Up in the hills

I was having a debate with a friend the other day about relaxation in a city vs. being up a hill.  Once upon a time I would have been completely with her: a city break, particularly in one of the big, buzzy cities of the world, would have been one of my ideal get-away from it and unwind opportunities.

Or would it?  I loved living in London initially and even when we moved to Cumbria I missed the excitement and bustle of a city, and would regularly dash over to John Lewis in Newcastle for an urban fix.  But even so, as a child I used to enjoy standing at the top of a hill with the wind in my hair – I just didn’t do it very often.  As soon as I discovered skiing that became my annual holiday of choice; and it wasn’t long after that that I started mountain biking, then got fitter, improved my swimming, and began to enjoy outdoor activities which entailed being in hills and mountains rather than in a city.

It took me years to make the decision to move away from urban life, but as soon as it was made, when David and I decided to move to Cumbria, and we were in Cumbria, we knew it was the right decision.  I remember the first time we ran in Gelt Woods, and the rush of excitement and freedom – the closest thing you can get to flying without any mechanical assistance – of running down the hill near the motocross track, a view across to the Solway Plain.  Or putting the bins out on a dark starry night and looking across to the Solway Plain in the distance.  And then, standing on the Ridge one evening on my own, not long after we had moved into the house I am still in, and realising – putting into words in my head – that my soul felt right.  The Ridge, as anybody who has read any of my blogs even irregularly will know, is a special place for me – and for others too I think.  Perhaps the leylines which run through Lanercost also run along the Ridge?

So for me, standing at the top of a hill with my feet on the ground and my head in the sky is one of life’s relaxing, enriching and liberating experiences: and whilst I still love city breaks, probably my friend was right when she said I am a standing-at-the-top-of-a-hill type of a person.

I’ve done that a lot lately.  Mark from across the road,  my friend Penny and I had all entered the Howgills half marathon.  For anyone who doesn’t know, the Howgills are the fuzzy felt hills to the east of the M6 just south of Tebay.  Part of them is in Cumbria even though they lie completely within the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  I had wanted to go up into the Howgills for years, so a half marathon seemed, at the time I entered, a good idea…

We had a training run up Blencathra, a Lake District Fell which I have driven past in various directions many times and which I have seen change character with the seasons and the weather.  We didn’t – couldn’t – run much of the ascent but were rewarded by a glorious view of lakes and fells from the top.  We did run down, my love of descending giving wings to my feet.  I could hardly walk downstairs for two or three days after.

Blencathra April 2017 (4)

The following weekend we had a training run in the Howgills themselves, from Sedbergh.  Whilst many of the Lake District Fells are quite stony at the top (they are, after all, higher than the Howgills on the whole), these were beautiful grass-covered mounds, undulating invitingly for miles, just how they had looked from the motorway.  However although the route we chose did not climb as high as Blencathra, it was certainly as steep if not steeper and we began to wonder how we were going to get on in the race.  We weren’t going to be running uphill much.

As it turned out, there were five miles or so of ascent in the race (at the beginning), followed by a steep but stunning and glorious descent down the side of the highest waterfall in England – Cautley Spout, 175m.  This all happened before the halfway mark, and the race organisers then put in another nasty little and incredibly steep hill only 2-3 miles before the end.  Even the ultra-fit marathon runner who came past me, saying ‘show the hill who’s boss’, didn’t run that bit.  The humorous organisers had put a sign up saying ‘it’s not a hill – it’s just the path is at an angle’ (or similar): although the motivational sign of theirs which really helped me was the one not too far before the end, as I was about to give up and sulk and walk all the way to the finish, which said ‘it’s not a knitting club – now push on!’.  How did they read my mind?!  It got me running again, all the way over the finish line.

And the next challenge?  I’m cycling the next stage of my round Cumbria bike ride – which I really must get on and write up, as well – including up and over Corney Fell.

I also know that I want to live at least halfway up a hill, with a good view from my house: if I can see the sea in the distance that would be great, but if not at least some rolling hills and fells and maybe a lake or a Tarn.  I’ll know when I find the right property.

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New trainers; muddy trainers; hello Hadrian’s Wall

It’s ages (a few years) since I ran from Walltown Crags back to Brampton – the last time was when I was training for Kielder Marathon, the incredibly wet summer of (I think) 2012.  A lot has happened since then both to me and to my friend Penny, with whom I was running today – but as she said, “you can’t be depressed when it’s like this”.

It was slightly chilly as we set out from Walltown Crags, and within the first few metres we were saddened when we came across a recently dead sheep – and saw that she had died giving birth to her lamb, whose legs were sticking out at the rear.  Later we saw another sheep giving birth – we didn’t stop to see if that one was going to live and the farmer was nearby anyway, but it was sad that in the midst of the glorious spring weather with everything bursting into bud and new life, that here were two lives which had ended: and probably in pain and distress.

But here it is, a photographic presentation of our 20km very muddy springtime run from Walltown Crags along the Hadrian’s Wall path to Lanercost, where we then turned south through Quarry Beck and then Ridge Woods to head into Brampton.

New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (1)
Brand new trail running shoes
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (3)
Between Thirlmere Castle and Gilsland

New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (5)

New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (6)
The milecastle at Potross Burn, Gilsland
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (7)
Running down past Willowford Farm and the ruins of the Roman bridge
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (8)
Over the bridge and up the other side (steep!) to Birdoswald.

New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (11)

New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (12)
Blencathra from Banks Turret
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (13)
Looking towards the Solway Plain and Scotland from near Banks
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (15)
The Irthing near Lanercost
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (16)
Delicate wood sorrel
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (17)
Very early bluebells!
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (18)
I love running through Quarry Beck Woods

New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (19)

New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (22)
My damson tree!
New trainers; muddy trainers April 2017 (20)
New trainers… baptism of mud

More mindfulness… or just fab. weather

There was an amazing moon last night.  I don’t care what it was or what it signified – it just was fantastic.  I had been down in Liverpool all day (sunny and lovely in the morning; raining in the afternoon; travelling by train all over the place) and as I drove back home along the airport road from Carlisle the moon took my breath away.

Because I had been in Liverpool on site visits I had my camera with me… I turned left towards Irthington thinking that I might find a good spot to take a picture of the moon, hoping that it wouldn’t disappear completely behind the clouds before I did, but found nowhere suitable.  I thought of driving up towards Walton but that seemed a bit excessive – and then I remembered that I had got a good photo at Talkin Tarn the other evening.

Off I headed, via the winding country lanes, to Talkin Tarn – only to zoom into the car park and find the moon couldn’t be seen at all!  At that point I gave up and went home.

Why was I so desperate to get a photo of it?  Because it was the most amazing orangey-pinky colour, but striped by clouds: you know how it can be sometimes.  Simply, it looked stunning and I wanted to capture the moment and save it for ever.

Perhaps the very best moments can’t be captured and held still like that though – perhaps they only live on in your memory.  Perhaps that’s best: they’re so personal.  We can talk about them and write about them and discover that someone else felt a similar way at a similar moment, but the photos come out flat and the words never truly describe how you felt (great artistry, I think, is when someone captures in words or music or a picture exactly how you did feel: when you can look at something or hear it and say ‘yes, that’s it, that’s how I felt’).

This morning then dawned sunny and blue: another of those glorious autumnal days which Cumbria (in particular) does so well.  It was not a day for staying in and working without cease, so I dressed in running attire (to keep me motivated), and once I’d done what my conscience told me I should in terms of work, I headed out and up on to the hill.  I am so lucky that there is a hill nearby with trees to meander among and lovely views of the sky and off into the distance.  I’ve described it here so many times before that I’m not going to again, except that I never tire of it and part of me just wants to reiterate how glorious it is peering through the branches and foliage out into the distance, or standing at the gate before you enter the wood and just gazing across towards the north.

On the way home I paused at a kissing gate and admired the view for the umpteenth time.  I was conscious of the noises around me: primarily the leaves, growing drier and getting ready to fall, rustling in the breeze.  In the distance some birds were shrieking; children could be heard, excited at being released into the school playground and out of lessons; someone in the distance was doing a final cut of his or her lawn before winter; a plane rumbled gently far overhead.  The sky was that cold, clear blue that autumn does so well on beautiful days like today.

My senses were alert: I guess it’s the mindfulness of running again.  In addition to the sounds around me, there was the smell of new wood where fences and gates had been repaired in the woods; the touch under my feet of leaves or mud or dry sandy ground; the sight of leaves obscuring a path or the contrast of the leaves which have fallen and those which are still green; of the heavens in the distance; and the taste of swallowing a fly as I ran along with my mouth open at the wrong moment!

Woods on a hill.  One of ‘my’ places.  I am lucky that I ended up here.

on-the-ridge-19th-oct-2

Meditation and mindfulness: running, singing and writing

My memory of last October is of a dark, turbulent time, my emotions in turmoil.  The nights and mornings always seemed to be dark, the weather rainy.

This year is completely different.  The weather recently has been glorious and even if it’s a bit misty and the car has a slight layer of frost in the morning, by mid-morning the mist has usually burnt off and the sun is warming everything.  If I put a running jacket as well as a long-sleeved top to go out running, invariably I end up too warm.

So whilst I stood shivering at the start line of Kielder 10k on October 1st, I was glad that Kerry had advised me to leave my jacket behind and I found I was just the right temperature while running – although the photos taken before show me looking a bit chilly (plus wild hair – I can’t wait for the top to grow a bit as it looks so weird).  It’s such a beautiful run and every time I’ve run up there (the marathon 4 years ago; the 10k this year and last) the weather has been glorious.  We also knocked 5 mins off our time this year, which was pleasing – and in fact I felt as if I could perhaps have gone a little bit faster.  I’m now keen to do the duathlon and/or the half marathon.  I should also mention the fantastic picnic Kerry and Kevin brought for after the race, which was really welcome and absolutely perfect.  It was a great day.

Mid-week I fancied running through Gelt Woods, which I haven’t done for ages.  I didn’t do the entire loop all the way down to the viaduct, but instead ran up the Black Path (a former Reiver droving route), down through the woods along by the river and then back past the former Roman quarry.  I then turned to go past the farms and up towards Aaron’s Town, now out in rolling open fields where sheep were grazing under cotton-wool clouds in an azure sky.

This weekend just gone I was singing in Catterline, just south of Stonehaven (Aberdeen).  The boys chose to come with me – Edward was keen to see his newest cousin, Baby Mia – I love the photo of ‘Jedi Younglings’ which her Mum, Gulmira, posted on Facebook.  While I rehearsed and later performed Alex and Edward spent the day with their grandparents, cousin and uncle and aunt.  As I drove down the A90 I wanted to stop to take photos of the North Sea from the hill just north of Stonehaven, it looked so lovely – not the slightest bit inviting as it will be icy cold already I have no doubt – but the waves breaking in the harbour and the blue of the sea under the sunshine-filled sky looking lovely.  Sea therapy!

Stonehaven has some great shops and restaurants and I hope I get a chance to explore it a bit more sometime, but Saturday was busy with practicing.  I hope Nigel, who organised the charity-fund-raising soiree, won’t mind my quoting what he said about my singing, as it was a lovely comment: “people don’t know how lucky they are to hear your voice”.  I look forward to seeing some photos, and I met some great people – Morag, who stepped in to accompany; Orit, who wasn’t well but whom I immediately liked and who I hope to sing with sometime; Sheila, who sang fantastically and who I enjoyed chatting to – as well as seeing people I had met before.

I then went for a run with my ex-brother-in-law yesterday and managed 5 miles with two hills and didn’t walk at all.  I was dead chuffed – and again the weather was fantastic.  I’m clearly fitter than I thought I was…

As I ran through Gelt Woods the title of this blog came to mind.  Funnily enough RunABC North this edition had an article about running being meditative, and Sheila and I were talking about mindfulness on Saturday.  I said that running and singing are my mindfulness.  With both if you’re not ‘in the moment’ then you’re not doing either to your best – both require full concentration or involvement, but it’s also possible to almost get to ‘another place’ while doing either.  With both I feel my feet on the ground and my heart in the air.

And now, with a new head torch sitting waiting for use in the utility room, I’m excited about getting some night runs in; and looking forward to my next singing performance which is in Carlisle in a few weeks’ time.

Micro- and macro-adventures

It was a weekend of memories.

I had volunteered to drive a friend from choir (Elaine) to her school reunion at St. Asaph in North Wales.  I hadn’t really looked at the map properly to check precisely where I was going, but I knew it was near enough Snowdon to walk up Britain’s third mountain, and when I asked my friend Penny if she’d like to come too she had said yes.

While Elaine and her school friends were busy walking down memory lane and visiting their former school, Penny and I headed towards Llanberis.  Last time I was there was not long after David and I had first started going out, when he had my car and, while I was in Switzerland, drove his brother to Llanberis to compete in a half-Ironman triathlon.  He had then driven to Heathrow to pick me up when I flew back in, and we had driven back to North Wales.  It was the first time I met his brother and I remember his (Jonathan’s) comment that the (half-marathon/thirteen mile) run at the end of the race was hard because it was so hilly: this was after swimming in the lake and a hilly bike ride.  We had driven back to Watford through the stunning scenery of the National Park, even though the A55/M56/M6 might have been quicker.

Penny and I decided to drive to Llanberis and walk up Snowdon from there, although she had previously done the Three Peaks challenge which starts at the Llanberis Pass and goes up the Pyg Trail (so called possibly because it was used to carry tar/pitch; or because of pigs; or because of the hotel whose initials are PYG).  The walk from Llanberis is the most gradual of the ascents of Snowdon and for a large part follows the line of the mountain railway ( which the mountain railway in the original Thomas the Tank Engine books is based on).  It’s about 9 miles there and back and estimated to take 3 hours up and 3 hours back, though we thought we ought to be able to do it more quickly.  After all we are both trail runners, even if I’m not a very fit one at the moment.

A coincidence was that as we drove into Llanberis we saw signs saying ’24 hour triathlon’; passed cyclists who were clearly competing in some event; and then saw people swimming in the lake: and I realised that it must have been almost exactly this weekend but all those years ago (14) that I was there with David.  On questioning some of the race officials however it was clear that this was no ‘ordinary’ half Ironman but a Brutal Event.  About 200 entrants were doing either a half-Ironman, a full Ironman or – heavens above – a DOUBLE IRONMAN!!!  (i.e. nearly 5 miles swimming, 220 miles on the bike and then 52 miles or so running): and whatever the distance the run involved going up from Llanberis to the summit of Snowdon and back again, as well as laps of the lake.  The race had started at 8 a.m. – when we arrived around 11 a.m. there were still swimmers in the lake, and the double entrants are still probably running as I write this on Sunday evening.

It whetted my appetite to do triathlon again, but not that sort of distance.  I would however like to try some of the Lakeland triathlons: partly as the scenery is so stunning and also because the run routes are normally off-road.

Walking up and down Snowdon was humbling in many ways.  It was incredibly busy (far busier than any Lake District fell I’ve ever been up) and many people were achieving something.  Obviously the triathletes were achieving something incredible, and I particularly respect those who were looking pretty worn out but who were still pushing themselves up the mountain, doubtless determined to get to the finish line.  But then there were also the heavier, less fit, people who were walking up because they wanted to, or because they wanted to raise some money for a charity they cared about.  There were teams of people urging each other on, delighted when they got to the summit, with matching charity t-shirts; there were individuals with labels on their bags because they were raising money for a heart-felt cause; there were fathers carrying small children in carriers on their backs; there were young children walking, holding a parent’s hand.  It was like Piccadilly Circus at the summit but everybody up there had achieved something, big or small (and the cafe sells the most enormous pasties I have ever seen – eating one of them was an achievement which neither of us even attempted).

We drove back through the National Park and Betws-y-Coed, a village which I remembered going to with David, Alex and Bella almost ten years ago, when Bella was just 3 months old and Alex was nearly 2, when we had been on holiday in North Wales.

It would have been lovely,  on getting back to our hotel, to have had a swim, but sadly the pool was closed for repairs.  So after showers and cups of tea Penny and I headed out into St Asaph city centre to The Bridge restaurant.  It is one of the best restaurants I have ever been to.  The service was friendly and efficient (the barman remembered us from the day before) and the food was superb.  I had a Salmon and Crab roulade and Penny had a Seafood Fricassee.  It made me sad all over again that Capernaum bistro has closed at home, as finding a restaurant with a decent fish menu isn’t always easy (and I definitely can’t go to North Wales every time I want to go out for a meal).

Having walked up and down Snowdon (it took us 2 hours up and 2 hours back – I would really have liked my trail shoes on for the descent so that I could have run some of it, and next time I do a mountain with a reasonable path to the top I might take my trail shoes in a back pack and change at the top) on Saturday, Sunday involved rather less ascent but we did go up and down the various towers of Conwy Castle and admired its fantastic location and views to surrounding countryside and down the estuary.  According to Penny’s FitBit we had done 27 floors, though obviously it depends how you define a floor.

It’s a brilliant castle and was another blast from the past as David and I had visited it with the children while on our North Wales holiday.  I couldn’t remember much about it, and I wondered whether I had been on the ground floor with a sleeping Bella in a buggy while David and Alex went around the walls: later on David confirmed that it had been so.  Much as I love my children and they enjoy looking round castles, it was good to have time to look around Conwy properly (and have time to read the signs without chasing after some child who is about to brain its sibling or fall over the edge of a wall).

Elaine and her friends had had a really enjoyable weekend and a bittersweet trip down memory lane, and I had loved being away.  Despite some gloriously sunny weather I was a little sad as I returned home.  I popped into David’s to see the children and give them the presents I had bought in Wales and have some hugs; the older two both then came round to my house for various things they need for the coming week; and I sorted everything out for my next travels.  My itchy-footedness only seems to have been stimulated by a weekend away, and I no longer feel as settled in Brampton as I used to: perhaps because there are things about it which make me sad now.  However… I am off to Italy tomorrow!

 

Talkin Tarn

When we first moved to Cumbria a trip to Talkin Tarn each weekend was almost obligatory.  My running route of preference was the 10km from my house, along the Dandy Line and through Rowbank Woods, round the Tarn and back along the road.  The year that we had a month of snow the children were pulled around the Tarn on sledges on Christmas Day; the day I discovered I was pregnant with Edward was when I had been for a run of a couple of laps around the Tarn, told the friend I was running with I couldn’t possibly be pregnant, and got home to do a (positive) pregnancy test.  I have run around the Tarn on a dark winter’s night with a headtorch on, loving the beauty of its stillness under a black sky reflecting stars; as a family we were photographed up there for Woman & Home, David and I looking as if we loved each other although the two of us knew already that the cracks were beginning to show; and Alex learnt to cycle up there.  And the most recent triathlon I did, even though that was a few years ago now, was Talkin Tarn triathlon-became-a-duathlon (the water was freezing).

For some reason it’s not a route I have taken much over the past year or longer.  Perhaps it’s that with training for Kielder marathon I got a bit more adventurous, trying out routes along Hadrian’s Wall and even the northern Pennine Way; perhaps it’s that having discovered Talkin Fell, the hills now always seem to beckon me: the places I can run to, stand on top, and look far into the distance, to the sea and to the sky.  Or perhaps it’s just that the ‘normal’ route up to and back from the Tarn involves a mile or more on road, and I just don’t like running on roads any longer.

Perhaps it’s also that I no longer go out with David and the children to run: he can run while they cycle, or used to run with two of them cycling and one in the running buggy: I never could, getting frustrated by having to push cyclists and finding the running buggy really uncomfortable.  Now that I run on my own more often, the woods and the hills beckon.

But today for some reason the Tarn called to me.  Too tired and lazy to run all the way up there, I ‘cheated’ and drove up there and parked in the car park (free after 6pm).  I had worked at Taste of Tynedale all weekend and whilst I enjoy catering enormously (both the prep., the cooking and the customer service), it’s tiring and I had been on my feet all day both days (and chopped a copious amount of onions).  Last night when I got home I needed to go for a walk up a hill and today I wanted to get out for a short and gentle run.  The more-or-less level Tarn was the perfect option.

As I ran I thought about my weekend.  I happened to be in Hexham on Friday as well, and so I have been to Hexham for each of the past three days.  It’s a lovely town which I’ve now got to know a little better, and which I think I may visit more often.  I was working mostly with a group of 17-22 year olds, and really enjoyed it: they are so enthusiastic about life, and at 50+ and as a mother, I didn’t need to impress them nor try to be ‘cool’ as I took it for granted that I wouldn’t be.  Not being quite so bothered about what people think about me is something which has probably only really been the case for the the past few months (yes, I said months: it’s sad, but better to have got to this stage now than never).  I really admire the apparent confidence of the lovely people I was working with, and hope that they all retain it and their joie de vivre as they go through life.  They’re so refreshing: as of course are most positive, energetic, enthusiastic people.

As I ran around the Tarn I considered my surroundings too.  There have been a few changes recently, such as a family of wooden hedgehogs having replaced the old wooden dog.  Today the impressive sky contained the most amazing variety of clouds, the dark grey of the impending rain contrasting with the brightness of the sunlight which was vanishing.  As I came out from the new wooded area (which surely must add a little extra distance to a lap), the whiteness of the swans glowed against the darkening sky reflected in the lake.  And then, running through the last bit of wood, I found raspberries growing wild – not quite ripe yet but a few days and they will be (please don’t all go up there and steal them – I’d like some!).

When I got home I finally remembered to text my friend Kerry (with whom I trained for Kielder marathon) to arrange a run.  She, her husband Kevin and I are all running Kielder 10km in October and struggling to get fit enough for it, but now is a good time to start.  I’m running in aid of Medecins sans Frontieres, for the amazing work they do around the globe, often in places where they are not only saving lives but their own lives are at risk.  If you’d like to sponsor me then please follow this link to my JustGiving page…

Many thanks.