Vikings

It’s Friday evening and I’ve been back at work a week. Whilst it’s nice to be back, I don’t quite feel I’ve settled properly back in – partly because I had things booked like the car service but also because I’m trying to work 9 a.m. until 1.30 p.m. but already I’ve had meetings and webinars booked in outside those times! I’ll have to see how it goes, as if work starts creeping too much into my own time (and I am only part-time after all, partly because that was what the job was advertised as but one of its selling points for me was that I wanted time to do my own thing. I’ve also just had to turn down some catering work as I just couldn’t commit enough hours to it).

I’ve read noticeably less this week, which is a pity as I’m reading a really interesting book by Neil Oliver about the Vikings. I hadn’t known that Harald Bluetooth, a king who had unified some disparate tribes, had given not only his name to bluetooth technology but also the symbol is made from the two of the runes of his name. Likewise some Scandinavians use the word ‘lurs’ as a nickname for their mobile phones: the lur was a Viking musical instrument.

What’s fascinating is how far and wide the Vikings spread. As I learn more about them, I am more and more impressed by them: although there is also a comment that Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship was superb and renowned worldwide, and that it may well have been the riches of England and other countries that attracted the Vikings. Certainly the Swedish Vikings spread eastwards towards Russia and further, and were among the first founders of a trading post, Russia’s first-ever town of Staraya Ladoga. This led to them moving southwards along rivers, with portage between them, and trading far afield.

The Norwegian Vikings were the ones who seem to have settled more in the UK, including Dublin in Ireland. I had discovered some time ago that Orkney was on a Viking trade route and an important centre for them: I hadn’t appreciated how important Shetland was as well, and nor had I thought how that also gave them access down the west coast of Scotland and into the Irish Sea. Dublin was a holding point for the Viking slave trade, where Angles, Britons and Picts were traded or held prior to being taken on to other markets. It’s perhaps worth noting – bearing in mind the current climate – that the author quotes an example in 1631 of an entire population of a village in Cork being taken to North Africa as slaves, this time by Barbary pirates. The word ‘enthralled’ comes directly from Old Norse.

A heart-lifting story which I hadn’t heard about before was the ‘Shetland Bus’. Neil Oliver uses this to demonstrate how the population of the Shetlands ties Britain to Scandinavia: the Shetland Bus was used to rescue people from Norway in the Second World War and take them to Britain, away from the Nazis, or to take Agents and equipment to Norway. In good conditions apparently the crossing takes about a day: the Shetland Bus crossings were often in the winter and in small fishing boats.

It’s a fascinating book and coincidentally Edward has just been set some work on the Vikings by school, which Alex is quite happy to help him with. The romance of these warriors still enthralls the hearts of the young (and not only the young) today.

Out on the Fells: Sunday

I was out on a long run today (Sunday) and it suddenly struck me WHY I run. It’s not only to keep fit, or to improve my fitness, but because I love being out on the trails/hills. I love the feeling of being strong and fit; but whilst short runs from home are fine on my own, I like doing things with friends. Experiences on one’s own are fine and uplifting, but a shared experience feels as though it possibly has a chance to create stronger memories: think of all those times when you say ‘do you remember when we…’, especially when you catch up with a friend whom you haven’t seen for a while. I’m really looking forward to getting out running with the rest of my running group again: most of them seem to be somewhat hesitant to meet up yet (it would be rather nice to meet a new man who ran – but not too fast – and cycled, but at least I have a great group of friends to run with when times are more normal).

I’ve got out for some lovely runs again this week, perhaps most notably running 9 miles on Askham Fell with Penny – we went all along to Howtown and then back to Pooley Bridge, followed by a HUGE hill up to Askham Fell to cross over the fell and back to our cars. I then ran in Gelt Woods near me on Friday, which was lovely, and particularly gratifying as I was running quite well and the hills weren’t as intimidating as usual. Then on Saturday as Bella was here and wanted to walk up Talkin Fell with a friend, I decided I’d run up Talkin Fell, over to Simmerson Hill, back to the cairns and then down again.

Sundays when you’re single can sometimes be the loneliest day of the week, but since lockdown David and I have generally split weekends so that he has the children on Saturday and I have them on Sunday. I’d offered to have the boys for longer this week if I could pick them up a lunchtime on Sunday and run in the morning: unfortunately the route Penny suggested (she’s kind of my partner in adventure, as you’ve probably realised by now – her husband had gone off mountain biking with a couple of friends) took a little longer than we’d anticipated. It was a sort of recce for running all of ‘High Street’ – not only the name of a Lake District fell but also of a roman road which linked the fort at Ambleside with the one near Penrith. Like most Roman roads it runs more or less in a straight line over the tops of the hills, and we’ve failed to do it so far due to weather.

So today we started at Pooley Bridge and ran to Howtown, and then up Fusedale. The idea was to follow the footpath up on to Wether Hill and join up with the roman road: but the path didn’t seem to exist. Also by then we’d already taken about 2 hours – of what we’d thought would be a 2 hour run! Fortunately having clambered up the fellside we were then met High Street at the top and it was mostly downhill to get back to Pooley Bridge.

It was a glorious run and despite being incredibly late to pick up the boys, and having creaky knees, I’m looking forward to running High Street from end to end (more or less) next weekend, weather permitting. We’re also going to take our wetsuits and swimming stuff and swim at the end. And it won’t be a day when I need to fetch the children.

Singing

Singing is something else which is fun to do with other people. I’m enough of a performer that I want to do solos: but I want to do solos accompanied by friends, or as part of a concert or recital which friends also take part in. Who knows when choral singing will be permitted again? Meanwhile I’m trying to get a 35-minute programme together for my performance diploma, the main problem being having to stick to a time limit: potentially it could only be about 6-8 pieces. My friend Caroline has recorded some backing tracks for me for practicing, and I’ve suggested to her that when we’re allowed we should get together for a practice, with a view to doing a joint recital at some point. She’s just heard that she may be able to record her (piano) pieces for her next performance diploma, for submission in August, so she’s working hard on that now anyway.

Perhaps most things are more fun done together than solo: I’ve loved watching plays and operas during lockdown, but I like discussing them with friends later; wild swimming is not only more fun with others but also feels safer; and I love sitting and enjoying good food.

With a long run (probably about 15 miles) planned for next Saturday, I might go out on my bike more this week than running. And whilst running today Penny mentioned something which gave me an idea for what to do next year, when I turn 60 – the entire Lakeland Trails series. ‘Inspiring races in beautiful places’: I do hope that we’ll be more or less back to normal by then.

Lockdown 9/Furlough 6: socially distanced exercise

As I travel down to Penrith once a week anyway to drop the kids off at their Dad’s, it seemed fair enough that I could – now we’re allowed to meet up in a socially distanced way with one other person – go running with Penny again. She’s been really busy through lockdown, working long hours – as has her husband even though theoretically he has part-time work – and so not only had we not seen each other for a while, but we had only spoken once.

You never know quite what people’s attitudes are going to be about meeting up, even when you’re sticking to the rules: fortunately Penny’s take on it is much the same as mine, and we arranged to go for a run on Askham Fell. We’ve run up there several times before – for Penny and Tim it’s a fairly regular route, or was before lockdown – and I left Brampton on a fairly grey, dull afternoon and travelled down the motorway to Penrith.

Just 20 miles or so further south, Penrith was lovely and sunny. The kids jumped out of the car and I went a couple of miles further through Askham to Helton and up on to the Fell (Penny and I met in the centre of Askham, which for those of you who don’t know it is one of those lovely old Cumbrian villages with stone cottages and a river (the Eamont) at the bottom of the hill. There are also some quite average modern houses, and the village also benefits from an outdoor swimming pool which is normally open in the summer).

With the lack of rain recently the Fell was really dry: even places where there would have been large puddles/small ponds had dried up, becks were running lower than normal, and boggy bits of the Fell were firm and dry. I love the feeling of being out in the open and up high, and whilst Askham Fell may not be particularly high in terms of the Cumbrian Fells generally, it provides some glorious views of Ullswater. It was one of those evenings when it would have been nice to have sat down outside in the sun after running and to have had a picnic (with of course a nice chilled glass of prosecco or similar): as it looked as if two guys, also socially distancing (like us, in two separate vehicles), who ran past us were going to do.

As we ran Penny suggested that the ground was so good and the weather so lovely that it might be time to do a long-planned run: High Street (an old Roman route) from end to end.

On Wednesday I was still feeling full of energy and optimism from Tuesday’s run and decided I’d do a brick session (bike then run); on Thursday I went out on my bike and did the previous day’s bike ride in reverse, this time to stop to take some photos as the sun shone down on the Northern Pennines and the Lake District fells could be seen in the background. All was green and white: hawthorn, elderflower and cow parsley in white bloom against the green of the hills and fields. On Friday I was due to meet up with a friend and go open water swimming in the river Tyne, but my car got a puncture and I could only book it in for 4pm: too late to get over for swimming, but perhaps just as well as the weather had become extremely windy.

I was hoping it would calm down overnight but it didn’t, and the forecast for further south and into the central Lake District area – where we were due to start the High Street run – was even worse. As we’re busy clocking up the km to raise funds for Cumbria Mountain Rescue, we didn’t feel that risking potentially being rescued ourselves – or worse still, blown off the top of a Fell – would be that good an idea. We met on Askham Fell and went for an incredibly wet, windy and cold 7 mile run roughly over the same ground as Tuesday’s run but with a lot more bogginess. We had thought of going as far as Loadpot Hill and then dropping down to Howtown before coming back on the lower path (part of the Ullswater Trail) but decided that retracing our footsteps over familiar ground was probably a better idea. High Street can wait for better weather.

Reading and thinking

I finished The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared this week, which I really enjoyed – I then watched the film which was nothing like as good as the book. I’m now reading Monisha Rajesh’s Around the World in 80 Trains. She makes the point that not only do you see more travelling by train than you do when flying, but actually you also need to be selective about which trains you use: bullet trains etc. just swoosh you along so fast that the countryside is a blur and you don’t see anything that way either.

The book fits in rather well with having watched Race Across the World on the BBC iPlayer, where contestants have to travel 1000s of miles and cannot use planes: they also have a limited budget. The first series was definitely a race, and I felt it would have been nice to have seen more of the places the teams went through. In the second series the teams wanted to experience some of the places they went through – which led to one team running out of money on the penultimate leg – which I felt was a far healthier attitude and made for a far more interesting series (the winners also gave at least half of their winnings to south American charities, or at least said they were going to).

This, along with coronavirus lockdown, has reminded me once more of one reason I moved to Cumbria and of why, much as I need a job which I find mentally stimulating and which I enjoy, I also want time to do the things which are important to me. City life down south – or perhaps city life generally – is incredibly rushed. People rush not to be late to work, or rush to get home, tired after rushing through tons of emails at work (and often, I think, generating more work for themselves or for others in the process); buildings are thrown up as quickly as possible in order to get rent in as soon as possible, or to sell the property and move on to the next development; we all zoom around in cars or on trains, getting frustrated by traffic jams or the slow driver in front of us.

Monisha Rajesh puts it very well in her book, with words which I am completely in accord with, and I hope she won’t mind if I quote her here. She’s talking about her thoughts having been watching old women doing t’ai chi in Hanoi:

“As a people we’d become obsessed with speed, checking our watches, glancing at the clock, running for the Tube, inventing bullet trains, faster internet and instant coffee, yet where was the extra time we were saving? And what were we doing with it? If speed was improving our lives, then why were the days busier, longer and harder, our minds overburdened and tired?… Leaving my job, my home and my possessions had quietened the noise in my head… The less I carried, the less I worried.”

Monisha Rajesh, Around the Globe in 80 Trains

Obviously there are problems with lockdown, primarily economic: and yet the flip side is that it has given the entire planet a ‘pause’, or at least those who aren’t working silly hours. And yet as soon lockdown was eased just a small amount, there were pictures of crowded commuter trains, reports of airlines being angry about quarantine, and the fear that people would flock to beauty spots for the bank holiday weekend. But working from home should give people an extra hour or two each day, if not longer: for me I’ll use that time to do yoga and keep running more regularly than I am able to when I’m commuting to Newcastle. But perhaps at the end of the day we humans just find it incredibly difficult to strike a balance; to hit a happy medium. We certainly seem to find it difficult not to want ‘stuff’ when we see all that people around us have, and as soon as time is freed up we fill it with something else. I wonder what Ms Rajesh is doing having got back home from her travels…

Lockdown 6/Furlough 3

Homeschooling

With a huge range of lessons, ideas, activities and support online you’d think it would be easy to home-school: but as almost every parent is finding, it’s not actually as easy as all that.

For a start, when has a child ever taken any notice of his or her parent as a teacher? Years ago there was no way my parents were going to teach me to drive; I attempted to teach Isabella piano at one point and we stopped after one lesson. My first day of homeschooling with Edward and Bella I had thought had gone quite well; however since then trying to get them to do anything has been an uphill battle (though once Edward has buckled down to something he normally gets on with it without demurring too much).

Bella is, fortunately, very self-motivated: she may not always study at a steady pace but when she puts her mind to it she throws herself into it. However having offered to teach her some French in order to help with the GCSE course (which she is doing outside school as school can’t timetable French for her), she told me she’d do it herself. The clear indication was that I was not good enough.

Edward then informed me that I was a ‘crap teacher’. This is because I taught him how to calculate areas and perimeters of triangles, squares and rectangles using some basic GCSE questions. Apparently I shouldn’t have done that… meanwhile Alex is teaching Edward history. Or at least, I thought he was teaching him about the First and possibly Second World War. In fact it is far, far more specific than that: Alex is teaching Edward about the development of weapons during that period. I think Edward’s historical perspective is going to be somewhat skewed…

Alex meanwhile insists he has nothing on and nothing to do, whilst admitting that he hadn’t looked at school emails for at least a week. He has at least signed up to a ‘MOOC’ (Massive Online Course or something) and it’s a topic he’s keen to study – the development of the British Army from 1815 onwards (notice a theme here?). However it’s already started so he’s going to wait for the next start date…

I hope he remembers to check when that might be…

Living alone – or not

Having had the boys for 3 or 4 days, Isabella came here when they went back to the house in Penrith. It meant that unusually, I haven’t actually been alone for about a week. It’s been nice having the kids separately and because Bella is old enough to leave on her own I’ve got out for a couple of runs: she’s also made me do more yoga as she has started doing yoga herself.

Meanwhile having finished Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English (which was absolutely brilliant, and enthralling from start to finish – and made me so grateful that I was born in a country where English is my native tongue, and I haven’t had to learn it!), I then read Alexander McCall Smith’s The Unbearable Lightness of Scones. I’d picked this up as a bit of ‘light’ reading but then found passages with some insightful and relevant comments on the human condition.

The first was this, which was applied primarily in the book to someone who lives alone:

“…there are many of us, surely, in that category; we may feel that we have numerous friends, but how many can we telephone with no purpose other than to chat?”

It made me think about the current ‘lockdown’ situation; about being alone myself at times; who I have been in touch with and who not. Over time it’s changed: there was a slightly frantic flurry of activity in the early weeks as we adjusted to this slower, quieter pace of life and in a slightly panic-stricken way did our utmost to stay in touch with people. I’ve found – and I don’t know whether this is true of most people or not – that whilst I’m still chatting to people, I’ve become a bit pickier about it, and that some of the people I’m in contact with the most are not necessarily the ones who I thought I might have been. It’s been brilliant to have zoom ‘drinks’ with Caroline and Jo, who otherwise I wouldn’t speak to for months: we’re currently talking to each other more or less once a fortnight. I’ve caught up with friends I haven’t spoken to for ages, such as Kath – and then I’ve had phone calls to friends who I might otherwise see for a run or at choir but who I wouldn’t normally ‘need’ to phone. Workwise I actually feel closer to the nationwide team of which I am part than I had before this all started; and my sister and I have been conversing far more than we would normally do (which is nice – we hated each other as kids but we’ve grown fonder of each other over the years).

Then nearly every time I’ve been out I’ve ‘bumped’ into someone I know, which has meant having the chance for a nice chat, or at least waving and saying ‘hi’ as I run past. And everybody but everybody has been generally friendlier – it was always the custom to say ‘hello’ as you walked or ran past people at the Tarn, but now everybody seems to be doing it all the time. I feel even more part of the community than I did before, despite being in my house a lot and at times alone for days at a time. Saturday was especially good as I spoke to a couple of friends in my garden. It’s sad not to be able to hug people, but great that we can still chat.

Boredom? The meaning of Life?

One of the characters in the Alexander McCall Smith book suddenly realises one afternoon that she has nothing to do, and she finds this unsettling and immediately starts to look around for another project: ideally one she can do from home.

It’s been crossing my mind the past few days that life has become like a constant weekend: no need to do anything at any particular time, or at all if you don’t want to. Is this what retirement is like? Are we given some sort of purpose in life by our jobs? It’s made me wonder what it must have been like in pre-industrial days, when ‘work’ would have meant, for some, surviving – finding enough food; ensuring warmth and shelter. We seem to have progressed to a stage where it is necessary to be using our brains and to be Doing Things in order to feel useful or important. Or is it partly so that we don’t have to face up to the reality that we are, in fact, no more than rather sophisticated (which in middle English meant adulterated/corrupted) animals ?

Bluebells

The bluebells are out in all their glory this week, and in fact I think look better than I’ve ever seen them. I had a lovely run through the woods down to Lanercost Bridge (there’s a plain modern bridge and then a rather lovely old packhorse bridge alongside it) with a haze of bluebells on the way back; then on Sunday I went for a walk round the Tarn with Edward and he did tree-climbing. Every time I go out I am conscious of the abundance of spring flowers, which never fail to lift my heart.

It’s always so good to get out and I am incredibly grateful – and relieved – that I can. I spent a day indoors last week, only going out to put something in the bin. Whilst I did extra yoga, it just wasn’t the same as being out in the spring sunshine and the countryside, and the day felt a bit weird – a bit incomplete. I’m resolved to continue to go out daily even if it starts raining soon!

Lockdown Running

So, what I dreaded came to pass. As crowds of people were too stupid to keep away from each other but instead flocked to the Lake District, Snowdon, Devon etc. in their hundreds over the weekend, on Monday night came the announcement I’d been dreading: lockdown.

My feelings over the past couple of weeks have, like so many other people’s, alternated between incredibly low moods (really not feeling like doing anything, wondering where it would all end, wondering how to carry on) and being fairly phlegmatic about it all. It didn’t help that I was running out of food (and it was getting towards the end of the month, so I was also trying to wait for payday until I went out for a supermarket shop). I was messaged a couple of times about whether I should have the kids with me and whether they were putting me more at risk – my immediate emotional response was one of ‘how on earth would I cope if I couldn’t see my kids’; I was also worried about my mental health if I couldn’t get out for a run or a bike ride.

By the Monday evening, just before the announcement, I was feeling annoyed with the scare-mongering and general panic. I deactivated my Facebook account and concentrated on other things. When my running group all decided not to go out running, even at 2m apart, I was devastated (and switched off notifications from them for a while – however it didn’t take me long to switch them back on again!). I felt like closing myself off from everybody – which sounds contradictory but is my standard response when I feel really low. I go into ‘shutdown’ mode.

What I really needed to do, of course, was get out for a run and do some singing practice. When I awoke on Tuesday and found a text from the government telling me I had to stay in, I read the details. Yes, I can go out to shop for food; yes I can do one bit of exercise a day, if I stay away from other people; yes divorced parents are allowed to go between each other’s houses to pick up their children as they would normally do. I had work that day, chatted to a friend who had been having similar mood swings, and that evening went for a run and then came home and did some singing practice.

Life seemed better. Lockdown had happened, but without the drama that I had feared. The energy to run and to do singing practice had come back and created the mental energy to look forward to doing so the next day; and the next.

Then my ex told me he’d had a dry cough and a high temperature, so the whole household was self-isolating completely. He felt absolutely fine and having spoken to him a couple of days later there was no cough to be heard. However it means I don’t get to see the kids for longer than I had anticipated. Perhaps because I had been out running and singing, and chatting to people, I didn’t react as I’d thought I might. I’d far rather we were all healthy and safe: and in fact what is now less than 2 weeks is only like them being on holiday. I miss them – their clutter is still distributed around my house, and rather than clearing it up as I normally would, I’ve left it around – but they will be back. I gave Edward’s panda a hug yesterday; I wander into their rooms to distribute cleaned and ironed clothes, sensing their characters in their rooms. Somehow they have left some of their energy and their imprint on those rooms; they’re not completely empty and devoid, just left in a rush, saying ‘we’ll be back soon and pick up where we left off’. I’m rather glad I haven’t tidied them up!

Of course what is so different about being closed away now – in comparison with the times when I’ve been really ill in the far distant past, pre-marriage and children, and was living alone – is that technology keeps us all in touch with each other. Even when the work emails crash, whatsapp works, or the phone. I can see people via zoom or skype or any of the message-calling services; something which I couldn’t conceive of when I first started work (when we didn’t even have email).

I am also incredibly lucky. I have a job and am being paid my salary as normal, so far; I have a house with a garden; I have countryside on my doorstep, with space enough not to be close to people and to still go out running or cycling or walking; and my children will be back soon. It is scary in that it feels as if the virus is getting closer – Cumbria has had quite a high incidence rate, especially bearing in mind our small population – but I am so glad I’m no longer a city flat dweller and that I don’t have the worries of being unemployed or running my own business. And also, it could be worse: we could be in a war zone and thank goodness we’re not.

I’m still not back on Facebook and I’m not watching the news. In some ways I am living in a bubble, but it is almost impossible in these days of IT connectivity not to know something of what is going on. Reading Sapiens (Yuval Noah Harari) made me acutely conscious of what social animals we humans are. Whilst we cannot ‘connect’ physically at the moment, for most of us the opportunities to connect in other ways are possibly almost better than they ever have been.

Take care and keep safe, everybody. And don’t forget Syria.

These days will return:

Running solo

I don’t like running on my own.

At least, I don’t like running new routes on my own. One of the problems I still have with running, even after all these years, is pacing myself. On my own I tend to run faster than I feel comfortable with for any length of time, and then find it hard: if I’m with a friend or a group then running along chatting means I pace myself better. If I can talk then I know I’m running at a ‘sensible’ pace. With an unknown route you don’t know where the testing sections of the route are going to be unless you’ve studied the map in detail (which I have to admit I rarely do); with routes you’ve run before you know exactly what to expect and how to feel when.

When the final two days of the Music Festival were cancelled (due to coronavirus risks) and the weather wasn’t bad, I thought I’d go for a long run somewhere I didn’t know. I chose a route where I could either do between 8-10km or double that: the idea was to explore a bit in the southern part of Wark Forest (which joins on to Kielder Forest). It was either that or a bike ride, but as the weather is still a bit on the chilly side at times I thought I’d be warmer running than cycling.

The drive up there is lovely: I drove along roads which I’ve been along many times by car and by bike, as far as Gilsland, thinking that I’d like to get out on my bike later if the weather stayed good. At Gilsland I turned up towards Spadeadam, thinking back to several years ago when David and the kids and I had driven up here to see where David could start a run into the middle of Kielder (he never did it). I remembered the somewhat unnerving drive across the MOD firing range and the remote road. Today it seemed to go on forever, becoming more and more remote. You pass the odd farm; at Butterburn you wonder if you’re going into someone’s farmyard but still the road continues.

As my car was getting extremely low on fuel I was getting a bit worried about how much further I had to go to get to Churnsike Lodge, where I’d thought of starting, and instead decided to stop in the gateway to one of the tracks I wanted to run along (making sure there was room for people to get out – the presence of a post box and some bins was evidence of a house further up, as the map confirmed).

A lot of trees had fallen down and as I got out of the car I realised that it was colder than I had thought. I started off on the forest track, which led gradually uphill and into the wind. It was easy to navigate – the forest track was well-maintained and I knew I just had to keep turning right.

It wasn’t exactly a thrilling run in terms of views or variety of track, and my quite large rucksack was banging around against my back (partly as I’d forgotten to repair the waiststrap) and annoying me. But it also dawned on me that I was missing the companionship of running with someone else and having someone to talk to. I was surrounded by trees and nothing else: and then it started to rain. It was incredibly solitary, and yet the presence of the forestry commission track made man’s effect all too obvious as well: even in this remote area human beings are not that far away.

Things got a bit more interesting when I had to turn on to a more grassy track, which was flooded at one point. This led down to a ford. From the map I knew there was a ford but also thought it looked as if there might be a pedestrian bridge: but no. It was difficult to tell how deep the water was, and it was running quite fast. I walked upstream a bit to see if there was somewhere more shallow to cross, without luck. As I walked/jogged back to the ford, I noticed there was a car on the opposite side: and also that just downstream of the ford there was a possible crossing place, although one short section looked deeper. At least if I fell in there might be people to rescue me – I didn’t really want to have to retrace my footsteps, as I was nearer the end of the run than the beginning by now.

Sure enough, having successfully waded through the burn (up to knee deep), it was only a mile or so to Churnsike Lodge, which I was curious to see. It’s a former hunting lodge and was owned by the Forestry Commission but is now a holiday let. The photos of it on the website look lovely.

The last short stretch of run was alongside the river Irthing – which ends up running through Lanercost and Brampton further west – and up over a small hill. I arrived back at the car, glad to be able to put on dry clothes. The large rucksack had been a pain to carry but as my legs had got soaking wet it was good to have a pair of tracksuit bottoms in it to put on.

As I drove back, the weather having brightened up again, I mulled over running alone and why I hadn’t particularly enjoyed it. Whilst I like having someone to talk to so I can pace myself, I also like exploring with someone else – and yet there are times when I enjoy the solitude, and certainly I’m almost as happy cycling on my own as I am with others. Perhaps it’s just that I find it so much more difficult to motivate myself to run. Perhaps it’s also a slight fear of being out in remote areas and something happening to me. Whatever it is, it’s one of the times when I think it would be really nice to have a new boyfriend – he would of course not only have to run, cycle and swim but also like music and good food and my kids.

As I drove back across the MOD ranges I noticed the warning signs more clearly, and was once again struck by the slight eeriness of the place. Whilst I thought of stopping to take some more photos, I almost didn’t dare…

Perhaps I just have too vivid an imagination, particularly when on my own.

Cold Cold Fell

Every time I’ve paused at Banks Turret to admire the view, it’s involved looking at Cold Fell directly in front of me, the Lake District fells a shadowy silhouette on the horizon. Whilst the Lake District fells look misty and a little dreamy, Cold Fell looms there barrenly.

It really does look cold, this most northerly slope of the Pennines, facing northwards like a giant sentry wanting to stop anyone who is thinking of travelling south. In the winter when snow has fallen it’s always the last of the local hills to lose its white covering; running up Talkin Fell and Simmerson Hill there was Cold Fell in the background, intriguing and yet not welcoming.

David, my ex-husband, used to run up there sometimes. He’d tell me how there weren’t any real tracks up there; the first time he’d thought about going up there we’d driven to Forest Head and he hadn’t been able to find his way up past the old abandoned mine workings (and I was rather relieved as I had visions of the ground suddenly opening beneath his feet, there are so many old mines and quarries and shake holes up there). I’d run or walked up Talkin Fell many times, and along the track which winds along the bottom of Cold Fell and then heads off to Newbiggin. But the opportunity to get up on to Cold Fell itself had eluded me.

Then I saw a route map for it in Trail Running magazine (and, on the back of the page, a route near Cautley Spout in the Howgills, which is another run I’d like to do) and waited for my chance. It came sooner than I thought: Penny and I want to run High Street from one end to the other but we want good weather for it. A running group party on a Saturday night meant she and her husband were in this area anyway: they stayed the night at my house, said husband headed home to do some work on the Sunday, and we went off to explore Cold Fell and see if we could find the route indicated in the magazine. I hasten to add that I took an OS map and a compass.

Funnily enough none of the others from the running group wanted to join us, so it was just the two of us who parked up at Jockey’s Shield and made our way up the steep initial incline in the direction of Gairs (a disused house which has been re-roofed in the past few years, but which still sits there empty, its windows blinded and characterless with stone infill). It was wet, even on the relatively stony track. However the sun was out, we both had goretex trainers, and we were filled with that optimism and sense of adventure you always have at the beginning of a run or walk when you’re off to explore somewhere new.

I have taken a photo from this spot SO many times!

Running (as much as we could on the boggy track) past Gairs, we rounded a corner and headed towards some cute cottages at Howgill, industrial heritage on our left – the old railway line is now used as part of the public footpath network – and a view of Tindale Tarn ahead of us. Around here the RSPB is planting a lot of new trees – you only need to look at a map to see from the names that once upon a time these fells would have been tree-covered, and that presumably the mining and quarrying activity denuded the slopes. It will be really interesting to come back in, say, 10 years’ time, to see how well the trees have become established.

Looking eastwards to Tindale Tarn. Far, far away in the distance is Newcastle (no, you can’t see it)

From the row of cottages (the usual internal debate: would I want to live here – it’s beautiful but remote and the cottages look the perfect size, but I’d have to drive everywhere, so no) we turned up towards the Bruthwaite Forest viewpoint, eventually getting to a moss-covered wooden sign signalling that we had arrived. There wasn’t much forest to see (see previous comment). It was quite steep and the ground was very rough, so we weren’t running much. Also the weather was changing and drifts of clouds were beginning to come in from the west, with a big bank of pale grey cloud looking a little threatening to the north-west (it was getting windy as well, so I was hoping it was going to pass straight over us).

We continued up the hill, stopping at one fence line to debate where we were (not as high as we thought) and aiming for a cairn on the skyline. As we got higher the ground got firmer and the frost still on the moss was making some of them look like pretty white flowers and some like white seaweed. The soil up here was black and peaty; the stream water crystal clear.

We could see another cairn on the skyline above us, which was more or less due south and therefore should be the top of Cold Fell. We stumbled across the peaty land which was criss-crossed with streams and ‘cliffs’ of peat – but probably a lot easier to cross today when the ground was hard with frost than when it was wetter. If you look on a map you can see that a lot of streams seem to spring up on Cold Fell – some running down from the area we were walking in, to run north – some from the area we were due to walk back through to run south. I felt a bit bad stamping across the heather and the moss, but there was no clear track and I guess if not many people go up there (which they don’t seem to), then it will spring back quickly enough.

One of the most beautiful sights despite the dull grey light which we were now walk/running in was a peat ‘cliff’ covered in icicles.

The cairn on the top is great – not only is there a trig point but also a stone shelter and then a large beehive shaped stone cairn, carefully constructed. We didn’t hang around however – there was a lone walker in the shelter already and we both got the impression that he was enjoying his solitary cup of coffee (or maybe soup), so we had a quick snack and rejoined the path back down the hill.

This time we were heading in a westerly direction back towards the track which leads more or less north-south past Gairs. Unfortunately I missed a right-hand turn in the fence and we ended up coming down the side of Tarnmonath Fell, slightly further south than we’d intended. It didn’t matter – we joined up with the same track – and as we carefully descended through the heather down a steep hillside, about 6 roe deer scattered to the winds below us. On the track we met a solitary walker/runner near the Gairs viewpoint sign. As we ran past him we said ‘hello’ cheerily but he didn’t seem particularly happy.

I was beginning to want just to be at the bottom of all the hills by now, as running/walking across the bumpy, boggy terrain had been quite energy sapping. Coming down from Cold Fell we had been following a track which would seem OK, and then suddenly a foot would disappear in a couple of inches of water. Somehow my shoes seem to keep my feet warm even when my socks are wet, but Penny was getting cold feet. As we turned to go down the final bit of track we bumped into a friend of mine and a friend of hers, and it was a relief to have an excuse to stop to have a chat and a breather. However we were soon off down the final slope – fortunately no longer icy – and before long were back at the River Gelt, which is gorgeous whatever the weather. I wish photos could just give you a couple of seconds of the atmosphere, with the water splashing and the birds singing (I guess a video would be better).

It had taken us about 3 and a half hours to do just over 16 km; as we discussed it on the way back to my house we thought we’d probably actually run about 50% of the route. However it was worth doing: it would make a great walk with the right footwear and clothing, but in terms of a run route it got a bit of a thumbs down!

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.

Windermere: a weekend of running

Running around Windermere made me appreciate the Lake District all over again. The central lakes – particularly the area around Ambleside and the actual lake of Windermere – is the area of the Lake District I have kept coming back to, time and again. Mountain bike weekends as a single person were followed by family holidays before and even after we moved up here; when we moved from Bristol to Cumbria ideally I would have liked to have lived in Ambleside; when I retire I hope I will, or at least in the town of Windermere.

The Windermere marathon is run on-road; as we were running round the lakes off-road (partly as neither Penny nor I like road running – but also trail running is just more interesting), we knew that Windermere could be up to 40 miles and therefore needed to be run over two days. Even so, two 20-mile runs on consequetive days was going to be hard. Penny looked at the map again and turned up with a coloured-up version with a route which was possibly going to be difficult to navigate in places but which might be more like 30-35 miles.

We were staying at the Swan Hotel at Newby Bridge on the Saturday night, and I booked us sports massages in Backbarrow that evening as well. It would be worth trying to optimise our chances of actually running on the Sunday rather than walking or hobbling. I was hoping that the tweak in my knee wasn’t going to cause problems – and Penny is haunted every so often by previous injuries causing problems.

We arrived at the Swan at 9 o’clock on Saturday morning. I’d been up in plenty of time and bought myself coffee at Tebay services; unfortunately they hadn’t got any plain flapjacks so instead my ‘fuel’ consisted of Graze Bars (perfect running fuel) various other bars, and a sandwich I’d bought at Tebay (which was nice but not good as running fuel – I ate half after Windermere and struggled with my stomach for a bit). It was a beautiful spring day and walking into the reception at the Swan to check it was OK to leave a car and come back later, we were both impressed by the decor. The hotel has a lovely mixture of colours and different wallpapers, but the diversity creates a glorious and surprisingly homongeneous whole. I know my parents and my kids would love the hotel…

We got in my car and headed up to Wray Castle, on the western side of the lake and towards the northern end, Penny’s plan being that we’d do 20-26 miles on Saturday and then only about 11 on Sunday. At Wray the lovely, helpful, National Trust staff were impressed with what we were trying to do and we agreed we’d go back for lunch at the end of the run. I also determined to take the kids there at Easter. Several times during this run I was to comment how well the NT do things: their cafes offer good food; their visitor attractions are far more visitor friendly and child-friendly now than they were when I was young; and they seem to manage to carry out nature and heritage conservation whilst providing attractive places to visit.

Starting out at Wray Castle

From Wray there’s an easy-to-follow footpath around to Ambleside. I love Ambleside, although it’s one of those places where it’s easy to spend money on things which you don’t really need. However we weren’t going to go into the village centre today but instead ran along the road which goes past the vague remains of the Roman Fort (Galava) and to Waterhead. Here we found a footpath going up hill. We went up… and then up some more… and the views of the lake became more and more stunning…

Running around Windermere was to prove to be a bit of a ‘heritage’ run as well as nature. We ran up over land above Ambleside to come out near Townhead, another National Trust property which we both admitted to not having ever visited but to having wanted to (another time!). After a bit of a dilemma going around a farm (the footpath once went straight through but now goes around the farmyard), we ran across rolling grasslands up behind Holehird – another place to be visited sometime – lambs approaching us with curiosity while their mothers kept a cautious eye on us. Time and again I kept thinking about how this area is the Lake District at its best – it was probably spring in England at its best as well. Magnolias were in bloom, and rhododendrons of the most amazing colours – pale pink, fuschia pink – and of course daffodils everywhere. In some places we also saw the first few bluebells, and there was verdant wild garlic growing in profusion, the buds still tightly wrapped in green. How on earth had I ever thought I might want to live in Newcastle?!

We arrived in Windermere and felt that it was time for a coffee, so went into Booths. It also gave us a chance to look at the map as we needed to find our way out of Windermere along the Dales Way. Wiggling through various back streets (I never knew Windermere was so big), we eventually picked it up near Matson Ground, a farm and, by the look of it, stables. We went slightly off-course here but in fact it didn’t matter too much; and eventually ran near Winster (the Brown Horse at Winster has the most amazing selection of gins and tonics). I’d walked across the route we were taking previously with my friends Davina and Colin, who used to live near Blackwell and with whom I walked to the Brown Horse a few times. It’s a funny thing, thinking you recognise somewhere and then realising that you’ve gone west-east across the route instead of the (roughly) north-south we were doing today. Not far past here a man walking his labradors shouted at us which way we needed to go, which was useful as we were dithering!

We kept running past lovely Lake District cottages, wondering how on earth they were accessed and knowing that we’d never seen them before and might well never see them again. When you stick to the main or even secondary roads, there’s a whole load of countryside that you don’t even know exists. It’s not all fields and woods!

We reached a tarn and then turned on to a road. The map looked as if there was a bridleway that we needed to take, but it said it was private land. It turned out that you need to go further up the road before you can cut across a field and follow the footpath. Then the footpath disappeared again and we were wandering around some public access land wondering which direction we were meant to go in. We met a couple, who said it was far easier coming in the other direction but that if we headed south(ish) then we’d meet a path where we needed to turn left (east-ish). We eventually found this, but then arrived at a place where it wasn’t clear which left hand turn we should take – one going slightly back on ourselves up a hill or one the other side of a beck. Fortunately a group of people heading down from the other side of the beck told us they’d come from Gummer’s How, which is where we were heading for.

There was quite a bit of uphill now and I was feeling tired. Whereas we’d seen bus-stops earlier in the run and joked about how we could always catch a bus if we wanted to, there was no way a bus was going to be along in these woods! However we were now on the right track and came out on Gummer’s How to be rewarded with stunning views of Windermere and even to Morecambe Bay. Our legs were tired but ‘all’ we had to do was run down the road from Gummer’s How and then do the last bit along the A591 to our hotel.

The Swan Hotel was down there……..

We arrived back at the hotel at 5.45; just in time to make a quick visit to the spa and relax in the steam room and jacuzzi before heading off for our fab sports massages at Backbarrow. We then went back to the hotel for dinner and treated ourselves to a gin and tonic and lots of tap water; neither of us managed to finish our food however, which was a pity as it was lovely (Penny had fish pie; I had paella). It was then early to bed as we were both tired and also wanted to get going at a reasonable time the next morning. We had run/walked/climbed either 19.4 or 21 miles, depending whether you believed Penny’s Garmin or my Strava.

Day two: Newby Bridge to Wray

Sunday dawned bright again and our legs felt amazingly normal – the effects, we decided, of little alcohol, the jacuzzi, steam room and sports massage and an early night. However having only just had breakfast and as the first part of today’s route was uphill, we took it easy to start with.

We turned along a footpath to Finsthwaite, up through some woods and past Finsthwaite tower. There were some lovely cottages in Finsthwaite and I wondered how much a 1- or 2-bed cottage would cost. Passing into some more woods, we noticed the bleaberrys coming into berry and I wondered if they were what my uncle used to call wortleberries – I remember going to pick them as a family when I was young, I think probably in the Quantocks. Interestingly, one of the roads or lanes in Brampton is called Bleaberry Bent – I shall have to look out for them next time I go along there. I wonder if they are good for cooking with?

We were up above Stott Park Bobbin Mill now and heading up towards High Dam, which I believe used to power the mill. For me this is one of the most interesting of English Heritage properties, partly because it can still produce bobbins (I have one which I’m using for French knitting – it was meant to make a little woollen christmas tree but it will be for Christmas 2019 now). We were later to drive past it on the way back to the Swan Hotel to pick up Penny’s car, and she commented that you’d think a cafe would do quite well there as there are so few places to eat between Hawkshead and Newby Bridge.

High Dam was gorgeous, and we then had a lovely easy run – mostly downhill – over tracks maintained by the Lake District National Park. We did in fact come out on the road in slightly the wrong place, but as there was a footpath on the other side of the road, which led to the YMCA, it was fine.

High Dam was gorgeous

From the YMCA there was a clear footpath which took us through part of the Greythwaite estate and past some gorgeous houses they own. Some are holiday cottages; some are having quite a bit of work done to them, presumably in order to be holiday cottages. The footpath along by the lake was lovely, with all sorts of flowers in bloom and a river joining the lake and creating a stony dam and ripples of its own. It made me really appreciate this western side of the lake, which I think is less well-known than the eastern, more built-up, side.

A quick jog from one of the Sawreys downhill and we were at Claife Heights viewing point – somewhere else neither of us had ever been. There is a great National Trust cafe at the ‘gatehouse’ to the walk up to the Heights – though you have to walk a few minutes to the Ferry ‘terminal’ to use the toilet – which again I’ve resolved I’m going to take the children to. Apparently it was once used for dances and all sorts, before falling into disrepair. It must have been magical to walk up the path to have a superb view over the lake, candlelight twinkling around you.

Fingerposts told us it was now about 4 miles or less to Wray, and we ran across some lovely grassy National Trust land before joining a more stony lakeside path. We had both run this before when doing the Hawkshead Trail race; but the Hawkshead race soon heads up the Coffin Trail to go back over the hill to Hawkshead. We instead kept running along the lake shore, and before long Wray Castle was in sight. Two miles to go; and time for a stretch. As I tried to start running again my tweaky knee was extremely painful, as if my entire left leg had gone into spasm (perhaps it had). I hobbled/tried to run/limped along, cross that after running so well for most of the morning so far after such a long run yesterday, my left leg now had let me down.

However we got back to Wray Castle and had finished our longest run to date. It had been beautiful, although at times a bit chilly and we had covered, in total, somewhere between 30 and 34 miles.

Unfortunately the cafe was full and we needed to sit inside somewhere warm, so we drove to Hawkshead for the obligatory post-run soup. Just Esthwaite Water still to do (and I need to do Brotherswater) and then we’ll have a big celebration!

We made it! 30 miles or just over!

Coniston

After an attempt to get down to Coniston when the temperature was -5 and the handbrake froze on my car, allowing me to go nowhere, a couple of weeks later the appropriate day arrived. The weather had changed with temperatures in the mid-teens and a feeling of early spring, snowdrops, crocuses and even daffodils popping up all around.

Even with such warm temperatures, I had packed hat, buff, gloves, sheepskin boots and down coat ‘just in case’ and was wearing a long sleeved top and a running jacket which had a lightweight fleecy lining (I must get a lightweight fleece that I can wear for running… also some new running leggings as I only have one full-length pair, and my fab. Goretex shoes have developed holes). The weather forecast had said that temperatures were going to drop to feel like 4 degrees, and that there was a chance of rain… Penny’s weather forecast, on the other hand, was completely different. So who knew what we were going to encounter. Unlike me, who is a chilly body, Penny had debated whether to wear shorts, and had a vest top on under her running top and jacket.

We arrived in Coniston village and parked in the Sports and Social club car park – just away from the centre but only £4 for the whole day, and your fee contributes towards the sporting life of the village. From there we walked to the main car park to use the loos – which were in a disgusting state and not worth the 30p we had to pay. I felt sorry for the guy who was on-site ready to clean them, plunger in hand.

As we set off we hadn’t gone far before we felt hot. Jackets came off and were wrapped round our waists as we paused to take photos from the northern end of the lake. We were running around the lake clockwise, so uphill towards Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin, who built a dining room extension on to the previously relatively small house with superb views of the lake. Just before Brantwood we turned up a public footpath/bridleway which took us up into Forestry Commission owned land: the western edges of Grizedale Forest.

Grizedale is possibly my favourite of the forestry commission forests that I know, and as we ran along we were discussing this as it’s Penny’s favourite too. The others are great as well but there is something special about Grizedale. Maybe, for me, it’s because it was the first place I ever did ‘proper’ mountain biking on my first ever visit to the Lake District – when I fell headlong in love with the place – and maybe it’s also because over the years it’s somewhere I’ve frequently returned to with or without the children, exploring more of the forest as time has gone by. One of my favourite short runs (about 4 miles) takes you from the Visitor Centre up to Carron Crag – a run I wrote up for a running magazine several years ago but which still brings vivid picture memories to my head whenever I think about it.

We ran along the wall which bounds Brantwood and then uphill, passing the remains of one of the woodland sculptures – a seat – and then up past Lawson Park where Adam Sutherland’s Grizedale Arts is based. The house has as stunning a position as Brantwood, whilst being even less accessible and private, surrounded by the forest.

Running on uphill (if we had turned downhill at this point we would have ended up back on the road), some forestry operations had been in progress. I always think this makes the landscape look like one of those Paul Nash First World War paintings, although of course it looks like that for completely different reasons: for reasons of good tree management rather than death and destruction.

Turning off the forest road on to a single track path, Penny pointed out the lichen on the trees, demonstrating how clean the air is – unfortunately at this point my camera developed a problem with focussing and from this point on it was a bit hit and miss as to whether my photos were blurry or not, irritatingly. There were dark pools of clear water, and staring up through the denser parts of the forest I always imagine is like Mirk Wood, although again not as threatening.

Coming out on Park Moor (National Trust), we were treated to a magnificent view of Coniston water. Exposed and high up, it looked as if there was rain over to our west (the other side of Coniston Old Man), and Penny was glad that after all she hadn’t worn shorts.

There are unclassified old county roads up here and Penny was saying what a problem the motorbikes and 4x4s can be, as they’re perfectly entitled to use these old roads but don’t always help with their maintenance – as a result of which some have eroded in places to bare rock. As we dropped down the hill having gone past ‘the cottage in the clouds’ (stunning location, but how do you get there?) we met some motorcyclists coming up – or trying to come up – a particularly rocky section of track. As I bounced down the track while they waited, my eyes met those of one of the men – and there was that brief frisson of mutual attraction… and then we were gone and they were left to try to scramble their bikes up over the rocks.

The track comes out in the village of High Nibthwaite and a short jog along the road took us to a footpath which crossed a field to cut off a corner. The river Crake flows out of the lake here – and ultimately into Morecambe Bay – and was high and fast today. In places the field was below water level, as I particularly found out when I took a route which was slightly squishier than I had thought. Goretex trainers are great when they don’t have holes in and when the water level doesn’t go up above the tops of them………

We stopped on the bridge – repaired after floods in 2009 – ate flapjacks and checked whether Strava (me) and Penny’s Garmin thought we’d done the same mileage and time (they did, more or less). A bunch of 4×4 jeeps went past us, presumably heading for the same track that the motorcyclists had been struggling up. I had visions of the 4x4s going up meeting motorcyclists coming down: not a good combination as the unclassified road is not very wide.

There is then about 3.5km of run on the road, with no alternative other than miles up hill on to Blawith Fells. Tracks entice you off road but only lead down to the lakeshore, partly as so much of it is privately owned. We both commented how as drivers when we’re on roads like this we always wonder why on earth people walk or run along them – narrow, with blind bends and blind summits – but sometimes it is of course that there is no reasonable alternative. However at Sunny Bank – where there is a collection of houses alongside the Mere Beck, including at least one which looks like a former mill – several paths join and cross the road, including the Cumbria Way. This now was going to take us all the way back to Coniston.

It hugs the shore and you dodge rocks and tree roots as hard as rocks and wonder in places if it is going to erode from under your feet, winding amongst trees and with views of the lake and its clear waters lapping around the tree roots. It’s beautiful, and not surprisingly on this dry spring day, we met several walkers coming in the other direction and a man seated on the springy turf eating his sandwiches. Nearer to Coniston – you cross land owned by Birmingham University’s sports dept., and think what a fantastic place it would be to study Sports Science if they bring you here – families were playing, a large flock of geese had gathered in a field, and sheep ‘were safely grazing’. At Coniston Hall memories of the Lakeland Half and of the Lakeland Marathon (Penny ran the latter a few years ago in boiling hot weather; we both ran the half a few years earlier in hot weather but at least it was half the distance) came to mind; and from there it is a short, level run along a good quality path back into the centre of Coniston. In some ways it’s the worst part of the run as for both of us it brought back memories of blisteringly hot summer days and running along with the sun beating up from the path: it’s the last mile or so of the half marathon (other than an annoying run around the field before you get to the finish line), and is one of those times when you can see the finish and yet it’s irritatingly and hotly an effort to get there.

Today Penny was determined to run to the very point at which we had started and we ended up back at the car park and a minature model of the Bluebird.

We considered tea in Coniston but to be completely honest I’ve never been much of a fan of the place. I suggested Chesters at Skelwith Bridge, but it was heaving, with nowhere to park, so we went on to Ambleside where we were able to park on the street in a disc zone. Esquires served a delicious Brie, Avocado and Tomato ciabatta and after that and a drink it was time to get our by now stiffening-up legs home. We have now run around the 3rd biggest lake in the lake district – although ironically Bassenthwaite was further, due purely to where the footpaths go. Just Ullswater and Windermere still to do – and then Esthwaite Water and Brothers Water to finish off as a celebratory run, followed by prosecco somewhere.