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.

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.

Hadrian’s Wall run

It’s ages since I ran along Hadrian’s Wall. My previous blog, supervet-sarah (so called for when I turned 50 and was categorised as a ‘supervet’ in races: soon I shall be ‘vintage’) describes several runs along Hadrian’s Wall, many for miles: from Carlisle back to Brampton for example. I have since then run from Walltown Crags home (something I must do again before too long) but generally over the past few years my local runs have been relatively short.

So when I was offered a socially-distanced lift along the wall to wherever I wanted, I accepted the offer and decided I’d run from Poltross Burn back home. This takes in some of my favourite bits of the wall, and during the 8 miles or so I stopped plenty of times for photos. Rather than write a lot, I’m going to upload the photos here and hope that you can enjoy a virtual tour of the wall as much as I enjoyed running it.

Poltross Burn milecastle. Roman soldiers would have slept in those dormitories. I wonder if they made the floor level or if it sloped and they all rolled downhill during the night?
The wall at Willowford – one of the longest stretches of continuous wall. I started a video at this point but didn’t press the right button, so there’s a gap now and no photos of the fab. Roman bridge abutments at the bottom of the hill
Wide open skies and views for miles, just past Birdoswald. I felt so free – and still had not seen a single other person
Years ago when I ran along Hadrian’s Wall a lot as training for Kielder marathon, these woods – Combcrag Woods – were boggy to say the least. A friend told me a few days later about a walk down the hill through the woods, to the river – I’ll try it out some day.

Stunning views from the top of Hare Hill, above Haytongate Farm, over to Blencathra and the Lake District fells
It won’t be long before we’ll be able to pick cherries from the park near home.