Friendships

Some people are naturally hermit-like, but that’s fairly unusual and most of us rely on our relationships with our fellow humans. Since the time of the industrial revolution, if not before, people have been attracted to towns and cities, to live with other people: even before the industrial revolution meeting up with others, for example for markets or festivals, was part of the fabric of human interaction.

Lockdown enforced a solitariness, to a greater or lesser extent, on all of us: we have all been restricted in some way. For some people it has been far worse than for others, but it’s made most of us think about our relationships. It’s made us value the good ones and perhaps, if possible, cast off the bad ones. One thing which is certain is that the emotional and mental health consequences are not yet clear.

I thought I had coped fairly well with lockdown, although I was delighted to be able to meet up with friends again and for the number of people I saw gently to grow as restrictions grew lighter. However, spending a lot of time on my own – even with others at the end of the phone or a zoom call or in a what’sapp group – has inevitably made me more thoughtful and introspective than I would have been if I was still rushing around trying to make sure I caught the train to work, or got to meetings on time (although the not rushing has also made me more relaxed, and my work-life balance has improved considerably). The times I have been with a group of like-minded people has been few and far between. To start with that didn’t matter but I found by the end of August/beginning of September that I was becoming convinced that some people didn’t like me any longer; that they weren’t that bothered about my friendship, or that I had annoyed them in some way. It seemed that people didn’t really want to meet up.

My birthday weekend in particular demonstrated to me that it wasn’t the case. Friends do still want to get together in (small) groups, to see each other and including me. I guess as an ‘extroverted’ personality (I’m not a wild extrovert or exhibitionist, but I definitely relish the feedback of group situations) I am happiest when able to meet up with groups on a fairly regular basis, and that then sustains me and helps me appreciate the times on my own. Since finally having the occasional group situation again – WastFest in particular – life has felt more sociable, in a similar way to pre-lockdown but with face masks and social distancing as accessories. And yes, it’s a bit peculiar and still feels a bit odd, but at the same time it’s also becoming normal.

On Friday I finished work and went for a run with two friends before fetching Edward from school. When I got back home one friend was still at my house (in my garden), talking to Bella and to a neighbour – who is a friend as well – who then stayed for a cup of tea. Later I met a friend at the station who came to stay for the weekend: we talked a lot, did yoga, ran, and she played the piano while I sang. We went into Carlisle for dinner: I felt fine at Pizza Express (who had emailed me with the offer of a bottle of prosecco for my birthday if I bought two main courses), which I hadn’t particularly the first time when I’d taken Bella to their branch at Gretna. However I have to admit sitting outside a bar for a pre-dinner drink with a lot of people milling around in their Saturday night ‘finery’ and being seemingly completely oblivious to any sort of social distancing, did not feel so great (at least we were outside though).

On Sunday afternoon I then met another friend for tea and cake at Cakes and Ale, the cafe adjoining Bookends/Bookcase book shop in Carlisle. Again, we sat outside and it was great to catch up in the afternoon sun – and then have a wander round the fantastic Aladdin’s Cave of a bookshop (it’s in a beautiful building, and is literally floor to ceiling books: from cellar to attic).

There was nothing overly expensive or even wildly exciting about anything I did: but everything was done with friends, and I felt grateful and happy.

And it struck me that perhaps none of us ever gets the perfect balance between time alone; time with a partner (or partner and children); and time with friends. People who constantly have other people around feel they don’t have enough time to themselves; people who live alone sometimes feel the lack of other people. But so long as we have friends, and people in our life who care about us, we’ll be OK.

Birthday micro-adventures

A year ago some friends and I celebrated my birthday by swimming in Wastwater: and what came to be known affectionately as WastFest was born (https://runningin3time.wordpress.com/2019/09/16/ladies-of-the-lakes-4-and-wast-fest/).

The swimming has got a bit more energetic this year – going further, trying the water without wetsuits – but people who hadn’t swum in Wastwater before were keen to know why we were so enthusiastic about this lake. So 12th September was set as the date, and despite the rainy days preceding and the rather gloomy forecast, we set out – beating ‘The Rule of 6’ by just a couple of days.

Not surprisingly it was busier this year than previous years, with frequent cars passing us – though they were leaving the lake rather than heading towards it. Fortunately we had Tricia and Tim with us this year, who are used to camping – they brought a gazebo and that (well-tethered), along with an awning fixed to the back to stop the rain driving straight in, worked well. Two fires down on the beach area warmed us up after swimming, as well as cooking sausages, and Penny and Tim brought their smoker and produced a delicious smoked salmon.

We all agreed that it was just as good as last year, in a wetter, colder, more challenging way. I had been worried that it wouldn’t be as good this year as it had been so great last year – but the smiles on our faces say it all. I think it could well become an annual occurrence.

On Sunday I thought I’d allow myself a lazy day, and I decided to go up to Housesteads to recce Broomlee Lough. It was a beautiful sunny day – such a contrast to the day before! – and Housesteads and the Hadrian’s Wall path were busy. I followed the Hadrian’s Wall path to start with, and then crossed over an undulating area of rough grass to get to the lake. I passed the ruins of the north gate to Housesteads, and the ruins of Knag Burn gate, and could feel how imposing these gates would once have been to people approaching from the north.

The lough was stunning. It’s not terribly accessible – it probably took me 45 minutes to walk there, over mostly uneven ground – but once standing in the water in my wellies under Dove Crag, I could well imagine Roman soldiers on their time off, laughing and splashing in the water.

Part of me wished I had my wetsuit with me (which was still hanging up to dry from the previous evening), but it was incredibly windy and swimming would have been hard work. Also, part of the enjoyment of wild swimming is sharing that excitement and wonder with friends. One day I shall swim solo though.

I walked all the way round the lough, which wasn’t that easy – there was no path and it was quite marshy in places. An old corrugated metal boat house stood forlornly alone, rusting into oblivion.

I walked back towards the crags of the Whin Sill and once again was intimidated by the defensiveness of the Wall. The crags loomed above me and on top of that the wall, which would once have been 2 or 3 times the height, painted a blinding white, and bristling with soldiers. It gave out a clear message. But I could look back and see the playground of Broomlee Lough behind me.

Monday also dawned sunny and warm, without the wind, and as it was my birthday I had taken the day off. After yoga and a short run, Clare and Colin came round to make me lunch, which we sat outside to eat. I then went down to Penrith, where I met Penny, and we drove to Glenridding.

I previously wrote about running up to Grisedale Tarn and back; today we walked up, rucksacks on our backs laden with our wetsuits and related clobber. Penny had had the sense to bring water and sandwiches, which had completely escaped my mind.

The tarn was another one which was incredibly clean and clear; like Crummock Water there was a gently sloping stony shelf which suddenly dropped down into darkness. It was cold but all right so long as you kept swimming: Penny mentioned face freeze. Even so we swam about halfway up one side, across the Tarn and then back. As we swam lots of walkers came past or could be seen coming down from Hevellyn. Two groups started putting up tents: I’m not sure wild camping is actually allowed, especially at the moment, but you could see the appeal. I hope they took their rubbish home with them.

Walking down took almost as long as walking up, and with no signal (mobile or internet) I couldn’t phone my daughter until we reached the houses at the foot of the hills, to tell her I’d be home about 9p.m. (there was the usual request for something from the Co-op). In the typical way of teenage daughters she had complained that I was going out on my birthday – presumably instead of cooking her tea – and told me that there was no way she was going to say Happy Birthday to me. Having not gone out for a post-walk-and-swim drink with Penny (who also needed to get home to her husband anyway), it was disappointing to get home and find I had to start clearing up mess.

However it didn’t take long to smile about it: Clare and I had recently written a light-hearted poem jointly about children being vile. And the photos below are partly by me and partly by Penny.

What a brilliant way to spend a birthday.

Grisedale Tarn; and Crummock Water re-visited

Whilst out running the other day it struck me that there are several different reasons – or motivations – for running. Some people do so just to keep fit; some people do so to get faster and go further. I started running in order to do triathlon; I then began to enjoy it, once I moved to Cumbria and there were plenty of trails (rather than roads); as I got more used to trail running it became an opportunity to enjoy the amazing scenery the county has to offer.

In terms of triathlon, running was always my weakest of the three disciplines. After having children there was less time to do triathlon, or even to do much in the way of keeping fit at all, which meant that running became the only of the three disciplines that I did even vaguely regularly. Even so I’d alternate between phases of feeling relatively OK running-wise and quite enjoying it, and phases of struggling.

Then came lockdown; and furlough; and working from home. For the past 5-6 months I have done as much exercise as I did before having the children. As a result I feel satisfyingly fitter now than I have for ages: and feeling stronger and fitter gives me the confidence to go out again, knowing that it will probably be enjoyable rather than just painful.

So my running is now for two reasons: runs on my own to try to improve my speed and my stamina/distance; and more sociable runs to enjoy the stunning scenery, ideally with friends. After running around the 16 lakes and realising we’d seen bits of the Lake District we’d never seen before, Penny and I decided we’d try to run as many new (to us) routes as possible.

The latest last week started at Glenridding. Arriving just after 4pm, the car park was beginning to become emptier and the people we passed were mostly coming down from the hills rather than heading up into them. We took the path to Lanty’s Tarn (there are two – we took the one which is slightly longer and not quite as steep and stony) and then ran on up the valley, to the north of the river. With the amount of rain we’ve had recently, the streams coming down the hillsides were loud with plentiful water: so different to June/July when after our prolonged period of warm, sunny weather, some streams had more or less dried up.

The Lakeland Trails series runs two races over a weekend in November: the Hevellyn or Glenridding trail race one day and the Ullswater trail race the following day. The race route for the former goes up this valley, turning to cross a footbridge before going back down into Glenridding. Today we carried on: we knew Grisedale Tarn was to the west in the hills, and could see the saddle where we thought the tarn would be.

We ran on past a hut belonging to the Outward Bound Trust, with a memorial plaque to some climbers; looking at the map I realise we were running around the slopes of Dollywagon Pike, a hill whose name I’ve always wondered about – apparently it could be from Old Norse for ‘lifted giant’ (or ‘lifted fiend’). The slope was now stony and in places slippery; it was tricky running at times but I felt sure the tarn was only just ahead. As so often with hills, there was an extra ‘up and down and up again’ before we actually got there, but finally – c.5km from Glenridding – I spotted the glint of water. A few more steps and there was Grisedale Tarn, looking absolutely gorgeous in the late afternoon sun.

Not for the first time we expressed how lucky we are to live here; and that we’d like to come back here to swim. There wasn’t time today and it was getting chilly, so after a Graze bar each and a drink of water we ran back down the hill, this time going down the other side of the beck. What I love about Grisedale Beck is that it has a bed of slate, which gives it a grey colour and makes it seem really clean.

As we ran down I thought about how different runs (and bike rides) have different characteristics. There were bike rides not so long ago when I was highly conscious of colour: predominantly yellow; later on in the year purple. Some runs are very much about feeling: running through woods on springy trails; some have the noise of skylarks, or – like on Talkin Fell – just the noises of nature as well as man (birds, cows, dogs, aeroplanes); today’s run was the noise of water. The beck fills the valley bottom but there are numerous streams falling in waterfalls down the hillsides; no sooner have you left one and run round a corner than you’re met by the noise of the next.

Plenty of famous writers and philosophers have written about the human relationship to water; despite its dangers we are fascinated by it and I think most of us have a compulsion to immerse ourselves in it – within reason. The swimming group I’m part of arranged to go to Crummock Water this weekend, as the weather forecast was meant to be good. We met at the lake at about 3.30pm, by which time most people were leaving, and ended up parking near Hause Point, with close access to a small stony beach and easy entry to the water. The water was cold but clean and inviting, and the slight chill in the air probably made the lakeside less crowded than it might otherwise have been.

It was a pity in a way that yesterday’s weather wasn’t as warm as today’s, which would have been perfect for swimming and picnics, but having done some decorating I decided that it was too good a day to waste: my bike was calling to me. I cycled more-or-less along the river Irthing through Lanercost, Low Row and Nether Denton to Gilsland, right on the Northumberland border. From there I turned back in a westerly direction, until just before West Hall I decided that I’d cycle past the ford (but not through it: the memory of falling in a ford in the Lake District in November lives on, and there’s quite a bit of water around at the moment). I felt that sense of freedom from being on my bike that I’ve expressed before, delighting in the wide open skies above me, the views of hills in the distance, and the layers and clusters of clouds: and I was home in time to have a chat with my sister before dinner.

Post-lockdown but still viral; Loweswater

So often whatever I’m reading will seem to reflect thoughts of my own, or will put into words something I haven’t yet formulated myself.

I’ve been reading a lot of Alexander McCall Smith recently. Having gone through the ‘Bertie’/44 Scotland Street series, I’ve now read most of the Isabel Dalhousie series. They’re well written but an easy and enjoyable read, with references to art, philosophy, music and poetry – specifically WH Auden. The author really seems to be able to get under the skin of his characters, and the books are full of comments that strike a chord. It’s only with some restraint that I haven’t quoted widely from them previously!

However some comments particularly reverberated recently as I’ve been through a slightly introspective phase, worrying that I was upsetting people or that they didn’t like me. Whilst I’m rarely lonely, there are times when I’d like to meet up with someone or with a group of people, but I feel as if people forget that I spend a huge amount of time on my own: after all, it seems that most people in relationships are only too happy to have some time to themselves and envy me my solo time, but of course when they get time to themselves, or time to enjoy something with friends, they generally have someone to go home to talk to about their day, or to share thoughts with. So I felt that these two particular quotes were especially relevant to the strange times in which we find ourselves:

remember what you have and what other people don’t have

ordinary exchanges… the natural cement of any group… we need[ed] it… because we were lonely without such exchanges“.

So recently I’ve rather felt the lack of choir, the running group and chatting to people across the desk or in the kitchen at work. But I’m fortunate in that I have still been able to go running with Penny – and Anne is now starting to join us from time to time as well, as she needs to get some off-road training in for Coniston 10km this October – and that last Saturday the weather was unexpectedly good enough to go open water swimming.

Three of us headed towards Crummock Water. Having just turned off the road which goes to Loweswater, a car coming in the opposite direction stopped us and said there had been a crash up ahead and the road was blocked. We decided to turn round and try out Loweswater instead.

This relatively small lake has had significant problems in terms of water quality over recent years, and has been one of the West Cumbria Rivers Trust’s priorities for improvement, with the Environment Agency monitoring water quality regularly. However Jo had been given a book for her birthday which recommended it: “come on in, the water’s lovely“, so having intially suggested we remove it from our list of lakes, it had been left on.

The writer of the book (Suzanna Cruickshank) was quite right: not only did we find a parking space near to the lake and close to a small beach area, but the water was lovely: and also relatively warm as the lake is quite shallow. We swam out to the EA’s pontoon and back, and then took our wetsuits off and carried on in the water, swimming and chatting. We were in the water for about an hour in total, and then sat on the beach eating cake and shortbread (I had made a cherry bakewell cake – a recipe I hadn’t used since David’s 39th birthday, a few months before he left 6 years ago).

We were so enthusiastic about Loweswater that it was clear it was going to score quite highly on our score card, and indeed it’s up there with Wastwater, Bowscale tarn and Harrop tarn. All of the lake district lakes and tarns are beautiful and we are so lucky to live so near them – but some are definitely more beautiful than others!

Somerset

The school summer holidays haven’t really seemed to exist this year – whilst home-schooling stopped, not much really changed between one day and the next other than not having to battle to get at least a few pieces of work done each day.

However the relaxation of lockdown restrictions did mean that at least we (the children and I) could travel down to Somerset to see my parents, who, we realised, hadn’t seen their grandchildren for a year: for various reasons we hadn’t met at Christmas and my parents were going to come up to Cumbria ‘when the weather gets better’. Then, of course, as they were beginning to think about it, coronavirus hit.

We stopped off near Stafford en route south, to see a friend of mine. The kids were, of course, complaining bitterly about doing something that was not orientated around them: in the end Bella was keen to stop off on the way back as well as she had an enjoyable time playing piano duets!

We stayed in a hotel, which made life easier all round, and whilst we saw my parents at breakfast and dinner times, we didn’t spend all day, every day, with them. They’ve been shielding and hardly been out of their house and garden until the last few weeks – even now they are understandably hesitant. I’ve seen it with younger people as well: we all became used to keeping our distance and to not going out, to a greater or lesser extent, and starting to get back to a type of normality can feel strange at the least and scary at best. I’ve now been to shops a few times but I always feel more relaxed when the shops aren’t busy: I was relieved when we didn’t have to queue for school shoes for Edward the other day.

Somerset was, of course, busy: it’s a popular tourist area and along with the rest of the country seems to be getting increased numbers of visitors this year. Brexit started it with the poor exchange rate; coronavirus has now had an effect, and I think climate change/global warming has also made this country more attractive (the weather we had during lockdown in the spring was absolutely glorious, and I’m sure not a one-off).

The boys and I went – and took my Dad – to the Helicopter Museum in Weston-super-Mare, which was not massively busy: they have the largest collection of helicopters in the world and for someone who knows little about helicopters it was quite an eye-opener. Some of them are so huge: and some of them terrifying, the way they bristle with guns and cannons and rockets (one Russian one in particular). It saddened me in a way as it was a reminder of a world at war: being keen on history though I’m too conscious that war and the movement of peoples is something which has always happened, and doubtless always will.

We also went to Wookey Hole caves: highly commercialised and probably the most intimidating place I’ve been recently in terms of having to queue and having people around you all the time, but some stunning rock formations inside, all atmospherically lit. Bella was keen to do a cave adventure walk type thing, which I wouldn’t mind doing sometime: but at £50 per head and with Edward not being able to do it, that will have to wait for another day (it includes abseiling, ladders over deep water, and via ferrata, and you get to see bits of the caves that the normal visitors don’t). Of course there was the usual shop on the way out, where I bought some cave-aged Cheddar cheese and some cherry mead.

Finally we met up with my sister and her partner, Ross, at Cleeve Abbey – somewhere I hadn’t been since going there with my grandmother when I was a teenager. It was such a contrast to many monastic ruins, which don’t really give you any idea of how the monks lived: often the church remains and possibly part of the cloisters, but nothing else. Here the dormitory area is still in existence but nothing other than a few stones remain of the church. There is also a stunning example of a coloured tiled pavement – the photo below doesn’t do it justice. It’s somewhere I’d highly recommend if you like that sort of history.

We had a lovely, relaxing few days and I was impressed by how considerate and helpful my older two in particular were towards my Mum and Dad. As for so many parents, it’s a delight to see your children developing into decent adults; into people of whom you are genuinely proud.

August goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silent Noon

I started singing when I was walking up to a tarn for a swim the other day, and then again when I was out on my bike. The summer weather – albeit a little on the chilly side – and the countryside around me perfectly matched Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s words, set to music by that archetypal British composer Vaughan Williams:

The pasture gleams and glooms

‘Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.

All round our nest, far as the eye can pass,

Are golden kingcup fields with silver edge

Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn hedge“.

In fact the colour of which I was most aware wasn’t yellow – though there were plenty of yellow buttercups, as opposed to kingcups, and white cow parsley – but purple. Thistles with their vibrant pinky-violet; the more delicate mauves of campanula; stately foxgloves; and then others which I wasn’t sure about but one of which looked a bit like a very large version of wild garlic or overgrown chives. It was beautiful and I kept meaning to stop to take a photo, but when I’m on my bike I always have this urge to keep bowling along. I did however stop to take a photo of the billowing clouds which were amassing more than they were scattering.

This week the weather has been a bit iffy and the forecast for Saturday was not brilliant. After some deliberation and quite a few WhatsApp messages the swimming group decided to try out Harrop Tarn. Initially we were going to go early to avoid People; in the end as sunshine was forecast for the afternoon and early evening we opted to meet at the car park below the tarn at about 4.30pm, hoping that most People would have gone home. It turned out to be the right option as it was indeed sunny and dry: however the car park was still busy and there were people on the path and we could then spot them scattered in the woods around the tarn – some camping and some with campfires, both of which are dis-allowed (banning campfires is of course a precaution against someone setting the entire wood alight: I did comment that at least if the wood did catch fire then at least being in the lake might be the best place to be).

I hadn’t heard of Harrop Tarn before I went there and researching it came across a description which said the scenery there was like Canada. I’ve never been to Canada and imagine that everything would be on a far bigger scale, but from photos I’ve seen I can see what the writer meant.

Out of all the tarns I’ve swum in it was perhaps the most beautiful location; it didn’t have the threatening grandeur of Wastwater but was in a glorious tree lined corrie. There was a pleasant walk up between the trees to get there, passing a waterfall towards the top of the path. Not longer after the waterfall – Dob Gill – you come out into the open and there, partly hidden, is the most beautiful, water-lily dressed, tarn. It only has one tiny stony beach and fortunately the people who had just swum were leaving (well, perhaps they didn’t want to leave and we spoilt their peace). We got changed into wetsuits and started swimming: while we were on the other side of the tarn a family came along and perched on another bit of the beach, the other side of a stream. We initially resented them spoiling ‘our’ spot but then acknowledged that we’d done exactly the same to the people before us – and in fact the family left before we did. And why shouldn’t everyone enjoy these places? It’s such a pity that we’re all having to be so careful about not being too near others at the moment!

We thought it was too cold to take off our wetsuits but in fact three of us did take them off after an initial swim, and swam in just swimsuits. The coldness of the water makes you feel slightly tingly and as if your muscles are shrinking closer to your bones!

Meanwhile I’m still reading 1599, which I mentioned in my previous post, and catching up on watching Shakespeare plays on the television. The BBC Culture in Quarantine ‘channel’ now has Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing available; I’ve watched 3 of the others but decided not to watch Midsummer Night’s Dream after seeing the first 10 minutes or so as I preferred the version I’d already seen from The Globe.

I also watched La Boheme from the Royal Opera House. I’m not a huge Puccini fan in general, although I love one or two of his better known arias (particularly O Mio Babbino Caro), but I found this compelling viewing. I particularly liked the Rodolfo (Michael Fabiano): not only because of his singing but also because of his hair, I think! It’s such a gloriously romantic and passionate opera and had me in tears: but there are also light-hearted, if not funny, moments. I’ll end with a clip from YouTube of that famous moment when he sings to Mimi ‘your tiny hand is frozen’, but if you look on YouTube there are several clips from the same production of this lovely opera. I’m a convert! https://youtu.be/–L3uqoQUV4

At the moment I feel so full of health, strength and happiness, and am glad to be alive.

Shakespeare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A month back already

It’s Friday 3rd July. Not only does this mark 2 years since I started my job at English Heritage – two years which have flown by – but also I’ve just completed my 4th week back at work after furlough. Almost a month.

The month has passed noticeably more rapidly than the two months/8 weeks of furlough did. Five days a week I now have a compelling reason to get up in the morning: my alarm clock is set for 7.30 a.m. so that I have time to feed the cat, do yoga and make coffee before I get on with my working day. This still seems somewhat on the early side to me (although when I was commuting to work I was on the train by 7.15) but with the mornings being so light I’m often awake anyway, even if I’ve gone to bed quite late.

If the kids are here then I need to do things with them once I’ve finished work for the day: if they’re not then it’s an opportunity to get out for a run or on my bike, and ideally also to do some singing practice before watching something on the television or reading whatever book I have on the go. I have recently finished Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘Scotland Street’ series (I actually read the final one of the series a year or so ago, before reading any of the others) which have been a little rather like an extremely well-written and quite middle class soap opera: I wanted to find out what happened to the various characters, so any spare time was spent reading rather than watching television. In fact one morning I started work half an hour late as I so badly wanted to finish my book (I hasten to add that I made the time up at the other end of the day).

Since High Street I haven’t done any particularly new running routes: I’m trying to create a 5km off-road route near home but it’s surprisingly hard to get to the magic 5km rather than 4.85km. And equally frustratingly a route which I thought was 10km has proved not to be: it measures consistently as 9km, although when measured on MapMyRun on the laptop (rather than on Strava as I’m running along) it measures 10km…

However yesterday I needed to do a site visit, so I popped out on my bike, took some photos of what was basically a mound of earth in a field (part of Hadrian’s Wall) and then cycled towards Birdoswald Roman Fort. I hadn’t actually intended to go as far as Birdoswald but the sun came out and I was enjoying the feeling of freedom of being on my bike. I stopped at ‘Birdos’ to call some work colleagues on Zoom, and then a friend drove past and stopped when he saw me. We chatted for about an hour on a whole range of interesting topics – he knows a huge amount about Hadrian’s Wall (he’s written two books about it) and told me that the site I’d been to visit wasn’t actually just an earthwork. Apparently there is a bit of the actual sandstone wall under the turf which used to be covered up each winter to protect it – until the powers that be decided to keep it covered up all the time.

Also, apparently a geological change from limestone to sandstone occurs at Lanercost: which is why Birdoswald and Hadrian’s Wall to the east are paler in colour and the stones have lasted better: once you get to Brampton everything is sandstone and quite crumbly. Lanercost itself is a bit of both.

With a large number of sites opening tomorrow, I volunteered to be a ‘practice visitor’ this afternoon at Furness Abbey. Barrow nowadays is considered to be at the end of a road, miles from anywhere: but in the hey day of Furness Abbey the deep water port would have provided the Abbey – and its abundant farmlands, mills and woodland – with easy access to the Irish Sea and hence to Ireland, Scotland and further south down the English and Welsh coasts and ultimately to Europe. It was an incredibly wealthy abbey – it would have rivalled Fountains in Yorkshire, or at least was the second wealthiest Cistercian monastery after Fountains – and even though much that remains is not that far above ground level, you still get an impression of how huge the abbey would have been. This picture from the 1890s gives even more of an impression than the current ruins do of how huge it once was: many of the walls have fallen since then.

I’d had an idea of then running the route of the Hawkshead trail race, or at least most of it, including the notorious Coffin Trail. So, from Furness I drove to one of the National Trust car parks – full today of nothing but cows which probably weren’t meant to be there – to start the run. I was glad that Penny had opted to finish work early and come with me, as by now it was raining quite hard and if I’d been on my own I’d have given up the idea of running and gone home!

We ran along the lake side and then up the Coffin Trail, the stones slippery beneath our feet, to the top of the hill. Here we turned to the south and had a lovely run between 3 tarns in what I always think of as ‘real Beatrix Potter country’ – and through plenty of streams. Only 2 weeks ago, when we ran High Street and swam in Rydal Water, a lot of the streams had dried up: now they were in full flood and it wasn’t long before our feet were soaking as we couldn’t avoid them – they either crossed or flowed down the paths. We made a note that Moss Eccles tarn would be a nice one to swim in, and not too far to walk from Far Sawrey.

The last mile or so of the run involved a path that neither of us had been down before. Narrow and winding, with ferns brushing us from both sides, at one point a tree with the most beautiful bronze wood had twisted and split as it fell across the path.

We came out at Claife Heights viewing station. Despite the weather the views were still lovely. A short run back to the car, a change into some dry clothes, and it was time for me to go to pick up the boys.

I’ve had time to do a bit of cooking as well. I went to see a friend whom I hadn’t seen for ages, and took a watermelon and halloumi salad; another friend had her 60th birthday and for her I made Millionaire’s Shortbread; I was also given a sourdough starter which I’ve been experimenting with, and I made some ‘ordinary’ cheesy poppy seed bread, and gave a loaf to my singing teacher.

Having singing lessons outside has been amazing: I think I wrote before that I thought my voice would just disappear outside, without any walls to bounce off, but it doesn’t. It’s such a lovely feeling: singing is such a natural thing to do and being outdoors makes it feel even more natural. I even took my sandals off in my last lesson so I could feel the grass beneath my feet. Rather appropriately one of the songs I’m learning at the moment is Vaughan Williams’ Silent Noon, which beautifully describes lazing in an English meadow on a sunny warm spring/summer day. To finish this post I’ll just add a link to Ian Bostridge’s glorious, and beautifully filmed, rendition of it of YouTube https://youtu.be/2FGeLUQQH6w

High Street for the summer solstice

If anyone read my post ‘An Almost Bonus Lake’ (23rd June 2019) then you’ll know that Penny and I had an ambition to run the length of High Street ‘Roman’ road: and that from more recent posts that we felt that the weather was right to do so now. It would be dry underfoot (not boggy) and with clear weather should be relatively easy to navigate.

High Street is also the name of the fell that this route crosses: the highest fell at this eastern side of the Lake District (828 m). It leads naturally onto several others along a wide, rolling, open summit: once you’re at the top there are still some ups and downs but you’re generally on the top of the world with stunning views for miles around. It makes complete sense that it was chosen as a route from the earliest times: although there’s some doubt as to whether there really are remains of a roman road (and I haven’t read any recent archaeology), it’s generally accepted that the track which leads across the top is ancient (I meant to check whether it was on the line of the Celtic Whitchurch Meridian but haven’t yet done so). There are then numerous routes criss-crossing it and coming up to join it, which means that whilst you can see where you’re meant to be going, you do need a map and compass and to check directions every so often.

We had decided to start at Troutbeck (near Ambleside/Windermere) and so met at the temporary car park at Pooley Bridge to drive down together, leaving one car at the Pooley Bridge end: the only problem with a mono-directional route. It also meant that we had to do the whole lot in one go: Penny’s husband Tim had gone down to Salisbury for the weekend delivering things in the camper van, so there were few people who could pick us up if we got into trouble. In addition the tops of the fells, though crossed by many popular paths, are miles from anywhere. I can’t help thinking about Roman legionnaires being made to march along, in all weathers no doubt, carrying all their kit and wondering when on earth they were going to get to a fort.

Allegedly the Roman road joined the Roman Fort at Ambleside (Galava) with one at Brougham, just south of Penrith: I read somewhere that possibly there was a fort at Troutbeck too. Nowadays there’s just Limefitt Caravan Park, which usefully has a finger post stating ‘High Street 5 miles’. At the moment of course the place was deserted: the pub, which looked as if it would be a pleasant place to end the walk/run if you were doing it in a southerly direction, closed to all but a cleaner or security guard checking up on it.

That being said, we met quite a few people along the way. The torrential on-and-off rain of the last few days was forecast to stay away, with sun in its place: though looking at the sky we weren’t quite so sure.

The first couple of miles are fairly level, through a lovely valley over a stream and heading towards the valley head. As we turned to climb steeply up towards (and just north of) Froswick I wondered why the route hadn’t gone straight up to the head of the valley and over, but it looked quite rocky and I imagine that what seemed like a steeper grassy ascent was probably found to be the easier one. The track that we were following was marked as a bridleway whereas the one which goes up Park Fell Head is just a footpath.

At the top we were rewarded with a view down to Kentmere reservoir and with fells on the distant skyline all around. It also looked as if some rain was coming in, and sure enough it wasn’t long after that we felt some spots – fortunately nothing heavy and the breeze quickly blew the clouds over, though it took some time for the sun to come out again.

Looking down to Blea Water (nearest) and Haweswater (background)

At the beginning of High Street, just off the ‘Roman’ Road, is a beacon and we stopped here briefly to admire the view and have a Graze bar. I wasn’t actually all that hungry but felt I ought to have something: it turned out to be a mistake as it wasn’t long before I felt really uncomfortable with some sort of indigestion – a feeling which was to stay with me the rest of the day (this is one reason I did so badly in Kielder Marathon in 2012 – I ate too much). It was busy up there, with small groups of walkers who seemed mostly to have walked up from Haweswater as there are a couple of circular routes from Mardale Head up to High Street.

From here there are views of Small Water and Blea Water, above Haweswater reservoir, and to my mind even better views of Hayeswater, which appeared first to our left, then appeared again from a different angle, a deep blue of a sapphire or lapis lazuli and laid out below us as if we were in an aeroplane. I look forward to swimming in there again sometime!

One of my favourite lakes

The next part of the run was probably the least interesting: over High Raise, Red Crag and on to Wether Hill, which we had run up to the previous weekend. By Loadpot Hill we felt that we were on familiar territory, and it was a case of only running/jogging a couple more miles across Barton Fell and Askham Fell back to Pooley Bridge.

We’ve been here before!

Someone was selling home-made and very delicious ice cream outside one of the closed pubs, so we treated ourselves (even though I still didn’t really feel like eating anything) before getting in Penny’s car to drive back to Troutbeck to get mine. As we drove along I contemplated how far we had come: it was ‘only’ about 14 miles – with about 980m of elevation in total – but somehow being in a car and looking up at the hills made me only feel prouder of what we had achieved, even if ultramarathoners make it look petty in comparison to the Lakeland 50 or 100 or the Bob Graham round. And before you ask, no, I have no aspiration even to do a marathon again let alone anything longer.

On the way home we stopped at Rydal Water for a swim: another lovely lake that I’d like to swim in again (preferably without stomach ache and in a swimsuit rather than sweaty running kit). The sun had come out at some point around Loadpot Hill and was still warming us: a family was having a barbecue further down the lake. I drove home, shocked by how low the water level was in Thirlmere reservoir (no wonder United Utilities keeps sending emails asking people to be careful of their water consumption), to slump in front of the television with a glass of wine, tired with that lovely tiredness where you know that when you get into bed you will just fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly.

I forget how many times we’ve both said how lucky we are to live in this amazingly beautiful county.