reading Neil Oliver’s A History of Ancient Britain (not currently available on the iPlayer, sadly).

Whatever your religion, midwinter was a time of celebration and feasting, and was the ‘liminal’ time between the old year and the new (maybe not for the Romans however, for whom the new year started in March – although Janus was the two-headed god who looked both forward and back). I loved the idea of keeping a ’12 days’ diary but also it got me thinking about how we now think of the time between Christmas and New Year as rather quiet and potentially lonely; a time for contemplation, relaxation and (one hopes) restoration, before returning to the busy-ness of the New Year.

It made me think that perhaps next year I would like a big, splash-out FEAST on Christmas Day – I don’t mean just with family but with lots of people – and then to carry on partying right into January (in fact Lucy Worsley points out that day 7, New Year’s Eve, for the Tudors was actually quite quiet); to finish work on Christmas Eve, put up the decorations, and go back to work on 6th January. I also like the idea of exchanging gifts on New Year’s Day rather than Christmas Day – not so sure that will please my kids though.

The least I felt I could do this year was keep a 12 days ‘diary’, and hope there are some good omens for the New Year. Surely we can’t all be as cut off and isolated in 2021 as some people have been in 2020.

Day 1: Christmas Day, 25th December

The children were with me to start with, and pleased with their presents. At about 12 noon David came to fetch them and I started preparing the bits of lunch I was doing to take to Mark and Laura’s, feeling a little bit sad. However I had a lovely time at Mark and Laura’s and they gave me a pump for the car, which is extremely useful as my tyres are forever going flat (I have had a valve repaired and a tyre replaced now, so am feeling slightly more confident about the car at present).

Day 2: Boxing Day, 26th December

Rainy, muddy and a little hungover but ran up in Ridge Woods, as previously reported. Storm Bella approaching made the wind pick up but there was a general feeling of clearing things away.

Day 3: 27th December

Woke up feeling sad (perhaps I shouldn’t have watched two slushy films last night – A Wonderful Life and White Christmas), and with a headache again. I think I may actually do Dry January this coming year. A chat with Anne and I felt more cheerful and headed out for a longer run. There were flowers popping out in places, harbingers of spring not being that far away; and snow on the hills, reminding me that it’s still winter and that often the coldest part of winter is January and February. However it was far sunnier than it’s been for a while. As I got closer to home I bumped into Lesley, from choir, and her husband Alan and stopped for a really nice (socially distanced) chat with them.

Day 4: 28th December

Woke up feeling sad again and was in fact quite tearful as I drove down to Whinlatter. I don’t think watching a programme about Bristol and cooking last night helped; I felt quite nostalgic and ended up going to bed (and waking up) thinking how much my life has changed since I lived in Bristol. On the other hand, I can’t wish I hadn’t had my children – for all the emotional anguish they cause and the amount they cost, I think they’re amazing and turning into pretty decent human beings. I just wish I didn’t so often feel that I’m second choice parent-wise.

Whinlatter car park was heaving and I was worried I wouldn’t get a space, but fortunately as Penny works for and Tim has worked for the FC, they were able to wangle me a space. Having bought my membership only last time I was there I feel I should perhaps have my own personalised space… (no, I’m not serious).

The weather was absolutely stunning and despite a few icy patches, it was a glorious day to be out. We almost could have been in the Alps. Tim ran off ahead, his long legs making it look as if he was just ambling gracefully uphill, while Penny and I ran, chatted and took photos. When we got back Tim was having a chat with some former work colleagues, so fortunately not standing around in zero degrees getting cold.

Day 5: 29th December

Went to the Post Office and to Sainsburys, both mercifully fairly quiet. Then headed over to Stocksfield to pick up some logs from Clare and Colin and to go for a pretty walk in and around Ridley and Broomley Woods, including to one and over another ford. I wonder if Broomley Woods are related to Broomlee Lough… and as a result of wondering have found a useful website about English Place Names. Thank you to the University of Nottingham (my old University, as it happens):

‘Broomy wood/clearing’.

brōm (Old English) Broom; a thorny bush or shrub.

lēah (Old English) A forest, wood, glade, clearing; (later) a pasture, meadow.

The moon was rising above the hills as we loaded the car up with the logs, and looked absolutely stunning, though trying to take a photo did it no justice whatsoever. I checked when the full moon was due and it’s tomorrow (30th), and is apparently called the Cold Moon or the Ice Moon.

Day 6: 30th December

Something of a mixed day. Apparently the moon was full at 3.30 a.m. this morning, but it looks great this evening too. My sister pointed out that it was also a Blue Moon as it’s the second full moon this month.

I had a fantastic – beautiful – run up at Kershope Forest with Penny – a new route which neither of us had done before, where we went from misty frost to sunshine and back again – but unfortunately Anne couldn’t make it and on the way back we heard that Cumbria is now (as of midnight) in Tier 4 lockdown. The news about the schools was slightly better – most primary schools will go back as normal and most secondary schools will have a staggered return. I was really worried that they were going to close the schools again – we’ve ruined this planet already for our kids (climate change/using up resources through our greed); I was worried we were going to wreck their education as well. I know that’s a first world problem but I’m hoping our children might grow up to be somewhat more responsible than the previous generations have been. The only hope on the horizon seems to be that the world population is due to decline quite drastically by about 2050.

BUT – we do live in a beautiful world and some of us are incredibly lucky to have some of that beauty on our doorstep, easily accessible. We are privileged.

As I’d forgotten to buy pasta at the supermarket yesterday I got home and made lasagne. Kneading is extremely good for getting rid of grumpiness when you hear about more lockdowns.

Day 7: New Year’s Eve, 31st December 2020

Phoned Edward to say ‘Happy Birthday’ to him – I was due to go down to Penrith to take his presents down but he and Alex want to come up here tomorrow, so I’ll go and fetch them tomorrow instead. I went out for an incredibly icy end-of-year run – even the Tarn was partly frozen over – and then came back and finished making smoked salmon brioche and a sauce for lasagne for tomorrow. Then it was time for a game of Trivial Pursuit over Zoom with my sister, her boyfriend, and my Mum; then time to attempt to light the firepit. Fortunately Mark and Laura (my bubble and my neighbours) knew what they were doing so they got it going, and we had mulled wine and sausages in a snow-covered garden.

I got my tax paid; my mortgage renewal sorted out; a tutor found for Edward; and it snowed. Quite a definitive end to the year. Time to watch a film and then go to bed. It’s a quieter new year than normal but I think it is for a lot of people; I think that’s how a lot of people want it. 2020 is going out with a whimper rather than with a bang.

In Rowbank Woods, near the railway station

Day 8: 1st January 2021

Lovely New Year’s Day run along the river Eamont and up on to Askham Fell. My Strava said 9.99 km when I got back to where I’d parked the car!

Picked up all three children from David’s and headed home. The usual squabbles but it’s lovely to have them in the house again. Alex is rather fed up that his return to school has been delayed by 2 weeks and that he’ll be doing online lessons; and there is now a total xbox ban at both houses so he’s also fed up that he can’t ‘see’ his friends. I used to have my nose stuck in a book; nowadays for most kids (boys especially?) their noses are glued to screens. I wonder if it’s really all that bad, or if it’s just that it’s different from how I grew up.

Day 9: 2nd January 2021

Slight dusting of snow again overnight and Edward was desperate to go sledging. I wasn’t convinced there would be enough but he managed to get down the hill on the Ridge a few times. Bella went for a walk round the wood nearby, looking very glamorous in her black wool coat and woolly hat and scarf.

Day 10: 3rd January 2021

As I was taking the kids back to David’s anyway I thought it would be good to meet up with Penny for a run down that way. We decided on Thirlmere – the path (and road) on the western side is now open again so we could officially complete the ten mile Thirlmere loop.

It was lovely: Hevellyn was still in mist but the clouds were getting blown from the east and much of the time the sun was shining; there was still a frost on the ground; the reservoir was still and calm like a mirror. The path is mostly great but there were some stretches on the western side where it was quite stony or tree-rooty, and where it was beginning to fall away. We celebrated with coffee and Maltesers at the end; and Blencathra looked absolutely stunning on the way home.

When I got home my lovely neighbours had gritted the road and my drive; also Penny has been giving me a plentiful supply of fire wood (she and Tim ordered a lorry load). People are lovely.

Blencathra from St John’s in the Vale

Day 11: 4th January 2021

Back to work today and my lovely fat tree has now been undressed and also denuded of all its branches.

Then this evening we were told of another lockdown: and this time even the schools are closing, up until at least February half term. Bloody covid. And stuff dry January. I’m off to get some tonic to go with my so-far-unopened bottle of Rose Gin tomorrow.

I wonder if people felt as fed up when the Black Death was in circulation, or whether they just resignedly thought ‘here we go again, a few more deaths’. They must have felt just as much grief as we do, but had far less knowledge to fight death.

I stayed up later than I should watching Lucy Worsley’s series about the Romanovs.

Day 12: 5th January 2021 (‘Twelfth Night)

English Heritage has apparently today been in print encouraging people to keep their decorations up until Candlemass – 2nd Feb. – as they would have done in medieval times, to try to keep some midwinter cheer alive. Bit late for my christmas tree! Also apparently Candlemass is a Swedish doom metal band…

I’m fine when I’m talking to people (thank god for friends) but otherwise I’ve felt really fed up all day; alone and kind of bored, even though I have work. But at least I do have work – a job I enjoy, which so many people don’t – and the countryside. I went for a run this afternoon after work but my heart wasn’t in it, added to which in places you couldn’t run as the ice was too slippery and on top of the Ridge the young cows started following me, so I thought it better not to run. I’m well aware that I should be counting my many blessings, but today was a day to walk into the dark tunnel and acknowledge that life sometimes just feels rubbish, however lucky you are.

But as I sat down on a makeshift bench and watched the sunset over Scotland (to the north and west), it struck me that it doesn’t matter if some days all you do is go out and get some fresh air, admire the views, and listen to the sounds of the world. I think at the weekend I might just go for a run around a lake.

And tomorrow is another day.

Running and rain

It’s been raining here. It feels as if it hasn’t stopped since sometime in November – if not August. The ground is getting more and more sodden, grassy tracks have turned to mud, it’s impossible to run without slipping; the days have been dull and short. I really haven’t had much new to write about, running-wise: my ankle began to feel OK again (and to stop waking me up in the night with a dull ache) and my running fitness began to show signs of going back to where it was before I hurt my ankle. However motivating myself to get out and run – and then once I was out, actually to run more than 4km or so – has been difficult the past few weeks.

Until this last week, when I seem to have turned a bit of a running corner: and also to have got out on a new(ish) route. Plus Anne is now no longer in lockdown, so we’ve been able to meet up to run again.

That’s not to say there haven’t been some lovely runs up on Askham Fell, which always lifts the spirits – Penny and I managed to get out one unusually sunny afternoon at the end of November, and then we also ran down there in the dark one work evening under stunning skies (her husband was meant to come too – he was busy on a work call in the car, and we eventually saw the little light of his head torch coming towards us just as we had reached the halfway mark and were about to head back).

Over the past few days the rain has continued but there have been brief moments of sun. Today, as I ran towards Talkin Tarn, I had to stop for two trains and to tie up my shoe laces. As I waited I looked towards the west and saw a beautiful sky. The dark grey clouds were blowing over and the blue sky was expanding, while I love the silhouettes of the trees on the skyline.

Yesterday I met Penny to run at Greystoke Forest. Unfortunately even the permissive paths are closed at the moment, and rather than risk getting shouted at (or shot at?), we decided to take note of the several signs which made it quite clear that we wouldn’t be welcome. It opens again in April apparently. We’d wanted to run somewhere under tree cover in the hope it would be less wet: instead we ended up at Mosedale, near Bowscale Tarn, where we ran and some of us swam back in the summer/autumn.

We started up the road, the wind against us and the rain beating against our faces. As we climbed further up the hill we got closer to the river Caldew, crashing down over the rocks and not looking half so inviting as it did back in the summer. We turned south along the Cumbria Way after about 4km and ran for another 1km or so, the path firm but covered in water-filled-potholes. By the time your feet are wet (despite Goretex running shoes), you feel you may as well just run through the puddles anyway. The great thing was that the water was clean for a change – because the surface was stony, although there was a LOT of water, it wasn’t muddy.

We had aimed to do about 10km so at the 5km mark we turned round, after taking a few photos. My thighs were cold from having been facing into the wind and rain but as we turned back the worst of the weather was behind us rather than against us – and also we were mostly running downhill. It’s a beautiful valley and we agreed we’d go back another time and come back on the track which goes over the top of the hills and drops down towards Bowscale Tarn, rather than doing an out and back run.

As we ran back along the road we met an elderly man walking his two dogs. His hat blew off as we approached him; he greeted us in a friendly manner and then said “I’ve met you before, haven’t I?” It was the same gentleman whom we had met back in the summer, who had told us about the pools in the river – pools which we had driven to look at in the summer but had run past today. There was something very pleasing about meeting him again: the rain started pouring down even more heavily shortly after but he looked quite well-prepared, so I hope he enjoyed his walk.

We were drenched: my legs were wet up to my thighs; but it struck me that it was probably quite good training for winter open water swimming. The swimming group has decided to try to swim (outside) every month of 2021. In wetsuits, I’m glad to say.

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.

High Street for the summer solstice

If anyone read my post ‘An Almost Bonus Lake’ (23rd June 2019) then you’ll know that Penny and I had an ambition to run the length of High Street ‘Roman’ road: and that from more recent posts that we felt that the weather was right to do so now. It would be dry underfoot (not boggy) and with clear weather should be relatively easy to navigate.

High Street is also the name of the fell that this route crosses: the highest fell at this eastern side of the Lake District (828 m). It leads naturally onto several others along a wide, rolling, open summit: once you’re at the top there are still some ups and downs but you’re generally on the top of the world with stunning views for miles around. It makes complete sense that it was chosen as a route from the earliest times: although there’s some doubt as to whether there really are remains of a roman road (and I haven’t read any recent archaeology), it’s generally accepted that the track which leads across the top is ancient (I meant to check whether it was on the line of the Celtic Whitchurch Meridian but haven’t yet done so). There are then numerous routes criss-crossing it and coming up to join it, which means that whilst you can see where you’re meant to be going, you do need a map and compass and to check directions every so often.

We had decided to start at Troutbeck (near Ambleside/Windermere) and so met at the temporary car park at Pooley Bridge to drive down together, leaving one car at the Pooley Bridge end: the only problem with a mono-directional route. It also meant that we had to do the whole lot in one go: Penny’s husband Tim had gone down to Salisbury for the weekend delivering things in the camper van, so there were few people who could pick us up if we got into trouble. In addition the tops of the fells, though crossed by many popular paths, are miles from anywhere. I can’t help thinking about Roman legionnaires being made to march along, in all weathers no doubt, carrying all their kit and wondering when on earth they were going to get to a fort.

Allegedly the Roman road joined the Roman Fort at Ambleside (Galava) with one at Brougham, just south of Penrith: I read somewhere that possibly there was a fort at Troutbeck too. Nowadays there’s just Limefitt Caravan Park, which usefully has a finger post stating ‘High Street 5 miles’. At the moment of course the place was deserted: the pub, which looked as if it would be a pleasant place to end the walk/run if you were doing it in a southerly direction, closed to all but a cleaner or security guard checking up on it.

That being said, we met quite a few people along the way. The torrential on-and-off rain of the last few days was forecast to stay away, with sun in its place: though looking at the sky we weren’t quite so sure.

The first couple of miles are fairly level, through a lovely valley over a stream and heading towards the valley head. As we turned to climb steeply up towards (and just north of) Froswick I wondered why the route hadn’t gone straight up to the head of the valley and over, but it looked quite rocky and I imagine that what seemed like a steeper grassy ascent was probably found to be the easier one. The track that we were following was marked as a bridleway whereas the one which goes up Park Fell Head is just a footpath.

At the top we were rewarded with a view down to Kentmere reservoir and with fells on the distant skyline all around. It also looked as if some rain was coming in, and sure enough it wasn’t long after that we felt some spots – fortunately nothing heavy and the breeze quickly blew the clouds over, though it took some time for the sun to come out again.

Looking down to Blea Water (nearest) and Haweswater (background)

At the beginning of High Street, just off the ‘Roman’ Road, is a beacon and we stopped here briefly to admire the view and have a Graze bar. I wasn’t actually all that hungry but felt I ought to have something: it turned out to be a mistake as it wasn’t long before I felt really uncomfortable with some sort of indigestion – a feeling which was to stay with me the rest of the day (this is one reason I did so badly in Kielder Marathon in 2012 – I ate too much). It was busy up there, with small groups of walkers who seemed mostly to have walked up from Haweswater as there are a couple of circular routes from Mardale Head up to High Street.

From here there are views of Small Water and Blea Water, above Haweswater reservoir, and to my mind even better views of Hayeswater, which appeared first to our left, then appeared again from a different angle, a deep blue of a sapphire or lapis lazuli and laid out below us as if we were in an aeroplane. I look forward to swimming in there again sometime!

One of my favourite lakes

The next part of the run was probably the least interesting: over High Raise, Red Crag and on to Wether Hill, which we had run up to the previous weekend. By Loadpot Hill we felt that we were on familiar territory, and it was a case of only running/jogging a couple more miles across Barton Fell and Askham Fell back to Pooley Bridge.

We’ve been here before!

Someone was selling home-made and very delicious ice cream outside one of the closed pubs, so we treated ourselves (even though I still didn’t really feel like eating anything) before getting in Penny’s car to drive back to Troutbeck to get mine. As we drove along I contemplated how far we had come: it was ‘only’ about 14 miles – with about 980m of elevation in total – but somehow being in a car and looking up at the hills made me only feel prouder of what we had achieved, even if ultramarathoners make it look petty in comparison to the Lakeland 50 or 100 or the Bob Graham round. And before you ask, no, I have no aspiration even to do a marathon again let alone anything longer.

On the way home we stopped at Rydal Water for a swim: another lovely lake that I’d like to swim in again (preferably without stomach ache and in a swimsuit rather than sweaty running kit). The sun had come out at some point around Loadpot Hill and was still warming us: a family was having a barbecue further down the lake. I drove home, shocked by how low the water level was in Thirlmere reservoir (no wonder United Utilities keeps sending emails asking people to be careful of their water consumption), to slump in front of the television with a glass of wine, tired with that lovely tiredness where you know that when you get into bed you will just fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly.

I forget how many times we’ve both said how lucky we are to live in this amazingly beautiful county.

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 6/Furlough 3

Homeschooling

With a huge range of lessons, ideas, activities and support online you’d think it would be easy to home-school: but as almost every parent is finding, it’s not actually as easy as all that.

For a start, when has a child ever taken any notice of his or her parent as a teacher? Years ago there was no way my parents were going to teach me to drive; I attempted to teach Isabella piano at one point and we stopped after one lesson. My first day of homeschooling with Edward and Bella I had thought had gone quite well; however since then trying to get them to do anything has been an uphill battle (though once Edward has buckled down to something he normally gets on with it without demurring too much).

Bella is, fortunately, very self-motivated: she may not always study at a steady pace but when she puts her mind to it she throws herself into it. However having offered to teach her some French in order to help with the GCSE course (which she is doing outside school as school can’t timetable French for her), she told me she’d do it herself. The clear indication was that I was not good enough.

Edward then informed me that I was a ‘crap teacher’. This is because I taught him how to calculate areas and perimeters of triangles, squares and rectangles using some basic GCSE questions. Apparently I shouldn’t have done that… meanwhile Alex is teaching Edward history. Or at least, I thought he was teaching him about the First and possibly Second World War. In fact it is far, far more specific than that: Alex is teaching Edward about the development of weapons during that period. I think Edward’s historical perspective is going to be somewhat skewed…

Alex meanwhile insists he has nothing on and nothing to do, whilst admitting that he hadn’t looked at school emails for at least a week. He has at least signed up to a ‘MOOC’ (Massive Online Course or something) and it’s a topic he’s keen to study – the development of the British Army from 1815 onwards (notice a theme here?). However it’s already started so he’s going to wait for the next start date…

I hope he remembers to check when that might be…

Living alone – or not

Having had the boys for 3 or 4 days, Isabella came here when they went back to the house in Penrith. It meant that unusually, I haven’t actually been alone for about a week. It’s been nice having the kids separately and because Bella is old enough to leave on her own I’ve got out for a couple of runs: she’s also made me do more yoga as she has started doing yoga herself.

Meanwhile having finished Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English (which was absolutely brilliant, and enthralling from start to finish – and made me so grateful that I was born in a country where English is my native tongue, and I haven’t had to learn it!), I then read Alexander McCall Smith’s The Unbearable Lightness of Scones. I’d picked this up as a bit of ‘light’ reading but then found passages with some insightful and relevant comments on the human condition.

The first was this, which was applied primarily in the book to someone who lives alone:

“…there are many of us, surely, in that category; we may feel that we have numerous friends, but how many can we telephone with no purpose other than to chat?”

It made me think about the current ‘lockdown’ situation; about being alone myself at times; who I have been in touch with and who not. Over time it’s changed: there was a slightly frantic flurry of activity in the early weeks as we adjusted to this slower, quieter pace of life and in a slightly panic-stricken way did our utmost to stay in touch with people. I’ve found – and I don’t know whether this is true of most people or not – that whilst I’m still chatting to people, I’ve become a bit pickier about it, and that some of the people I’m in contact with the most are not necessarily the ones who I thought I might have been. It’s been brilliant to have zoom ‘drinks’ with Caroline and Jo, who otherwise I wouldn’t speak to for months: we’re currently talking to each other more or less once a fortnight. I’ve caught up with friends I haven’t spoken to for ages, such as Kath – and then I’ve had phone calls to friends who I might otherwise see for a run or at choir but who I wouldn’t normally ‘need’ to phone. Workwise I actually feel closer to the nationwide team of which I am part than I had before this all started; and my sister and I have been conversing far more than we would normally do (which is nice – we hated each other as kids but we’ve grown fonder of each other over the years).

Then nearly every time I’ve been out I’ve ‘bumped’ into someone I know, which has meant having the chance for a nice chat, or at least waving and saying ‘hi’ as I run past. And everybody but everybody has been generally friendlier – it was always the custom to say ‘hello’ as you walked or ran past people at the Tarn, but now everybody seems to be doing it all the time. I feel even more part of the community than I did before, despite being in my house a lot and at times alone for days at a time. Saturday was especially good as I spoke to a couple of friends in my garden. It’s sad not to be able to hug people, but great that we can still chat.

Boredom? The meaning of Life?

One of the characters in the Alexander McCall Smith book suddenly realises one afternoon that she has nothing to do, and she finds this unsettling and immediately starts to look around for another project: ideally one she can do from home.

It’s been crossing my mind the past few days that life has become like a constant weekend: no need to do anything at any particular time, or at all if you don’t want to. Is this what retirement is like? Are we given some sort of purpose in life by our jobs? It’s made me wonder what it must have been like in pre-industrial days, when ‘work’ would have meant, for some, surviving – finding enough food; ensuring warmth and shelter. We seem to have progressed to a stage where it is necessary to be using our brains and to be Doing Things in order to feel useful or important. Or is it partly so that we don’t have to face up to the reality that we are, in fact, no more than rather sophisticated (which in middle English meant adulterated/corrupted) animals ?

Bluebells

The bluebells are out in all their glory this week, and in fact I think look better than I’ve ever seen them. I had a lovely run through the woods down to Lanercost Bridge (there’s a plain modern bridge and then a rather lovely old packhorse bridge alongside it) with a haze of bluebells on the way back; then on Sunday I went for a walk round the Tarn with Edward and he did tree-climbing. Every time I go out I am conscious of the abundance of spring flowers, which never fail to lift my heart.

It’s always so good to get out and I am incredibly grateful – and relieved – that I can. I spent a day indoors last week, only going out to put something in the bin. Whilst I did extra yoga, it just wasn’t the same as being out in the spring sunshine and the countryside, and the day felt a bit weird – a bit incomplete. I’m resolved to continue to go out daily even if it starts raining soon!

Cold Cold Fell

Every time I’ve paused at Banks Turret to admire the view, it’s involved looking at Cold Fell directly in front of me, the Lake District fells a shadowy silhouette on the horizon. Whilst the Lake District fells look misty and a little dreamy, Cold Fell looms there barrenly.

It really does look cold, this most northerly slope of the Pennines, facing northwards like a giant sentry wanting to stop anyone who is thinking of travelling south. In the winter when snow has fallen it’s always the last of the local hills to lose its white covering; running up Talkin Fell and Simmerson Hill there was Cold Fell in the background, intriguing and yet not welcoming.

David, my ex-husband, used to run up there sometimes. He’d tell me how there weren’t any real tracks up there; the first time he’d thought about going up there we’d driven to Forest Head and he hadn’t been able to find his way up past the old abandoned mine workings (and I was rather relieved as I had visions of the ground suddenly opening beneath his feet, there are so many old mines and quarries and shake holes up there). I’d run or walked up Talkin Fell many times, and along the track which winds along the bottom of Cold Fell and then heads off to Newbiggin. But the opportunity to get up on to Cold Fell itself had eluded me.

Then I saw a route map for it in Trail Running magazine (and, on the back of the page, a route near Cautley Spout in the Howgills, which is another run I’d like to do) and waited for my chance. It came sooner than I thought: Penny and I want to run High Street from one end to the other but we want good weather for it. A running group party on a Saturday night meant she and her husband were in this area anyway: they stayed the night at my house, said husband headed home to do some work on the Sunday, and we went off to explore Cold Fell and see if we could find the route indicated in the magazine. I hasten to add that I took an OS map and a compass.

Funnily enough none of the others from the running group wanted to join us, so it was just the two of us who parked up at Jockey’s Shield and made our way up the steep initial incline in the direction of Gairs (a disused house which has been re-roofed in the past few years, but which still sits there empty, its windows blinded and characterless with stone infill). It was wet, even on the relatively stony track. However the sun was out, we both had goretex trainers, and we were filled with that optimism and sense of adventure you always have at the beginning of a run or walk when you’re off to explore somewhere new.

I have taken a photo from this spot SO many times!

Running (as much as we could on the boggy track) past Gairs, we rounded a corner and headed towards some cute cottages at Howgill, industrial heritage on our left – the old railway line is now used as part of the public footpath network – and a view of Tindale Tarn ahead of us. Around here the RSPB is planting a lot of new trees – you only need to look at a map to see from the names that once upon a time these fells would have been tree-covered, and that presumably the mining and quarrying activity denuded the slopes. It will be really interesting to come back in, say, 10 years’ time, to see how well the trees have become established.

Looking eastwards to Tindale Tarn. Far, far away in the distance is Newcastle (no, you can’t see it)

From the row of cottages (the usual internal debate: would I want to live here – it’s beautiful but remote and the cottages look the perfect size, but I’d have to drive everywhere, so no) we turned up towards the Bruthwaite Forest viewpoint, eventually getting to a moss-covered wooden sign signalling that we had arrived. There wasn’t much forest to see (see previous comment). It was quite steep and the ground was very rough, so we weren’t running much. Also the weather was changing and drifts of clouds were beginning to come in from the west, with a big bank of pale grey cloud looking a little threatening to the north-west (it was getting windy as well, so I was hoping it was going to pass straight over us).

We continued up the hill, stopping at one fence line to debate where we were (not as high as we thought) and aiming for a cairn on the skyline. As we got higher the ground got firmer and the frost still on the moss was making some of them look like pretty white flowers and some like white seaweed. The soil up here was black and peaty; the stream water crystal clear.

We could see another cairn on the skyline above us, which was more or less due south and therefore should be the top of Cold Fell. We stumbled across the peaty land which was criss-crossed with streams and ‘cliffs’ of peat – but probably a lot easier to cross today when the ground was hard with frost than when it was wetter. If you look on a map you can see that a lot of streams seem to spring up on Cold Fell – some running down from the area we were walking in, to run north – some from the area we were due to walk back through to run south. I felt a bit bad stamping across the heather and the moss, but there was no clear track and I guess if not many people go up there (which they don’t seem to), then it will spring back quickly enough.

One of the most beautiful sights despite the dull grey light which we were now walk/running in was a peat ‘cliff’ covered in icicles.

The cairn on the top is great – not only is there a trig point but also a stone shelter and then a large beehive shaped stone cairn, carefully constructed. We didn’t hang around however – there was a lone walker in the shelter already and we both got the impression that he was enjoying his solitary cup of coffee (or maybe soup), so we had a quick snack and rejoined the path back down the hill.

This time we were heading in a westerly direction back towards the track which leads more or less north-south past Gairs. Unfortunately I missed a right-hand turn in the fence and we ended up coming down the side of Tarnmonath Fell, slightly further south than we’d intended. It didn’t matter – we joined up with the same track – and as we carefully descended through the heather down a steep hillside, about 6 roe deer scattered to the winds below us. On the track we met a solitary walker/runner near the Gairs viewpoint sign. As we ran past him we said ‘hello’ cheerily but he didn’t seem particularly happy.

I was beginning to want just to be at the bottom of all the hills by now, as running/walking across the bumpy, boggy terrain had been quite energy sapping. Coming down from Cold Fell we had been following a track which would seem OK, and then suddenly a foot would disappear in a couple of inches of water. Somehow my shoes seem to keep my feet warm even when my socks are wet, but Penny was getting cold feet. As we turned to go down the final bit of track we bumped into a friend of mine and a friend of hers, and it was a relief to have an excuse to stop to have a chat and a breather. However we were soon off down the final slope – fortunately no longer icy – and before long were back at the River Gelt, which is gorgeous whatever the weather. I wish photos could just give you a couple of seconds of the atmosphere, with the water splashing and the birds singing (I guess a video would be better).

It had taken us about 3 and a half hours to do just over 16 km; as we discussed it on the way back to my house we thought we’d probably actually run about 50% of the route. However it was worth doing: it would make a great walk with the right footwear and clothing, but in terms of a run route it got a bit of a thumbs down!