Old and new

We are currently enjoying a spell of mostly warm, sunny, weather reminiscent of Lockdown One this time last year. Some of my friends were brave enough to go open water swimming last weekend; I plucked up the courage this weekend (with moral support).

Now that we are allowed out in groups of 6 and that most of my peers have had their first vaccine at least, people have got more relaxed about meeting up – outside – and it’s been great to see more of my friends once again. I have various whatsapp groups and some people belong to most or all of them. The chats have been great, but meeting up face to face is definitely best!

I met Clare at Chesters Roman Fort on Friday (my non-working day) and we wandered around the ruins and down by the river Tyne. Most Roman Fort sites, even if they all seem much the same, actually have something unique about their particular ruins. At Chesters it’s because it was a cavalry fort and you can see the barracks where the men slept with their horses; there are remains of the large parade ground; and remains of the bath house by the river.

It was lovely to be able to wander around the site and then to sit outside the cafe with a coffee and a sandwich.

On Saturday I met a volunteer for some of the Hadrian’s Wall sites. As everybody knows everybody around here, it was no surprise to have found out that we vaguely knew each other; but it was good to walk from Poltross Burn to Birdoswald and chat about all and sundry. She knows far more about the wall than I do and will be a superb volunteer; I then ran from Birdoswald via Gilsland along the wall trail to Walltown, and then back to Gilsland where I had left the car. I haven’t run that part of the wall route for several years, and it was lovely to retrace footsteps – this time on quite dry ground, whereas my memories of doing it before are of plenty of water-logged, sodden ground and of trying to stay on the higher parts of the path rather than in the bottom of what I think is the ‘vallum’ (the ditch the Romans built alongside the wall). I had in fact intended to attempt to run a half marathon but I’d misread the map and it was very warm so when I got to Walltown I ran round the labyrinth in the nature reserve there, and then turned back to Gilsland. It’s not a fast run – you cross the railway twice and there are lots of gates and stiles which slow you up, plus there were plenty of sheep being very protective of their lambs.

Today’s forecast was for cloud but we’ve had blue skies and sun all day. A group of us walked to Broomlee Lough for a swim, somewhere I’ve written about in this blog before and where I’ve just been waiting for the right time to swim. Today was the day, and it was glorious – the walk is pleasant without being too demanding, and takes in plenty of Hadrian’s Wall sites (depending which route you choose); the ground was mostly dry to get there; and then the lough itself………. there was a stony entry, but not for very far, and then a sandy bottom; we picnicked under a crag which was sheltered and sunny; and whilst it’s early in the year so the water was cold, it wasn’t unbearable. We were the only people there, so it felt like our own private lake.

Finally, in contrast to all the joy of the weekend, I played – on my new phone – a recording of me singing Dowland’s Flow My Tears, accompanied by talented guitarist Jim Booth. It was recorded at Bewcastle church when we were practicing for a series of concerts. Previously I’ve always found listening to myself uncomfortable and I definitely have not liked the sound of my own voice; listening to it again recently I feel fairly pleased with it – though of course listening to it more times I then pick up all sorts of faults, as is of course the trouble with listening to yourself sing. Unfortunately having tried to upload it here or to YouTube it’s the wrong file format, apparently, and I can’t. But in this year that I turn 60, I’d like to get my voice recorded a few more times as well as doing my ARSM: if I’m not too dissatisfied with the results I’m hoping to be able to turn them into a short film. Watch this space!

On my bike

Apart from a day when I ran along Hadrian’s Wall without a waterproof coat on, and got back home after about 15km drenched through to the skin and feeling miserable, the weather hasn’t been too bad lately (and the rain does at least mean the pond I’ve created has filled up). Cycling also feels like the easier option if I’m feeling a bit tired, and having given blood earlier in the week I still felt a bit lethargic. As Saturday dawned the weather looked glorious, so I decided a long bike ride was in order.

I didn’t set out to go fast but just to enjoy myself, and in fact as I cycled along I thought that there are the ‘exploratory’ runs and bike rides (and even swims), when you maybe try out a new route and just want to make the most of the weather and your freedom; and then there are the ‘training’ runs, rides and swims when you’re trying to push yourself a bit harder and perhaps to get a good time. Having only done one short bike ride since October, Saturday was definitely an exploratory day.

I’d found some rides which were based around Alston, but one of them looped through Brampton, so rather I decided I’d do the Brampton-Haltwhistle loop and miss out Alston, thereby also making it a bit shorter. Even so it looked as if it would be about 30 miles, which felt like about the right distance for this point in the year. Despite the sun I wrapped up fairly warm in my down jacket – although it wasn’t long before I’d unzipped it in order to cool down a bit and had taken my gloves off.

I cycled out along the A689 through Milton and Hallbankgate and then was on to road which I’d driven many times but never cycled. I passed the old railway line which links up with Pennine Way, and remembered running from there with Kerry when we were training for Kielder Marathon – that was a difficult day with a poorly waymarked and very soggy route. I looked over towards the North Pennines, passing the sign telling me it was an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and stopped to take a photo of the hills. Another cyclist passed me at that point and although I kept him in my sights for some time, he eventually was far away ahead of me.

You know how there are some places whose names appeal to you, and how there are roads that you drive past and think ‘I wonder what’s down there’? Lambley is one of those places for me. And today I finally cycled through it. It’s an incredibly pretty village, perched on the edge of the hill, and if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s miles from anywhere and has no shops or other facilities, it would be a gorgeous place to live. The road wound down to the South Tyne, where it crossed the river near a Mine Water Treatment plant. Seeing the South Tyne reminded me of when I ran from Alston along some of Isaac’s Tea Trail, including splashing through the Tyne. It struck me that in the summer this might be a good place to swim, though the river’s quite shallow so I’m not sure how far you’d be able to go.

Not far past the river – up a bit of a hill – I came to a car park and was able to join the Pennine Trail, an old railway line which presumably once went from mines at or near Lambley to Haltwhistle (I wonder if it also joined up with the line that goes to Alston – I imagine it probably did. Railway lines for the mines would have criss-crossed this landscape once). I was glad I was cycling my slightly sturdier roadbike and not my triathlon bike with its especially narrow tyres – in places the track was quite rough and at one point I had to walk for a couple of yards as the gravel was very deep and loose. But most of it was very cyclable, even if I did have to keep stopping to open gates or slowing up to avoid pedestrians – I started shouting ‘ding ding’ as I approached them in the end, which helped. As I passed him, one man very kindly shouted ‘ding ding’ to the next people in front of me. Needless to say with the glorious weather there were quite a few pedestrians about, especially as I approached Haltwhistle. I think the sun had made us all happy though.

At Featherstone you cycle past a pub (sadly closed at the moment, of course) and the old station platform, and then pass along a beautiful avenue of elegant silver birch trees. There is a Featherstone Castle, though whether this is a real castle and still exists or not I don’t know – perhaps something to explore another day. There are also some castle ruins near to the A69 according to the map – again I didn’t spot anything but I probably wasn’t looking in the right place.

From Haltwhistle there was a fairly long climb up to join the military road (the B6318) not far from Walltown Crags. As I came out on the top of the hill before dropping down into Greenhead I only had about another 8-10 miles to go, all through familiar territory – Gilsland, Birdoswald, Lanercost and back into Brampton, past the roman turrets, milecastles and fort that I have been to many times. As I looked over towards the west I stopped to take another photo, feeling quite emotional: this is my Home, this wide expanse of gorgeous countryside where countries and counties meet.

Birthday micro-adventures

A year ago some friends and I celebrated my birthday by swimming in Wastwater: and what came to be known affectionately as WastFest was born (https://runningin3time.wordpress.com/2019/09/16/ladies-of-the-lakes-4-and-wast-fest/).

The swimming has got a bit more energetic this year – going further, trying the water without wetsuits – but people who hadn’t swum in Wastwater before were keen to know why we were so enthusiastic about this lake. So 12th September was set as the date, and despite the rainy days preceding and the rather gloomy forecast, we set out – beating ‘The Rule of 6’ by just a couple of days.

Not surprisingly it was busier this year than previous years, with frequent cars passing us – though they were leaving the lake rather than heading towards it. Fortunately we had Tricia and Tim with us this year, who are used to camping – they brought a gazebo and that (well-tethered), along with an awning fixed to the back to stop the rain driving straight in, worked well. Two fires down on the beach area warmed us up after swimming, as well as cooking sausages, and Penny and Tim brought their smoker and produced a delicious smoked salmon.

We all agreed that it was just as good as last year, in a wetter, colder, more challenging way. I had been worried that it wouldn’t be as good this year as it had been so great last year – but the smiles on our faces say it all. I think it could well become an annual occurrence.

On Sunday I thought I’d allow myself a lazy day, and I decided to go up to Housesteads to recce Broomlee Lough. It was a beautiful sunny day – such a contrast to the day before! – and Housesteads and the Hadrian’s Wall path were busy. I followed the Hadrian’s Wall path to start with, and then crossed over an undulating area of rough grass to get to the lake. I passed the ruins of the north gate to Housesteads, and the ruins of Knag Burn gate, and could feel how imposing these gates would once have been to people approaching from the north.

The lough was stunning. It’s not terribly accessible – it probably took me 45 minutes to walk there, over mostly uneven ground – but once standing in the water in my wellies under Dove Crag, I could well imagine Roman soldiers on their time off, laughing and splashing in the water.

Part of me wished I had my wetsuit with me (which was still hanging up to dry from the previous evening), but it was incredibly windy and swimming would have been hard work. Also, part of the enjoyment of wild swimming is sharing that excitement and wonder with friends. One day I shall swim solo though.

I walked all the way round the lough, which wasn’t that easy – there was no path and it was quite marshy in places. An old corrugated metal boat house stood forlornly alone, rusting into oblivion.

I walked back towards the crags of the Whin Sill and once again was intimidated by the defensiveness of the Wall. The crags loomed above me and on top of that the wall, which would once have been 2 or 3 times the height, painted a blinding white, and bristling with soldiers. It gave out a clear message. But I could look back and see the playground of Broomlee Lough behind me.

Monday also dawned sunny and warm, without the wind, and as it was my birthday I had taken the day off. After yoga and a short run, Clare and Colin came round to make me lunch, which we sat outside to eat. I then went down to Penrith, where I met Penny, and we drove to Glenridding.

I previously wrote about running up to Grisedale Tarn and back; today we walked up, rucksacks on our backs laden with our wetsuits and related clobber. Penny had had the sense to bring water and sandwiches, which had completely escaped my mind.

The tarn was another one which was incredibly clean and clear; like Crummock Water there was a gently sloping stony shelf which suddenly dropped down into darkness. It was cold but all right so long as you kept swimming: Penny mentioned face freeze. Even so we swam about halfway up one side, across the Tarn and then back. As we swam lots of walkers came past or could be seen coming down from Hevellyn. Two groups started putting up tents: I’m not sure wild camping is actually allowed, especially at the moment, but you could see the appeal. I hope they took their rubbish home with them.

Walking down took almost as long as walking up, and with no signal (mobile or internet) I couldn’t phone my daughter until we reached the houses at the foot of the hills, to tell her I’d be home about 9p.m. (there was the usual request for something from the Co-op). In the typical way of teenage daughters she had complained that I was going out on my birthday – presumably instead of cooking her tea – and told me that there was no way she was going to say Happy Birthday to me. Having not gone out for a post-walk-and-swim drink with Penny (who also needed to get home to her husband anyway), it was disappointing to get home and find I had to start clearing up mess.

However it didn’t take long to smile about it: Clare and I had recently written a light-hearted poem jointly about children being vile. And the photos below are partly by me and partly by Penny.

What a brilliant way to spend a birthday.