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.