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.

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.