Water, water everywhere (almost)

The day started OK. Edward was playing football at William Howard – and looking surprisingly like a footballer, despite the fact that he has only played about twice in his entire life (he’s now keen to find a club to join). It was a bit chilly and the weather forecast was not good, but fortunately the actual rain held off while I watched him, chatted to one of the other Mums, and he handed out the scones he’d made yesterday. Food is always important to Edward…

At 11 a.m. David came to take over parental supervisory duties and I drove down to Coniston. As I went past various of the lakes it was already raining: Thirlmere still looked quite low, although there were plenty of streams rushing down into it, but the beaches usually apparent at Rydal Water had disappeared. Already the ground by Coniston Hall was looking muddy, and there were mats for cars to get a bit of grip as they drove on to the field. Remembering the time several of us had had problems getting off the parking area at Patterdale, I worried that we’d have a repeat performance: however there were so many of us I rather assumed (fingers crossed) that the organisers had got a backup plan in the event that tons of cars got stuck.

I kept on my double layer of clothing, warmed by the journey in the car with the heater on almost full blast, and went to get my number and go to the loo. En route it was good to see the smiling face of a guy from work – who I haven’t seen since before the first lockdown – and to have a brief catch up. Then it was back to the car to change into my waterproof jacket and to put my race number on before going to the start and sheltering under a tree: and another quick chat with the guy from work before the race began and he sped off.

The run starts off along the half marathon route but after the initial uphill bit towards the Coppermines, the two diverge. Today we went on past the Coppermines on a firm, wide and stony track which turned to go fairly steeply uphill. If I ran I overtook a few people; they then overtook me when I walked a bit (I also stopped to take a photo of a very noisy waterfall, although there was an even better one later on). I really do need to improve my uphills, but on the other hand at least by walking some of the steeper parts I conserve energy and then have more ‘in the tank’ for the downhills and flatter bits.

The track narrowed which was fine going uphill (everyone was walking) but then made it a bit tricky to overtake people once it had levelled out. I got chatting to a young guy, and then to a girl, both new to the run: and then started talking to a guy who turned out also to have turned 60 this year, and who played bass guitar and also did triathlon. I wasn’t sure whether he wanted to carry on talking to me and my shoe laces came undone anyway, so I dropped back a bit.

After a relatively long stony downhill bit, we hit some tarmac where the other 60-year-old went to overtake a couple of people and I ran past him. Across a field or two and I fell over in some mud in front of someone I’d just overtaken – by coincidence I met him at the end of the race as he turned out to be the brother in law of a friend of mine. (he has a bad knee so even completing a 15km run is impressive).

Along a narrow path that was more stream than path I overtook some more people before going past the friend-with-the-brother-in-law through the woods. It was probably mean of me not to slow up to chat, but he’s got a bad knee so even completing 15km is impressive and I don’t think he would have expected me to wait for him there.

We eventually came out on the lake shore path, which is relatively level, and my mind went briefly back to the day when Penny and I ran round the whole of Coniston as one of the 16 lakes at 50 (i.e. for her 50th birthday). I’d like to run round Coniston again – it was a nice route with very little on road. By now I was beginning to feel a bit tired but there were runners in front of me who I wanted to overtake. My competitive spirit has definitely re-appeared after several years of not being fit enough to be competitive!

Just before the end there was a stream running down into the lake, and the only way was through it (“we’re going on a bear hunt… we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we’ll have to go through it...splishy splashy splishy splashy“). There were some people standing there waiting for family and friends to run past: as I splashed into water up to my bottom I realised why (memories of the Crossbay Challenge, where you run through about 3 rivers).

There was nobody to see me over the line, but I went back to cheer on firstly the young guy (who avoided looking at me – perhaps I was too wet to be recognisable) and the 60-year old guy (who kind of smiled), and then Nick as he ran on despite his knee hurting. He reminds me of Penny: pushes through the pain. I’m not sure I would, and I’m not sure whether I’m intrinsically lazy or just self-protective. I respect people who keep going, and I can understand the frustration at having a long-term injury and wanting to get moving again. I guess I wasn’t terribly sensible after my caesareans…

After a cappuccino (with cream, biscoff syrup and two tiny biscuits) and a brief chat with Nick and his brother in law (the one I had fallen over in front of), I walked back to the car, keeping my fingers crossed that it would move. It did and I headed home in more pouring rain, with water oozing from me on to the seat and the heating up full blast again.

Post-lockdown but still viral; Loweswater

So often whatever I’m reading will seem to reflect thoughts of my own, or will put into words something I haven’t yet formulated myself.

I’ve been reading a lot of Alexander McCall Smith recently. Having gone through the ‘Bertie’/44 Scotland Street series, I’ve now read most of the Isabel Dalhousie series. They’re well written but an easy and enjoyable read, with references to art, philosophy, music and poetry – specifically WH Auden. The author really seems to be able to get under the skin of his characters, and the books are full of comments that strike a chord. It’s only with some restraint that I haven’t quoted widely from them previously!

However some comments particularly reverberated recently as I’ve been through a slightly introspective phase, worrying that I was upsetting people or that they didn’t like me. Whilst I’m rarely lonely, there are times when I’d like to meet up with someone or with a group of people, but I feel as if people forget that I spend a huge amount of time on my own: after all, it seems that most people in relationships are only too happy to have some time to themselves and envy me my solo time, but of course when they get time to themselves, or time to enjoy something with friends, they generally have someone to go home to talk to about their day, or to share thoughts with. So I felt that these two particular quotes were especially relevant to the strange times in which we find ourselves:

remember what you have and what other people don’t have

ordinary exchanges… the natural cement of any group… we need[ed] it… because we were lonely without such exchanges“.

So recently I’ve rather felt the lack of choir, the running group and chatting to people across the desk or in the kitchen at work. But I’m fortunate in that I have still been able to go running with Penny – and Anne is now starting to join us from time to time as well, as she needs to get some off-road training in for Coniston 10km this October – and that last Saturday the weather was unexpectedly good enough to go open water swimming.

Three of us headed towards Crummock Water. Having just turned off the road which goes to Loweswater, a car coming in the opposite direction stopped us and said there had been a crash up ahead and the road was blocked. We decided to turn round and try out Loweswater instead.

This relatively small lake has had significant problems in terms of water quality over recent years, and has been one of the West Cumbria Rivers Trust’s priorities for improvement, with the Environment Agency monitoring water quality regularly. However Jo had been given a book for her birthday which recommended it: “come on in, the water’s lovely“, so having initially suggested we remove it from our list of lakes, it had been left on.

The writer of the book (Suzanna Cruickshank) was quite right: not only did we find a parking space near to the lake and close to a small beach area, but the water was lovely: and also relatively warm as the lake is quite shallow. We swam out to the EA’s pontoon and back, and then took our wetsuits off and carried on in the water, swimming and chatting. We were in the water for about an hour in total, and then sat on the beach eating cake and shortbread (I had made a cherry bakewell cake – a recipe I hadn’t used since David’s 39th birthday, a few months before he left 6 years ago).

We were so enthusiastic about Loweswater that it was clear it was going to score quite highly on our score card, and indeed it’s up there with Wastwater, Bowscale tarn and Harrop tarn. All of the lake district lakes and tarns are beautiful and we are so lucky to live so near them – but some are definitely more beautiful than others!

The Lake District: on two wheels and two feet

The first time I ever visited the Lake District was for a mountain biking weekend one cold but sunny November. It was the days before digital cameras, so the photo of me falling into a stream as I tried to cycle through it is buried in an album somewhere: but what I do remember is that the weather was beautiful and that I immediately fell in love with the area.

Living in Cumbria (it’s 12 years next month), I still love the county and a trip to the Lakes usually engenders feelings of going on holiday, even if only for a half day. There’s also plenty I have yet to explore and to learn.

Despite my pre-children mountain biking weekends all those years ago, I haven’t cycled much in the area. So when my friend Jeremy suggested a 20-mile bike ride in Borrowdale and around Derwentwater I accepted eagerly.

He picked up my bike, Edward and me in his van and having dropped Edward at school we drove down to Keswick. As we cycled up the Borrowdale valley I thought back to running around and swimming in Derwentwater, and how each activity gives a slightly different aspect to the lake and its valley. The river near Grange was higher than it had been when Penny and I ran from Grange to Seatoller and back but whilst it was cooler, the weather was dry. We stopped to admire the Bowder Stone, which I hadn’t seen before, and its new steps, as someone Jeremy knows had something to do with them. I tried to imagine Victorian women in crinolines climbing up to admire the view, parasols in hand, and was glad to be clad in flexible lycra.

We cycled as far as the NT farm and cottages at Seathwaite before turning round and retracing our wheels to Grange. Here we turned to the west to go up the road that runs along the foot of Cat Bells, and I thought back to swimming in Derwentwater below there just a few months ago. I have loads of similar photos but it’s such a lovely view and one of my favourite lakes, by now dressed in its autumnal colours. How rapidly the seasons change and the temperature drops: various hardy swimmers are still open water swimming (without wetsuits) even now, and will continue throughout the winter, but I’m not yet anything like acclimatised!

We cycled back through Portinscale, discussing wanting to try some of the mountain passes and debating which would be the best to try first, and arrived back in Keswick in plenty of time for cake (Jeremy) and smashed avocado (etc. – me). On the way home we dropped into Rheged to look at Jeremy’s exhibit in a national landscape exhibition: I’ll leave the photos to tell their own story. I love the way Rheged have positioned it so the light creates a map in the shadow.

Only a short while later and I was down in the Lake District again, this time based at Monk Coniston for an assessment weekend to see whether I’d be good enough to be a walking holiday leader. As I drove down – over the Kirkstone Pass, as I love that route and it’s the most direct – the sun was setting and there was Windermere below me, shining as the sun went down. I never tire of getting to the top of the Kirkstone Pass and seeing the lake all the way down below me – I rarely stop to take a photo though.

I felt a little apprehensive about the weekend but before long Rachel, the other woman on the assessment (there were 3 men as well), and I were chatting away, comparing notes about 3 children, being divorced and life generally.

The following day the two of us were walking with Paul while the 3 men went off with a different assessor. We headed in a north-westerly direction up the Yewdale valley, alongside the Yewdale Beck for much of the way and seeing lots of remains of mines and quarries – we stopped for coffee in one, gazing around a corner at snow on the higher fells. There was a real feeling of human industry having returned to nature.

That evening was night navigation and we spent an enjoyable couple of hours trying to find our way in the dark up to Tarn Hows and back. I realised that either the battery on my headtorch was getting a bit low (it’s rechargeable) or I need a better headtorch; and we ‘calibrated’ my paces – I now know that c.63 of my double paces equals 100m.

The following day all 5 of us ‘candidates’ were out together with two assessors, starting at the New Dungeon Ghyll and walking up towards the Langdale Pikes. I had never walked further than the first waterfalls and pools before, and the stunning weather – the sky was a vivid cloudless blue until the afternoon – combined with the beauty of the fells made for a hugely enjoyable walk. I’m really looking forward to next summer and swimming in Stickle Tarn; there was also a small pool looking over Stickle Tarn: both reflected the sky and fells like mirrors. One day I shall do the entire Pavey Ark – Harrison Stickle – Pike of Stickle walk.

As we walked back down I could see Blea Tarn in the distance, and again thought back to swimming there not so very long ago. We could also see Windermere and Morecambe Bay, including Heysham power station; there’s something very gratifying about being able to orientate yourself because you recognise landscape features.

While writing this I’m studying the map again and my eyes are caught by ‘Castle Howe’ and ‘Ting Mound’ at the eastern end of the Wrynose Pass (the pass of my 3-hour wait for the breakdown lorry after swimming in Wastwater). Googling what they were, I discover that this could be an iron age fort of some sort and that the Ting Mound was used in the 7th-9th centuries as an open air meeting place. Apparently the route through Wrynose Pass might have been in use since neolithic times.

Perhaps this is what appeals to me most of all about living in this fairly remote, underpopulated part of the UK. The relative lack of development means that history of all periods surrounds you: the neolithic route and iron age hill fort; the roads, forts and great wall of the Romans; the names of Saxon and Viking settlements; the ruined castles of medieval times; the industrial archaeology of the Elizabethans and Georgians; and the tourism industry which more or less started with Wordsworth and continues to this day. The multiple layers of varying waves of human interest and influence; but over it all nature continuing with its own awe-inspiring beauty, ranging from the grandeur of the highest fells to the delicacy of a mountain flower.

Ladies of the Lakes – 2 and 3

I’ve always been somewhat put off swimming in Ullswater by going out one evening with a triathlon club. The idea was to swim across the lake and back. It was colder than I’d expected; it was choppy (one person actually got out on to the boat accompanying us, she felt so sick); at one point the steamer went past; and I was right at the back of a bunch of serious, ironman-training triathletes. I also had visions of great pike shooting up from the bottom of the lake to nibble my toes, or worse. The fact that it is almost 200 ft. (63 m) deep in the middle didn’t console me much either.

I knew it would make more sense to swim up and down parallel to the shore rather than straight across the lake, and having swum in Bassenthwaite, Crummock Water (twice) and attempted Derwentwater (muddy), I was feeling somewhat more optimistic about Ullswater: and Anne had confirmed that she knew a really good place to swim.

So, one rather rainy Saturday – we were going to get wet anyway – Anne, Jo and I travelled down to Sandwick towards the south-east corner of the lake. I hadn’t driven down here before although I’ve run round there twice – in fact the cottages there were what made me comment to Penny on our ’16 lakes runs’ that I’d like to live in the Lake District one day. There’s a group of about 4 or 5 houses with a nice grass verge where you can park (though I’m not sure the householders would be that happy to have that widely advertised). It’s then a short walk over a rushing stream and through a field to a little beach. The path is part of the Ullswater Way, so we felt quite public as we got changed – and a family had chosen that point to stop at the picnic table provided so we probably bothered them as much as they bothered us.

It was definitely a wetsuits day, and Anne had even bought a pair of gloves – something I must invest in (I have to admit to wanting some Huub ones to go with my Huub wetsuit). Jo had a new wetsuit, having tried a secondhand boy’s shortie wetsuit in Crummock and also having enjoyed open water swimming enough to want to come along again. We swam up and down a fair amount in a slightly farmland-ish setting, walkers going past on a fairly regular basis and commenting. It was all really friendly though if what you wanted was a ‘get away from it all’ experience, this wouldn’t be the one.

So far the weather had been kind to us: despite the frequent rain showers of the previous few days it had been mostly sunny. We got out – we have set a criteria that we must be in the water for at least 30 minutes (even if we get out in the middle and then go in again) – and got changed and at that moment there was a sudden but brief downpour. Fortunately the trees around the lake and the beach sheltered us and after only a few minutes we started the walk back to the car, where we had some sandwiches etc. About 10 minutes later the heavens opened in earnest and we leapt into the car and headed home.

Unfortunately Jo wasn’t able to come with us the following weekend (I was due to have the kids, but my ex had taken them away) and we’d decided we’d do Wastwater. This is another daunting lake. The scree slopes glower over the water on the southern side, and at times the water can look black. There’s not a huge amount of vegetation around the lake either, which perhaps adds to its starkly majestic feel: it’s not as enclosed by woods as many of the lakes are.

Wastwater is the deepest lake in England so if anything I should have felt more nervous about it than I did about Ullswater. However it doesn’t have a steamer going up and down (and potentially likely to chop you up), which helped, and I had seen people kayaking, diving etc. from the other side. My aim was to park near where Penny & I had parked when we ran round the lake. Having had incredibly heavy rain earlier in the week (the rivers were looking full to bursting), Friday had turned hot and sunny with forecasts of some of the highest temperatures ever for the bank holiday weekend.

The weather forecast was right and Saturday was glorious. As a result Wastwater was heaving – at least, heaving for a relatively remote Lake District lake which can only be directly reached from the western edges of Cumbria (there’s one road in which comes to a dead end at Wasdale Head, where Red Pike, Great Gable and Scafell Pike look down over the lake). However due to the lake’s rather daunting reputation, having plenty of people around was good rather than bad, and we joined the groups around a bay with an island in it.

The water was beautifully clear, and you get into the lake via stony beaches. The water was so clear that swimming across to the island you could see below easily: there weren’t any weeds until we were in about 8′ of water (I didn’t feel them beneath my feet when I put my feet down) and you could see some sort of pipeline running along the lake bottom. We swam out to and round the island before having a picnic lunch; and then got back in again. While Anne swam round to the next bay, I swam round to the next bay and then to the island and back again.

I felt that my swimming was improving: I haven’t swum regularly for so long that my stamina isn’t great, but these swims are giving me the confidence to know that if I did more training I’d feel like tackling a triathlon again.

Ambleside in the distance – so near and yet so far

We drove back over Hardknott and Wrynose passes: a narrow, hairpin route with stunning views. Just over the top of Wrynose I pulled in to allow a cyclist more room to go past: and burst my nearside front tyre on a rock. We spent the next 3 hours looking as if we were having a picnic admiring the view towards Ambleside from the top of Wrynose and acting like police officers making sure nobody came round the corner too fast and straight into the back of my car. When the breakdown van finally turned up it took the guy less than 10 minutes to put my spare wheel on: and I was extremely glad I hadn’t tried to do it myself, as even with wooden blocks behind the back wheels and a rock in front of the offside front, the car shifted a bit as he jacked it up (the first guy who had gone past us had said we were on too steep a slope to change the wheel).

We got back to my house hours later than intended but Anne’s lovely husband Mark had good-naturedly driven down from their house (he had had a long journey back from London already that day) to look after the kittens, who I had left outside all day and who I thought might be rather hungry. As we sat and had some food and drinks, we discussed our scoring system for the lakes and came up with a scorecard which gives marks out of 70 for each one. So far Wastwater is in the lead, Crummock Water second and Ullswater last. Wastwater had been utterly superb: so superb that I’m hoping to get a group down there for a sunset swim and picnic on my birthday in a couple of weeks’ time.

An almost-bonus lake

and a new challenge (or two)

“What run shall we do next?” and “so what’s your next challenge?” were questions running around in my head unanswered. That’s the trouble when you’ve achieved a goal: it can be a bit of an anti-climax, like the weird time after exams when all of a sudden there’s extra time and you’re not quite sure what to do with yourself.

Fortunately with ‘exercise’ type goals there doesn’t ever seem to be an end. Even for ultra-marathoners there’s always that new race to do or a set-back such as an injury or illness can mean going back a few steps and having to start again. So it wasn’t long before – almost accidentally – a couple of new challenges popped their heads up.

One of the challenges to decide on is for the year I turn 60. The year I turned 50 I had a baby, and so the following year I attempted Kielder marathon (having said I’d never run a marathon), just after I turned 51. For my 60th birthday I was recently reading something which gave me the idea for a cycling and walking challenge – but it’s still more than two years away and so far it’s only an initial idea, so I won’t say any more here and now.

But back to the Lakes. Penny wanted to go for a run, as did I. She’d been on holiday with her husband and then to Lundy for a weekend with a friend, and in between the two her mother had died. She’d done very little running but also, I sensed, needed to get up into the hills for a run. I made a few suggestions based around the fact that at some point we both want to run the entire length of High Street, from Pooley Bridge to Ambleside (c. 23 miles ‘from Fort to Fort’). Penny pointed out that Askham Fell would be really wet, so we opted to drive down to the car park at Brotherswater, just south of Patterdale, and run from Hartsop and up past to Hayeswater to High Street and then back down.

The track goes uphill from the beginning, alongside the Gill which splashes down in leaps and small waterfalls from the lake, which is at 425m (1,400 ft). Towards the top just before we met the lake, there was a small pool which, had the weather been warmer, would have been tempting to splash or swim in.

Whilst we were warm from ascending the track (at a walk rather than a run I must add!), there was a strong wind and I was beginning to wonder about the advisability of going up on to High Street, which we could see ahead of us and which would be very exposed. We’d been through one rain shower already, you hear frequently on the local news about the unwary being caught out and about people being blown off hilltop ridges, and all the people we met were going in the other direction to us – i.e. downhill. It may have been my imagination but I got the impression that they thought we were nuts, if not even totally irresponsible, to be out on the hills in running gear when the weather was so changeable.

The lake itself is beautiful: the slopes plunge down into it in a way reminiscent but not as grey or threatening as Wastwater – the scree is surrounded by grass, giving the valley a softer impression than Wastwater. The wind was rushing through the valley and we headed to where we thought there was a bridge over the stream, which showed that there was then a clear route up to Great Knott and High Street. Although the Gill looked ford-able at this point, we decided that today was not really a day for getting soaking wet (i.e. accidentally falling in), and instead turned back a short way to a foot bridge. Having been reading up about Hayeswater in order to write this post, it seems that when United Utilities stopped using Hayeswater as a reservoir, the National Trust took over and installed a micro hydro-electric scheme and carried out repairs to the footbridge and tracks. The scheme is not visible: photos on the National Trust webpage show a small powerhouse looking like a traditional barn.

From the footbridge we could see some walkers coming down from the High Street direction, and we followed a slightly indistinct grassy path uphill towards them, before joining a better path higher up. The wind had not lessened, and Penny pointed out another track to our left, heading in a northerly direction. We passed this and went higher up – stunning views of Hayeswater and a brief lull in the wind meant we were able to open the map. Deciding being safe was better than going up on to High Street, which would be exposed on both sides, we turned a few yards back to this other path.

This was a joy to run on. A stony path headed downhill, clearly manmade, and continued to undulate over the hills to Angle Tarn, splashing occasionally through some small becks. The wind was still strong – I had to borrow Penny’s buff as I couldn’t see for my swirling hair – and pushed us against the hill, but it at least meant that the rainclouds which we could see in the west got blown away over us without us getting wet.

Neither of us had been along this track before and we were both enjoying it. At Angle Tarn we spotted a little red tent and we both commented on what a lovely place it would to camp; the Tarn itself looked gorgeous on this sunny blustery day, its wiggly edges surrounding a few islets. Somewhere else to go wild swimming when it’s warmer.

From here the path wound its way up and round until suddenly a wide grassy pass opened out before us: my first thoughts were ‘the promised land’. I could imagine being a weary foot traveller, slogging through the mountains, to suddenly come out on these verdant meadows, still high enough for spectacular views towards the separate ends of Ullswater, but with a less wild, isolated and rugged feeling than previously. Perhaps not surprisingly we came out on to a small level area where there were signs of industry – there had clearly once been a power supply or something here, and there was further evidence of this as we descended a stony and initially steep track down towards Patterdale and the valley floor.

We ignored the track which went down into Patterdale itself and instead headed in a southerly direction down and back towards Hartsop, passing Hartsop Fold holiday lodges (I commented how much nicer these looked than those green plasticky ones you see so often around the Lake District). A short jog back along the road and we were at the car, talking about doing the run again but taking the route we had originally intended; debating how far it was along High Street Roman Road; and commenting on how this was a potential ‘bonus lake’, reiterating how lovely it was, and how lovely to see bits of the Lake District we hadn’t before. The comment ‘this is why we live here’ is one which we’ve both stated plenty of times while out running. There is little that can beat being out exploring this gorgeous landscape under your own steam: in all weathers, but especially when the weather is good.

We had covered about 6.4 miles but as we headed towards the bar of the hotel in Glenridding for a quick drink before going home, we also discovered and agreed on our next challenge: to try, each time we go running in the Lake District, to run (off-road) routes that we haven’t run before.

I think we’ll have a lot of options!

Easter at Brothers Water

After our mammoth efforts around Windermere we only had two more lakes to go of the list that Penny had set – though in fact if we chose to run around all the lakes, waters and tarns of Cumbria we should officially also run around Kielder Water (26 miles) and the list of small tarns is almost endless.  As she had run around Brotherswater on her own at the very beginning of the challenge, when the opportunity arose for me to run around it, I decided it was time that I set out.

It was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon by the time I got to the car park at Cow Bridge, having left the children with David (my ex-husband) at Rheged. This Easter weekend had not only been sunny but warm, with almost summery temperatures, so the Lake District was busy and Edward had already been in the water at Pooley Bridge.  I wasn’t sure there would be parking spaces available but in fact because it was later on in the afternoon and also because Brotherswater is a little off the beaten track, there were several spaces available and I parked easily. 

The car park is on a corner of the road near an old bridge and an old road – presumably the route of the road was ‘improved’ at some point to make the corner less sharp and/or to put in a new bridge, and it created a piece of land with enough space for parking either side of the Goldrill Beck, which flows out of the lake.   I was running clockwise around the lake as from what Penny had told me it sounded as if that would be the easier way to find the path, and I started out along the road which at that point has a pavement.

It wasn’t long before I noticed a pedestrian gate and a path running alongside a field.  This meandered along next to the road but protected from it by a stone wall, and came out at Skyeside Campside. Penny said when she had run along here it had been overgrown and difficult to see the path, so fortunately it looked as if someone had done some maintenance.  I stopped to check that I was on the right route at the campsite reception-cum-shop area: the public footpath goes straight across the campsite, which today was busy due not only to the long weekend but also to the glorious weather. 

Going through a gate you run across National Trust land heading towards Hartsop Hall, a working farm and holiday cottages.  The farm house is grade 1 listed and significant as being one of the earliest remaining farmhouses in the Lake District.  The listing document describes it as a “typical larger Lakeland farmhouse in typically magnificent setting”, and provides the details that the original house dates from the 16th century with wings added in the 17th and 18th centuries.  With the sun shining, spring bursting forth – lambs chasing each other around the fields while their mothers sat contentedly in the warmth – and the lake, it was indeed a beautiful setting and once more I was grateful for these runs and for the areas of the countryside I had seen which I hadn’t seen before.

A good public path then goes straight down the western side of the lake back to the car park, with plenty of alternative route options if you want to go further, perhaps exploring the woods or walking through to Patterdale.  This side of the lake in particular was gorgeous.  As I ran, thoughts and feelings spilled through my head: that when the weather is a beautiful as this I just want to stay outside for hours and hours, which is partly why the long runs are so great (the only thing I really hate is being wet, particularly if I’m cold as well); that I had driven past Brotherswater lots of times but this was the first time I’d actually stopped, slowed up and taken account of the actual lake and its surroundings, instead of hareing up the Kirkstone Pass; and most of all I felt a renewed love of Cumbria and of the Lake District in particular.  When David and I moved to Cumbria it was because we loved the Lake District: frustrations at home, working in Newcastle and travelling around Northumberland and Yorkshire had made me wonder about moving to the North East or to Yorkshire. Running around Windermere and then Brotherswater confirmed to me that this is where my heart is. I’m not sure how accurate DNA ‘ancestry’ tests are but mine showed a strong Celtic heritage, including not only the west country but Wales and what is now Cumbria.  Is there some sort of ‘tribal memory’ which sometimes means that you find yourself in a place where you just feel completely rooted; a part of the entire fabric of the place?  Who knows.

I passed few people around Brotherswater despite the call to be outdoors; and I sat later in happy solitude by the beck and just soaked up the views and the sunshine.  An undulating path lead a golden track up the hill behind Hartsop village and I wanted to follow it to discover where it went (up to High Street perhaps – a route I want to follow from end to end sometime) and what views there might be from the top.  And I harked back to singing in Patterdale church, intending to concentrate on the conductor but instead finding my eyes constantly drawn through the church windows to the hills beyond: the very hills I was now looking at from a lake.

It was only a short run – disappointingly so for a day when I wanted just to sit outside until it grew dark and cold, when I had no pressing need to rush home – so after contemplating life for a while I went into Glenridding, bought myself a drink and sat and read my book in the early evening sun.

Haweswater – 2/16

I had completely forgotten that I had said I’d go running with my friend Penny on Friday 13th April – instead she stayed at work late and I went out drinking prosecco at another friend’s exhibition opening.  As it turned out it was the right decision however, as Friday was rather a rainy day and Saturday 14th, when we ended up running, was glorious.

I hadn’t really been to Haweswater properly before.  I’d driven as far as the hotel to fetch a soaking wet ex-husband (when he was still my husband) when he was training for the Lakeland 50; I’d cycled through nearby Bampton; and I’d read the novel about the building of the dam and flooding of the village of Mardale (and not really thought that much of it – the novel, that is).  So this was the first time I’d actually seen the lake properly ‘up close and personal’ as it were.

I should perhaps explain why I was here, about to run 10 miles around a lake I hardly knew, and feeling a little the worse for wear from prosecco consumption.  Penny turns 50 this year and wanted a challenge.  After thinking about it for a while she decided that her challenge would be running round all 16 of the largest lake district lakes.  As we’ve been running partners, on and off, for several years now – we became friends because we started going running together some work lunchtimes – I got roped in too.  And actually to be honest I’d probably have been a bit disappointed if I hadn’t been, even though the longest run looks as if it’s going to be 40 miles around Windermere…

Hence the 2/16 in the title – Crummock Water was 1/16 when we did Buttermere Trail Race a couple of weeks ago (in fact Penny has also run Brotherswater recently so I suppose strictly this should be 3/16 but I think I’ll number them according to when I do them and write them up).

We parked at Burn Banks, a village which was built as a temporary village for dam workers.  The temporary houses (which apparently had cast iron frames, which you’d imagine would go rusty) mostly look as they’ve now been replaced – either reclad or completely replaced – some in particular now providing rather fine residences.  In some ways it would be a lovely place to live – in other ways it might be a bit too remote and potentially cut off in hard winters.

Burn Banks is at the north-east end of the lake, the end where the dam is and where the road heads out into ‘the rest of the world’ along a beautiful valley which the river Lowther flows through.  The walk along this northern shore of the Lake is actually part of the Coast to Coast walk so it’s well-waymarked and easy to follow.  You start running along by the trees – we thought we spotted a red squirrel though he was so still it was difficult to tell, but I don’t think it was just an overgrown pinecone.  There’s a also a deer fence though we didn’t see any deer in this particular area of lakeshore.


There are absolutely loads of waterfalls and streams to cross over; as we’d had a fair amount of rain recently the rocks were a bit slippy in some places.  The water was sparklingly clean; I would really like to have swum or paddled in some of it, though of course it would still be freezing cold at this time of year (there is still snow high up on the fells) and also you’re not allowed to as they try to prevent any type of dirt getting into the lake at all – obviously it means fewer chemicals needed to treat it for the folk in Manchester to drink if they don’t have too much contamination.

My overindulgence in prosecco had gone along with not having any supper, so I was beginning to feel a bit wobbly by here (already!).  Hooray for raspberry flapjacks!  Flapjacks and cheese bagels are probably my go-to food for long runs: if I eat too much I just end up feeling uncomfortable if not downright ill, but nor is running on a completely empty stomach (well, 2 coffees) much good either.

We met a few people coming in the other direction, mostly male.  Penny commented that she felt she should carry a survey with her “are you single?  do you live round here?” etc. – we both have estranged husbands and recovering broken hearts and it shows that it was a light-hearted happy sort of day that we were joking about how to find the next men in our lives… but this was the sort of day when people generally were in a good mood, so everyone we met had the potential to be a friend.

A lovely stony descent – my favourite sort of running as it’s about the only time I’m faster than Penny – and we came down to the southern end of Haweswater and our halfway mark.  Here a path which we guessed might be quite an old path is marked by upright stones, and several small rivers flow into the lake.  One had loads of tiny tadpoles spilling around the stones: I tried not to tread on any but it wasn’t that easy to miss them as you had to step into the water whether or not you wanted to.  One of the rivers flows down from Blea Tarn which is in a corrie up towards High Street which looms in the background; one down from the quaintly-named Small Water.

Haweswater 14th April (14)

We sat on some warm stones overlooking the popular car park, ate flapjack, drank water and watched cyclists coming down from the pass.  Some had those motorbike-type tyres which must be a complete pain on the road; another had a self-built tricycle with the two wheels at the front rather than the back.  We had a chat to him as we jogged past him, as he was putting his bike into the back of his car – but I’m still not totally clear why he wanted two wheels at the front rather than the back.  He said he’d been working on the bike 5 hours a day, every day.  It’ll be interesting to see if it makes it into the shops…  I think he was pleased we showed some interest though, and he gave us a friendly wave when he passed us not long afterwards as we tried to find the path.

Haweswater 14th April (16)

The map seemed to show a path along this other side of the lake, and we could see what looked like a path from the road.  In the end we got off the road and tried to follow a trail, but it’s not to be recommended; it was on quite a camber when we could find it, had fallen away in places and then further along the lake was overgrown with brambles.  However we did see a deer and there were daffodils and primroses popping up all over the place and in quite surprising places.  It was no surprise finally to get to a gate and find there was a sign on it saying the path was closed for health and safety reasons!  They could do with taking down the signage and the remains of footbridges though really so that idiots like Penny and I who spot what looks like a path from the road, are not tempted to try to follow it.  It reminded me of when I was working in the Pyrenees and trying to find new routes for holiday makers – one time we got in a stream and followed it as the path had completely vanished.

The last few miles were on road – and downhill – so we were able to keep up a steady pace, though neither of us is a keen roadrunner and we would far prefer being on trails.  As we ran through the trees back to the car park we met a (male) runner we had been past earlier – he had gone round the lake in the other direction to us, and taken the road for the first half (we recognised him because he had an orange top, his dog had a matching orange jacket, and he had a nice smile).  “Oh yes”, he said “that path has been closed for two or three years”.  It’s a pity as it would be lovely to be able to get around the entire lake without having to go on the road.  You can just spot him in the photo below.

Haweswater 14th April (17)So there we were, finally back at the car after a ridiculously long amount of time, as we’d walked probably a good 4 miles or so of the run.  But we could say we’d done it – we had run, or attempted to, round all of Haweswater.  The first half would be a great run for the Head Torches bunch…

We celebrated by trying to go to the Mill Cafe at Morland for lunch, or whatever you call lunch when it’s almost tea-time, but they had stopped serving – so instead we went somewhere I have been meaning to go for ages, and which was absolutely stunning (though they were only serving drinks and cakes): Larch Cottage Nursery.  The italio-phile in me absolutely loved it, and it was the perfect afternoon for lazing around having tea and cake and then doing a bit of window shopping.  I shall be going there again…

And my mood of despondency which I’d woken up in had completely lifted.  Hooray for running, friendship, nature, sunshine and cake!


Buttermere and Crummock Water

I ran round Buttermere several years ago, while the two older children cycled.  My memory was of a relatively level path through woods on the lower side of the lake (and of Bella having several paddies even about small hills on her bike while Alex shot ahead), a farmyard at the end, and then a long slog chivvying and trying to keep safe, two young children on bikes back along a narrow road on the northern side of the lake.  It didn’t seem to be that far and having just done Cartmel 10km I thought Buttermere trail race wouldn’t be a problem.

I had been entered almost before I knew it and before I realised that it was 10 miles and that you don’t go around Buttermere but in fact along the edge of Buttermere before turning back to go around Crummock Water.  But hey, I’d done 10 miles before, and the gruelling but stunning Howgills half marathon last May… could it really be that hard?

There was the usual ‘what shall I wear’ dilemma.  It’s almost as bad preparing for a run as it is for a party or a hot date.  It was going to prove to be one of those days which start of freezing and end up really warm… so, as usual, too many layers…

Despite an early morning frost it was already sunny when we arrived in Buttermere village to find that with just 20 minutes before registration closed there was hardly anywhere to park – except up the hill towards the Newlands Pass.  What would this feel like when we had to walk back up the hill after the run?

Around the registration area and the portaloos was a sea of farmyard mud but fortunately because we were cutting it a bit fine in terms of time there wasn’t too much time to hang around and get cold. After a bit of chatting with fellow runners we set off along the southern edge of Buttermere through the woods and then turned uphill to run back through fields.  This was where the mud started… thank goodness (again) for goretex trainers.  Having said that, by the end of the race the water had gone up over the tops of my trainers and into them, and being goretex of course there was less potential for it to get out again… but that was a minor discomfort.

As we went round Crummock Water I began to realise how unfit I was (certainly not 10-mile fit anyway).  As I had been going through a sentimental phase of feeling sad about my marriage break-up – not for myself but just for losing the entire ‘family’ thing – the children and parents cheering the other, running, parent on or else the families out for a walk in the sun at the side of the lake also added to my feeling of despondency.  If someone had said to me ‘don’t worry, you can just walk back if you want’ then I’d have done so.


Fortunately they didn’t and having crossed over the road on the northern side of Crummock Water to head uphill, the welcome sight of a water station with jelly teddies appeared.  The run was then undulating and I began to catch up on a couple of women who had overtaken me earlier, finally overtaking them on a downhill section.  There was then a nasty almost vertical (OK, that’s a slight exaggeration but it was very steep and not run-able by most) uphill before another downhill (I had to slow up to cross the road as there was a bus coming) and then the final part around the rest of Crummock Water and back to the start/finish line on the plain between the two lakes.

It was a gorgeous run and I was glad I had done it – but next time I’m going to make sure I’m fitter!