Brampton: Artists’ town?

Back in February, after several hours of fascinating interviews with some amazing, interesting, people, I completed a feature for Cumbria magazine.  I was pleased with it – but the magazine then didn’t want it (despite a couple of edits on my part).  Out running today I decided I’d publish it here instead so that my efforts, and the time granted to me by the interviewees, at least see the light of day.

One of Cumbria magazine’s comments was that it was too subjective.  However it expresses the feelings many of us – particularly perhaps the creative people and the outdoors people – share about living up here, in this truly rural part of the country (England, that is – obviously Scotland has wilder and more remote parts) so far from the traffic jams and bustle of big cities. 

Sadly, Front Room will be closing in 2019, but I hope somehow someone finds a way of carrying on an ‘artists’ hub’ in the way that Nancye and Steve have started.  Please follow links to see the artists’ work!

With over 8 million visitors a year it’s no surprise that the Lake District is well-known and also that people tend to associate Cumbria with the Lake District.  The areas outside the National Park are relatively unknown in comparison and yet the Eden valley is a beautiful, fertile corridor which leads at its southern end into the glorious Yorkshire Dales (another National Park); the west coast has miles of unspoilt beaches, an interesting industrial past, and views out over the Irish sea; and the north-east corner of the county has Hadrian’s Wall.

Brampton is the main town for this corner of the county and not only is it situated just a couple of miles south of Hadrian’s Wall amongst stunning rugged countryside – from the Moot or the Ridge on the edge of the town you can see to Scotland, the Northern Pennines, the Lake District fells and the Solway plain, and the countryside has a wild character of its own – but it is full of surprises which are not obvious to a visitor and which only reveal themselves once you live there and start to look around and explore.

Hidden in sandstone cottages in the lanes around Brampton, or living in the centre of the town ‘hidden in clear sight’ is a wealth of talented artists and craftspeople.  Some are little known locally because they exhibit further afield in the big cities, either because that is where the more affluent markets are or because they have moved to the area from those big cities and still have contacts there.  But dig under the surface and it becomes clear that for decades artists have been choosing to live in this area.  The landscapes around provide them with inspiration; the town is well-located and accessible for reaching further afield.

The local Howard family has been influential in the area for centuries, and notably George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle (1843-1911), was a talented artist and pre-Raphaelite.  When he commissioned Philip Webb to design St. Martin’s church in Brampton, the windows were designed by his friend Burne-Jones and executed in the William Morris studio (as an aside, the only stable block Philip Webb ever designed was at the Four Gables estate on the edge of Brampton: the house being designed by Webb for the Earl’s factor).  The Earl was a man who believed ‘art’ was a vital part of life which should be encouraged.  He was an inspiring mentor to his grand-daughter, renowned artist Winifred Nicholson, whose home was near Lanercost and who in turn became a mentor to her grand-daughter, painter Rafaele Appleby.  Rafaele still lives locally and her studio has a large panoramic window with an incredible view of the north Pennines.  She says on her website “I work in my studio on Hadrian’s Wall with views of the Cumbrian fells to the south… Paintings and pastel drawings are often inspired by, but not limited to, the nature around me”.

Rafaele’s comments are echoed by many of the other artists.  Painter Rachel Gibson, who has lived in the area almost 50 years after growing up in Berkshire and then studying in Newcastle, says she “loves the openness; the fells; how wild, rugged and empty the area is” and how history has become nature.  Hadrian’s Wall is as much a part of the landscape as the trees and hills.  She also uses nature more fundamentally with her use of pigment from Florence Mine in Egremont, West Cumbria: subtle colours of the earth also used by other artists to echo colours used by Fell shepherds or the hand prints of Elizabethan miners throughout Cumbria.  In this now quiet countryside the remains of mine workings, like the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall, have begun to merge back into the landscape, the noise and fuss of the industrial age no more than a whisper, revealed only by the route of disused railways and empty stone ruins at Forest Head and through Geltsdale.

An artist who lives outside Brampton in the hills of the northern Pennines is another painter, Carol McDermott: although she’s keen to point out that despite the isolation there is also a wood turner, a fine art print maker and a guitar maker in her village.  Like Rachel, she moved to the area after training and living elsewhere: for her living up in the hills and being able to see the stars at night became important.  Again she loves the untamed ruggedness of the area and gets much of her inspiration from the landscape, for example when walking the dog.  Despite living somewhere quite remote, she says “the internet connects you to the world.  I have Facebook friends in America and Germany.  I don’t feel isolated at all”.

Carol expressed the view that creative people are more empathetic than most and that she’s become accustomed to ‘tuning in’ and going with the flow.  For her, being a painter is her language – art speaks for her.  Gillian Naylor would agree:  she says that for her “the answer comes in a visual image”; that her paintings tell a story and are ‘visual philosophy’.   Gillian is originally from Wasdale but made the comment that “this area pulls you in… and then you stay because it’s interesting”.  She loves the feeling of connection to people from the past; the sense of being a continuation of history. Gillian is working with Rafaele Appleby and Kenyan-based Sophie Walbeoffe on a project based around locations in Cumbria where Wordsworth wrote his poems, and perhaps not surprisingly loves Lanercost Priory with its deep-rooted history: its connection to Edward I, Robert the Bruce, the Dacre and (again) Howard families.  Like Carol, for Gillian it was necessary to be able to balance bringing up children with working as an artist: she found that balance in Brampton where she has ‘found her flock of people’.  Both Carol and Gillian echo words of Winifred Nicholson, who wrote about balancing bringing up children with being an artist and also about art as a means of communication.

Other artists have grown up locally and flown the nest, to return later in life.  After a ‘feral childhood’ near Bewcastle with two artist parents, painter and felt-sculpture maker Ness Bamkin moved away but now lives in the centre of Brampton and works in the Art department at William Howard secondary school, in addition to creating her own artworks; self-styled Arts Photographer Tricia Meynell, another well-known name in local art circles, also teaches at the school.  Photographer Paul Stewart, on the other hand, was a student at William Howard school, has travelled extensively and lives abroad.  He now frequently comes home and says “It was the return to the region that was inspirational. After 30 years I’d forgotten how beautiful it was and that it was as exotic as any tropical jungle or far away place that I had visited on my travels.  Photographing the region again… was a real reward. It was a rediscovery of the nooks and crannies that I enjoyed as a child but now saw with a mature eye.”  Paul’s photographs of Brampton and of ‘nooks and crannies’ such as the marsh area off Black Path are hauntingly evocative, and his words again echo some of Winifred Nicholson’s, who wrote about obtaining as much inspiration from the flowers of Cumberland as from those of more exotic countries.

And then there are the more recent incomers, who find themselves, as Gillian Naylor did, pulled into the area almost as if by an unseen force.  Ceramicist Carolyn Marr “enjoys incorporating locally-found materials into [her] pieces” and points out that there are several different networks for artists and craftspeople locally.  Nancye Church was going to buy a property in Cockermouth but it fell through and she happened to be told about Brampton through contacts in Malta.  Now Nancye not only makes her jewellery here and takes some of her inspiration from Hadrian’s Wall, but opening The Front Room in Brampton and putting on exhibitions of local artists’ work has provided a year-round focal point for the sector.

Other focal points include the Abstract Gallery at New Mills Trout Farm and exhibitions in Off the Wall coffee shop.  Local arts groups should also be remembered, with The Hut (a former World War I gym building from Eastriggs at Gretna, and previously used by the White House School) providing a wide range of groups and classes and artist Trish Parry, originally from Manchester, running courses from her home at Milton.

And with that sense of circles within history and of only three degrees of separation which is so prevalent in Cumbria, perhaps The Front Room is a sort of reincarnation of Li Yuan-Chia’s ‘Museum’ up at Banks.  A prominent Taiwanese artist, Li was friends with Winifred Nicholson and chose to live near Brampton and Hadrian’s Wall and then attracted a wide variety of artists to exhibit in his space.   Some were or became household names, amongst them Paul Nash, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Andy Goldsworthy and Jenny Cowan.  Are we now, at The Front Room, seeing artists who will be similarly well-known in the future?

Advertisements

Two lakes, nine miles, lots of rain

Penny had been on holiday to Cornwall with her husband to celebrate her 50th birthday.  A teenager, busy on a mobile phone, hadn’t seen her and had knocked her off her bike.  Several cracked ribs, a 7/8th broken elbow and various bruises later (just in time for the party with her twin sister) had set back the running a bit… but after a few weeks she felt well enough to give Buttermere and possibly Loweswater a go.

As my birthday is mid-September, I’d had a birthday dinner the night before and been up late drinking prosecco and chatting.  I did not feel great the next morning.  So there we were – one recuperating from injuries and one recuperating from a hangover.

We squeezed into what was almost the last space in the National Trust car park in Buttermere. I’m impressed by their new parking machines, where if you’re a member you can just scan your card and get a ticket: no having to find some cash and then get the money back.  It was a bit drizzly and started raining properly as we headed towards the ‘start line’ at the north western end of the lake.  As we ran along the southern side of the lake it got steadily heavier.  It didn’t deter plenty of walkers though: at only about 4 miles round, and fairly level, it’s a popular route with those who don’t want to scramble over scree or get above the tree line.

The southern part of the lake wends its way through the trees, until you come out at the river crossing and a farm.  The cows were looking as wet and bedraggled as we were.  I did take a photo of one but the poor thing did not look particularly attractive, whereas Penny managed somehow not to look such a mess – probably because she’s got a hat on and her hair tied back, whereas the cow and I both had curly loose locks.  It was warm however, which meant we got some strange looks from walkers wrapped up well against the elements – who were these strange women running along in t-shirts?

Probably the northern side of the lake is the more interesting, as not only do you get a variety of terrain but there is even a rock tunnel to run through.  This was, apparently (according to the National Trust website), carved out by a Manchester Mill Owner.  They don’t tell us why – presumably to continue the path.  We arrived back at the village after 4.5 wet but pleasant miles, with, rewardingly, only a tiny bit on road.  The rain, having drenched us, decided now to stop… typical!

Having completed a circuit of Crummock Water, the ‘twin’ lake to Buttermere just slightly further down the valley, earlier in the year, we headed now to Loweswater.  This was a bit of an unknown quantity to us both – probably the last time either of us had been there was several years ago when we were doing a bike ride (I think it may even have been pre-child-no.3 so that’s 8 or 9 years ago at least).  We decided to park in the lay-by where, all those years ago, we had stopped to get a photo of us with our bikes: it was about half way along what was potentially a road-based stretch of the circuit of the lake.

A short run along the road took us to a larger lay-by which was an official car park, where we turned off the road and ran down past some tents.  What looked as if it was meant to be a bridle path the other side of a couple of fields turned out in fact to be a lane which rose quite steeply up the side of the hill at the western end of the lake.  As we looked ahead I commented that it looked as if Loweswater was in the same valley as Crummock Water and Buttermere.  This was confirmed when we looked at the map later, though the valley sort of turns a southerly corner from Loweswater round to Crummock Water.

The southern side of the lake provided a lovely run amongst the trees, and we also discovered a National Trust bothy.  What an amazing place it would be to stay, particularly if it was a summer like we have had this year: kids could cycle in the woods, you could swim in the lake… though in fact in the height of summer you might not want to as Loweswater has particularly high nitrate levels and therefore a lot of blue green algae.  No sign of that on this dull day though.

Loweswater 2nd Sept. 2018 (1)Loweswater 2nd Sept. 2018 (2)Loweswater 2nd Sept. 2018 (3)

There seemed to be no option but to run along the road once we got to the car park at the eastern end of the lake, but then about a third of the way back along the northern shore there’s an old track signposted towards Mosser.  This is presumably quite a historic route which might once have been quite popular, directly up over the hills instead of around them.  We went up and up and I was beginning to wonder if we’d missed the turning to get back to the beginning.  Eventually however a finger post directed us down a grassy track and past a farm and presently we were back at the car park, only 100m or so away from the lay-by the car was parked in.

And finally the weather had brightened up a bit, and my bedraggled locks were dry – just curlier than ever.  We headed back towards Penrith, stopping en route at the Lakes Distillery for a well-deserved and extremely pleasant lunch.  That’s what this is all about: celebrating the fantastic county we live in with its glorious scenery, great food and good friends!

 

 

Ageing and such like

I have come across various quotations recently, including one today which said ‘it’s never too late to become the person you want to become’ and another – an advertisement by the Sanctuary Spa – encouraging women to relax and to ‘let go’ .  As I am just starting a college course, aiming for a change in career and it’s my birthday next week, both got me thinking.

Changing career is both exciting and daunting.   I am old enough to be the mother, if not the grandmother, of some of the other students.  But for some while now I have wanted to do something more creative.  Singing and writing were never going to pay the bills; cooking on the other hand, although at most levels not as well paid as surveying, could do.  I am torn between wanting to do something which is fulfilling for me; having to provide financially for my children; trying to balance work with looking after my children (picking them up from school, not too many hours in after school club, trying not to ask their father to look after them more than I do, etc. etc.).  I don’t know whether I’m doing the right thing – I’m definitely stepping out of my comfort zone in many ways – but I do know that drifting along as a surveyor is not satisfying, not fulfilling and, ultimately, doesn’t seem to be providing the right opportunities to make of it either a career or a vocation any longer.  I’ve applied for jobs and got nowhere, whereas already opportunities for catering are coming my way.

The other issue I’m debating in my head is whether it’s selfish to find something which is fulfilling, career-wise (which is why being able to provide for my children financially is an important factor).  The Sanctuary advert popped into my consciousness at just the right moment: my Thursday evening run had been cancelled (partly by me – the weather was atrocious) and I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and a bit low.  Straight away I was thinking about my ‘to do’ list and how, as I wasn’t going running I then ‘must do… singing practice; learn/practice Italian; sort out my college folder; write all the features I’ve been meaning to write; go out for a run anyway…’ as if the suddenly empty time had to be filled.

The Sanctuary advert pulled me up short.  I roamed around a bit on Facebook, finding an inspiring clip about a man who had started running at 95 and long jump at 97; I lit some candles and had a bath (I normally have a shower as it’s quicker), lying there for ages not even reading but with bubbles about a foot higher than the surface of the water, just day dreaming; I eventually did some singing; and then I roamed around a bit more on Facebook and pinterest before writing this post.

I haven’t done all the things I could have done; but instead of feeling sad and sorry for myself I’ve enjoyed having some contemplative, peaceful time on my own.  I’m happy that I’m following my dream of being more creative, and excited about my change of career and where it might lead me: and I’m glad I’m doing it before I’m too old.

I still have a list of things to do, or that I wish to do, and I don’t want to live to regret not doing anything – but at the same time I know that sometimes it’s OK just to take some time out and do nothing.  As the Italians say, “la dolce far niente”.  And at those points, when you’re happy enough and confident enough to stop – to have a break from the rushing around we all do – you can look into yourself and see who you really are.  And you know what?  I like who I am (phew!).

Comfort Zones

download

I’ve never really been one to stay in my comfort zone for too long: though people’s attitude to me has varied between ‘what the hell are you doing that for – are you an idiot?’ and ‘good for you’.  Funny, isn’t it – how people’s reactions to the things we do can be so diametrically opposed.  Just confirms that you have to do what your own heart/ head/ senses/ conscience tell you to do, not what other people think you should do, as some people will think you are right and some – probably, if it was analyzed, about 50% – will think you are wrong.

I can’t remember the first time I stepped outside my comfort zone and did something someone thought I shouldn’t, but I do remember my father saying something along the lines of daughters doing incomprehensible, rash things like switching to degree courses in subjects such as music.  I also remember a musical friend saying with surprise, about one of my music essays, “you sounded as if you knew what you were talking about – even though I knew you had no idea what a diminished 9th was” (actually, I might have known what a diminished 9th was – I probably looked it up purely for the purposes of the essay).

Later on of course I went for a safe-ish option and became a chartered surveyor.  At that point the unemployment rate for surveyors was very low, although to become chartered as a non-cognate graduate and as a woman (shock, horror – ‘they’ didn’t even approve of women wearing trousers to work when I began my surveying career in 1986!) was more unusual.  Someone from one of the long-established West End firms wrote in response to my job request, that they might have a job going managing their fleet cars – and that they (he) thought that often it was best if people ‘stuck to their own last’.

That sort of comment was, of course, guaranteed to make me stick to becoming a chartered surveyor rather than giving up – as with the guy who I had worked with previously who said what on earth made me think I’d stick to it when I’d stuck to nothing else work-wise up until then… what made me stick to it was that I had something to prove, not only to other people but also to myself.

After about 8 years in surveying I’d had enough however and decided to chuck it all in and go to work as a holiday rep., firstly in France (where I would have liked to have stayed) and then in Norway.  My father said “You’re not to give up a well-paid secure job to become a holiday rep.”.  Did I take any notice?  I had no mortgage, no children… and left a job paying £30,000 pa for one paying about £3,000 pa.  I had a great time and have seen bits of rural France that I shall probably never see again – and I could also speak fluent French when I got back.  My French is no longer fluent, but it gave me a confidence in speaking it which I think probably also helped with, later on, learning Italian.

I fell into a comfort zone after that though – my career progressed; I bought a flat; I earned (compared to my mortgage) a lot of money.  Then I met David, settled down, had children, moved to Cumbria… life was steady.

Or was it?  Don’t you think Life has a way of surprising you?  I am well aware that it really cannot be planned for – some things you wish for do indeed happen, but the effects of them are never quite what you expect and there are all the other things which happen which you didn’t even dream of (or the things you wished for happen, but turn out then to follow a different path from the one you’d expected or hoped for).

So there I was, plodding along, doing a job, taking redundancy as I hated the job and assumed I would just walk into another one as I always had… and I ended up pregnant, aged 48/49.  The creative side of me, which had been somewhat under wraps since graduating, had started rearing its head as well: I was singing and writing and started doing more of both.  The baby arrived, and provided a huge amount of joy and a fair amount of media interest.

Then my husband left.  After a few months of adjusting to it and having unexpectedly inherited a bit of money, I found I wanted to spread my wings and enjoy my new-found freedom and my 45% child-free time.   About a year later I got a job as a surveyor again, having thought I’d never go back to it, and had the most passionate and intense love affair of my life, with a guy who tapped right into the essence of me – the creative, free me which had been trying to escape the comfort zone for so long.

And now… after the pain (I still miss him); the acceptance (my kids have to come first) and the realisation (I am a creative person, and a people person)… I am about to step out of my comfort zone again.  I have a new job as a part-time chef, and am about to start a catering course in September.  Because of time restraints it is unlikely, come September, that I shall work as a surveyor again – after 30-odd years in the profession.

But, as I said in my college interview, I have 12 to 15 years of working life left.  I want, and intend, them to be enjoyable and (therefore) successful.  On an emotional level it feels as if I’m doing the right thing; on a practical level it also makes sense as there is far more demand for chefs than there is for surveyors and I have experience (e.g. in management and also in promotion) which is transferable.  I may go ‘backwards’ initially (in terms of starting again at the bottom, having to retrain, and not earning much) but it’s in order to go forwards more.  And the opportunities and openings are enormous – I wanted to live and work in France but didn’t manage it – becoming a chef my only restraint to where I work is my children.  There’s also a whole history to how I got to this stage, but it’s not necessarily relevant: suffice to say that when a friend suggested I get a job as a chef I mulled it over and eventually realised that she was talking a lot of sense and picking up on something which had been within me for a while.

She also suggested I start a supper club, so that’s exactly what I’ve done, with the profit going to charity.  If you feel like ‘sharing’ this and encouraging friends who live in or who are visiting Cumbria to come along, it would be great if you could – I would love to get really booked up.  And guess what… my new website also has a blog!

Visit: Brampton Supper Club

(and on Facebook: Facebook page for Brampton Supper Club)

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties

– Erich Fromm

flowers for courage

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.

Obscure jewels

The great thing about Cumbria is that you can find almost unknown treasures just off the
beaten track.  Sometimes you wonder how they survive; others seem to be thriving
despite not being anywhere obvious, nor well-signposted.

1. Brampton to Longtown (7)An example is the delightful little museum at Bewcastle – out in the middle of wild, almost-unvisited, haunted Reiver country.  It doesn’t take long to look around, but it tells the story of Bewcastle for those lone visitors who trek up to this remote part of north Cumbria.

 

Today we went to Threlkeld Mining Museum, which sits within the Lake District National Park just outside sometimes-crowded (relatively speaking) Keswick.  It represents one of the contradictions of the Lake District, even of Cumbria itself: this now idyllically rural county once made its wealth from industry, the landscape being gouged to free various valuable minerals.  Copper, lead, slate, graphite and even coal have been taken from the fells, valleys and coast that sheep now roam over and walkers ramble across.

Threlkeld Mining Museum appears not much more than a collection of rusty excavators in a quarry at first glance, but spending some time there is rewarding.  There’s a short ride on a narrow gauge steam train which takes you up to a quarry which is still worked – perhaps recently most significantly to help repair the road past Thirlmere (Keswick to Ambleside) which collapsed when the side of Hevellyn suffered a major landslip in the floods of December 2015 – and a tour of the old mine workings.  The guides are informative and enthusiastic and you come away with an enhanced understanding of how unsafe and unhealthy conditions were working underground – children carrying large tubs of excretia away at the ends of shifts; pit ponies and men falling down shafts, to be left at the bottom to rot; poisonous lead; children laying explosives, made from goose quills filled with powder, at close range because they were more expendable than adults… the social history is fascinating and humbling.

The Museum has no flash modern cafe facilities but during the gap between our train ride and our underground tour, one of the Museum staff pointed us in the direction of the cafe in Threlkeld village (the excellent Village Coffee Shop).  This was another ‘find’.  The village is bypassed by the A66 but if you bother to turn off the main road and head into the village there is a sign for a cafe.   This is situated in a beautifully refurbished village hall with superb views across to the quarry and the fells beyond.  It’s a community enterprise project (I can’t remember the exact name) so the cafe is run by paid members of staff but any profit it makes is ploughed back into the community.  It’s no amateur tea-room either: the coffee was lovely, the cakes looked superb, and the toilets were clean and nicely decorated with fresh flowers.

And friends I Threlkeld Mining Museum April 2017 (1)worked with at British Waterways may be amused to see that one of BW’s rusty excavators now lives at the Mining Museum!

 

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

Live in your strength

Philippa Gregory (in The Taming of the Queen):

“…if you are a writer, you will find that you are driven to write.  It is a gift that demands to be shared.  You cannot be a silent singer.”

Lyn Thurman (in The Inner Goddess Revolution):

“I made a vow to myself that I wouldn’t be with anyone else who didn’t ‘get me’.  I needed to be 100 per cent myself, not feeling as if I had to play a role of how a dutiful wife should be… There’s a part of our culture that hints that we are somehow less than whole if we’re not in a relationship… ” 

The Lover’s Path… if you follow your heart and are true to yourself, you cannot help but walk on the lover’s path.  Love for friends; love for family; love for children; love for the world; love for the person you adore the most in the world; and love for yourself.

“To truly love another, you must follow the lover’s path wherever it may take you .”

images-1

 

“If you ever find yourself stuck in the middle of the sea,
I’ll sail the world to find you
If you ever find yourself lost in the dark and you can’t see,
I’ll be the light to guide you.”

 

There you are, standing, feeling broken-hearted, looking out at the sea as the ship drifts over the horizon.  The wind blows your hair and clothes; blows the tears from your cheeks leaving nothing but a vague memory.  The words of Morag’s Cradle Song come to mind: “Gaze I seaward in the gloaming; gaze I skyward, sad and weary…“.

Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting or no longer loving – it means accepting.

Acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean not being sad – it means understanding.

Understanding means loving enough to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Truly loving means that even while you miss and yearn for the beloved, you accept him for who he is and that he must do what he believes is right for him; believing in him and thinking he’s amazing; knowing he’s great; letting go of him.

He has left on that ship and you had to let him go – maybe for a while, maybe for ever.  You can only step away from the sea and get on with your life, holding the beloved in your heart and trusting that the Universe, Fate, God, Allah – call it what you will – has it all worked out, and that ‘all will be well and all manner of thing shall be well’.

And of course the pain recedes and it is easier to remember the good things – the love – and not feel hurt by the bad; the doubts and questioning and disdain.

Live in your strength – be true to yourself – let yourself shine.

copyright 2017 R Lewis
“There are no goodbyes for us.  Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart” – Mahatma Ghandi

photograph copyright R. Lewis 2017

Mantra for 2017

butterfly-in-hand

The not-quite-the-final-farewell was perhaps in particular a farewell to 2016.  Watching the fireballs in Stonehaven at just gone midnight on 1-1-2017, I learnt later that they are intended to burn off the bad spirits of the past year and introduce fresh cleansing energy for the new.

Even so I started the new year feeling very low and tearful, for a couple of reasons.  Then today I read a feature which gave me my mantra for 2017:

I am enough; I have enough.

For anybody else who is feeling low or even depressed, the author was a therapist called Marisa Peer who was writing in Breathe magazine.

And that, for now folks, is enough.

 

Almost a Final Farewell

“take the road less travelled and simply open your eyes” – Laurence Shelley

icarus

The end of a year makes most of us consider all sorts of things: what we have achieved in the past year; what we have learnt; how next year will be different; how this year compares with those that have gone before.  As we approach 2017 I am looking in to setting up my own business, continue to try to promote my singing and writing, and am also trying to get extra work.  More importantly I am in a different place emotionally (calmer, happier and more accepting) to where I was this time last year or even a few months ago.  I have become aware that I just can’t do everything: and blogging is one thing which may need to take a back seat.  I don’t feel at the moment as if I can add anything useful or enlightening and I am conscious that I have started repeating myself.  It feels as if this blog has now come to a natural end (unlike in Febuary, when I thought of finishing but actually was only at the beginning of an emotional journey).

I started blogging in April 2010 with UnemployedinCumbria on Blogspot.  It was intended to be a blog about getting a new job in a rural county which has a small, low-density, population and not much of a commercial property market (I’m a Chartered Surveyor by profession) – though I also wanted to change career.  I had more of a career change than I expected as I found to my surprise that I was pregnant with a third child – at age 48.  The blog ended up being about being pregnant in my late 40s, having a baby at age 49, and having no job and therefore a much-reduced household income.  We had also moved into a house which needed a bit of TLC so there are bits about my coming to terms with sorting out the garden as well – the children still remember my poisoning the fish in an attempt to rid the pond of algae…!

Once child no. 3 was lustily here I began to think about doing triathlon again, and started a blog which was meant to be more or less a training diary – Supervet-Sarah.  As this second blog developed I stopped the other, but the aim of once again competing regularly in triathlon and at ‘supervet’ (50+) age still hasn’t been achieved.  However it did track my training for Kielder Marathon at age 51 including various micro-adventurous training runs I did with Kerry, who also did Kielder, and during that time I did Kendal sprint triathlon – though very badly (I was slow on the swim and fell off my bike: First Triathlon in How Long? ). That blog ends rather abruptly in August 2014, shortly before David left.  The final words of the final post are “I’m very proud of my little girl” – something I need reminding of from time to time as she’s also very feisty and wilful so I frequently get cross with her, sometimes quite unfairly.

In early 2015 I started this blog.  There’s a hiatus between David leaving at the end of August 2014 and the start – a time when I adjusted to being ‘young (at heart) free and single’ again and to being without the children every other weekend.  By the end of the year I had come to the conclusion that 2014 was the year of broken things – my marriage, my washing machine and my dishwasher but on a less frivolous note sad ‘broken’ things happened to a lot of people.  They always do but I guess it’s how the year has been for you overall that remains in your memory.

By contrast 2015 was then a year of freedom, joy and passion.  I relished my new-found freedom and realised who I truly was.  By the middle of the year I was on a high – I got a new job; fell deeply and whole-heartedly in love with a man who had fallen passionately in love with me; and my singing seemed to be flying too: I had more confidence and performed solo more than I had previously, including arranging concerts for my group Eight + 1.  I flew high – but like Icarus I perhaps flew too high – too close to the sun – and like Icarus I crashed.

Unlike Icarus I had plenty of people to catch me before I hit the ground, and to support me, but it led to a challenging time and made 2016 a challenging year.  It has also been a year of farewells – obviously the usual round of celebrities have died, including David Bowie and Alan Rickman – but also people who were briefly part of my everyday life have moved – Chris who worked at Capernaum and left to join the navy; my lovely neighbours Margaret & David, who moved to Cornwall; and – sadly – Capernaum restaurant itself, which was one of my favourite restaurants ever – the children still judge food by ‘the Capernaum scale’ with few restaurants beating it.  It was also farewell to my friend Clare’s husband, Bob.  He had suffered from severe COPD for several years but hung on strongly for so long.  I am incredibly glad that Deborah and I went to sing Songs for Bob at their house in April, accompanied by Martin Johnson; I am sad that I missed the funeral; and I shall always appreciate the fact that he called me ‘Pocket Venus’.  Clare and her family at times have had more faith in me than I have had in myself.

At the same time however there were plenty of hellos and I got to do some travelling in a minor way, which is something I love and hadn’t done for ages.  I was pretty reclusive for the first part of the year, barely even going into the town centre where I live in case I bumped into anyone I knew and most of the time feeling desperate to run away abroad and ‘hide’.  Six months ago (June), just as I was finally coming out of my depression, I wrote “I want to learn Italian; do lots of long bike rides and write them up; travel; sing; write… and of course there has to be time for my surveying work, which is what, after all, pays the bills.  And I want to fit in some time for trail running out on those lovely hills or along by the sea; for yoga; and for meditation.”  I have in fact managed, to a greater or lesser extent, to do all those things.

As I look forward to 2017 I hope to travel more (I still have a yen to go abroad to do some voluntary work, but it’s difficult with children and needing to earn money to pay for things for them); to write (I need to finish my long bike ride and write it up); to sing (there are four gigs coming up for Bellissima and we now have our own Facebook page as well); to run and cycle; and to earn enough money, ideally doing things I love (fingers crossed for the job I have applied for, but for keeping doing surveying as well, as I have a great boss and I don’t want to let him down) and to perhaps start my own business.  And, of course, to spend time with my kids – if I can earn enough then I want to be able to take the whole of August off to spend it with them – my dream is to tour Northumbria in a camper van.  But who knows what the new year will hold – I learnt long ago that you can’t plan your life.  Things you want do happen, but rarely in the way you expect.

I learnt a lot of lessons in 2016.  One was about being true to myself, which I already knew I should do but which, I learnt, means that sometimes I need to swim against the pack and follow my instincts and my heart despite what anybody else says (I’ve done so in the past and proved people wrong… and if you don’t try then you never know, do you?).  Another lesson, again which I already knew but which was reiterated, was that there are different outlooks on life and none is right or wrong.  David and I separated; we are happier separated but we still get on.  For us – and for our children – that works, but it’s not the solution for everybody and not everybody can manage to be as amicable as we (mostly) are (we had an argument today – he came round to make peace, we had a chat and he gave me a brief hug.  We no longer love each other but we can at least get on and not use the children as emotional blackmail against each other – which I  hope is best for the children too.  I guess he’s sort of a friend – which is what he was before we got together so there’s a sense of resolution in still being at least on friendly terms).

Finally, I learnt that I can’t do everything.  Emotionally, physically, mentally or even in terms of time.  I have had to accept that Child Tax Credits may need to bolster my income if I want to spend enough time with my children as well as, importantly, allowing the creative side of me some outlet; I also have to accept that there are just not enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do.  I tried to do it all: to be a mother (teacher, taxi service, cook, housekeeper, gardener…), a writer, a singer, a lover, to keep fit, to work full-time and to commute, and it didn’t work.  2016 as much as anything has been about getting some balance back.  I’ve even said ‘no’ to some things – I didn’t sing with choir this term and I’m not going to be touring with them in May (I can’t afford to but more importantly I don’t want to go abroad without the children).  I have learnt over the past few years though that allowing the creative side of me some outlet is hugely important: it’s a fundamental part of who I am.  It’s not about being self-gratifying however but about how you can make it fit into a life where you have to provide for your children and do the washing up as well.

This blog has been great for getting my head straight and I hope I will look back at my posts and still enjoy reading them.  People have criticised me, mostly when they have felt criticised by me, but writing has always been a type of therapy for me.  Perhaps it shouldn’t be so public (though the maximum number of readers I have had for any post has been 210, which really isn’t that many) but if just one person has felt better because of a post I have written – if just one person has thought ‘yes, that’s how I feel too’ – then this blog has not been in vain.

From time to time there may perhaps be another, but for now this, my 99th post in this blog, is a farewell – with best wishes for the New Year to you all.

butterfly-in-hand