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.

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

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

Club la Santa, Lanzarote

This is just a brief post with plenty of pictures as a short memento of a fantastic holiday.  ‘Thank you’ to my friend Penny, who was an easy travelling companion, and to my Mum who gave me a generous enough cheque for my birthday that I could afford to go back to Club la Santa for the FOURTH time (I hardly ever go back to exactly the same place twice – there are too many other interesting places to explore, but I always have a fab. time at Club la Santa).  It had been refurbished and extended since I last went and is now really nice and modern – and the showers are fantastic!

We flew out of the UK on a day when there was snow on the ground.  The weather on Lanzarote was not perfect all week – it was very windy for cycling – and we even wore jeans (rather than dresses/skirts) some evenings, and fleeces – but it was as good as many a British summer and great to be outdoors exercising almost all day every day.  We agreed we should try something new every day so in addition to running, swimming and cycling we did:

paddle boarding; a fitness class on paddle boards; deep water aqua; Zumba; aerial relaxation; aerial pilates (and, in my case, aerial yoga as well); TRX; body balance; body attack; body combat, Taiji Qigong… etc.

By bike we cycled:

to the Fire Mountains (the visitor centre en route is great – and free – and I love the way it’s still so hot underfoot in the mountains themselves that dry brushwood will catch fire);

past Playa de Fumara, up to the Monumento al Campesino and then along a very bumpy road through La Geria to then head back down from Tinajo to Club la Santa;

and up through Soo, Munique and Tiagua to Nazaret and a house that once belonged to Omar Shariff – Lag-Omar – but which is now a fascinating ‘museum’ come party venue (I think the guy trying to sell me some Aloe Vera products was also trying to chat me up… telling me that Aloe Vera would make me sexy and that I’d come back in two weeks and want to kiss him… hmm…).

I especially liked the way that many of the roads had ‘watch out for cyclists’ signs – I think it was only on the route of the Lanzarote Ironman, but shows how popular the island is for cyclists.  At 856 sq km there’s only really one ironman route available – as a comparison, Cumbria covers 6,768 sq km: but has a total of c.400,000 people to Lanzarote’s 139,000. Both of course have their populations boosted significantly by tourists – something which the Lanzarotians seem to welcome: they were all incredibly friendly and seemed delighted if you even spoke a couple of words in hesitating Spanish.

I’ve mentioned restaurants in a separate post. We were a bit disappointed by the ones at Club la Santa, other than La Plaza in the square (where we were served by a cute English waiter who was a bit of an Orlando Bloom look alike).  Restaurant Atlantico is great for enormous quantities of food; El Lago was disappointing for what it seemed to be trying to achieve, although they make a lovely gin and tonic.  Talking of gins and tonics, the Welsh barman in the Sports Bar was a bit of a gin expert and took ages creating two masterly gin and tonics – he likes Martin Miller, which is one I had come across, bought and particularly liked when I had a dinner party recently.

So it was a week of lovely weather and fresh air, exercise as well as relaxation, food and drink.  It was good for the mind and soul as well as the body, and I was a little sad to come home.  One day I would love to take the kids there, as I’m sure they’d enjoy it too.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balance

 balance

Sometimes it hurts to follow your heart.  Sometimes however it can take you years to hear your heart properly – to trust the essence of who you are – and it takes several traumatic events happening at once to get you back on the right path.  Your heart can be yelling out at you to take a risk and do something you know feels right; but you ignore it because you ‘ought’ to do something else; you ‘ought’ to play safe; you ‘ought’ to be so-called responsible.

Sometimes responsibility is about being apparently irresponsible.  For me it’s the work-life balance and how much creativity I ‘allow’ myself in my working life.

Having been going through a separation leading to divorce, and just as I started a new job with a long commute, I fell in love last year – passionately, deeply in love – and was loved in return.  In many ways it was rather unreal and yet that was its very life-giving, mind body and soul reality: it was a wonderful, magical, romantic time.  The ‘real me’ was already stirring – this awoke it further and pushed it out into the world.

I flew high but I crashed hard.  For the past few months or so I’ve been working back towards balance: balancing the me I know I really am with the practicalities of life.  On an emotional level, getting a balance between self-esteem & self-awareness.  Not getting put down and falling to bits as soon as somebody criticises or attacks me, but being able to admit my own faults as well… seeing that in all relationships, apart from perhaps with your children, ‘it takes two to tango’.

Having the confidence to believe that my singing is good (it wasn’t years ago and it’s taken a long time not to have that little voice in my head saying ‘who do you think you are, standing up here and singing to people?’) and that Deborah and I have different strengths when it comes to singing. I think she is a far better singer and performer than me, but my voice appeals to a different section of the audience and has a totally different quality – but we now should have the confidence that we are good enough to be paid for singing.  Again, the man last year was a huge part of that as he always supported my singing – as did, also, the friend who came back into my musical life having not seen him for 35 years.  A huge Thank You to those two men: and to the man who kissed my hand when I last sang in the restaurant in Brampton; to the man who said it was ‘classy’; to my choir master for letting me sing the solo in Stanford’s Bluebird; and to my friend Clare and her family… etc.

Accepting that I can’t do everything – there just aren’t enough hours in the day – despite the fact that I want to live life to the full.  Life is an enormous playground and I’ve only tried out some of the rides so far, and I’m greedy to try more!  I want to learn Italian (that’s been an ambition for goodness knows how many years – I think it may possibly get fulfilled this year… watch this space); 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 have a great boss who again is supportive by being understanding).  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.  But again – it’s getting the balance.

Going through a divorce is making me reconsider my financial and childcare balance – perhaps I have to let child tax credits provide some of my income in order that I have more time with the children.  My ambition last year was to work full time and not need any child tax credits at all, and I wanted to be able to afford to take the children abroad on holiday with me.  I failed miserably but I was trying to do too many things – to be too much to too many people – and hence I crashed, letting down in the process my children, the man I loved (though he then failed to help me up when I was down and when I needed him most), my boss, and also myself.

The last point, about looking after yourself, is important because it reflects so much wisdom that is ‘out there’ – if you don’t look after and love yourself first and foremost, you’re pretty useless to other people.  It’s not about selfishness – it’s about (going back to the beginning) being who you truly and genuinely are, and being happy, in order to give happiness to other people.  And when you’re deeply, profoundly, happy in your own skin then it’s no effort to give to other people (I was good at that at the beginning of my love affair but then got insecure and tried too hard/gave too much; and with my ex-husband I always felt I gave a lot and then got resentful… and didn’t appreciate what he was doing (giving me freedom; being a good father)).

As a child – a good, going-to-church on a Sunday and singing in the choir-child – I was brought up to think that I should think about others first and that if you didn’t you were being selfish.  Years later I was at a church in Brighton where a friend sang in the choir, and the sermon was about ‘love others as you love yourself’.  It was a pivotal point for me as the vicar was saying that if you don’t love yourself you’re useless to anybody else… (though not in quite those words).  It’s not always easy to put into practice when deep down inside you think you ‘ought’ to put others first: but actually I’ve seen what happens when you identify too closely with others and put their needs and feelings before your own.  When you lose yourself, you are completely lost.

In relation to children again a balance has to be found, of course: they need to learn to grow up to consider others but have enough self-esteem to look after their own needs.  And whilst a parent has to look after their children, and to a certain extent put his or her children first, again showing them how to look after themselves and be kind to others as well is a fantastic lesson to teach them (and a difficult one if you struggle with it yourself).

So over the past few months I’ve been trying to scramble back up the mountain of self-esteem and happiness – but now I’m beginning to realise that I was making too much effort even to do that, although I’ve had some success.  It’s about letting go – truly letting go – and that’s when things fall into your life; abundance will return in due course (and it’s perhaps also about seeing that it is indeed abundance and joy – seeing that the glass is half full, not half empty – i.e. perception).

If you have constantly to make too much effort for anything and it’s not happening – if you feel as if you’re banging your head against a brick wall and you’re miserable for years on end (as David was in our marriage) – then you’re on the wrong track.  Having said that, my friend Clare wisely said she had realised that when things felt hard it wasn’t so much about giving up as working out how to keep the things in her life that she wanted (she works full-time;  has a very ill husband; has a lovely boyfriend and other people in her life she cares and worries about, and has got to the stage where it works) – again, balance between putting in the effort to keep what you really want and letting go at the right time.

So this week, after feeling incredibly low again on Monday morning, has been about letting go.  I’ve read some useful things which have helped (thank you to the facebook pages and writings of Lyn Thurman* in particular – and also to Phil Robbins whose fantastic photos of me on Caldbeck Fell made me feel better about myself than I have for ages**) and then I burnt a whole load of paperwork yesterday and deleted some files on my computer.  I think that will do.  Again, balance – making too much of an effort to let go is again too much effort!  I have to just let it happen (and not beat myself up for the times when sadness overcomes me).  I’m hoping that letting go will let me fly again – this time in a stronger and more controlled way than I did last summer.  To soar, as my voice has been described as doing in The Bluebird.

There’s a passage at the beginning of one of the chapters of Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (Peter Hoeg) where she says that she just walks into the tunnel, the blackness, that is depression: she lets herself fall.  It’s always stuck with me.  There’s no rule which says that you ‘ought’ not ever feel depressed.  Yes, life is amazing and we’re lucky to be here and to experience its rich, colourful tapestry – but if there are times when you get depressed or low, go with the flow (just don’t wallow).  There are events in life which are sad, and the unhappiness is a sign that you are human and have emotions – but learn from them, let go, and move on. Everything passes; everything changes.  Again, there was a short features in Psychologies magazine once which pointed out that bad times pass – and so do the good ones! – just to come round again (the wheel of fortune).

At least, that’s what I’m trying to do!

 got-balance*  I’ve previously recommended Lyn’s book The Inner Goddess Revolution but will again here in case anyone who might be interested in it has missed it.

** I can highly recommend Phil for professional photographs – if you’re looking for a photographer for any reason whatsoever, contact him via his Facebook page.  He’s based in Carlisle.

Places for contemplation

This blogpost has been some time in gestation.   I’ve been travelling around the north west, and travelling always makes me contemplate life: I’m also currently reading Jostein Gaarder’s novel-come-philosophy book, Sophie’s World, and have just finished Lyn Thurman’s The Inner Goddess Revolution.  All heady stuff (I’m going to read about the Crusades next… one middle-eastern originating monotheistic religion fighting another… don’t they think that maybe they worship the same God, who would be disappointed in the squabbles and blood shed over the detail of how to worship him?).

I want to quote from Thurman’s book as it relates in part to world philosophies and religions, and is relevant both to men and to women, as well as echoing many other things I have read over the past year or more.

“The time we have on this planet is precious and so very short.  We have to live each day in a sense of awe at the gift we’ve been given, and to treat each day with joy [Me: sometimes more easily said than done…].  Imagine how you would feel if each morning you were on a holiday…

You can do that, you know.

A holiday is a ‘holy day’; a day that’s spiritual and sacred… You’re given a brand new holiday with each sunrise… you can choose your path forward.  You can follow your dreams and be outrageously authentic… 

You change, the world around you changes, and you become the change.  The world needs that.”

What is clear to me from all this reading and thinking is that the majority of mankind has always felt that there is a spiritual side to us human beings; but also a consciousness that we are somehow both small and great at once – part of a larger universe and yet each of us capable of greatness, should we choose and should we follow our ‘true’ path and let ourselves shine.  Perhaps for some that’s almost an impossibility: for some day to day survival is the priority, and profound thinking is a luxury. On the other hand thank goodness there are those who do think profoundly, and have done over the centuries, as it seems to me that those who don’t think strategically, altruistically and wisely enough are those who at times have led us into meaningless wars.  There was a fascinating programme about the Crusades which I caught on catch-up TV a couple of months ago, which made me consider how blinkered in their thinking the medieval Crusaders were.

The travelling has also made me think about the ‘spirit of place’, however – the Genius Loci as the polytheistic Romans called it.  Even nowadays there are some places which draw us more than others: some draw many thousands of people (look at Stonehenge over the ages); some are more personal.  I’ve written about my special places in this blog many times, but out in the warm sun – for the first time this year I could just have worn a t-shirt – for a run this morning I thought about it again.

I love living where I do.  I love this wild borderland, further north than the north, and its deep sense of history, even if it has been a troubled history of conflict and death.  I also loved living in the Pyrenees, for similar reasons: I lived in an area which had swapped backwards and forwards between France and Spain, was a great distance from the capital city (and therefore ‘misunderstood’ if not ignored) and also which has the hills and the sea.  And today it made me think about places for contemplation.  They seem, for me at least, to be places with a strong sense of the physical as well as being soulfully uplifting.

The other day I was in Southport on business.  I’m rather nosey about places anyway – I’m not very good at just going somewhere directly and then turning round and heading home again – I like to explore a bit.  There was the long, long pier, just begging me to walk to the end of it, out over the sea.  As I walked the wind got stronger until I stood at the end feeling as if any moment I might be lifted up and blown away.  The sun was out but over the land to the north rain clouds could be seen: in fact as I travelled home that day there was snow on the top of Shap Fell.  From where I was standing I could see North Wales in one direction and Blackpool in the other.  The power of the wind was exhilarating.

A few days later I ran up Talkin Fell.  Again, the power of the wind was incredible but lifted my spirits.  This time I was, of course, high up and the sea was distant – and I stood on the top of the hill and shouted.  Despite the force and strength of the wind, I felt strong: rooted to the ground and yet with my head in the clouds (well, almost).  It’s an intoxicating feeling and in fact it’s always with some reluctance that I leave the top and start my descent.  In Ridge Woods I’m in amongst the trees and it’s they who are rooted to the ground with tops in the sky: funny how strong they seem and yet after a gale or storm there will be those which have fallen.

And then I sing.  An act which is physical (you can’t sing properly without some physical effort) and yet which is also effortless… I find my voice soaring high thrilling but I have to be firmly rooted to the ground to let it do so.

Which makes me think that life is all about balance and contradictions – which is just what I’ve been reading about in Sophie’s World.

What or where are your places for contemplation?