The Cumbria Way in Pieces (part two)

One of the reasons for doing some fairly lengthy runs recently was because Penny and I had both entered the Northumberland Coast half marathon. It’s a run I’ve been wanting to do for years: there are various different organisations which arrange one, and various different distances (the Castles and Coast half is, however, a road race rather than off-road).

The run starts at Craster, just south of Dunstanburgh castle, and finishes at Bamburgh Castle. Both – especially Bamburgh – are visible from the east coast mainline railway, but I’ve never actually visited either (and still haven’t). Bamburgh is an impressive site, perhaps the more so because it’s been extensively restored rather than just being some ruins falling into the sea. Don’t get me wrong – some ruins are really impressive, but I was really impressed by Bamburgh even if some of it is ‘modern’ (VIctorian) and not the original. The site is incredibly historic as it was a fort in the time of the ancient Britons and possibly the capital of the kingdom of Bernicia; Bernicia and Deira became Northumbria. I seem vaguely to remember reading that it’s possible King Oswald was born there, and lived there until his Uncle Edwin took over the Kingdom: Oswald came back later having grown up on Iona.

I didn’t see any references to any of this on the day we arrived early at Bamburgh to get the coach down to the start line at Craster. A wide open swathe of grass sloped gently above the North Sea, the sun shining brightly and highlighting the white horses on the waves. The bunch of runners eventually set off in a northerly direction, Penny and me somewhere towards the back. I have learnt from hard experience not to start too near the front – I optimistically then get swept up into going far too fast at the start.

Unfortunately around Dunstanburgh Castle it was single file and a lot of people had slowed to a walk, but we soon managed to pick up our pace again. I can’t remember exactly where the first sand dunes of the day were, but they were slidey soft, dry, sand before we got on to the firmer sand of the beach. I made the mistake of running too close to the water, thinking the sand would be firmer there: I was quickly wet up to the tops of my legs (it didn’t take long to dry out).

We ran past some rather ugly beach huts, commenting that they wouldn’t get planning permission nowadays, before coming out at Beadnell where the 10km run had started. The path took us on and off the beach and over rocky foreshore, and then through Seahouses on the road before dropping back on to a wide open stretch of sandy beach. We could see Bamburgh castle ahead of us, but I was starting to flag: keeping going along the beach just felt like hard work. And even when we saw a flag marking the exit off the beach, there were still several 100m to go through the dunes before finally running over the finish line.

I was tired, my feet were sore and my knee ached, but it had been a great run. And a few days later I found out that I had come first in my age group, by a margin of about 16 minutes. Very gratifying.

A busy week followed, with several days out of the office, Head Teacher interviews, and giving blood. There was only time for a short run Wednesday lunchtime, and even so I felt sluggish. That evening I gave blood so I didn’t even think about trying to run on Thursday, when I was in York for work anyway. So when Penny suggested a long run on Saturday I wasn’t sure how motivated I felt. I also had a singing lesson (Music Festival) and had to my car tyres checked (MOT) so wasn’t sure whether my arrangements would fit in with Penny.

As it turned out my car tyres were fine and so I got down to Penrith to meet Penny a lot earlier than expected. We decided to do a one-way leg of the Cumbria Way, leaving cars at either end. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and rather than starting in Keswick and having to find a parking space and then run uphill out of Keswick to Latrigg, we drove up past Underscar hotel and stopped at the top of the hill. I’d last run down past here during the Keswick trail race, and really enjoyed the long, fast downhill into Keswick. Today we were running uphill, but the scenery was stunning, with snow on top of the highest fells under a clear blue sky.

Today our route took us in a northerly direction towards Skiddaw House. A sign told us that it was originally built as a shooting lodge in the 1800s; now it is a Youth Hostel. From here the path led downhill, badly eroded at times as the mix of wet peat and mountain bikes/people doesn’t seem to have been a happy one. It was one of those times when I was really enjoying running just for running’s sake, and enjoying being alive: the weather could not have been much better, and both Penny and I kept stopping to take photos.

Although we had not run fast it seemed hardly any time before we were back on a track we’d run on before, in very different weather. We’d been thinking of doing a loop around Bowscale about a year ago, but it had been rainy and wet and cold and we’d ended up turning round and going back the way we came (https://runningin3time.blog/2020/12/20/running-and-rain/). The puddles weren’t as big today, and despite a chilly northerly wind, in the sun it felt warm. We ran past a hunt and then down the road into Mosedale and back to the car, talking about getting some of our other running buddies to do this run with us and to then swim in the Caldew or down at Keswick.

I haven’t mentioned Ukraine, as what can one say? There is nothing I can do about it other than pray that the madness ends soon. I love this world we human beings call home: and I want it to carry on being somewhere beautiful. The situation over there has made me appreciate what I have here more than ever, and the beautiful Cumbrian countryside which I am lucky enough to call home.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.

Hello 2022!

Happy New Year everyone! As I haven’t written since November this is a bit of a retrospective as well as looking forward.

Advent is one of my favourite times of year. I love singing carols, and the way that the winter nights are brightened up by Christmas lights. However for the first three weeks of December I had a massive amount of assignment-marking to do on top of my normal job: a great way to earn some more money (I’m saving up to take Bella to Paris after her GCSEs next summer) but when I still had 30-odd to mark and only 2 weeks left to do them in, I was getting rather stressed.

I bought my tree at Whinlatter forest the first weekend of Advent: it was a lovely fat tree but a day or so after I’d decorated it fell over. After that it lent against the wall rather drunkenly. But the build up to Christmas, for me, does not start – and should not start – until 1st December.

I was also singing the soprano solo, Pie Jesu, in the Faure Requiem with choir – possibly one of the most difficult pieces I have ever sung, as it’s so sustained and exposed. The good news was that the concert took place at Lanercost Priory (and still went ahead, despite increasing scares about Omicron – the entire audience had to wear facemasks). Lanercost has an amazing acoustic, which is really kind to the singer; and singing accompanied by a really good organist also helps the nerves. The organist playing for the concert plays at Carlisle Cathedral, and will also be Musical Director for the choir as this (January 2022) term. I felt I hadn’t sung it terribly well as I was so nervous, but the recording doesn’t sound too awful.

Once I’d got the solo out of the way, I then sang in two local carol services. Bella came to one of them and played the piano, which was lovely: it was also nice for her to see Andrew, a friend from school who is now studying singing and music in Wales. They were able to have a chat about classical music, which she says none of her other friends know anything about! On the way home she said “Christmas services are almost enough to make you feel you could be Christian”: I knew what she meant.

By 21st December I’d finished all my marking and although I was still working, I felt I could really relax and begin to enjoy the final lead-up to Christmas, and to having a holiday from work for the best part of two weeks (I’m conscious that in the States people are lucky if they get more than two weeks’ holiday for a whole year – I wonder if it makes people’s stress levels higher?). I watched Lucy Worsley’s history of Christmas carols (I’m not sure if this link will work for anyone abroad, and I think it’s only available on the iPlayer for about a year), which was fascinating, watched some silly Christmas films, and generally was in a joyful and excited mood. I really don’t think it matters whether or not you believe in the Christian god – for me the fab. thing about Christmas is having some joy at the darkest time of the year, and to end the year with a celebration: but I also think it’s important to be reminded to be kind to each other. I tried not to buy the children so many presents this year, as they have plenty of ‘stuff’ already: I love buying presents for people but we really don’t need thousands and thousands more Things.

Penny and I met up for a run at Whinlatter on Christmas Eve: it feels as if it’s becoming a bit of a tradition (I hope it is – it’s a really good one). Having had a bit of time off from running after doing the Dirty Double in November, it was good to do the 10km route with her when we bought the christmas trees and then again on Christmas Eve. We also had lunch in Siskins cafe, though we did wonder if we should have gone to the fab. cafe at Dodds Wood or the Threlkeld community cafe (both previously mentioned in this blog).

Christmas Day was spent at David’s house – my ex, with my three children, his new partner and their 5-month old daughter (who is cute), his parents, his sister and her three children, and one of his friends who I hadn’t seen for years. I ran in the morning before going down there, and after getting home in the evening went round to Mark and Laura’s for a drink and to play a new card game they’d bought. I can’t remember what it was called but it was really good – each card has a question on with a choice of answers, and you each have to guess which is right. It engendered some interesting discussions!

On Boxing Day Bella and I drove down to my sister’s, stopping off to see my parents en route. Bella was keen to spend her christmas money (and mine…) and we went to Sherborne, although a lot of the shops were closed. That evening we went to see the lights in the grounds of Killerton House – rather overpriced but really impressive. No prizes for guessing what my christmas cards next year are going to be…

As Ross works at King’s College Taunton, he sorted out being able to go in so Bella could practice on one of their pianos. Unfortunately she now wants to go to the school… It did sound good but unfortunately I can’t upload that particular file type (I think it’s probably been recorded on an iPhone so won’t talk to my laptop).

We also went up to stay with my parents for a day, and went shopping in Bristol, where Bella bought a new violin. The shop was fab. – it was serendipitous that they happened to have time to see us, despite us not having made an appointment, and that they had a few violins in stock which were perfect. She needed some new pointe shoes as well but unfortunately none of the ballet shoe shops were open: however we found one in Newcastle who fitted her in today (2nd Jan.). Again, a fab. shop which we’ll recommend to everyone we can: https://thedancerspointe.co.uk/

I’ve already run both days of this new year, my heart singing and the countryside I live in looking glorious. My immediate goal is a half marathon at the end of February. I’ve also started practicing singing again, working towards Carlisle Music Festival in March and then, I hope, taking my ATCL (Associate of Trinity College of Music London) later in the year.

And meanwhile it’s back to work on Wednesday. The festive season has been great.

Wetter and wetter…

Our spell of weather which was growing warmer and sunnier unfortunately came to an end. Having not had many April showers, as May popped its head over the horizon the rain came too.

Penny and I arranged to go for a bike ride on the bank holiday Monday at the beginning of May. We agreed we’d finish the ride we’d cut short previously, aiming to do a 20 mile loop from Langwathby up through Melmerby and back through Kirkoswald (one of my favourite Cumbrian villages) and Lazonby. This loop also meant that in terms of cycling around the edge of Cumbria, I would have completed the circuit up the Eden valley from Kirby Stephen northwards; and in fact in terms of the overall route the only section(s) now missing are from Grange over Sands to Kirby Stephen.

However the weather was not kind to us. We met on a grey chilly day at Langwathby station and cycled north towards Little Salkeld, although we turned to the east before we got into the village: on a nice day and further on into a ride it would be a good place to stop as there are the standing stones of Long Meg and her daughters to see, a working flour mill, and Lacey’s caves down by the river.

We cycled east to Ousby where we picked up the route we’d turned off from before, going almost due north to Melmerby and then Gamblesby. So many of the villages are attractive in the Eden valley, but this was not a day for stopping, so we just admired them as we pedalled through, chatting as we went – Penny’s father in law had recently died and Penny and Tim had been to the funeral on the Friday, so there was a lot to talk about. Fortunately it was relatively easy cycling, without any major hills, so it was quite easy to chat.

At a five-way junction near Busk we turned to the west again, along a lovely undulating road which then plummeted down into Kirkoswald (or KO as many local people call it). We came out at the bottom of the hill which leads down through the village. When driving through the village from the other direction I’d often wondered where the road we came down led; now I knew; looking at the map apparently we’d come past the remains of the castle as well (next time I’ll have to remember not to enjoy the speed so much, and try to take some notice).

It was then a straightforward ride on the ‘main’ B road back through Lazonby and down to Langwathby – but the wind was against us, the rain was coming straight at us, and the 4 miles south felt further and a bit of a drag. We got back to the cars drenched and chilled.

On the way home I stopped at the motorway services to use the toilets – I literally had to peel my clothes off as they were stuck to me, they were so wet; and my car seat was also drenched with the rain water oozing out of my garments. Even with the car heater on full blast I was chilly – when I got home I got straight into a nice deep, warm, bath.

I then went down with a head cold on the Tuesday and Wednesday (I blame Edward and school), which was annoying as I’d been hoping to get some extra running mileage in with the first of the Lakeland trails races at the weekend: however I figured that a couple of days’ rest wouldn’t hurt, and might mean the cold disappeared that much more quickly. I had forgotten what having a cold was like: my brain was like cotton wool and the pile of tissues in the waste paper basket was growing higher and higher.

I’d love to be able to say that Saturday dawned bright and sunny, ready for the run – but it didn’t. I layered up, took spare clothes and shoes, and headed down the motorway to Staveley, near Windermere. I could feel the car slipping a bit on the grass of the field being used for parking, and hoped that I wasn’t going to get stuck – a few years ago I got stuck after the Ullswater trail race and it was a real effort to get the car out. At least there were plenty of parking attendants around, so presumably they’d be able to call a tractor if people started getting stuck.

Hanging around at the start line was quiet and a little strange compared with previous races. We were being started in groups of up to 6 each minute, and for some start times there were no runners. My 1.30 slot however was fully booked, with me and 5 men lining up ready for the off. We’d been asked to arrive only 15 minutes before the start, so hadn’t been waiting long but were already getting wet: though not as wet or cold as the poor marshalls, many of whom would have been standing around for hours.

The route was on bluebell-lined tarmac out of the village for quite a way before turning off to head over the fell. A stony track went downhill before some more hard surface, and even running through the yard of a factory of some sort. Most of the middle part of the race is a bit of a blur, partly as I had no idea how far I’d come or had to go. There was a longish section on top of another fell though, with a lot of mud and water across the path: in places huge muddy puddles covered a wide area and it was difficult to know whether just to run straight through or to go round the edges.

Finally we started crossing fields, at each stone wall having to clamber over a stone stile, before heading up the last hill for ‘the sting in the tail’. I must admit I quite enjoyed that last grassy wiggly hill – it wasn’t as bad as I had expected and I knew there was a downhill section coming up afterwards. The photographer was waiting there: I haven’t yet dared to look at my photo as I dread to think what my hair looked like, I was so wet.

On the enjoyable long downhill section I overtook a couple of people, which was gratifying, and then there was a run along the road to get back to the recreation ground and the finish. I managed a bit of extra effort to get over the line but not having run 18km for a while I also felt a little bit tired for the rest of the day.

At the finish there weren’t crowds milling around; the whole atmosphere was, like at the start, somewhat muted compared to previous years’ trail races. It was more like doing a triathlon than a normal running race – you’re far more spread out in a triathlon normally due to different swim waves/start times, and before too long the competitors are strung out along the course. One of the features of the Lakeland trails, and other trail races, has been the camaraderie: however the marshalls were all friendly and out on the course whenever people passed each other they’d say hello. It may have been a slightly lonelier experience than before, but it was extremely well-managed and Covid-safe: and at the end of the day great to be able to race again.

According to the stats I completed the course in 2 hours and 7 mins. They’ve put me in the FV50 category whereas I thought I was due to be in FV60 this year; but it doesn’t really matter. It looked as if the fastest female in my race was in the FV70 category, so it goes to show that age doesn’t necessarily affect your running ability!

Now to get in some extra miles so I’m ready for the half marathon in a few weeks’ time… but meanwhile I cooked lunch for some friends on the Sunday. The weather stayed dry – otherwise the lunch would have become a take-away – and we enjoyed a cold cucumber soup, followed by roast lamb with pomegranate, two salads, and then Ruins of a Russian Count’s Castle. I think this could become ‘a Thing’.

Lockdown one year on

The first UK lockdown started on 23rd March 2020. Approximately a year later, we are just relaxing the rules a little bit from our third lockdown. Spring is burgeoning all around us and there’s a tangible sense of freedom. Even so, radio announcements warn us not to forget that Covid is still present – and of course it’s in fact on the increase now in the younger age groups, the ones who haven’t been vaccinated. I get my first vaccination tomorrow.

Having been interviewed about moving to the country from the city, because something like 300,000 people have moved out of London since the first lockdown (with a population of over 9.3m in greater London it’s not exactly a large proportion, though notable), I woke up this morning wondering about exercise. Last summer the Government pledged more money for bike routes, and people who have bikes which need serious repair (as opposed to just servicing) can get a £50 voucher towards their restoration. I wondered how many people started doing more exercise this time last year – but also how many people have kept it up.

I’m doing tons more exercise than I was last year, and prior to working from home one of my frustrations about a long commute to work was trying to fit in as much exercise as I’d like – also I found 4 hours on the train a day quite tiring for some reason (going for a run as soon as I got home would probably have done me the world of good, but I wasn’t that motivated at 7p.m. on a dark, cold and often wet winter’s night). When I was at work I was in the middle of a city with no trails nearby – if I wanted to run at lunchtime I had to run on the pavement (the office did have a shower, so I think in 2 years of being based there I maybe did 3 runs).

I have loved the fact that over the past year I’ve clocked up around 100km a month – quite a bit more some months – running most days of the week; and I have also increased my cycling mileage.

However for me this is something that has been an incredibly important part of my life since I was in my early 30s, so I have relished having the opportunity to get fitter again; and with my ‘6 at 60’ challenges this year I’ve now entered the entire Lakeland Trails series – 9 runs – and also just entered a triathlon. But what about those people who started to get fitter last spring and summer, perhaps feeling that rush of excitement from starting something new, including buying some colourful lycra? Are they still persevering with it? I have to admit at times recently my motivation has waned when there’s still hardly anyone to go running with – I feel a bit of a pariah when, even when we’re allowed to meet up with one other person to exercise, people still think up reasons not to meet up; and there are times when you’re out running and you say ‘hello’ to someone you pass and they look at you as if you’re carrying the plague (let’s face it, I don’t think I would be capable of running if I had Covid – I would guess even the symptomless one must surely affect carrying out demanding exercise like running (especially the hills around here…)).

So – are you one of those people who dusted down and oiled their bike; who dug their running shoes out of the back of the wardrobe? And what are you doing now? Have you gone from strength to strength or did it just get too difficult to remain motivated over the dark winter months? Please let me know!

Twelve days of Christmas

Watching Lucy Worsley present a programme about Tudor Christmasses made me rethink this time of year; as did an email from Lyn Thurman and also reading Neil Oliver’s A History of Ancient Britain (not currently available on the iPlayer, sadly).

Whatever your religion, midwinter was a time of celebration and feasting, and was the ‘liminal’ time between the old year and the new (maybe not for the Romans however, for whom the new year started in March – although Janus was the two-headed god who looked both forward and back). I loved the idea of keeping a ’12 days’ diary but also it got me thinking about how we now think of the time between Christmas and New Year as rather quiet and potentially lonely; a time for contemplation, relaxation and (one hopes) restoration, before returning to the busy-ness of the New Year.

It made me think that perhaps next year I would like a big, splash-out FEAST on Christmas Day – I don’t mean just with family but with lots of people – and then to carry on partying right into January (in fact Lucy Worsley points out that day 7, New Year’s Eve, for the Tudors was actually quite quiet); to finish work on Christmas Eve, put up the decorations, and go back to work on 6th January. I also like the idea of exchanging gifts on New Year’s Day rather than Christmas Day – not so sure that will please my kids though.

The least I felt I could do this year was keep a 12 days ‘diary’, and hope there are some good omens for the New Year. Surely we can’t all be as cut off and isolated in 2021 as some people have been in 2020.

Day 1: Christmas Day, 25th December

The children were with me to start with, and pleased with their presents. At about 12 noon David came to fetch them and I started preparing the bits of lunch I was doing to take to Mark and Laura’s, feeling a little bit sad. However I had a lovely time at Mark and Laura’s and they gave me a pump for the car, which is extremely useful as my tyres are forever going flat (I have had a valve repaired and a tyre replaced now, so am feeling slightly more confident about the car at present).

Day 2: Boxing Day, 26th December

Rainy, muddy and a little hungover but ran up in Ridge Woods, as previously reported. Storm Bella approaching made the wind pick up but there was a general feeling of clearing things away.

Day 3: 27th December

Woke up feeling sad (perhaps I shouldn’t have watched two slushy films last night – A Wonderful Life and White Christmas), and with a headache again. I think I may actually do Dry January this coming year. A chat with Anne and I felt more cheerful and headed out for a longer run. There were flowers popping out in places, harbingers of spring not being that far away; and snow on the hills, reminding me that it’s still winter and that often the coldest part of winter is January and February. However it was far sunnier than it’s been for a while. As I got closer to home I bumped into Lesley, from choir, and her husband Alan and stopped for a really nice (socially distanced) chat with them.

Day 4: 28th December

Woke up feeling sad again and was in fact quite tearful as I drove down to Whinlatter. I don’t think watching a programme about Bristol and cooking last night helped; I felt quite nostalgic and ended up going to bed (and waking up) thinking how much my life has changed since I lived in Bristol. On the other hand, I can’t wish I hadn’t had my children – for all the emotional anguish they cause and the amount they cost, I think they’re amazing and turning into pretty decent human beings. I just wish I didn’t so often feel that I’m second choice parent-wise.

Whinlatter car park was heaving and I was worried I wouldn’t get a space, but fortunately as Penny works for and Tim has worked for the FC, they were able to wangle me a space. Having bought my membership only last time I was there I feel I should perhaps have my own personalised space… (no, I’m not serious).

The weather was absolutely stunning and despite a few icy patches, it was a glorious day to be out. We almost could have been in the Alps. Tim ran off ahead, his long legs making it look as if he was just ambling gracefully uphill, while Penny and I ran, chatted and took photos. When we got back Tim was having a chat with some former work colleagues, so fortunately not standing around in zero degrees getting cold.

Day 5: 29th December

Went to the Post Office and to Sainsburys, both mercifully fairly quiet. Then headed over to Stocksfield to pick up some logs from Clare and Colin and to go for a pretty walk in and around Ridley and Broomley Woods, including to one and over another ford. I wonder if Broomley Woods are related to Broomlee Lough… and as a result of wondering have found a useful website about English Place Names. Thank you to the University of Nottingham (my old University, as it happens):

‘Broomy wood/clearing’.

brōm (Old English) Broom; a thorny bush or shrub.

lēah (Old English) A forest, wood, glade, clearing; (later) a pasture, meadow.

The moon was rising above the hills as we loaded the car up with the logs, and looked absolutely stunning, though trying to take a photo did it no justice whatsoever. I checked when the full moon was due and it’s tomorrow (30th), and is apparently called the Cold Moon or the Ice Moon.

Day 6: 30th December

Something of a mixed day. Apparently the moon was full at 3.30 a.m. this morning, but it looks great this evening too. My sister pointed out that it was also a Blue Moon as it’s the second full moon this month.

I had a fantastic – beautiful – run up at Kershope Forest with Penny – a new route which neither of us had done before, where we went from misty frost to sunshine and back again – but unfortunately Anne couldn’t make it and on the way back we heard that Cumbria is now (as of midnight) in Tier 4 lockdown. The news about the schools was slightly better – most primary schools will go back as normal and most secondary schools will have a staggered return. I was really worried that they were going to close the schools again – we’ve ruined this planet already for our kids (climate change/using up resources through our greed); I was worried we were going to wreck their education as well. I know that’s a first world problem but I’m hoping our children might grow up to be somewhat more responsible than the previous generations have been. The only hope on the horizon seems to be that the world population is due to decline quite drastically by about 2050.

BUT – we do live in a beautiful world and some of us are incredibly lucky to have some of that beauty on our doorstep, easily accessible. We are privileged.

As I’d forgotten to buy pasta at the supermarket yesterday I got home and made lasagne. Kneading is extremely good for getting rid of grumpiness when you hear about more lockdowns.

Day 7: New Year’s Eve, 31st December 2020

Phoned Edward to say ‘Happy Birthday’ to him – I was due to go down to Penrith to take his presents down but he and Alex want to come up here tomorrow, so I’ll go and fetch them tomorrow instead. I went out for an incredibly icy end-of-year run – even the Tarn was partly frozen over – and then came back and finished making smoked salmon brioche and a sauce for lasagne for tomorrow. Then it was time for a game of Trivial Pursuit over Zoom with my sister, her boyfriend, and my Mum; then time to attempt to light the firepit. Fortunately Mark and Laura (my bubble and my neighbours) knew what they were doing so they got it going, and we had mulled wine and sausages in a snow-covered garden.

I got my tax paid; my mortgage renewal sorted out; a tutor found for Edward; and it snowed. Quite a definitive end to the year. Time to watch a film and then go to bed. It’s a quieter new year than normal but I think it is for a lot of people; I think that’s how a lot of people want it. 2020 is going out with a whimper rather than with a bang.

In Rowbank Woods, near the railway station

Day 8: 1st January 2021

Lovely New Year’s Day run along the river Eamont and up on to Askham Fell. My Strava said 9.99 km when I got back to where I’d parked the car!

Picked up all three children from David’s and headed home. The usual squabbles but it’s lovely to have them in the house again. Alex is rather fed up that his return to school has been delayed by 2 weeks and that he’ll be doing online lessons; and there is now a total xbox ban at both houses so he’s also fed up that he can’t ‘see’ his friends. I used to have my nose stuck in a book; nowadays for most kids (boys especially?) their noses are glued to screens. I wonder if it’s really all that bad, or if it’s just that it’s different from how I grew up.

Day 9: 2nd January 2021

Slight dusting of snow again overnight and Edward was desperate to go sledging. I wasn’t convinced there would be enough but he managed to get down the hill on the Ridge a few times. Bella went for a walk round the wood nearby, looking very glamorous in her black wool coat and woolly hat and scarf.

Day 10: 3rd January 2021

As I was taking the kids back to David’s anyway I thought it would be good to meet up with Penny for a run down that way. We decided on Thirlmere – the path (and road) on the western side is now open again so we could officially complete the ten mile Thirlmere loop.

It was lovely: Hevellyn was still in mist but the clouds were getting blown from the east and much of the time the sun was shining; there was still a frost on the ground; the reservoir was still and calm like a mirror. The path is mostly great but there were some stretches on the western side where it was quite stony or tree-rooty, and where it was beginning to fall away. We celebrated with coffee and Maltesers at the end; and Blencathra looked absolutely stunning on the way home.

When I got home my lovely neighbours had gritted the road and my drive; also Penny has been giving me a plentiful supply of fire wood (she and Tim ordered a lorry load). People are lovely.

Blencathra from St John’s in the Vale

Day 11: 4th January 2021

Back to work today and my lovely fat tree has now been undressed and also denuded of all its branches.

Then this evening we were told of another lockdown: and this time even the schools are closing, up until at least February half term. Bloody covid. And stuff dry January. I’m off to get some tonic to go with my so-far-unopened bottle of Rose Gin tomorrow.

I wonder if people felt as fed up when the Black Death was in circulation, or whether they just resignedly thought ‘here we go again, a few more deaths’. They must have felt just as much grief as we do, but had far less knowledge to fight death.

I stayed up later than I should watching Lucy Worsley’s series about the Romanovs.

Day 12: 5th January 2021 (‘Twelfth Night)

English Heritage has apparently today been in print encouraging people to keep their decorations up until Candlemass – 2nd Feb. – as they would have done in medieval times, to try to keep some midwinter cheer alive. Bit late for my christmas tree! Also apparently Candlemass is a Swedish doom metal band…

I’m fine when I’m talking to people (thank god for friends) but otherwise I’ve felt really fed up all day; alone and kind of bored, even though I have work. But at least I do have work – a job I enjoy, which so many people don’t – and the countryside. I went for a run this afternoon after work but my heart wasn’t in it, added to which in places you couldn’t run as the ice was too slippery and on top of the Ridge the young cows started following me, so I thought it better not to run. I’m well aware that I should be counting my many blessings, but today was a day to walk into the dark tunnel and acknowledge that life sometimes just feels rubbish, however lucky you are.

But as I sat down on a makeshift bench and watched the sunset over Scotland (to the north and west), it struck me that it doesn’t matter if some days all you do is go out and get some fresh air, admire the views, and listen to the sounds of the world. I think at the weekend I might just go for a run around a lake.

And tomorrow is another day.

Running and rain

It’s been raining here. It feels as if it hasn’t stopped since sometime in November – if not August. The ground is getting more and more sodden, grassy tracks have turned to mud, it’s impossible to run without slipping; the days have been dull and short. I really haven’t had much new to write about, running-wise: my ankle began to feel OK again (and to stop waking me up in the night with a dull ache) and my running fitness began to show signs of going back to where it was before I hurt my ankle. However motivating myself to get out and run – and then once I was out, actually to run more than 4km or so – has been difficult the past few weeks.

Until this last week, when I seem to have turned a bit of a running corner: and also to have got out on a new(ish) route. Plus Anne is now no longer in lockdown, so we’ve been able to meet up to run again.

That’s not to say there haven’t been some lovely runs up on Askham Fell, which always lifts the spirits – Penny and I managed to get out one unusually sunny afternoon at the end of November, and then we also ran down there in the dark one work evening under stunning skies (her husband was meant to come too – he was busy on a work call in the car, and we eventually saw the little light of his head torch coming towards us just as we had reached the halfway mark and were about to head back).

Over the past few days the rain has continued but there have been brief moments of sun. Today, as I ran towards Talkin Tarn, I had to stop for two trains and to tie up my shoe laces. As I waited I looked towards the west and saw a beautiful sky. The dark grey clouds were blowing over and the blue sky was expanding, while I love the silhouettes of the trees on the skyline.

Yesterday I met Penny to run at Greystoke Forest. Unfortunately even the permissive paths are closed at the moment, and rather than risk getting shouted at (or shot at?), we decided to take note of the several signs which made it quite clear that we wouldn’t be welcome. It opens again in April apparently. We’d wanted to run somewhere under tree cover in the hope it would be less wet: instead we ended up at Mosedale, near Bowscale Tarn, where we ran and some of us swam back in the summer/autumn.

We started up the road, the wind against us and the rain beating against our faces. As we climbed further up the hill we got closer to the river Caldew, crashing down over the rocks and not looking half so inviting as it did back in the summer. We turned south along the Cumbria Way after about 4km and ran for another 1km or so, the path firm but covered in water-filled-potholes. By the time your feet are wet (despite Goretex running shoes), you feel you may as well just run through the puddles anyway. The great thing was that the water was clean for a change – because the surface was stony, although there was a LOT of water, it wasn’t muddy.

We had aimed to do about 10km so at the 5km mark we turned round, after taking a few photos. My thighs were cold from having been facing into the wind and rain but as we turned back the worst of the weather was behind us rather than against us – and also we were mostly running downhill. It’s a beautiful valley and we agreed we’d go back another time and come back on the track which goes over the top of the hills and drops down towards Bowscale Tarn, rather than doing an out and back run.

As we ran back along the road we met an elderly man walking his two dogs. His hat blew off as we approached him; he greeted us in a friendly manner and then said “I’ve met you before, haven’t I?” It was the same gentleman whom we had met back in the summer, who had told us about the pools in the river – pools which we had driven to look at in the summer but had run past today. There was something very pleasing about meeting him again: the rain started pouring down even more heavily shortly after but he looked quite well-prepared, so I hope he enjoyed his walk.

We were drenched: my legs were wet up to my thighs; but it struck me that it was probably quite good training for winter open water swimming. The swimming group has decided to try to swim (outside) every month of 2021. In wetsuits, I’m glad to say.

On top of the world again

In mid-October I headed down to Somerset, to take my Mum in to hospital for a cataracts operation. Whilst it’s quite a short operation, my parents (and my sister) live at the other end of the country to me, about a 6-hour drive away, so I planned on staying the weekend, meeting up with my sister, and doing some exercise.

Most times when I’ve been down there I’ve run along the ‘Strawberry line’ – the former railway line which used to go along the Cheddar valley to Wells. Cheddar is not known only for its cheese, but also for the strawberries which grow so well along the valley. There was always something exciting, as a child and teenager, when the signs popped up alongside the road to Wells inviting you to come and pick your own: something we rarely did as with a large-ish garden my parents were keen to grow fruit and vegetables themselves (a quality which got passed on to my sister but less so to me: I still remember the thrill of moving to London and being able to buy strawberries and other out of season and exotic groceries at Nine Elms Sainsburys).

On this occasion I decided to run from the old railway line up on to Wavering Down, and to come back down past Winscombe church (where I was christened and confirmed, my parents were married, and my grandparents are buried). I hadn’t been on top of Wavering Down for, literally, years, and I’d forgotten how lovely the wide expanse of grassland is on the brow of the hill: I could have run around on the gently sloping top for ages, but the sun was beginning to go down. To the south were the Somerset levels, with Glastonbury Tor in the distance rising up out of them: the following day I went for a bike ride with my sister and her boyfriend, Ross, which entailed some hills but also bowling along across the levels. Next time I go down to visit my family I shall run on Wavering Down again, and for longer.

An ankle injury I sustained by falling over one night as I was running round Talkin Tarn has been plaguing me on and off, and my friend Anne has an intermittent knee problem, so a couple of weeks later we decided we would walk rather than run up Talkin Fell. I hadn’t been up there for a while but I know how wet it gets, and we’ve had a lot of rain recently. The Gelt – which I’d thought we could perhaps paddle in – was flowing fast and furious so paddling was out, but the weather was good and we walked up the track then up Simmerson Hill. On the ridge the wind was quite energetic, appealing to some basic instinct in me – I shouted out loud with joy – and we stopped briefly in the stone shelters on the top of Talkin Fell, but only briefly as it was cold. As it was such a lovely day there were quite a few people around, but with the Carlisle area having just been put into Tier 2 and rumours of another lockdown on the way, everybody was keeping their distance.

More rain followed – as did a national lockdown – although I managed a bike ride in nice weather one afternoon early in November. Finally, I thought, some of the November weather I love: crystal blue skies and icy mornings, with the golds, bronzes, yellows, oranges and reds of autumn still on the trees. Unfortunately we seem to have had more than our share of rain but Saturday 7th turned out to be another beautiful day: luckily, as Penny and I had arranged to meet up to ‘run’ up High Cup Nick.

As much as anything I was intrigued by the name, which, searching the internet, is not anything to do with a devil’s cup or anything like that, but is a ‘nick’ in the landscape which the High Cup gill runs through. What I hadn’t realised is that it’s part of the Whin Sill – the outcrop of rock that pops up along Hadrian’s Wall as well.

We met in Dufton, a lovely village with a (closed but) nice-looking pub and a small public car park with toilets – operated by Eden District council, and OPEN! From there we decided to take a footpath up the U-shaped valley: from the OS map it looked if the footpath ran more or less straight along the valley bottom, a bit higher than the beck, and then climbed up steeply at the end. What we hadn’t realised was that the footpath was more or less indistinguishable on the ground. We decided instead to clamber up the southern escarpment, hoping that we weren’t going to suddenly slide down to the bottom or, potentially worse, that a shake hole would open up beneath us. When we finally reached a higher track we were rewarded with a stunning view: and could clearly see a field of shake holes and also that the path along the bottom was probably excessively boggy.

It was great to approach the top of the valley from above, though, and see the amazing geological formation. It was difficult to stop taking photos: it really did take your breath away. We sat down for a snack and a drink in the sun, grateful for the stunning weather to match such a stunning view.

Needless to say we were a lot quicker travelling back down the hill than we had been getting up it: it took about 2 hours to get to the top, and much of it had been walking as the terrain was steep and bumpy. Going down the track was clear and although stony it was far easier to keep up a steady pace. I then drove through country lanes to get home, planning one of the legs of the bike ride I’m in the process of doing and writing up; and thinking that I need to get up more hills – not only for running fitness but because I love being on top of the world.

August goals

My runs have been mostly on my normal routes recently; I haven’t had time to run anywhere further afield, other than one warm sunny evening when I persuaded Penny to make the most of the good weather and swim in Ullswater rather than running. We were both dressed for running but had taken our wetsuits down to Pooley Bridge, and were glad we opted for swimming: although it was fairly busy (and the lake is not beautifully clear and stony but a bit weedy) it was nice to swim, and the weather forecast proved to be wet with rain the following few days. I also bought some very nice gin and tonics in the shop at Pooley Bridge!

With the rain my roof started leaking again, but neighbour-Mark knew a man who might be able to fix it. Mick Nolan turned up when he said he would and got it sorted; it turned out to be a lovely hot dry day when he mended it, and it looks as if it’s held against today’s downpour. Hooray!

There was a bit of a misadventure running in Gelt Woods one day last weekend, when I was extremely glad not to have been on my own: trying for a 15km run (which we succeeded in doing), I tripped over a stone and fell flat, face down in to the mud. It actually looked worse than it was (blood and mud on my face; mud all over my clothes) and now, about a week later, the grazes on my face have almost disappeared. Penny very kindly purchased me one of those arm-band things for carrying my phone in, as it was probably trying not to land on my phone which made me do the face-plant.

I then gave blood on Wednesday evening and have been surprised how long it’s taken me to feel as if I’m back to anything like running normality – today, Sunday, I ran just under 10km at about my normal speed. Every-so-often over the past few days I’ve felt a bit light-headed/wobbly and tired; I guess if you have less blood then you have less iron too. I had steak pie for dinner last night, which perhaps helped!

As I ran today I thought about my goals for this month (and going forward). I really want to start doing triathlon again. Head Torches has reached its goal of 2020km already, so we’re now aiming for 2020 miles by mid-October. I decided that in August I’m going to try to concentrate on distance rather than speed and aim to do 4 runs, each of between 5 and 10 miles, each week with a goal of doing 150km in the month (in July I managed 130km but in June I did 140km). Then I’m also going to try to do one ‘brick’ session each week, of an hour’s bike ride followed by 30 minutes’ running.

And of course there will still be wild swimming to do: after the trip to Ullswater, Anne and I took Bella and Edward to Rydal Water on Friday afternoon, which was great. I was really proud of them both as Bella swam a long way with Anne, and Edward loved being in the water (and would have swum with them if I’d let him – but I’m not quite confident enough about his swimming yet) – we will be going again! However I now need to buy myself a new swimming wetsuit as Bella seems to have appropriated mine…

Shakespeare

In terms of runs there weren’t any new routes this week, but what I did do was combine ‘old’ routes together and on Sunday ran 13km locally. Other than that I haven’t done a lot of mileage, but I did have my hair cut.

A few people haven’t noticed as they thought I just had my hair in a pony tail, but on the whole the feedback has been positive. Of course I can’t make it look half as good as the hairdresser did.

It was an interesting experience in some ways but not a surprising one. I had to fill in a form (for track and trace purposes) when I arrived, and use hand sanitiser. I managed to squirt a load of it over the form I’d just filled in. My poor hairdresser had a plastic visor thing over her face which was great for me as I didn’t need to wear a mask, but she was developing a headache. I had to put my coat in a plastic bag and apparently they were washing every gown worn at 60 degrees after each client. It wasn’t how things used to be, but it was nice to see her and it didn’t feel unduly stressful.

Whilst I’ve fitted in quite a few runs, work was also busy: I went to Carlisle Castle for some meetings on Tuesday, Newcastle to the office to pick up some stuff on Wednesday, and Carrawburgh Roman Fort about a grazing licence on Thursday. It was a reminder of how the hours speed away when you’re out on site a lot, and how you then get back in to a load of emails and paperwork to do (I have several reports I need to get out). It’s always good to get out though and it was nice to see real people again, rather than just meeting over Zoom.

On Saturday a small group of us had decided to go swimming in the hidden tarn that Penny and I had previously run to. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t brilliant – it was quite chilly and we all put wetsuits on (and felt cold even so) – but the tarn was beautifully clean, a perfect size for a good swim, and there were no other people on ‘our’ shore. Despite the greyness of the day we had a lovely swim, and the others were delighted with their ‘magical mystery tour’.

We had the obligatory picnic afterwards: all the more special because it was Jo’s birthday. I had made two cakes, which had to be carried up the hill to the Tarn: Lemon and Poppy seed (with a layer of lemon curd spread in the middle) and Cappuccino Squares (with coffee butter icing as well as coffee sponge, partly because I’d run out of vanilla). The chocolate ‘sprinkles’ on the top are lovely Hotel Chocolat hot chocolate, so not any old powdered chocolatey dust but real chocolate.

Otherwise I’ve been doing some singing and reading and am trying to watch some more of the plays on television, as I’ve missed a couple of weeks of the National Theatre at Home now – early on in lockdown that had been my special Thursday night ‘thing’.

I’m re-reading 1599, a book about that particular year in Shakespeare’s life. It’s as enthralling this time round as it was the first time I read it: it relates what was going on in England at that time to the plays which Shakespeare wrote during that year. The Globe theatre was being built: the main structure was taken down at dead of night from its location within the City of London to be established at Southwark, outside the remit of the City. Elizabeth I had decided to send troops to Ireland to quell the rebellious Irish. Led by her once-favourite, Robert Devereux Earl of Essex, it was a bit of a disaster: and the conflicting national feelings are reflected in both Henry V and Julius Caesar.

Reading this made me go away and look up what was on not only on the Globe’s YouTube channel but also the National Theatre’s: and discovered that the BBC iPlayer has ‘Culture in Quarantine’, including some of the Globe Shakespeare plays. I’ve just watched The Tempest and now have The Merchant of Venice, Othello and Midsummer Night’s Dream to catch up on – as well as the National Theatre’s The Deep Blue Sea. I don’t think I’ve had such a rich cultural life for years, if ever. As Jo said, I’ve begun to enjoy staying home in the evenings (though getting out for some exercise, fresh air and vitamin D every day is also a priority).

Meanwhile when Edward’s here we’ve started on another Horrible Histories book, this time Measly Middle Ages (I bought him a boxed set of all the particularly horrible Horrible Histories for Christmas). Reading about the plague of course initiates comparisons with the current pandemic: there were wild rumours about how it was caused (the medieval equivalent of 5G masts); about where it had come from (Arabs, the Spanish, lepers); and there were some wacky cures (powdered emeralds; sitting in a sewer – both probably no better nor worse than swallowing bleach). And somehow the fact that it was spread by fleas jumping off dead rats on to humans seems all too similar to a virus passing from animals to humans.

The other thing about the plague was that people of the time never knew exactly when it was going to go away nor when it was going to come back. We think we’re so much more clever nowadays – and I think it would be true to say that we have far more scientific knowledge – and yet we still seem to be floundering around trying to work out exactly where this virus came from, how it’s spread, and what (if anything) will stop it.

On that point, as I don’t really have anything else to write, I shall stop. This evening I had an extremely pleasant run to Lanercost (a fascinating site with a history which belies its current tranquillity: English and Scottish Kings made it their base or raided it; the Tudors ransacked it in the dissolution of the monasteries but allowed the locals to keep the nave as their church; a local wealthy family then converted part of it into their home) and back with Penny and Tim, the sun finally appearing in time to make it feel like a summer’s evening rather than an autumn one!

Penny’s had a haircut too, but you can’t tell under her hat.

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.