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.

Lockdown 4/Furlough 1

Snippets – and photos from daily exercise

  1. People are saying don’t do things… BUT this is an opportunity to do all those things I want to do and can’t normally do – and not to feel that they have to be crammed into a tight space each day, if they’re done at all. I’ve already said how I’m enjoying having the time and space to do things which I want to do: I feel lucky to have this time. This is a breathing space not only for the world but for us petty humans who feel a need to rush around and to fill our hours with work to make us feel important and useful. At the end of the day none of us is either important or useful – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t endeavour to try to make the most of life and to enjoy it. For some people that just means doing nothing, or sitting in the garden and drinking wine: and that’s fine too. The vast majority of us can just take our time at the moment.

2. Why, just because there are fewer cars on the roads, are people driving like complete loonies? If they crash it’s just going to waste NHS time; and why not just enjoy the fact that for once there is no need for anyone to rush anywhere (apart of course for ambulances). Likewise who are all these extra people who now think it’s OK to leave dog poo lying around wherever they feel like it?

Not quite sure what’s going on with the formatting…

3. The rhythm of my life has changed this week. I’m not getting up as early as I was; I’m doing yoga nearer to 10 a.m. than 8 a.m. Having the kids here has meant I haven’t exercised as much as I do when they’re not here, and I haven’t done any singing practice: but it was nice to have them here and things felt calmer than they do sometimes (less churned up). They’re all now back with their Dad so I’m trying today to start getting on with improving my italian – starting by revising some verb endings.

4. A friend’s brother died last night; other people I know have lost family members or friends, or have had the illness themselves. Yet – and I feel guilty saying this – I don’t understand why people say they are ‘scared’. Obviously I hope I don’t get the virus; if I do get it I hope I don’t die; my biggest fear is one of my children getting it and dying, and I think for the vast majority of the people I know it would be the same. So we’re following guidelines: there is nothing else we can do. I think our fear is primarily for ourselves: that it will hurt to lose someone we love; that it would be utterly devastating to think of them suffering without us being able to see them.

Another comment was ‘what a waste of life’. Is it though? Is any life, however short, wasted? It’s desperately sad when someone dies before their ‘alloted’ time and when he or she might have been able to do yet more for other people, but if they’ve led a productive life and have been of help/use to others, how is that life wasted? No life is wasted, surely – the child who has died young has at least brought some years of happiness to his or her parents and others, even though it is utterly unbearably sad that he or she has died. Perhaps it’s more the wording than the intent of the comment which doesn’t ring quite right.

I guess particularly since turning 50 I’ve been aware that I’m at least, or more than, halfway through my life – and that I therefore should make the most of what’s left. That, and the fact that this is such an amazing world and that there are so many incredible people out there, is what drives me to do all the things I do. I don’t want to die saying ‘I wish I’d done such-and-such’. There will always be languages I didn’t learn, places I didn’t visit, books I didn’t read: but at least I will have visited a lot of places, read a lot of books, learnt languages, appreciated the fantastic countryside we have in Cumbria and nearby, and enjoyed my life: I hope not at a cost to others.

A bit morbid, my ‘snippet’ today: but I think the saying about “living each day as if it were your last” is so wise – so long as it doesn’t lead you to go mad spending tons of money you don’t have, or doing something you really shouldn’t!

Meanwhile this afternoon I had a lovely and life-affirming run, so I’ll post some photos here. I am very much looking forward to being able once more – after lockdown – get to the top of that hill in the centre photo.

5. I’ve found I need to keep a diary! This seems bizarre when I’m not actually going anywhere, but I did in fact miss a CPD (continuing professional development) webinar the other week as I’d forgotten about it. An example of Friday was: 10 a.m. – Italian conversation group on Zoom; 12 noon – singing lesson via Messenger video; 5 p.m. yoga via YouTube; 6 p.m. speak to a friend via WhatsApp video. In between times I spoke to another friend, went out to the hardware store to find stuff to get rid of cat fleas (sigh – my ankles have been bitten to shreds) and to post some parcels, and went for a bike ride. Oh, and also did tons of washing and hoovering to try to get rid of said cat fleas.

6. I woke up feeling low and demotivated on Saturday morning: I’m not sure why as I have absolutely nothing to be unhappy about. I’d arranged to do a very long run ‘with’ some friends, but I just didn’t have the motivation to do it. I fell back into cutting-myself-off-from-everyone mode and, having read that Police advice is now that it was probably OK to drive just a short way for a long walk/run etc., I decided that I would drive the ten minutes or so to walk up the hill in the photo. It’s one of my favourite places ever and has been described in this blog many times. You stand at the top with the wind in your hair and gaze over to the Lake District, Scotland and Northumbria. Fantastic.

It’s a walk/run where I always notice the sounds around me – it’s amazingly noisy. Firstly there’s the river (the Gelt, which flows later through Gelt Woods nearer to my town, and then into the River Eden, which flows into and through – and sometimes floods – Carlisle); the birds are always singing loudly; sometimes there is a dog or two barking; and once upon a time at least one or two planes would go over head; then there’s the noise the wind makes in the grass at the top. I took the kids up there a couple of days later: it’s far easier to do social distancing up there than on the paths around the town.

And so I finish this blogpost with some hilltop photos – sadly not with the video of the river as apparently I have to be on the premium plan to be able to upload that!

And that’s a 4th week of lockdown over.

Three weeks of (not) blogging…

It’s been three weeks since I last wrote a post.  When I started to write this post two children were upstairs shouting and the other was downstairs watching some rubbish on television… by the time I got round to finishing it, the following day, I had the house to myself and all was quiet.

I haven’t felt terribly inspired to write, do much singing practice, do marketing and promotion for either of those things, nor indeed be motivated to do much other than the day-to-day things I have to do, recently.  I’m not depressed – I have moments of sadness and of tears and also moments of joy and I have three musical/singing projects to start work on – but I do sometimes just feel tired, and sometimes rather devoid of any emotion, or at least any emotion which takes any energy, whatsoever.  I work; I look after my children; and I try to sort things out in terms of pensions, house, divorce… oh, and I must sort out my broadband and phone (landline and mobile) provider…

So what have been the highlights recently?  Well, the children all got good school reports, which was great, and we had a lovely weekend down in York at the Royal York Hotel with my parents – thanks to my parents.  I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere where the service has been so consistently brilliant.  The hotel staff gave the impression that nothing was too much trouble and that loud, bouncy children were no problem whatsoever (in fact when I discussed it with one of the waiting staff in the restaurant he said that a drunk stag-party reveller is worse as at least my children are polite).  Bella rated the food as the best ever (and only days before she had been saying that Capernaum bistro in Brampton was the best ever – my cooking gets 7/10 compared with Capernaum’s 10/10, whereas the Royal York exceeded even that!).  Maybe it’s Yorkshire (or York) people generally as the staff at Pizza Express were also lovely.  Everybody seemed happy, and to be enjoying their work: perhaps the hot sunny weather had something to do with it.  Whatever the reason, I really enjoyed spending the time with my three children and we all enthused about the hotel.

The weather has been incredibly changeable – hot and stuffy for a couple of days followed by chilly and rainy.  Perhaps the most striking – and exciting – days were when we had thunder.  Edward and I had been feeding the neighbours’ fish while they were on holiday and for several days the weather had been almost perfect: dry, sunny and warm without being too stuffy.  Then it got heavier and thunder was forecast.  I woke up one morning to an amazing sky: dark, dark grey clouds but the morning sun making the houses shine red-gold.  I took a photograph, but it really doesn’t do justice to the incredible light and the contrast between the lowering sky and the brightness of the brickwork.  Just moments later the entire sky had darkened, the sun had disappeared, the rain was pouring down and it was thundering… exciting stuff!  (I love a good thunderstorm, particularly when we really need one when the air feels oppressive).

On another day when the outdoors was calling loudly to me, instead of being inside working I had cabin fever, and by the late afternoon/early evening I decided I had to go up Talkin Fell.  Previously I have described how the sky was blue above me but that I could see a band of rainclouds in the distance: it was similar this time but the other thing that struck me, which often strikes me, on starting the walk, is how noisy it is.  Not the urban noise of traffic and people and resonance from hard surfaces, but birdsong, dogs barking, cows mooing and the odd aeroplane high up but quietly clear.  I suppose there’s not that continual hum of background noise you get in a city so the individual noises are that much more distinct.

Once you’re at the top of Talkin Fell it’s quieter, and I know I’ve described before that ‘top of the world’ feeling.  This particular day I experimented with different settings on my camera, taking photos of the lovely white cottony flower thing (I have no idea what it’s called), which Phil Robbins used in the foreground when taking those fantastic photos of me on Caldbeck Fell.  My camera has loads of different settings and I have used only a few of them, but I want to get more experimental – I’m hoping I’ll get some good photos when I’m on holiday in Italy in September.  I particularly like the dark, almost black-and-white one, for this particular plant, though it looks better taking up an entire computer screen than reduced to fit in a blogpost.

Before I go to Italy we have the school summer holidays lying ahead of us.  We’re well into week one (week three for Alex) and with any luck we’ll get some decent weather and be able to enjoy being outdoors – or perhaps, as we did today, enjoy being outdoors even without decent weather: splashing in puddles remains fun even when you’re 12, and Bella’s white leggings had to go in the bin as I could not get the grass stains out (even with multiple doses of Vanish) from where all three children had repeatedly slid down a grassy/muddy bank at Carlisle Castle

My divorce has turned painful and costly; but even though I’m worried about how much it’s going to cost me in solicitor’s fees and whether I can really afford to go on holiday, I’ve blown my savings anyway on fulfilling a long-held ambition of going to Italy to learn Italian and then my birthday money from my Mum has been spent in advance on a holiday to Lanzarote later on.  I’m hoping getting away in the autumn will prevent any autumnal blues or depression… and money always turns up from somewhere when you really need it…  I can’t wait – it’s been 6 and a half years since I’ve had a holiday without the children and more than eighteen months since I went abroad skiing with them.  Last time I went to Club la Santa on Lanzarote I was pregnant with Alex.  I’m really looking forward to once again doing aerobics outdoors overlooking the Atlantic, and swimming in an outdoor 50m pool in November!

So however difficult things may feel from time to time, I have plenty to look forward to: and can’t help thinking that somehow everything has a way of sorting itself out for the best.  Such a change from how I felt even only two or three months ago!  Look out for news of my two new music projects on my ‘projects’ page before too long (and fingers crossed I also get more writing commissions soon).

Meanwhile from time to time… dolce far niente!