Friday, 14 May 2021

Thursday 7 May - Home

(Written on 7 May, posted on 14 May. Memory like a sieve these days!) 

I woke this morning glad that the prepayment for our pitch had stopped us from abandoning our trip a day early, as whatever I'd impinged in my back yesterday had completely resolved itself, whether by all of those stretches (not to mention some sciatic flossing) or just by the passage of time. What I therefore fancied doing was repeating Wednesday's circuit via Tilberthwaite, but I couldn't help but feel, given how incapacitated I was yesterday, that might be an overly ambitious plan. I opted instead for a 5km circuit into Coniston via the old railway track and back along the lake path, and Mick sprang out of bed to come with me. 

It was only when Mick asked how my leg was, a while after we set out, that I realised that I'd not even given it a thought, as not a single twinge was to be felt. How bizarre! Being pain-free on such a fine morning, as we passed through Coniston Hall campsite*, I thought it would be a fine idea to extend the circuit to Torver. Fortunately Mick remembered that Bertie's keys were in my possession before we parted ways. 

The extended circuit was only 8km, so I was back at Bertie in plenty of time to have elevenses before packing away and vacating our pitch. 

It would have been nice to have then stopped off somewhere for an All Day Breakfast, but given the cool temperatures and incoming rain, combined with the need to sit outside, we took a raincheck. Even though we're currently largely avoiding shops, I would also have liked to have nipped into a running shop in Ambleside to try on a specific pair of shoes, except that I'd established that they are currently out of stock of just two sizes, those (of course) being the two I wanted to try (arguably one size in two different widths).

So, home we came, but with good intentions to be heading northwards again in the not-too-distant future.   

(*I've been surprised this week at how quiet everywhere has been, and until today Coniston Hall Campsite has been all but deserted when we have passed through. This morning, however, there were a handful of vans and a few tents. A pitch for a van at Coniston Hall costs £24, for which you get a patch of grass (no electric) and access to one basic toilet block (where the showers are currently closed, per Covid restrictions). I appreciate that you have to pay a membership fee for the adjacent Caravan Club site, where we stayed, but a mid-week pitch there for 2 adults currently costs £18.90 for a hard-standing with unlimited electricity, with plush, heated toilet blocks never too many paces away and with motorhome service points. We've stayed at Coniston Hall in a backpacking tent in the past, but no way could I bring myself to pay £24 to park on a patch of grass and nothing more, particularly given what's on offer next door. (Incidentally, at Coniston Hall it 'only' costs £22 for a tent and car; if one was to go there in an Erica-sized camper, one could pitch a tent next to it and save £2, even though you were taking up twice the space. Somewhat nonsensical?))

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Thursday 6 May - Coniston

Where's Bertie? It's his final night at Coniston Park Coppice.
Weather: Gloriously sunny start, but it was short-lived and by half past nine a day of showers had commenced.

That was a day that didn't go to plan, but first let me grumble about the weather forecast. A while ago I started using the BBC Weather App as my first port of call, having previously used the Met Office. I had become fed up of looking at the forecast at five minute intervals and finding it had changed completely. It became a bit of a sport to see how many different forecasts I could get for the same location in the space of an hour.

The BBC App had thus far seemed more consistent, and for the last few days it has told me that this morning would be sunny. I checked it again when I got up this morning and it still said that. I put my phone down and Mick asked what the temperature was like and, as I'd failed to register that information, I picked my phone back up and checked, only to find that we now weren't due a sunny morning, but we were soon to start getting showers, followed by a 90% chance of heavy rain from 11am. Harrumph!

We hurried to get ourselves ready to go out, with the plan (already revised, based on Mick's knee) being a 15km circular walk with the furthest point being Tarn Hows.

Light rain had already started by the time we set out and we cursed again our blinkered approach to this trip. Because we knew we were running on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and resting on Wednesday, we didn't think to bring useful things such as a daypack or walking attire. Clearly, our running gear and packs are useable for both purposes, but things like a bigger daypack, Paramo trousers and our small flask wouldn't have gone amiss. It's not even that we can claim a lack of space, as being in Bertie for such a short trip, we could have thrown in a spare kitchen sink and not troubled his carrying capacity. Let's hope a lesson has been learnt there.

As for the walk, we'd not even got 50m before I began to suspect that I wasn't going to get far today. Having completed yesterday's run without any problem at all, and gone for a 3-mile walk in the afternoon, again without any hint of an issue, I found this morning that I could barely walk, with my left leg (and to a lesser extent my lower back) suffering pain as my right leg went forward and the left back. Bizarrely, I could still run okay, and walking uphill was fine, but walking on the flat was a pained limp. We made it a mile before I decided that it wasn't going to ease up and, fearing doing more harm than good with my limping gait, we returned to Bertie.

Thus began another quiet day, albeit interspersed with me contorting myself into various stretches on Bertie's floor. We went for another small strollette this afternoon and, promisingly, I could walk almost normally and with much less pain, so hopefully whatever had tied itself in a knot or trapped a nerve, is now resolving itself.

It's really rare for us to book multiple nights at a campsite. Usually, even if we intend to stay for more than one night, we'll extend our stay as we go. Had we worked on our usual basis, I'm sure we would have saved our pennies and gone home today. However, in Covidian times, rather than having to go into the office every day to arrange an extra night, we booked the whole week and paid on arrival, so until tomorrow we will stay.

Oh dear, it is all doom and gloom today, so let's just finish with one more whinge (I promise, I'm not as miserable as I'm coming across in this post; we are having a good time, honest!):

How clear are these signs, displayed on the door to the dishwashing room? Mick and I were in there this afternoon when along came a woman. She looked at the door then, in contravention of the clear instruction and without troubling herself to don a face covering, walked straight in. We pointed out that the room was already in use and she apologised and left. What is it with people?! (Mick said afterwards that he wished he'd greeted her with an exclamation of 'Mother!', on the basis that she must have thought she was a family member.)

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Wednesday 5 May - Coniston

Where's Bertie? He's still on his pitch at Coniston Park Coppice.
Weather: Yesterday was decidedly damp until late afternoon, whereas today was mainly sunny. Still far cooler than I would prefer.

The plan for this trip was that I would run Troutbeck to Coniston on Monday and Mick would run on Tuesday. We would then do little but potter today and most of tomorrow, before a night-run tomorrow (mainly driven by a desire to see if our head torches are up to the job, as in July it will be dark by the time we reach Ambleside).

The plan got scuppered by Mick suddenly developing a sore knee. Not debilitating, but not the sort of thing he wants to risk making worse. So, instead of him trotting off into the rain yesterday morning, we had an extremely lazy start to the day and finally headed out for a walk into Coniston (there via the old railway line; back via the lake path) in the afternoon.

Today dawned bright, but with a chill that didn't have me leaping out of bed eager to don flimsy clothing and rush outside. Thus it was 0830 before I was ready to go, whereupon Mick suddenly made a move to come with me, albeit only as far as Coniston.

I continued on to complete a 15km circuit via Tilberthwaite, taking in the final few miles of the Lakeland 50 route that I'd omitted on Monday. As I ascended today I couldn't be sorry to have missed this section two days ago, as it proved to be so spectacular that it would have been a shame to do it in foul weather, with low cloud and my head down.

I took lots of photos:

You probably can't see the amount of snow on the more distant tops in the bottom left snap, but there was quite a covering

I was back at Bertie a couple of hours after setting off, which left plenty of day free, so after a few more hours of lazing around* we popped out to walk a circuit to Torver.

Returning via the lake path

Apparently we've got some more sunny weather tomorrow morning, before rain comes in during the afternoon, so I'm hatching a knee-friendly plan to take advantage of it.

(*We're pitched overlooking a toilet block. They're running a very simple system to ensure there are no more than three people in either ladies or the gents at any one time: you take a wristband out of a bucket of Milton solution and hang it on a peg. If all pegs are taken, you can't enter. On exiting, you deposit a wristband back into the Milton bucket. All very well in theory, but it's amazing how many people are just ignoring the system (presumably because they haven't read the information given out at reception when booking in and don't feel the need to read the big notice at eye level on the toilet doors either). It's largely the same people who don't put a face covering on to enter the facilities either.)

Monday, 3 May 2021

Monday 3 May - Coniston

Where's Bertie? He's at Coniston Hall Caravan Club Site where a 4 night stay is averaging out at £22 per night (tonight is significantly more expensive than the rest of the week).
Weather: Mainly rain with increasing wind.

After last week's failure with setting the timer on Bertie's heating controller, I had another poke around at the buttons and found where I thought I'd gone wrong. I had another go at setting it last night. Success! At a minute to 5 this morning the boiler roared into life. A minute later my alarm went off, and a minute after that I had the kettle on the stove.

Breakfasting and getting ready was a streamlined affair and at 0545 we pulled out of the campsite (I'm sure our neighbours loved us...), nipped in through the back of the services to regain the M6, and headed north.

An hour later, with rain gently falling on Bertie's windscreen, Mick waved me off at Troutbeck with the promise of being at Skelwith Bridge when I arrived there 10km later.

The first ascent went unremarkably. The first descent was notable for me catching my toe on a rock and, as I was running at the time, the momentum took me forward such that I didn't just hit the ground but did a full roll too. I peeled myself back up whilst inspecting for damage and found that, thanks to having gloves on my hands, a baselayer and jacket on my elbows and tights on my legs, all of the places that had skidded along the ground had been protected from grazing. Miraculously, I was completely uninjured, as was my phone (in a thigh pocket). My new(ish) running pack does, however, now have a small hole in one of its front pockets.

The only four photos I took today. My phone spent the rest of the day in a waterproof case.

I made it to Ambleside without more drama and passed through the town at a time of day when it was so quiet that all I encountered was a single dog-walker and a bin lorry.

The rain had petered out soon after I'd set out, but as I made my way down to Skelwith Bridge, after the climb from Ambleside, I could see dark clouds approaching and soon enough they launched their contents violently at me. I was fair dripping when I climbed into Bertie.

Mick pointed out that I really didn't need to do this today and that I could do the rest of the route tomorrow or Wednesday. It was tempting, but I could also see the merit of continuing in foul weather, so after inhaling a hot cross bun slathered with homemade lemon curd (a fine combination!) I put my wet jacket back on, shouldered my sodden pack and headed out. We had, however, hatched a fallback plan: Mick was going to move a few miles up the road such that if I wanted to abort at Tilberthwaite, all I had to do was run 2.5km down the road to find him.

I made a meal of finding my exit from Skelwith Bridge. Then at the bridge by Wainwrights Inn I was convinced I didn't need to cross so didn't look at the map or route notes and simply carried on*. A few minutes later I belatedly looked at the route, did an about turn and returned to the bridge. The detour had allowed a couple called Sarah & John, who had also been struggling to find the path from Skelwith, to go past me.

I caught them up beyond Chapel Stile and we ran a few sections together until, just above High Tilberthwaite, they peeled off to return to Skelwith.

Being at a high point, I paused there and took advantage of a weak phone signal to call Mick to say I was going to continue on to Coniston. His phone rang, but he didn't answer. I rang again. He still didn't answer. I knew that as soon as I started descending I would lose the signal, but by now it was teeming with rain, the wind had picked up, and I wasn't warm enough to stay still waiting for Mick to notice the missed call. That decided it: I was calling it a day at Tilberthwaite and heading down to Lane Head Coppice.

It turned out that I'd called Mick at the very minute he went outside to pay for the parking (£5 for 2 hours!!!). It was three minutes after I'd called him that he called me back, but, as predicted, by then I had no signal.

No matter. By the time I got to Bertie I'd covered 28km with 800m of ascent and, as we're here all week, there will be plenty of time for me to do the missing section later (provided that my legs forgive me quickly for today's efforts).

There's nothing else to report from today. We were checked into the campsite and pitched up well before noon and, with the rain drumming** down, I've not stepped outside since. 

(*It confounds Mick as to how I could have been so careless. He's just shaken his head and muttered 'How?' and 'But why didn't you just check?' as he's been proof-reading this post.
**It's a wooded campsite, as its name suggests. I do dislike parking under trees in the rain (drip DRIP drip). Or in the sunshine, if they're sap-dripping sorts of trees. Grumble grumble grumble)

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Sunday 2 May - Lancaster Services

Where's Bertie? He's at a certified campsite at White Carr Farm, which sits immediately behind Lancaster Services on the M6 northbound. It costs £10 per night, for which we have hard-standing. We could have had electricity for an extra £6.
Weather As I type, sunny with fluffy clouds, but we did have a few showers on our way north.

First, back to last Tuesday when, in the evening after our long run on The Ridgeway, it started to rain. Showers continued into the night, but on Wednesday morning, when I opened Bertie's kitchen blind to the sight of ten pheasants and a muntjac deer, it was dry. Incredibly (well, I found it incredible) my legs felt absolultey fine and fresh, so after a quick breakfast I headed out for a 15km run/walk.

I'd barely been back for ten minutes when the rain started to come down with vigour, but by then it mattered not. We slowly packed away and later in the morning we started wending our way back home.

Bertie may have feared another long lay-up, but hopefully he was reassured by the fact that we didn't fully unpack him, and two days later we started packing him afresh.

Contrary to last Sunday when we were on the road at 8am, today we were in no rush as 'the back of Lancaster Services' didn't sound like a location where we needed to spend a whole day. As it happens, it's not a bad location. The noise of the motorway doesn't seem to be too intrustive, and if you ignore the the mobile phone mast that shares the field and the power cables immediately in front of us, the view is pleasant and green.

The reason we're here is that I wanted to be dropped off at Troutbeck early in the morning for my next recce of the Lakeland 50 route, and therefore wanted to be a good way through the journey tonight. Working outwards from Pooley Bridge along our approach route, this was the first campsite we found that had a pitch available on this Bank Holiday weekend.

I say 'wanted to be dropped off' because I'm currently wavering on whether to run tomorrow or not. I'm torn between thinking that it will be a good test to do the route in bad weather and that it would be nice to wait until later in the week when the forecast is better.

I'll report back tomorrow as to which way I jumped.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Tuesday 27 April - The Ridgeway

Where's Bertie? He's still at Bennet's Wood Farm.
Weather: Overcast and cooler than the last few days, but hardly any breeze. 

Last night, for the first time ever, I set the timer on Bertie's heating so that it would be warm by the time we needed to get up this morning (the temperature for the last two nights have been low single digits, giving us a morning internal temperature of around 8 degrees). I didn't trouble myself to read the instruction manual, but had a play with the control panel and the settings seemed simple enough to implement. Or so I thought. The lack of heat when I woke up suggests I may have to read the manual after all.

It was quarter to eight by the time we stepped into the cool of the morning and headed off down the road. Only two steep uphill pulls were to feature in our day, and the first came within the first 10 minutes. That got the circulation going!

There were no flying golf balls to heed as we crossed four fairways of the golf course, and before long we were passing the place where we had turned back towards Bertie on yesterday's walk. Today we were going significantly further, so onwards along The Ridgeway long distance path we went.
Motor vehicles are banned from the Byway between 1 October and 30 April, so the state of the ruts wasn't too bad.

Because The Ridgeway doesn't feature much ascent and descent, I'd decided that rather than running out for 20km and returning the same way, we would turn well before half way and throw in three loops on the way back, like this:

The plan and the reality weren't far adrift

All went swimmingly until a junction where the only Ridgeway sign was back the way we'd come. I looked at the map and declared that our way was straight on. It was only as we approached a road that I realised we had strayed from our intended path, although to no detriment as we'd accidentally done one of the return-leg's loops in reverse and a bit early.

A treadmill for horses, with all 4 bays in use as we passed

A place we were supposed to be, but not at that point in the route

The map had made it clear that it's racehorse country around here, and by now we were starting to see the adjacent gallops in use.

Having made it to the furthest point of the route, back on ourselves we came, ignoring the first loop (which we'd already done), but making sure to take the second. I'd done a fair bit of research last week trying to find somewhere we could buy food and water, so as not to need to carry a whole day's supplies with us, and the only place I found was the village store in Compton; it was thus imperative that we didn't omit that loop.

We only saw one bench in Compton and conveniently it was almost opposite the shop, so that's where we sat to put away a sandwich (me) and a large sausage roll (Mick). I've declared my lunch (which is what I'm calling it, even though it was only 11am) to be the best egg mayo sandwich I've ever had, although I acknowledge that the context in which I was eating it may have led to a bias.

In the absence of consistent sunshine, it was cool sitting on the bench, so we didn't take the full half hour break we'd allotted ourselves before heading back up to The Ridgeway.

Not the best air clarity, but still fine views

Approaching the final loop of the route, I checked the map and declared we needed to take the next turn. That we did, only to find 1km later that we'd turned a few metres too early onto a path going in a different direction. Fortunately, this area is absolutely littered with byways (and to a lesser extent footpaths) so it wasn't difficult to choose an alternative, but equally appropriate, loop.

A place we weren't supposed to be

Another place we weren't supposed to be

Our day had been more or less following a 1km run, 4 minute walk regime, modified ad hoc based on the lie of the land. That led us to run almost all of what would be our final descent of The Ridgeway, before we turned off for the final distance to Bertie.

Another place we weren't supposed to be, but we were there intentionally this time (incidentally: can you see the incredible (albeit accidental) colour coordination between my t-shirt and my pack?) 

I gave Mick the choice as to whether we returned via the outward route (across the golf course) or the slightly longer way we had returned from yesterday's walk. He opted for the latter, and with just two more sets of ups and downs, back to Bennet's Wood we came.

What a fine day out we had! On the one hand blue skies would have been nice, but on the other, the cloud cover kept us comfortable and meant we didn't run out of suncream. Arriving back at Bertie (at what felt like 5pm, but was actually 1.30!) we'd covered just over 40km with a modest 650m of ascent. Having not been to this area before, I'm taken aback by how sparsely populated and rural it is - and by the good quality of the paths hereabouts. I can see us returning in the future.

Down in a dip, with no road access, you suddenly stumble across a pretty cottage

Monday, 26 April 2021

Monday 26 April - Reading(ish)

Sunday and Monday, 25 & 26 April
Where's Bertie? He's at Bennet's Wood Farm, a certified (5-van) caravan site not far away from Streatley (Berkshire). It costs £5 per night to stay here.
Weather: Mainly sunny both Sunday and Monday and warm enough when in the sun and out of the wind.

The last time we saw younger (step-)son and associated grandchildren was at the end of 2019. Clearly, there was good reason why we didn't see them in person in 2020, but now it had started to feel appropriate to see people again we arranged an al-fresco meet-up.

I thought we may as well make a few days of it with a short break in the Chiltern Hills and as Bertie had been taxed earlier in the month, we selected him to provide us with our accommodation. By Wednesday, that will be a whole five nights' use he's had in the last 14 months. Poor chap must wonder what he's done to deserve this fate after all his prior adventures.

As it went we had trouble sourcing a campsite (mainly a failure to answer phones, one incidence of fullness and one incidence of 'How much?!'), which narrowed the options to Bennets Wood or the Caravan Club site at Henley-on-Thames. It wasn't the bargain price that swayed us to come here (on gut feel, I fancied Henley), but having planned a running route from both locations, the one from Henley looked too much of a navigational faff, whereas from here The Ridgeway surely will be easy to follow?

We left home on the dot of 8 o'clock yesterday morning and arrived on the dot of 11am, which was convenient, being exactly on time. We would have been early if it hadn't been for the roadworks on the approach to the M4 and the diversion that started with a suddden cry by the navigator (swiftly following an instruction of 'left at the roundabout') of 'Nooooo! Weight limit!'.

A lovely day was had catching up with everyone, picnicking in the sunshine and walking the dogs though the local woodland, before we made our way back past Reading to this site near Streatley. The directions in the Sites Directory weren't exaggerating when they referred to the last 1.5 miles of the approach as 'narrow and winding'. You wouldn't want to meet anything coming the other way, although judging by the grass and detritus in the middle of the road, it'd be bad luck if you did.

Knowing this site to be just a farmer's field with a tap and a drain, I had in my mind a lowland field, enclosed by hedges. It was thus a surprise to arrive to find we had this view from Bertie's windscreen:

Blue skies, red kites circling above, almost total peace and a view like that for £5 per night. What a rarity in the UK! The only small downside (literally) is that the field is on a slope that's a bit too much for our levelling blocks to flatten out. Oh, and we're up against the woodland, which is shading our solar panel, but hopefully enough rays are getting through to replace the small amount of power we've been using.

Not much has been done today, having opted to spend the morning drinking tea, reading our books and just enjoying being in Bertie again. This afternoon we took ourselves off for a stroll, which turned into a 6ish-mile circular walk, taking in the route we plan to take tomorrow to get to The Ridgeway. Hopefully the photos convey what a lovely, sparsely populated area this is.

There are houses, mainly dotted around in ones and twos, some in unexpected locations, and almost all of them eliciting an exclamation of "isn't that lovely?" from me as we passed. Unfortunately, I failed to take a snap of any of them, although I did take this one of a grand gateway and impressively trimmed yews:

Tomorrow we'll see if the route I've planned is as good in reality as it looks on the map. 

Bonus snap for Conrad:

I'd never noticed a yellow latch on a kissing gate before. How funny to come across one only days after the discussion of the subject on Conrad's blog!