Movement Meditation (thank you Hannah)

Since my head cold and the 18km trail race, I must admit to having been feeling a bit sluggish. Somehow I just didn’t have my usual energy levels. I wasn’t sure whether it was the aftermath of the cold and the race combined or just a phase in the ups and downs of life. As the next race is at the beginning of June, however, and is a half marathon, I was conscious of not having much time to increase the distance I was running, and the couple of short runs I got in during the working week felt hard.

On Friday 14th May, Hannah – whom I know from work – and I had arranged to meet up, and possibly go for a swim in Broomlee Lough. We were both excited – she’s been more or less shielding for most of the pandemic, but had also joined the Ladies of the Lakes Whatsapp group and bought herself a wetsuit – and I was just looking forward to meeting up with a friend and also potentially swimming in Broomlee Lough again.

With the weather we’d had I wasn’t sure how warm it would be, but thought that perhaps as it’s relatively shallow it wouldn’t have got too much colder since the group of us had last swum there. The weather that morning was a little dull and we were messaging each other about whether to take wetsuits or not – I decided I would take mine in the car, and the nearer I got to Housesteads the more I felt that it would be worth going swimming anyway, even if it wasn’t for long.

When we arrived we found out from the member of National Trust staff at the gate that in fact we need not have booked tickets. A public footpath leads straight across the site, so as long as you don’t want to visit the ruins of the fort then you’re allowed to cross the larger site. It makes for a shorter walk than from the layby on the road, although you do then have to cross the boggiest part of the field. I had wellies on but Hannah hadn’t managed to find hers, nor her walking boots – her (fortunately old) trainers were excessively muddy by the time we’d walked up and back.

There’s something very special about swimming in lakes and tarns anyway, and I feel it even more so up at Broomlee Lough, where the Romans swam. We discussed how they’d have felt swimming north of the wall ‘outside the Empire’ and decided that perhaps it was confirmation that it was more of a boundary marker and trading post than a constantly-fought-over frontier. And in fact, thinking that it stood for about 300 years or more, there must surely have been times when the frontier was quite stable and peaceful?

Hannah absolutely loved swimming in the lough, comparing it favourably even to Lake Garda: partly as it’s so much quieter and more remote. I got a few photos and a video of her but I’m not going to post them here as they’re not the most flattering of her. But the big joyful smile on her face was like the sun, and a photo can’t in any case accurately show how someone feels on top of the world and pleased with her achievement: it was as if she had won the Olympics. We spoke about ‘movement meditation’, or mindfulness, and how the physical, emotional and mental sides of us are interconnected.

The National Trust has changed the shop and ticket office at the entrance to the larger site into a cafe and we stopped there for ice cream on the way out, and to admire how tame the birds were. A chaffinch was hopping about, and then a bright yellow bird which looked almost tropical. Penny knew what it was when I showed her the photo – a siskin. Now I know why the cafe at Whinlatter is called Siskins.

Later that day Penny and I went for a cycle ride from Walton, round in a 25 mile loop. The sun by now had come out and whilst we’d hoped to be able to do the Border Reivers 40 mile route, Penny’s husband had said he’d be coming past to fetch her at about 5.30pm, so we had to do a shorter version. As it turned out we got back to my house about 5 or 10 minutes before Tim turned up, in time to have a quick cup of tea.

It had been a brilliant day: I’d been outside almost all day, met up with two fab. friends, and done two of my favourite things, swimming and cycling. That evening as I did my singing practice I contemplated that I was feeling more energetic than I had for a couple of weeks. As I ran on Sunday, although it was a fairly long run (17km), I felt ‘normal’ again: and my cold seemed to have gone. I’d got my Mojo back.

Thank you my friends.

Wetter and wetter…

Our spell of weather which was growing warmer and sunnier unfortunately came to an end. Having not had many April showers, as May popped its head over the horizon the rain came too.

Penny and I arranged to go for a bike ride on the bank holiday Monday at the beginning of May. We agreed we’d finish the ride we’d cut short previously, aiming to do a 20 mile loop from Langwathby up through Melmerby and back through Kirkoswald (one of my favourite Cumbrian villages) and Lazonby. This loop also meant that in terms of cycling around the edge of Cumbria, I would have completed the circuit up the Eden valley from Kirby Stephen northwards; and in fact in terms of the overall route the only section(s) now missing are from Grange over Sands to Kirby Stephen.

However the weather was not kind to us. We met on a grey chilly day at Langwathby station and cycled north towards Little Salkeld, although we turned to the east before we got into the village: on a nice day and further on into a ride it would be a good place to stop as there are the standing stones of Long Meg and her daughters to see, a working flour mill, and Lacey’s caves down by the river.

We cycled east to Ousby where we picked up the route we’d turned off from before, going almost due north to Melmerby and then Gamblesby. So many of the villages are attractive in the Eden valley, but this was not a day for stopping, so we just admired them as we pedalled through, chatting as we went – Penny’s father in law had recently died and Penny and Tim had been to the funeral on the Friday, so there was a lot to talk about. Fortunately it was relatively easy cycling, without any major hills, so it was quite easy to chat.

At a five-way junction near Busk we turned to the west again, along a lovely undulating road which then plummeted down into Kirkoswald (or KO as many local people call it). We came out at the bottom of the hill which leads down through the village. When driving through the village from the other direction I’d often wondered where the road we came down led; now I knew; looking at the map apparently we’d come past the remains of the castle as well (next time I’ll have to remember not to enjoy the speed so much, and try to take some notice).

It was then a straightforward ride on the ‘main’ B road back through Lazonby and down to Langwathby – but the wind was against us, the rain was coming straight at us, and the 4 miles south felt further and a bit of a drag. We got back to the cars drenched and chilled.

On the way home I stopped at the motorway services to use the toilets – I literally had to peel my clothes off as they were stuck to me, they were so wet; and my car seat was also drenched with the rain water oozing out of my garments. Even with the car heater on full blast I was chilly – when I got home I got straight into a nice deep, warm, bath.

I then went down with a head cold on the Tuesday and Wednesday (I blame Edward and school), which was annoying as I’d been hoping to get some extra running mileage in with the first of the Lakeland trails races at the weekend: however I figured that a couple of days’ rest wouldn’t hurt, and might mean the cold disappeared that much more quickly. I had forgotten what having a cold was like: my brain was like cotton wool and the pile of tissues in the waste paper basket was growing higher and higher.

I’d love to be able to say that Saturday dawned bright and sunny, ready for the run – but it didn’t. I layered up, took spare clothes and shoes, and headed down the motorway to Staveley, near Windermere. I could feel the car slipping a bit on the grass of the field being used for parking, and hoped that I wasn’t going to get stuck – a few years ago I got stuck after the Ullswater trail race and it was a real effort to get the car out. At least there were plenty of parking attendants around, so presumably they’d be able to call a tractor if people started getting stuck.

Hanging around at the start line was quiet and a little strange compared with previous races. We were being started in groups of up to 6 each minute, and for some start times there were no runners. My 1.30 slot however was fully booked, with me and 5 men lining up ready for the off. We’d been asked to arrive only 15 minutes before the start, so hadn’t been waiting long but were already getting wet: though not as wet or cold as the poor marshalls, many of whom would have been standing around for hours.

The route was on bluebell-lined tarmac out of the village for quite a way before turning off to head over the fell. A stony track went downhill before some more hard surface, and even running through the yard of a factory of some sort. Most of the middle part of the race is a bit of a blur, partly as I had no idea how far I’d come or had to go. There was a longish section on top of another fell though, with a lot of mud and water across the path: in places huge muddy puddles covered a wide area and it was difficult to know whether just to run straight through or to go round the edges.

Finally we started crossing fields, at each stone wall having to clamber over a stone stile, before heading up the last hill for ‘the sting in the tail’. I must admit I quite enjoyed that last grassy wiggly hill – it wasn’t as bad as I had expected and I knew there was a downhill section coming up afterwards. The photographer was waiting there: I haven’t yet dared to look at my photo as I dread to think what my hair looked like, I was so wet.

On the enjoyable long downhill section I overtook a couple of people, which was gratifying, and then there was a run along the road to get back to the recreation ground and the finish. I managed a bit of extra effort to get over the line but not having run 18km for a while I also felt a little bit tired for the rest of the day.

At the finish there weren’t crowds milling around; the whole atmosphere was, like at the start, somewhat muted compared to previous years’ trail races. It was more like doing a triathlon than a normal running race – you’re far more spread out in a triathlon normally due to different swim waves/start times, and before too long the competitors are strung out along the course. One of the features of the Lakeland trails, and other trail races, has been the camaraderie: however the marshalls were all friendly and out on the course whenever people passed each other they’d say hello. It may have been a slightly lonelier experience than before, but it was extremely well-managed and Covid-safe: and at the end of the day great to be able to race again.

According to the stats I completed the course in 2 hours and 7 mins. They’ve put me in the FV50 category whereas I thought I was due to be in FV60 this year; but it doesn’t really matter. It looked as if the fastest female in my race was in the FV70 category, so it goes to show that age doesn’t necessarily affect your running ability!

Now to get in some extra miles so I’m ready for the half marathon in a few weeks’ time… but meanwhile I cooked lunch for some friends on the Sunday. The weather stayed dry – otherwise the lunch would have become a take-away – and we enjoyed a cold cucumber soup, followed by roast lamb with pomegranate, two salads, and then Ruins of a Russian Count’s Castle. I think this could become ‘a Thing’.

Old and new

We are currently enjoying a spell of mostly warm, sunny, weather reminiscent of Lockdown One this time last year. Some of my friends were brave enough to go open water swimming last weekend; I plucked up the courage this weekend (with moral support).

Now that we are allowed out in groups of 6 and that most of my peers have had their first vaccine at least, people have got more relaxed about meeting up – outside – and it’s been great to see more of my friends once again. I have various whatsapp groups and some people belong to most or all of them. The chats have been great, but meeting up face to face is definitely best!

I met Clare at Chesters Roman Fort on Friday (my non-working day) and we wandered around the ruins and down by the river Tyne. Most Roman Fort sites, even if they all seem much the same, actually have something unique about their particular ruins. At Chesters it’s because it was a cavalry fort and you can see the barracks where the men slept with their horses; there are remains of the large parade ground; and remains of the bath house by the river.

It was lovely to be able to wander around the site and then to sit outside the cafe with a coffee and a sandwich.

On Saturday I met a volunteer for some of the Hadrian’s Wall sites. As everybody knows everybody around here, it was no surprise to have found out that we vaguely knew each other; but it was good to walk from Poltross Burn to Birdoswald and chat about all and sundry. She knows far more about the wall than I do and will be a superb volunteer; I then ran from Birdoswald via Gilsland along the wall trail to Walltown, and then back to Gilsland where I had left the car. I haven’t run that part of the wall route for several years, and it was lovely to retrace footsteps – this time on quite dry ground, whereas my memories of doing it before are of plenty of water-logged, sodden ground and of trying to stay on the higher parts of the path rather than in the bottom of what I think is the ‘vallum’ (the ditch the Romans built alongside the wall). I had in fact intended to attempt to run a half marathon but I’d misread the map and it was very warm so when I got to Walltown I ran round the labyrinth in the nature reserve there, and then turned back to Gilsland. It’s not a fast run – you cross the railway twice and there are lots of gates and stiles which slow you up, plus there were plenty of sheep being very protective of their lambs.

Today’s forecast was for cloud but we’ve had blue skies and sun all day. A group of us walked to Broomlee Lough for a swim, somewhere I’ve written about in this blog before and where I’ve just been waiting for the right time to swim. Today was the day, and it was glorious – the walk is pleasant without being too demanding, and takes in plenty of Hadrian’s Wall sites (depending which route you choose); the ground was mostly dry to get there; and then the lough itself………. there was a stony entry, but not for very far, and then a sandy bottom; we picnicked under a crag which was sheltered and sunny; and whilst it’s early in the year so the water was cold, it wasn’t unbearable. We were the only people there, so it felt like our own private lake.

Finally, in contrast to all the joy of the weekend, I played – on my new phone – a recording of me singing Dowland’s Flow My Tears, accompanied by talented guitarist Jim Booth. It was recorded at Bewcastle church when we were practicing for a series of concerts. Previously I’ve always found listening to myself uncomfortable and I definitely have not liked the sound of my own voice; listening to it again recently I feel fairly pleased with it – though of course listening to it more times I then pick up all sorts of faults, as is of course the trouble with listening to yourself sing. Unfortunately having tried to upload it here or to YouTube it’s the wrong file format, apparently, and I can’t. But in this year that I turn 60, I’d like to get my voice recorded a few more times as well as doing my ARSM: if I’m not too dissatisfied with the results I’m hoping to be able to turn them into a short film. Watch this space!

Running, reading and riding

The past year has meant running and cycling a lot of the same routes near home, varying them to make them longer or shorter to fit my mood: but one thing I’m grateful for living round here is that there is a wide choice. Even so, it’s still good to get a little further afield and to do routes which are new or which I’ve only done once or twice before.

This evening Anne and I had agreed to meet up at Kershope to do the route which Penny and I had first done back at the end of December when there was ice on the ground (the photo below is from December). Today, in contrast, was t-shirt weather and beautifully sunny, although the shady bits in between the trees – which had been so ice-covered in mid-winter – were still chilly. I’d also forgotten how much hill there was in the run; and then managed to go the wrong way at about the 8km mark, resulting in a lovely run along a track and then a gorgeous path between the trees, jumping over fallen trunks. Unfortunately it meant a fairly long final stretch back along the road but I was enjoying being out in the evening sun and with such glorious views.

I’d been waiting until the non-essential shops had re-opened to get new running shoes, and today was the first opportunity I had to make an appointment at Chivers, the excellent running shoe shop in Carlisle (they sell other things too but their core business seems to be running shoes, and they know what they’re talking about). My preferred brand is Saucony – I’ve had several pairs now and been very happy with them – but I was thinking of changing style, and I wanted to try them out before I bought them. I’d seen the Peregrine trail shoes online and whilst it was partly the colours that attracted me, they are also a good shoe – the guy in the shop said they’re a best seller this year. I think I’ll buy myself another Goretex pair as well though, as I’m a convert to having shoes where you don’t get your feet soaking wet unless you’re in water that’s more than ankle-deep. But I really like the cushioning and the lugs on the new shoes, as well as the colours.

Apparently the company was founded besides the Saucony creek, and it should be pronounced ‘sock – a – knee’. The company’s website also says “The word Saucony comes from the Lenni Lenape Native American word “saconk,” meaning “where two rivers run together. Inspired by the original location on the Saucony Creek, our logo represents a running river marked by three boulders.”

I had a real fascination with the Native Americans when I was a kid/teenager: I was probably more in sympathy with the Native Americans than I was with the Cowboys. I particularly felt cross about the way the buffalo had been hunted wastefully by white immigrants to America. I had a book called American Indian Myths and Legends which I absolutely loved, which contained their version of the creation story plus lovely stories about animals as well as people. Every so often I have tried to find another copy: it was unfortunately one of those ones which I sent to the charity shop or something, along with an extremely good book I had about Mathematics (all I can remember about that now was that one was almost square and had bright red boards underneath the dust jacket; but that it also explained maths in a very pictorial way, which is one of my preferred learning styles).

I copied out the Native American poem which begins something along the lines of “I do not want to die a white man’s death, sealed alone and inside a metal box” and stuck it in my scrapbook – I still have it somewhere. I probably started being more interested in the outside world at that point: not in gardening nor even in going for walks with my parents, but just in how I felt if I stood outside bare-footed in the grass at sunrise in summer; or if I stood and listened to the rushing of a brook over stones.

Reading has always been one of my loves and about a month ago I started a book group, prompted by a passing remark from a friend. Our suggested book was Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell; having read that I passed it on to someone else, who lent me three books in return. I have now read those three as well: Toby’s Room by Pat Barker, War Doctor by David Nott and another one which was so memorable I have completely forgotten what it was… I’m now on to Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming. As much as anything I wanted the book group to be an opportunity to chat about books generally and to perhaps share books; I didn’t want people to feel that it was compulsory to read the suggested book. We’ve had some fantastic whatsapp chats about poetry and crime novels; meanwhile I have a big pile next to my bed as I bought quite a few when I got some ‘bonus money’ last month, ranging from a history and novels to philosophy.

I find very often nowadays that when I watch a film or documentary or read a book, I look up more details online (isn’t the internet a wonderful thing from that point of view: an enormous and easily accessible encyclopaedia). One thing leads to another and I come round full circle and am then planning bike routes or runs… one of my vague ambitions is to cycle up to Orkney; perhaps not along quite the same lines but Michelle Obama’s book and her comment to ‘tell your story’ has made me completely revise the two books I was trying (very slowly) to write… I may have 6 at 60 challenges but my bucket list of things I want to do and places I want to visit (by bike, by train or on foot) is almost endless!

South of Penrith

After Penny and I had run up High Cup Nick last autumn, I drove back up the rural roads towards Penrith, thinking that I’d like to cycle up that way some time; that possibly those roads could be part of my ’round Cumbria’s edges’ route.

As Penny’s leg is still bothering her, rather than suggesting going running I instead suggested cycling. On Friday I dropped Bella at David’s and drove on to Penny’s house a few miles south of Penrith, bike in the boot. We didn’t have time to do one of the loops from my Ordnance Survey book so this wasn’t going to be my chance to cycle up the Eden valley: yet.

We left Penny’s village and cycled south, the M6, A6 and West Coast mainline railway all parallel to us, like stripes travelling south. Shap is one of those places which I’ve heard about since I was a child, due to Shap Summit being the highest place on that line. When my entire family travelled by train to Edinburgh when I was 7, to celebrate my uncle’s wedding, the height of the railway line was impressed upon me and in fact we even had a ‘double header’ – two engines pulling our train.

However Shap itself is something of a disappointment. When you drive through it it seems just to be a rather dull example of ribbon development, stretching along the A6 towards the quarry at one end of the village not far from a motorway junction. However today we cycled into Shap from the east and I noticed that there are some lovely houses as you come down the hill into the village.

Just south of Shap we turned westwards on ‘the concrete road’ (some people describe this as a military road, but it’s not – it was built for the construction of Haweswater dam back in the 1930s). When Penny and I had run from Shap Abbey up to Burnbanks we’d come back along most of this road; today we cycled it from end to end, and I have to say it was great. There were hardly any cars and the scenery is great, with open rolling fellside either side of a gently curving open road.

At Burnbanks we turned to go down the eastern side of Haweswater, almost to the end of the reservoir, talking about when we’d run round the lake and what a pity it is that there isn’t a footpath around the entire perimeter. The road, as I realised when we turned to go back towards Burnbanks again, is pleasantly deceptive – it undulates gently such that you hardly notice.

When we got back to Burnbanks we turned up the Lowther valley, through Bampton to Helton and then into Askham. I knew there was a hill up through Lowther Castle parkland, but in fact this also proved not to be too hard. What did strike me was how pretentious Lowther Castle is: even as a ruin. Of course it was built for Lord Lonsdale or whatever his title was at the time to say ‘look at me and how much money I’ve got’, and its gothic style (it was built in the early 1800s) emphasises this. Apparently it was only called a ‘castle’ after this: the earlier, smaller, building was called Lowther Hall.

When we got back to Penny’s house and my car we had done 30 miles, and it was time for me to fetch Edward from David’s; but knowing that I might need to bring Edward back down on Sunday, I suggested we could maybe cycle again then if Penny wasn’t having to do things with her husband (over Easter they built a very impressive and professional-looking path in their back garden).

The opportunity arose to do a loop in the Eden valley which included the road I’d driven up that day after High Cup Nick. Although it was cold – we could see snow on some of the fells – it was sunny, and we optimistically met at Langwathby, to the east of Penrith. The road south towards Culgaith was great – there were lovely views of the Lakeland Fells and the Pennines and even as far south as Ingleborough and the Howgills. We passed Acorn Bank (National Trust) and carried on to Newbiggin (pretty) and Kirkby Thore (not pretty, but with an interesting concrete works nearby) before turning into Long Marton and then towards Dufton.

We debated whether to go into Dufton – we’d thought of starting the ride there, but it’s a lot further from Penrith – but instead headed straight back up the valley towards Knock: Penny’s maiden name was Knock so she stopped to take a photo to send to her brother. By now we were heading into a chilly northerly wind which we hadn’t noticed, as it was behind us, on the way out – and there were rather worrying rain clouds ahead of us, which we knew were likely to be coming in our direction.

There are some lovely villages up this valley: one of my favourites is Milburn, where houses gaze over the large rectangular village green and the road just quietly cuts through one of the short sides. By now we were beginning to feel quite a bit colder, the dark grey rain clouds were coming ever closer, and we were wondering whether to cut the ride short for a variety of other reasons as well. We were hoping to get to Melmerby to the Vilage Bakery, which I had checked was open for take away, but the prospect of too much longer on our bikes was losing its appeal. At the next village a sign said ‘Langwathby 3 miles’ and I suggested we just turn down that way. I was glad we did as about a mile before Langwathby, when we were on an exposed bit of hilltop road, the heavens opened and it started to hail. By the time we got back to the cars it was hailing quite heavily. We’d cycled 25 miles, so whilst we’d cut the planned route a bit short we’d still done a decent bike ride – and we can do the ‘top’ part of the loop another time: in fact it’s on a ‘bike rides around Penrith’ leaflet and ties in nicely with the ride I did from home down to Kirkoswald and Lazonby and back. Everywhere is linked somehow in the end…

We popped up in the cars to the bakery, where Penny bought a flapjack for her husband. As we left they began to close: so again we’d been just in time. As I drove back up the motorway towards Carlisle the sun came out again, and I was reminded of when a friend did the coast to coast and told me afterwards that he’d had every single type of weather just crossing Cumbria. At least today I was wearing several layers of clothing, having got too cold on the past couple of bike rides. Spring will surely get warmer soon…

On the edge at Easter

Annoyingly, I wrote this entire post last night – photos and all – and then wordpress didn’t save it for some reason. So here we go again…

From the first time I experimented with a different, cross-country route, home from Keswick I have loved Caldbeck Fell. On Easter Monday, as I had a cake to deliver to Dalston, I suggested to Penny that we meet to run either in Dalston and south along the Cumbria Way, or at Caldbeck. As an aside, for anyone who doesn’t know, the Cumbria Way is one of those long-distance, mostly off-road trails: it traverses the entire length of Cumbria from Ulverston in the south to Carlisle in the north; from Morecambe Bay to the Solway Forth. The total distance is about 70 miles and whilst my ex-husband has run it in its totality, being one of those loopy ultra-types, it’s something I’d like to cover at some point but in bite-sized chunks.

Good Friday and the Saturday were lovely and warm and sunny, and Edward had friends round for a barbecue and Bella was able to meet up with friends outside. However on the Sunday it turned really cold and there was a frosting of snow on the roof of my car when I got up in the morning.

I did nothing on the Sunday as I felt rather wiped out from my Astra-Zeneca covid jab, but on Monday I dropped the cake off in Dalston and headed south towards Caldbeck Fell. After crossing the Wigton-Penrith road, the southbound road goes up quite a steep hill (on the way home as you turn over the top you feel as if you’re plunging down almost uncontrollably). At the top of the hill, as it levels off, there is a right-angled-right-hand bend. The view from here is spectacular. You’ve just ascended an escarpment from the low-lying hills bounding the Solway plain, and there in front of you are the Lake District Fells in all their glory, their slopes folding over and pierced by steep, narrow, mountain streams which you just know come rushing down noisily over rocks.

It struck me that this is an area where you’re ‘on the edge’: on the edge of the Lake District fells and lakes; on the edge of the Solway plain; looking towards the east you gaze across the Eden valley to the Pennines; looking north-west, as the road turns to the west, you see the Solway plain laid out below you (which only a few minutes ago, by car, you were traversing), and the bristles of wind turbines guarding the plain and travelling well over into Scotland. Even the clouds looked as if they were being drawn towards Dumfries and Galloway on the other side of the Forth. I’m always reminded of a bit in a book about St. Bega. Legend tells how she’d walked from St Bees, or possibly from Bassenthwaite, across the fells, came to about this spot and saw the Solway plain there below her and then walked on to Carlisle.

It was bitterly cold as I dropped down the other side of the hill and into Caldbeck village. The car park was full so I contacted Penny to tell her to doublepark in front of my car further up the hill, out of the village, and waited in the warmth of the car.

We started our run by heading down the road and past a pond with houses scattered in a rather socially-distanced way around it, commenting on the number of desiccated frogs who had clearly been squashed en route to the pond. Picking up the Cumbria way north of the beck – the Cald Beck, which later on becomes the river Caldew and is one of three which flows into Carlisle – we followed this until we were almost due north of Hesket Newmarket (in fact we went a bit further and then realised I’d missed the turning we were meant to take). Once we were back on the right path, it dropped down to the river and crossed it via a footbridge. This was a beautiful bit of the run, and it was interesting to see how the river had carved out blocks of stone along its banks, so they almost looked manmade; you could see how it was slowly doing the same on its bed, where big slabs of stone were being hollowed out underneath by the water.

At Hesket Newmarket we headed out along the road we’d cycled into the village on a few weeks earlier, until we spotted, almost by chance, the footpath sign we wanted, pointing across a farmyard. We headed uphill and across some fields to another farm, passing heavily pregnant sheep nervously avoiding us as we went, until we came out on another road. A short way down here another footpath sign took us on to a trail which went up towards the fell – this was not so well-signposted and we only knew when to turn along the way we wanted because there was a stile. What was then a little unnerving was that as we ran past a wood, keeping a stone wall on our right, there was a sign at a gate saying ‘danger – disused mine workings’. I just hoped that the farmer wouldn’t be keeping his or her sheep in there if there was any real danger, but kept a careful eye on where my feet were going just in case.

After the mines-field we crossed a couple of fields with a broken down wall in the middle to come out again on the Cumbria Way. By now it was on road, and as Penny has recently had a leg injury she decided to walk this bit. I ran on ahead – only to find I’d gone the wrong way again and had to retrace my footsteps. I got to Penny just about at the point where I should have turned onto another footpath.

This was a well-used and well-maintained path which took us down the side of some houses, including a big house which had THREE extensions – 2 quite pleasant ones and one which was entirely out of keeping and looked hideous (brown UVPC). They also seemed to be creating a lake in their garden – also large – from the river.

As we came out on the road a very narrow set of steps led up between two stone walls to upper road – far too narrow for anyone overly large to ascend – and jogged back into Caldbeck to finish our run. I had done a total of about 13 km due to having gone the wrong way a couple of times!

Now that we’re allowed to meet up outside for picnics as well as for exercise, we enjoyed a guilt-free, legal, cup of coffee by the cars and talked about running sometime up on the Fell, before heading home in our separate directions: me to stop and look at the stunning views one more time, Penny wondering whether Tim would have finished the path they’d been building.

The following day I ran up on the Ridge, which I’ve written about lots of times: the hills felt like hard work but the Ridge just seemed to be calling to me. The following day I did a short, flatter run which took me through fields of lambs. And then today I had the enormous pleasure of running to Lanercost and back with two friends whom I haven’t seen for months, literally.

The weather may be cold but being able to get together with more people fills me with happiness and excitement, and I’m beginning to look forward to all the races I’ve entered this year.

Lockdown one year on

The first UK lockdown started on 23rd March 2020. Approximately a year later, we are just relaxing the rules a little bit from our third lockdown. Spring is burgeoning all around us and there’s a tangible sense of freedom. Even so, radio announcements warn us not to forget that Covid is still present – and of course it’s in fact on the increase now in the younger age groups, the ones who haven’t been vaccinated. I get my first vaccination tomorrow.

Having been interviewed about moving to the country from the city, because something like 300,000 people have moved out of London since the first lockdown (with a population of over 9.3m in greater London it’s not exactly a large proportion, though notable), I woke up this morning wondering about exercise. Last summer the Government pledged more money for bike routes, and people who have bikes which need serious repair (as opposed to just servicing) can get a £50 voucher towards their restoration. I wondered how many people started doing more exercise this time last year – but also how many people have kept it up.

I’m doing tons more exercise than I was last year, and prior to working from home one of my frustrations about a long commute to work was trying to fit in as much exercise as I’d like – also I found 4 hours on the train a day quite tiring for some reason (going for a run as soon as I got home would probably have done me the world of good, but I wasn’t that motivated at 7p.m. on a dark, cold and often wet winter’s night). When I was at work I was in the middle of a city with no trails nearby – if I wanted to run at lunchtime I had to run on the pavement (the office did have a shower, so I think in 2 years of being based there I maybe did 3 runs).

I have loved the fact that over the past year I’ve clocked up around 100km a month – quite a bit more some months – running most days of the week; and I have also increased my cycling mileage.

However for me this is something that has been an incredibly important part of my life since I was in my early 30s, so I have relished having the opportunity to get fitter again; and with my ‘6 at 60’ challenges this year I’ve now entered the entire Lakeland Trails series – 9 runs – and also just entered a triathlon. But what about those people who started to get fitter last spring and summer, perhaps feeling that rush of excitement from starting something new, including buying some colourful lycra? Are they still persevering with it? I have to admit at times recently my motivation has waned when there’s still hardly anyone to go running with – I feel a bit of a pariah when, even when we’re allowed to meet up with one other person to exercise, people still think up reasons not to meet up; and there are times when you’re out running and you say ‘hello’ to someone you pass and they look at you as if you’re carrying the plague (let’s face it, I don’t think I would be capable of running if I had Covid – I would guess even the symptomless one must surely affect carrying out demanding exercise like running (especially the hills around here…)).

So – are you one of those people who dusted down and oiled their bike; who dug their running shoes out of the back of the wardrobe? And what are you doing now? Have you gone from strength to strength or did it just get too difficult to remain motivated over the dark winter months? Please let me know!

Return to the Lake District

With lockdown and the Government exhorting us to ‘stay home/stay local’, I felt that perhaps going into the Lake District was going a little bit far. However as things have begun to relax a little bit and as they’re encouraging you to drive 40 miles for a Covid vaccination, I began to think that perhaps driving to the edges of the Lake District, close to Penrith, or to Whinlatter Forest, where I have a membership parking pass, might be permissible.

I’m also trying to get further afield on my bike, and having rediscovered my Ordnance Survey book Cycle Tours – Cumbria and the Lakes – I was keen to try out more of the routes. I’ve long wanted to do the bike ride ‘around the back of Blencathra’ so was pleased to discover that one route did exactly that.

Instead of meeting in the middle of Keswick, Penny and I decided we’d meet at the eastern end of the route at a car park we’ve used when we’ve run up towards Bowscale. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday and cars filled the parking places at Mungrisdale and lined the road further up the valley, but as I went further north there were fewer cars, and the car park we’d chosen was empty other than our two Volvos.

I can honestly say I think this is one of the best bike rides I have ever done. Of course the weather helped, but also the route was quite varied, traversing open fells to Hesket Newmarket…

passing little-known Over Water…

cutting along quiet country lanes near Bassenthwaite village and lake…

spinning along the old railway line from Keswick to Threlkeld (shared with pedestrians, so no racing along there)…

and finally cutting along a gated road up and over the hills and back to the start.

Unfortunately I’d left my phone at home so I was unable to record how far we’d gone and unable to take photos. Penny’s Garmin however told us we’d done about 52km (32 miles) and she’s far better at photography than I am anyway (NB. credit for all the photos above to Penny).

We stopped at The Old Sawmill Tea room for a delicious hot chocolate and flapjack, enjoying our take-aways in the sun and glad to see that the toilets were open.

Penny’s had an ankle injury recently and hasn’t been running much, but a week after the above bike ride she felt ready to do a long run. I suggested Whinlatter, which has a plethora of trails but also has a marked 10km route, which I’ve written about us running over the Christmas period.

The temperature had plummeted since last weekend and there was snow on the fell tops as I drove south down the motorway, firstly to drop my youngest as his Dad’s in Penrith and then to turn to the west to ascend to Whinlatter. It was more-or-less exactly 3 months since I’d last run there and I’d forgotten how hilly the course is – whereas my average route locally entails about 60-120m of elevation, this one gains 308m: mostly over two quite long climbs. It also is NOT quite 10km according to Strava – the three times I’ve run it it’s measured around 9.2km, except that this time I ran around the car park at the end to bring it up to 10km.

Penny told me about helicopter tree logging that had been carried out this week, which got some press coverage: the recently sawn trunks were still burnished and the stacked up logs we passed still had that lovely smell of freshly cut wood. I should point out, that the felling was necessary: it’s terribly sad to see great swathes of wood cut down, but the larch has suffered from Phytophthora Ramorum. The video shows how the timberjacks had to remove the tops of the trees first as the helicopter has a restricted load; and the helicopter and felling crew are Swiss experts because we don’t have that expertise in the UK. I’ll add another video here which shows how tiny the helicopter appears.

As the (extremely good) cafe at Whinlatter was closed even for take aways, we went back to Dodd Woods to the Old Sawmill Tearoom. This time I had cappuccino while Penny had hot chocolate, and we had some absolutely gorgeous lemon drizzle cake – not only did it have the drizzle on top but also had lemon curd between two layers of sponge, and was gloriously lemony. And, as we’d been less than 20 minutes, parking was free!

I drove back home across Caldbeck Fell, retracing part of the route I’d cycled just a week earlier, and feeling happy.

Meanwhile, if anyone hasn’t yet seen my ‘starring’ role in a film, I attach a link here. I should add that you don’t need a subscription – you just need to click on the ‘play’ button when it appears on the picture (it takes a moment or two to appear).

Cycling round Appleby

I have an Ordnance Survey book with bike routes in Cumbria in, and looking through it I thought that perhaps one day when I was taking the kids down to Penrith I could then go a bit further and meet up with Penny for a bike ride.

We met at Dufton, where we’d previously met to run up High Cup Nick. It’s a lovely village in the Eden Valley and has a small car park and public toilets (always useful to know…). The cycling route took us along a small road in a southerly direction at the foot of the hills, and through the Warcop MOD training area. At this point an Army helicopter was circling overhead, and we met some Army officers who asked if we’d seen anyone… there was obviously some sort of exercise going on, and being followed quite closely by the helicopter was amusing if not a little unnerving.

We crossed the A66 without mishap (not a good road for cyclists) into Warcop village and then into Great Musgrave. Rather than turning to go to Brough – which would have meant then cycling down another busy road, the A685 – we cut straight down to Kirkby Stephen, where we turned inland to Soulby. I was quite excited at this point as I saw a signpost indicating Crosby Garrett – where the Crosby Garrett Roman helmet was discovered a few years ago, an amazing Roman artefact.

Undulating roads then took us back to Appleby, with a intriguing brown sign indicating Rutter Waterfall – somewhere to discover another time… We bowled downhill into Appleby, past the Castle (worth a visit when it’s open – once owned by Lady Anne Clifford) and down the main street, a lovely old street which slopes downhill itself. A butcher’s was still (just) open and we stopped for a quick coffee before cycling uphill back to Dufton.

The great thing about this ride was that it opened up a whole host of possibilities for other rides in that area, as it’s not far from Penny and Tim’s house, so they know the area quite well. Despite wet and cold weather, I suggested we cycled on Mothering Sunday, 14th March. I drove to Penny’s house and we cycled from there to the outskirts of Appleby, retracing some of our route from the weekend before, stopping at Coulby for a quick photo of the Andy Goldsworthy sculpture.

After Appleby we turned towards Great Asby with a quick diversion to Rutter Force, a gorgeous spot on a beck which joins the Eden, with an old mill and a house which was pretty but which I’m sure must flood. It was well worth the brief diversion and the hill back to our route.

Great Asby was a village with a stream through the middle, which seemed to be a theme for the day. We headed up hill and then up an even longer hill over Asby Winderwath Common, where the landscape was limestone rather than the sandstone common to the more north-eastern parts of Cumbria. The views from the cattle grid at Hollin Stump were well worth the climb, and it looked as if there could be ample opportunity for some good running routes. This was followed by a fantastic downhill before some more uphill in the direction of Orton.

We didn’t go as far as Orton, where some lovely homemade chocolates come from – I WILL visit Kennedys in Orton sometime – but instead turned in a northerly direction back towards Crosby Ravensworth and Maulds Meaburn. This was a gorgeous bit of road, again undulating and passing lovely houses and more streams. We finally arrived in Morland, where we would have stopped at the Mill Yard Cafe, which is one of the best in Cumbria, if it hadn’t been for the fact that by then we were both freezing cold.

Some small hills on the last few miles were actually welcome as they helped me warm up a bit before the end of the ride; my toes were like blocks of ice, my hands were painful (and red, when I got them out of my gloves) and my bottom was wet. However this was a fantastic route and I look forward to doing it again one day when the weather is warmer, drier and less windy!

I drove home with the heating on full blast in the car, ran a bath and soaked in the warm water with a piece of chocolate cake.

On my bike

Apart from a day when I ran along Hadrian’s Wall without a waterproof coat on, and got back home after about 15km drenched through to the skin and feeling miserable, the weather hasn’t been too bad lately (and the rain does at least mean the pond I’ve created has filled up). Cycling also feels like the easier option if I’m feeling a bit tired, and having given blood earlier in the week I still felt a bit lethargic. As Saturday dawned the weather looked glorious, so I decided a long bike ride was in order.

I didn’t set out to go fast but just to enjoy myself, and in fact as I cycled along I thought that there are the ‘exploratory’ runs and bike rides (and even swims), when you maybe try out a new route and just want to make the most of the weather and your freedom; and then there are the ‘training’ runs, rides and swims when you’re trying to push yourself a bit harder and perhaps to get a good time. Having only done one short bike ride since October, Saturday was definitely an exploratory day.

I’d found some rides which were based around Alston, but one of them looped through Brampton, so rather I decided I’d do the Brampton-Haltwhistle loop and miss out Alston, thereby also making it a bit shorter. Even so it looked as if it would be about 30 miles, which felt like about the right distance for this point in the year. Despite the sun I wrapped up fairly warm in my down jacket – although it wasn’t long before I’d unzipped it in order to cool down a bit and had taken my gloves off.

I cycled out along the A689 through Milton and Hallbankgate and then was on to road which I’d driven many times but never cycled. I passed the old railway line which links up with Pennine Way, and remembered running from there with Kerry when we were training for Kielder Marathon – that was a difficult day with a poorly waymarked and very soggy route. I looked over towards the North Pennines, passing the sign telling me it was an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and stopped to take a photo of the hills. Another cyclist passed me at that point and although I kept him in my sights for some time, he eventually was far away ahead of me.

You know how there are some places whose names appeal to you, and how there are roads that you drive past and think ‘I wonder what’s down there’? Lambley is one of those places for me. And today I finally cycled through it. It’s an incredibly pretty village, perched on the edge of the hill, and if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s miles from anywhere and has no shops or other facilities, it would be a gorgeous place to live. The road wound down to the South Tyne, where it crossed the river near a Mine Water Treatment plant. Seeing the South Tyne reminded me of when I ran from Alston along some of Isaac’s Tea Trail, including splashing through the Tyne. It struck me that in the summer this might be a good place to swim, though the river’s quite shallow so I’m not sure how far you’d be able to go.

Not far past the river – up a bit of a hill – I came to a car park and was able to join the Pennine Trail, an old railway line which presumably once went from mines at or near Lambley to Haltwhistle (I wonder if it also joined up with the line that goes to Alston – I imagine it probably did. Railway lines for the mines would have criss-crossed this landscape once). I was glad I was cycling my slightly sturdier roadbike and not my triathlon bike with its especially narrow tyres – in places the track was quite rough and at one point I had to walk for a couple of yards as the gravel was very deep and loose. But most of it was very cyclable, even if I did have to keep stopping to open gates or slowing up to avoid pedestrians – I started shouting ‘ding ding’ as I approached them in the end, which helped. As I passed him, one man very kindly shouted ‘ding ding’ to the next people in front of me. Needless to say with the glorious weather there were quite a few pedestrians about, especially as I approached Haltwhistle. I think the sun had made us all happy though.

At Featherstone you cycle past a pub (sadly closed at the moment, of course) and the old station platform, and then pass along a beautiful avenue of elegant silver birch trees. There is a Featherstone Castle, though whether this is a real castle and still exists or not I don’t know – perhaps something to explore another day. There are also some castle ruins near to the A69 according to the map – again I didn’t spot anything but I probably wasn’t looking in the right place.

From Haltwhistle there was a fairly long climb up to join the military road (the B6318) not far from Walltown Crags. As I came out on the top of the hill before dropping down into Greenhead I only had about another 8-10 miles to go, all through familiar territory – Gilsland, Birdoswald, Lanercost and back into Brampton, past the roman turrets, milecastles and fort that I have been to many times. As I looked over towards the west I stopped to take another photo, feeling quite emotional: this is my Home, this wide expanse of gorgeous countryside where countries and counties meet.