The Cumbria Way in pieces (part one)

New year, new running routes… having run round the 16 biggest lakes in the Lake District for Penny’s 50th, and then done the entire Lakeland Trails series for my 60th, the question was what the next challenge would be.

A book which I was given a copy of last year was Over the Hill at 60 Something? https://www.inspiredbylakeland.co.uk/products/over-the-hill-at-60-something. Finding a copy in Booths, I bought Penny a copy and then also, for Christmas, David and Jo. It’s a beautifully illustrated and inspiring book of runs throughout the Lake District, written by the author as he ran 214 Wainwrights to celebrate his 60th year. Definitely something to emulate, and as we run around Whinlatter doing the 10km route ‘backwards’ (which seems to be hillier, but ends with a blast back to the car park) and then a new route which takes us up into bits of Whinlatter which aren’t on the maps you pick up at the visitor centre, Penny informs me there are about 3 routes in the book which take in Whinlatter. She’s always wanted to go up Grisedale Pike, which beckons temptingly (or not, on wild days) from one of the corners of the forest route.

The new Whinlatter route brings us back down to familiar territory but from a different angle: we’ve run past the ponds above several times when doing the ‘official’ 10km route, but not come up to them after running down the side of a beck before. We discover all sorts of new and lovely bits of forest which we hadn’t seen before, and I love the textures in the photo above left. I commented that it would make a good cushion cover: years ago I wrote a feature about a woman who created exactly those sorts of cushion covers, from wool (I think she knitted them but I can’t remember now: every time I drive through Armathwaite I go past her house and wonder if she’s still selling the kits and making the covers).

At the moment we’re both training for a half marathon however, and with time being limited because the evenings get dark and commitments such as children, work, etc., I thought it would be useful to find somewhere that was approximately halfway to meet to run. I wondered about Dalston, as it looked as if there were footpaths along by the river: and having started running some of them, we then remembered that we wanted to run the entire Cumbria Way. This is a 70 mile route which goes from Ulverston in South Lakeland to Carlisle in the north of the county (or of course, the other way round). A few years ago my ex ran it, and Bella and I went to meet him in the early hours of a summer morning at Carlisle Castle. We waited and waited and wondered why he didn’t turn up – it turned out he’d had a sleep of about an hour at Caldbeck. These ultra-runners take it easy – they stop for sleeps, long meals……… (I have no aspirations whatsoever to be an ultra-runner, partly as it’s not something you can do without doing any training, but also because it’s just gruelling).

The first time we ran from Dalston along the dual use cycle route/footpath towards Carlisle. At Denton Holme we turned round and headed back before following a lesser-used footpath through some woods. This turned out to be more of a scramble and a mystery tour, as the path clearly had not been used by many people recently. What had started off being quite a quick run ended up being a slow one, and we eventually got back to the car park in Dalston as darkness was falling.

A week or so later we did a quick out and back run, but then started thinking about the Cumbria Way to the south of Dalston rather than the north. I checked out the map – if we did nothing more than just run south for 5 or 6 miles and then back, it would be great half marathon training and should be easy to navigate along by the river.

It was, and we were lucky that there hadn’t been much rain and so the river wasn’t running too high and the path wasn’t too muddy. We could see where the river was undercutting the bank: it looks as if it’s being allowed to flow naturally now, and its meanders are being reformed. Banks of large stones are deposited by it on one side, as it undercuts the other and the path, fence and grass fall into the water! At one place there are the remains of a kissing gate, which leans at a drunken angle out over the water – it wouldn’t surprise me if next time I run that way I have to go through the large gate on the farmer’s track which crosses the middle of the field, rather than squeezing through the gap created between the end of the fence and the lopsided hanging post of the kissing gate.

We ran through the grounds of Limehouse school and past Rose Castle, the home until recently of the Bishops of Carlisle and now some sort of conference centre/events venue (https://www.rosecastle.com/). At one point it was going to be some sort of peace retreat for all faiths, but I’m not sure whether that’s part of their ethos still or not. It looks as if the place has been redecorated and smartened up: I sang in a concert in the chapel once, which had a glorious acoustic – but everything seemed a bit worn at that point.

We ran to Bell Bridge, then turned round and ran back to Dalston, again arriving back at the car park as dark was falling. I promised to trust Penny’s navigation in future as I would have taken us the wrong way a couple of times: just as well I haven’t done any walk leading for HF holidays…

Previously when we’d been up Bowscale Fell to run – in December 2020 – (https://wordpress.com/post/runningin3time.blog/6313) we had said we would one day do a longer loop and go along the Cumbria Way further; last summer we ran a loop from Caldbeck to Hesket Newmarket and back, which took in parts of the CW. So, we thought we’d try running from Bowscale to Bell Bridge: probably about a half marathon distance and it would take us up over High Pike or around its slopes.

When I woke up I checked the weather forecast. The Met. Office said that it was going to be minus 2 and snowing heavily at Caldbeck. Texting each other before we left, we agreed we’d meet at Bell Bridge as arranged, take one car to Bowscale, and then start running and see how we got on.

As we drove down the side roads (ones we’d previously cycled), there were big puddles and it was rainy or sleety and the trees were blowing in the wind. In places the road was slightly slippy, where the water was slushy. We arrived at Bowscale and parked: I got out of the car and the wind blew the door closed. It was cold and gusting strongly. We jumped back in the car to discuss what to do, and decided that going up over the fells on a day like this was not a good idea: so I drove up the motorway (fewer large puddles) and back to Caldbeck.

We started running the same route as we had previously, but this time instead of turning off to go to Hesket Newmarket, we went straight on. Through the woods was great and fairly sheltered, but as I took off my hat sleet started coming down (so I put it back on). It was fairly undulating and very slippery underfoot, and the river was a lot livelier and fuller than last weekend: but it was a great route, and would be fantastic on a dry summer’s day.

There was a short section on road at Sebergham, until we turned on to a track again opposite the cute church. It wasn’t far then back to Bell Bridge, where we decided to retrace last weekend’s footsteps – until Penny’s leg (an old injury) started hurting and we turned round and went back to the car. As we did so the sun came out, and a patch of snowdrops by the river gleamed white.

Driving back to my car at Caldbeck, the fells were still under thick cloud and there was a coating of snow on them; as we drove down into the village there was slush on the road. We went into the Oddfellows Arms and each had a delicious bowl of their homemade Jerusalem artichoke and thyme soup (I must find a recipe…). Feeling warmer we came out to blue skies and sunlight, only to see the cars were covered in snow – it had snowed while we were having lunch! It then snowed again when I got home: goodness knows what weather will greet us tomorrow morning. And next weekend for our long run we’re going to have 3 options, so we can decide which to do according to the weather. Meanwhile Penny’s off to the physio again to check out her leg, hoping that it was just the cold weather that sparked it off.

Look out for our next foray along the Cumbria Way!

6 at 60: it’s people who matter

This weekend I completed the Lakeland Trails series – 9 (I think) trail runs, all 14-15km except Cartmel 10km, and ending with the ‘dirty double’ this weekend at Glenridding.

My emotions and physical ‘oomph’ definitely fluctuate through the year, and recently I’d been feeling less enthusiastic about this particular challenge. I haven’t done quite as much training, I’d given blood about 2 weeks ago, and the change to autumn and the dark mornings and dark nights is getting to me a bit. BUT excuses out of the way, this was the weekend for doing 2 trail runs back to back.

Helvellyn on Saturday had also been entered by 4 of my friends, so it felt like a team effort. I’ve done the route and parts of the route before – most recently on my birthday in 2020 when Penny and I had walked up to Grisedale Tarn for a swim, just a couple of weeks after running up there (see https://runningin3time.blog/2020/08/31/grisedale-tarn-and-crummock-water-re-visited/ and https://runningin3time.blog/2020/09/15/birthday-micro-adventures/) – but last time I’d run the trail run route I’d been suffering from a broken heart. All I could remember today as I ascended the first hill towards the YHA was how physically heart-broken I’d felt that day: and in fact it’s not surprising as the physical effort does make your chest almost ache.

The rain was coming down and the wind was against us, taking our breath away, until we turned along a bit of stony, muddy single track. This is the sort of running I love – the wind behind me, my footing relatively secure, and a rocky, muddy path beneath my feet. I should add that it has taken me YEARS of practice to get more confident on this sort of trail, and even so yesterday I slipped about 4 times.

We dropped down between the valleys before rising up again towards Lanty’s Tarn – where it was very muddy and I fell over, fortunately on to grass. Anne was not so lucky later on – when we met her at the finishing line she had a lump on her head which by Sunday had turned into a colourful ‘black’ (blue/purple) eye. From Lanty’s Tarn we were again heading into the wind, with the rain slashing across us from the side: at one point a gust almost blew me sideways. I was already wet through to my underwear.

Wet through to my underwear (but still cheerful).

Rather than continuing on to Grisedale Tarn we then cut across the valley (I felt sorry for the marshals, but particularly for the one up here, exposed to the elements) and there was then a track followed by road all the way back down hill. Towards the end I was feeling tired – I should have stopped to eat a Graze bar, but didn’t want to undo my jacket to get to my bumbag – but I continued along the road and on to the finishing field. As I turned the corner into the home straight I saw Mark behind me – and picked up the pace to make sure he didn’t get past me! Mind you, it was close: and Penny came in about 5 minutes later, followed after a bit by Anne with her black eye but in a buoyant mood, and Tricia – who has done very little running recently but still managed to complete 15km and be smiling at the end (and who was going to be camping over night with her husband!).

Unfortunately it wasn’t a day for hanging around and exchanging stories, as we were all so wet, the rain was still coming down, and we were getting cold. I was staying at Penny’s overnight (it was nearer than going all the way back to Brampton, and my fab. neighbours and friends Mark and Laura had said they’d feed the cat) and I spent a lovely half hour warming up in the bath and watching an Italian show on Netflix – there’s a rather scathing review of it here but for a tired body and brain after a soaking wet run it’s fun (the reviewer is critical of Luna Park too, but I also enjoyed that – sometimes trite predictability is exactly what you want. Who says you have to be thoughtful all the time? And also both are helping me with my Italian).

After risotto and apple crumble (great carbo loading) and watching Strictly Come Dancing and part of Lord of the Rings I, I fell into bed and slept until about 8a.m. A bowl of granola and a coffee and it was time to get going again: this time Penny was coming along to support me (and leaving her husband to play with motorbike parts and watch motorbike racing).

Fortunately the weather was a LOT nicer and despite dire warnings about not being able to park, we parked at the Glenridding ferry car park – the steamers weren’t running which probably meant more spaces for runners. It did however mean that rather than the lovely boat ride over to Howtown to start the run, we were running from the same starting point as yesterday: the mud slides had amazingly drained a bit overnight, so the ground wasn’t too bad to walk on.

The run took us south to start with and past the field that we would have parked on if it hadn’t turned into a mud bath yesterday (this is where my car got stuck last time I did the Helvellyn run: it was bad enough having a broken heart but then to get your car stuck as well…). The stony path undulates through some grassy land before dropping down to come out just near a pub at Patterdale: across and down the road a short way and we then ran down the track towards the farm which advertises wool for sale, and from there turned to go along the lower path which runs parallel to the lake. I’ve only ever run this the other way round – once when I did the Ullswater trail race from Howtown and another time when Penny and I ran all the way round Ullswater (only two and a half years ago! https://runningin3time.blog/2019/03/25/following-the-daffodils-the-ullswater-way-and-memories/) when we were running round lakes for her 50th birthday.

It’s a beautiful route, and flashes of memory came back from running it before: some of the larger stones looked familiar. This time we rounded a corner and there was a climb straight up a hill. As I hadn’t studied my map properly I thought this was the only major hill (it was fairly small) and enjoyed the consequent descent back along a path which ran parallel to but higher up than the one we’d just run along. At one point I fell over but bounced up again: a guy behind me a bit later wasn’t so lucky and I didn’t see him again (I should have stopped to check he was OK but I’m afraid I didn’t).

Then there was a HILL. A steep, long hill. Strava was later to tell me that the total elevation for this run was 454m – about 120m higher than yesterday when we were going up the side of one of the highest hills in the Lake District. I think today we may have been running (ha! nobody was running – everybody but everybody was walking) up the side of Place Fell.

We came out near the top on a plateau which isn’t far from Angle Tarn, and ran down a steep track which I had previously been down after ‘running’ up to Hayeswater and along to Angle Tarn (https://runningin3time.blog/2019/06/23/an-almost-bonus-lake/). At the bottom instead of running into Hartsop – which is what we’d done before – the route turned back towards Patterdale, before retracing our footsteps back to the pub. This time we went a different way across the grassy bit before running downhill to the main road. I was struggling by now and walking bits and only crossed the finishing line after 1hr 53 mins (yesterday it was 1hr 39 mins). Even so it looks as if I did OK for my age group.

This is is something which really upsets me and disappoints me about the overall series, as they’ve told me that they’ll be measuring my overall performance on the FV50 age group not the FV60 age group – in triathlon it’s how old you are on 31st December in the relevant year, which would put me in the FV60 age group. I also didn’t get a t-shirt for this final race, which I’m quite, quite sure was the only one I HAD ordered a t-shirt for. So all in all despite some fantastic routes, I finished the series in tears – probably partly just due to tiredness: the t-shirt for today was black, so it didn’t look that great and isn’t that much of a miss and certainly not worth getting upset about. It’s just a pity that I’ll have nothing to celebrate having completed the entire series other than these blogposts (maybe they’ll have to do).

Fortunately Penny was there with a small bottle of fizz and we celebrated me finishing another challenge, before going to have lunch in one of the Glenridding cafes. I then picked up my car from her house and she gave me another bottle of fizz to take home, picked up two of my children from their Dad’s (the other one is self-isolating for 2 more days) and drove back to Brampton, to home and another warm bath.

Thank goodness for the moral support of friends.

More hills and water: Stickle Tarn and Hawkshead trail race

I’ve wanted to swim in Stickle Tarn ever since I was up there one November on a walk leaders’ assessment. When Anne and I were compiling the list of lakes and tarns to swim in, firstly as she was turning 60 and then because I was, I felt it had to go on the list.

It was a beautiful warm sunny summer afternoon when a handful of us drove to Stickle Ghyll car park (National Trust) which I had anticipated, being large, would have plenty of room. There weren’t a lot of spaces but we only needed two and sure enough I had just pulled in when Hannah and her family also drove up and found a space nearby.

What I hadn’t properly remembered was how steep the path becomes – partly because in fact when we did our walk leaders’ assessment we had turned off the path about halfway up and the steepest part is at the top. It’s also quite rocky so a bit of clambering is needed; slightly easier today as the ghyll had almost dried up, so at least the rocks weren’t slippery.

In some ways it was a bit of repeat of going up to Sprinkling Tarn with Jo and Mike. I seem to be able to forget the most strenuous bits of walks – perhaps because swimming in the tarns at the top is so exhilarating. It was again a warm, close, day and as we got higher and the walk got tougher Hannah’s asthma got the better of her and even Laura had to sit down for a rest. Penny’s bad back was OK… on the way up…

It was worth it however for the stunning views, even if a pity that the usually attractive ghyll was a series of trickles and puddles rather than a splashing torrent with rock pools. The tarn water level didn’t in fact seem too low, and it was as beautiful as I remembered, surrounded by the various Langdale peaks: in particular Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle. We stripped down to swimsuits and got in, glad of the coolness of the water after the warmth of the sun.

Walking down in some ways was trickier than walking up – it’s always harder on your knees and your quad muscles when there are big steps down. Penny’s back was suffering before long, and I took her bag for her as it was hurting her back. We got to the bottom in, of course, far less time than it took to walk up, and went to the pub for a drink before getting back in the car to go home.

The weather changed not long after this: in some ways it was a relief as we definitely needed some water for the streams and lakes (Thirlmere has been looking ridiculously low – I’m not sure whether people in Manchester are having their water rationed at the moment), and with cooler weather it was easier to run. It did of course become more slippery underfoot – I managed to fall over in front of a guy who was walking his dog in Gelt Woods, and realised about a week later that I had a brightly multi-coloured bruise on my right thigh as well as grazes on my right calf and right shoulder.

I then had a week with no running and no yoga as I went down to Somerset with the children, to see my parents. Not surprisingly my Dad’s alzheimers doesn’t get any better and, I felt, was noticeably worse. However it was good to see them and also to see my sister and her boyfriend. Bella and Edward loved Bristol Zoo and I think they enjoyed the Roman Baths, but there was the usual bickering and plenty of disagreements over where to go. We then had a gruesome journey back up the M5 and M6 – possibly the slowest and worst drive I’ve ever had.

By the Saturday morning I’d had a good night’s sleep in my own bed however, and drove down to Hawkshead to do the Lakeland Trails Hawkshead 16km trail challenge. It wasn’t raining when I left home, and optimistically I had not taken a waterproof jacket nor a change of clothes. The heavens opened as I past Penrith and other than a couple of short respites stayed that way for the rest of the day.

Because of the weather there weren’t as many people milling around at the start/finish ground as there might have been, and although I had opted for the ‘mass start’, there were only about 45 of us – a lot of people must have still chosen to do the staggered starts. As I started across the line a few people overtook me, but I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as many as I’d feared.

The first hill was already slippery and muddy, and runners from earlier races were coming down in the opposite direction. It’s a fairly rocky path uphill after the initial on-road start before you turn to go across an area of open land, and past Moss Eccles tarn (and some smaller ones) – another one I want to swim in some time. I kept thinking of how last time I’d done more or less this route, with Penny, it had been just as rainy and wet as it was today.

Photo courtesy of James Kirby/Lakeland Trails – hair courtesy of RainyDays

We came down to one of the Sawreys – I can never remember whether it’s near or far – and after a brief spell on the road turned off uphill again. Just as I went round the corner something flew out of the hedge and bit me on my left thigh (I think it was attracted to the orange go-faster stripe on my leggings). It hurt, and as I ran I could feel it throbbing. I briefly thought of going back to the medic truck which I had just passed, but decided I’d live until I got to the paramedic at the end of the race.

A windy rocky path led down to the shores of Windermere, before going along the shore on the firmer track which runs through the woods, from about Claife Heights to Wray. Then you turn to run up the Coffin Trail: a mile long climb which starts by going up stone steps before turning back into a rocky path. It’s the third main ascent of the 16km route, but once you reach the top it’s downhill all the way to the finish.

I had anticipated that so long as I was careful I would be able to overtake people on the downhill sections, and that indeed turned out to be the case – although the really fast runners overtook me. At one point I’d just overtaken a couple of people and felt a slight slip under my feet, when I heard someone behind me fall over: a couple of times I had slightly slipped but fortunately not fallen.

I completed the race in just under 2 hours, which I think is the fastest I’ve ever done it – I would have liked to have run more of the uphill sections, so that’s something I need to work on. But having not run all week I was just trying to enjoy it – despite the horsefly bite.

Which was what it turned out to be, and a couple of days later it was red, sore and blistering. A visit to the Doctors and some antihistamine and fingers crossed it will all be fine. The next race is Keswick at the beginning of September, followed a couple of weeks after by Cartmel.

Reminiscent of Simonside…

…but SO much more fun! Third time lucky for Loughrigg Fell.

When the two older kids were quite young, we had a holiday in Ambleside (in fact we had quite a few holidays in Ambleside – this was a summer holiday and I think Edward must have been about 1 or 2). We attempted a walk up Loughrigg Fell, but Alex – unusually for him as he’s normally pretty stoic – was lagging, so he and I turned round and went back down to the house.

Then a few months ago my friend Jo and I thought we’d do a walk which would take in Loughrigg Tarn, Loughrigg Terrace and then come back up over the fell. We had Edward with us, who complained bitterly and lagged behind from the beginning: as a result we got as far as Lily Tarn and then turned round and went back down.

When it turned out that both Penny and I were free for a run this Sunday morning, and that it meant I could pick up the kids from their Dad’s house in Penrith on the way back home, I suggested we try this route. We started in Rothay Park with our fingers crossed that it wasn’t going to rain the entire time: ascending the steep initial hill (Penny at a jog, me mostly walking) quickly warmed us up and then we were out on the Fell, on a fairly easy stony path which led to Loughrigg Tarn.

I hadn’t been to the Tarn for many years, since David and I had brought Alex and Bella up here one summer’s day. It was bigger than I remembered, and it’s one on the list of tarns that we’re going to swim in to mark Anne’s 60th birthday year. Today wasn’t the best day for admiring the lake, but I loved the neat stone culvert that had been provided for one of the streams leading down to it.

Having crossed the road, a dog tried to get us tied up in his lead as we went through the gate. A rocky path ensued, wending its meandering, undulating way through some trees. As we came out at the other side I slipped in some mud: and not only fell over but then slid a couple of feet. I had wet mud all the way up my right hand side and could feel it through all my layers of clothes. This was the first thing which was reminiscent of Simonside (Duergar Nightcrawler), where people were sliding around in mud from early on in the run. At least today it wasn’t snowing.

We joined the road again for a short distance before turning off amongst the trees again towards Loughrigg Terrace. There was a lovely view of Grasmere and the river leading towards Rydal Water, and we could have carried on along here and round the hill to go back to Ambleside: but I particularly wanted to get up to the top of Loughrigg.

We turned up some stone steps which led steeply uphill, again reminiscent of Simonside but at least today it was light and the stones weren’t covered in ice. Even so it was steep enough and the steps irregular and mostly high enough to make running up there more or less impossible – unless you’re a mountain goat or a very fit fell runner. We walked. Towards the top we saw the dog which had tried to tie himself round us earlier, with his owner.

There were a few people gathered around the cairn, but nobody was hanging around long as the wind was blowing rather wildly – I thought about taking the map out but decided against it in case it just blew away (it rather looks as if my hair was trying to blow off my head). We just made a rough guess at which way we needed to descend, which fortunately turned out to be right.

I was really enjoying this run, unlike Simonside – I think being able to see helped, and not having sleet and snow blowing at you sideways. I was warmer, despite being wet, and felt more confident running downhill despite the wetness and, in places, slipperiness of the ground: and some of the particularly technical descents weren’t covered in ice.

From the cairn it was more or less downhill all the way, having to wade through various streams which had created grassy pools and where you weren’t quite sure how deep you were going to sink in – in fact mostly we were fine (and we both have goretex running shoes). Before long we could see a recognisable clump of trees ahead of us – one of the gates on the track leading back down to Rothay Park. It was only a short run downhill from there and we were back by the river Rothay, the grey day brightened by some kayakers. A kind father offered to take a photo of us as I struggled with my selfie angles, with the kayakers in the background.

I had initially thought of buying a new pair of running leggings in Ambleside so that I could wear something dry to a cafe: in fact we decided to head straight back to the car and go to the community cafe at Threlkeld, which will have featured before in my posts: I put my long down coat on and that protected the seats from the mud on my trousers. After a tasty bowl of Thai sweet potato and coriander soup with a cheese scone and a cappuccino, it was time to get back to Penrith and to pick up my kids.

The coronavirus might limit how far and how much people travel, but at least I can get out in the hills without worrying too much about infecting other people – I hope.