The Cumbria Way in pieces (part four)

I’d had a week or so of feeling quite tired and low, and hadn’t got outside much. After the run along Hadrian’s Wall the weather had reverted to being a bit wet and miserable, and my mood matched it. I was also out quite a lot for work, which is enjoyable but does limit how much time I get for exercise – especially as the evenings are still dark and I don’t find it easy to motivate myself to run alone in the dark.

Anne told me it’s because we were in Pisces and that my mood would change after 21st March: which also happened to be Alex’s 18th birthday. Yes, my oldest child is now officially an adult. I cooked him and 6 of his friends a 4-course meal in celebration. They must have enjoyed it as he said he’d like to do it again, perhaps in the summer. Just for the record, the menu was:

Blini with a mix of smoked salmon, cream cheese, smoked trout mousse, trout caviar

– served with champagne

Roast beef with roasted root veg., roast potatoes, green veg., yorkshire puddings and gravy

– served with red wine

Berry Pavlova

– served with dessert wine

A selection of cheese and biscuits

– served with port

There was also a chocolate birthday cake, which didn’t get eaten on the day but taken into school the following day.

The weather turned warmer and sunnier and Penny and I decided it was time to do the next stage of the Cumbria Way: she suggested Langdale to Keswick. We again needed to leave one car at one end and one at the other, and the best bet looked like leaving one near the A66 just outside Portinscale and Keswick, and the other at Langdale. Having found a space for the first, what we hadn’t anticipated was that Langdale was heaving: however we were lucky and someone left the third car park, next to the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel, we tried just as we were circling it for a second time.

There’s a nice clear sign indicating that you’re on the right path at the start. I have to say that after this however, waymarking was sadly lacking. Every time I run part of the Cumbria Way I think of David (my ex) doing the entire thing a few years ago, some of it in the dark. It’s just as well he’s good at navigating.

The route wends its way along the Mickleden valley, the river bubbling away next to you, before you get to a junction. The righthand (western) leads up past one of the Angle Tarns (one I haven’t been to) before heading along/over Esk Pike and ultimately, if you want, to Scafell. The path we were taking was one which goes up the side of Stake Gill (ghyll?) and over Stake Pass towards Keswick. Once you’re at the top, High Raise is on your right and Glaramara on your left (if you’re going north). There are absolutely no roads up here, and you get a real sense of remoteness even though we saw quite a few walkers out and about.

A zigzag path leads down from Stake Pass: I loved running down this, but people with vertigo might not be quite so keen. And, of course, if you want to admire the view it’s better not to go too fast – get to the bottom too quickly and you miss out on the enjoyment. You can just see me in the photo (below) which Penny took.

Something I hadn’t appreciated – and didn’t get a photo of – is that once we were in the Langastrath valley at the bottom, we ran past Black Moss Pot, one of THE places to have a dip in terms of wild swimming in the Lake District. We saw plenty of places where we said ‘it would be nice to have a dip in there’, but didn’t take any photos of them. Am I becoming a little complacent about being able so easily to access these stunning locations?! I’m certainly not bored by them – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve thought or said ‘we’re so lucky to live here’ – but I do end up with 100s of rather similar-looking photographs. The wonderful landscape makes me all the more determined to stay fit and active as I get older, however: Penny and I had both had stressful weeks, and being out in this luscious scenery and running and feeling alive was the perfect antidote.

The path isn’t that easy to run as it’s quite rocky and uneven (we did wonder if the other side of the gill would have been easier) but it eventually comes out where the Langastrath Beck – the one we’d been following – joins either (according to the map) Greenup Gill or Willygrass Gill. I did take some photos here as the water bounds over the rocks. It’s obviously a bit of a tourist destination: only a short-ish walk from Stonethwaite or Rosthwaite and therefore fairly accessible from Keswick.

At Rosthwaite we found some public toilets, which is always useful, and ran past a barn serving tea and cake. It was tempting to stop but we’d already taken far longer than we expected and still weren’t at the bottom of Derwentwater.

We’d previously run a loop round this area from Grange and back, passing Castle Crags. The Cumbria Way uses a slightly more easterly route, which means not needing to go quite so far uphill again. There’s a short section on road in and just after Grange, before the path drops down towards the lake. This southern end of the lake is clearly quite marshy but also quite well-trodden, as it’s criss-crossed with boardwalks. It brought back memories of our ‘miles for Matt’ when we had run around Derwentwater as one of the 16 lakes for Penny’s 50th birthday: not long after the floods of 2015, as some bridges had needed rebuilding, including a footbridge over the Derwent where it flows into the lake at this end.

We didn’t need to cross that bridge today as we were already on the western side of the lake, and we were soon running along grassy paths, the lake gleaming on our right. It was getting late however, and we still had a few miles to go.

With tired legs we finally came out in Portinscale and walked round to Harry’s coffee stand. We had covered 25km (15.5 miles). It was good to get a drink and something to eat before getting in Penny’s car and driving back down to Langdale to fetch mine.

It was one of those days when it would have been lovely to have stayed out and relaxed into the evening: but Penny needed to get home to help Tim with their campervan and motorbikes, and I needed to get back to Keswick to take Alex to a friend’s party, to fetch Bella and to get home in time for a Sainsbury’s delivery. I made the Sainsbury’s delivery but Penny was late for Tim and I was about 10 minutes late dropping Alex off.

It had taken longer than we’d expected and we’d had all the extra miles to drive because of doing a linear route, but in terms of ‘headspace’ it was well worth it: as I said to Penny, if we hadn’t got out then we’d still have felt stressed from our working weeks. As I write this I’m at the Sage in Newcastle-Gateshead: it’s great to hear music and to be in a city (I had a lovely wander around the Quayside market earlier), but to really sort your head out nothing beats being out in stunning countryside in beautiful weather. I think next time we’ll aim for a shorter stage though!

6 at 60: Keswick trail race

I’ve just finished reading The Edge of the World: how the North Sea made us who we are (Michael Pye). It’s a fascinating ‘ramble’ (and I do NOT use that word pejoratively) around the countries surrounding the North Sea and through the centuries. The introduction starts in Scarborough but moves quickly and memorably to Domburg, and the various discoveries there of ancient remains including a temple to the goddess Nehalennia (who I had never heard of before). It continues by looking at the Frisians and the invention of money, and covers how money developed from paying for ‘things’ to purchasing more abstract items (insurance); it looks at the Vikings, those incredible explorers; and discusses politics, fashion, religion and travelling. It’s the sort of history book I love: a delve into social history and how the so-called dark ages evolved into modern life.

However there were certain thoughts that kept popping into my head as I read it. One was how human nature really does not change much. Another was that ‘back then’ people were always looking for signs about when the world would end. It struck me that we do that to a certain extent even now: there definitely is an ‘imminent disaster’ feeling about climate change. Whilst I do believe that climate change is real and has been exacerbated by human greed, at the same time the climate of the planet does change naturally from time to time – there were floods and famines in the past – and seeing signs that the world will end is nothing new. Don’t get me wrong – I believe fervently that we should be using fewer of this beautiful planet’s resources, and also taking more care of it; and I’m very conscious that as a ‘westerner’ I am one of the greedy guzzlers who uses so much of those resources.

The other theme that seemed topical was that of plague. The Black Death was as terrifying as Covid and as highly transmissable. The book has an entire chapter entitled ‘The Plague Laws’ and, having been published in 2014/15 states: “Like terrorism, like AIDS in our time, it settled in memory and panic and stung a sense of guilt into life”. It led to rules controlling travel and for a long time nobody knew what caused it nor how to prevent its spread. It has struck me often recently how a year and a half ago when Covid first became prevalent, there was a sense of panic but also perhaps our adrenalin was running high: certainly I was emotional when I first had to queue up at the supermarket, or had to queue outside an empty secondary school to pick up a Doctor’s prescription.

In terms of the series of trail races I’m running as one of my 6 at 60 challenges, there are still some safety precautions in place – likewise for choir. Lakeland Trails, who organise the races, ask that all entrants take a lateral flow test prior to racing; they also ask that we wear facemasks in the marquee, and provide hand sanitiser in the marquee.

Yesterday’s race took place at Keswick, in the heart of the Lake District. Having dropped the kids off at their Dad’s house, I thought I’d allowed plenty of time to park: after all the schools were back or going back on Monday, so could Keswick really be that busy? After driving around one car park twice I went to another – on the second loop I spotted someone leaving. Hooray! I paid for parking, ran through the town centre – the market was on, so it was busy – went to the toilet and registered and got to the start of the race a little flustered but with 10 minutes to go.

I’d opted for the mass start but a lot of people are still choosing to pick a time and do a wave start. Ironically, I think they’re limiting numbers to 30 for the wave starts and there were only 33 of us on the mass start… I seemed to be with a lot of young, fit, men and kept trying to make sure I didn’t start off too fast. After a short trot along the old railway line (now a multi-use track which I’ve previously cycled along – see https://runningin3time.wordpress.com/2021/03/28/return-to-the-lake-district/) we veered off to run up a gravelly track, which I think had been created to help with the tree clearing (the hillside looks denuded at present). We ran along an undulating track, but mostly uphill, around the southern side of Latrigg, and then along towards the Glenderaterra valley.

I’d run much of the course from this point several years ago: and conveniently had forgotten how it’s mostly a continuous but gradual uphill. At the northern end of the valley the route cuts up across the ‘Glenderaterra bogs’ – the long marsh grass lay underfoot like reeds, but hiding some very wet mud – and also at times stones. A young guy overtook me at one point and his left leg disappeared at the same time up to the ankle in mud. Through here even the young, fit runners were walking – and there was little room to overtake anyway.

At the top of the valley you cross a couple of streams and then after another short – but this time stony – uphill, you’re then on a gorgeous track which wends around Lonscale Fell – not much good for people with vertigo though – and then starts to go downhill. The car park on Latrigg was further away than I remembered, but at one point there was a lovely view of Derwentwater, and it’s basically downhill all the way – and the sun had come out. I’d previously run/walked up the path which goes up the northern/north western side of Latrigg, so it was great to be running down it. At one point I was overtaken by a very fast young man with rabbit ears on and an orange skirt. His t-shirt said ‘Matt’s Stag’.

By the time I got back to Fitz Park I was beginning to feel the effect of running 15km: but I knew that although plenty of young men had overtaken me (and a few older men), not many women had, and in fact I had overtaken a handful of people.

The results seem to indicate that out of the 33 people who did the mass start, I was 2nd woman, with a time of 1.42. That doesn’t really say much though – when I compare my time with the 335 people in all the wave starts it looks as if I would have come around 125th overall – and about 5th in the FV50 category.

If you’ve managed to read to the end of this with no photos, I hope you won’t mind if I now ‘advertise’ my fundraising page – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sarah-lewis-briggs I’m using my 6 at 60 challenges to raise money for Medecins sans Frontieres (sorry – haven’t worked out how to put accents in to wordpress) and it would be great if you felt like sponsoring me.

Meanwhile here’s a photo to brighten things up.