Song Lyric Sunday: Van Morrison – “Streets of Arklow”

Haven’t played the Song Lyric Sunday game for while now but Helen’s theme this week prompts me to briefly share this song. Simply because – it’s one of my favourites on probably my favourite ever album. As neither are particularly well-known, I can only encourage you to give 4 minutes of your time to “Streets of Arklow” and, if you like it, the rest of “Veedon Fleece”.  To try and describe it – something of a cross between Irish folk and rock – but actually, trying to bracket it does it a disservice – it’s just a unique sound. Hope some of you enjoy it as much as I have over the years.

And as we walked
Through the streets of Arklow
Oh the color
Of the day wore on
And our heads
Were filled with poetry
And the morning
A-comin’ on to dawn

And as we walked
Through the streets of Arklow
And gay perfusion
In god’s green land
And the gypsy’s rode
With their hearts on fire
They say “We love to wander,”
“Lord we love,”
“Lord we love to roam…”

And as we walked
Through the streets of Arklow
In a drenching beauty
Rolling back ’til the day
And I saw your eyes
They was shining, sparkling crystal clear
And our souls were clean
And the grass did grow
And our souls were clean
And the grass did grow
And our souls were clean
And the grass did grow

And as we walked
Through the streets of Arklow

(Written by Van Morrison, 1974)

The Dash and Scamper

Sounds like it should be a pub, but more prosaically it’s a couple of midweek fell races in the Lake District I’ve done recently. Here are a few top tips should you wish to give either or both of these a crack sometime in the future.

Hot off the press – or more fittingly, while legs are still aching – was last night’s Blisco Dash, from the Old Dungeon Ghyll to the summit of Pike o’ Blisco via Redacre Gill and backDash for some maybe, but for me 2000ft of unremitting – and walked – climb, followed by 2000ft of braked and thigh-sapping descent. So much so that the flat half mile of road at the end was the toughest stretch of all, as limbs threatened to cease basic functioning with the finish line in sight. “Good running form” went out the window as I pretty much waddled the run in, and was grateful those around me seemed similarly affected as at least I didn’t lose any places.

But it was great to take part in this classic Lakes “AS” on another glorious Lake District summer evening. It’s pretty special being up there when the setting sun displays the fells at their best.

bliscodash 18.7.18Just to note that the line off the summit is to the right of the way up (to avoid meeting those scrambling up the summit rocks head on). And that there really are precious few opportunities for the lactic acid to flush out on either the climb or descent. It’s certainly not one for the first-time fellrunner – you need to have a few thousand feet in the bank before giving it a go.

Whereas, the Reston Scar Scamper is perhaps a race with a broader appeal, for lots of good reasons. You register at the Hawkshead Brewery for a start (which confusingly is in Staveley, 10 miles from Hawkshead). There’s only 1000ft of climbing in the 3.5 miles, divided into 2 climbs, allowing a bit of “recovery” in between. And the River Kent flows past the finish line – very pleasant for a post-race cool off.

It was nice to get to know a bit of the Lake District that I must have zoomed past dozens of times before without really noticing. Reston Scar is on your right just after Staveley on the main A591 to Windermere. All eyes are normally on the first sight of the lake and the famous fells beyond, but there is much merit in these foothills and of course in the loftier fells around Kentmere to the north. Nice to have your perceptions challenged from time to time. DSC04188Anyway, fingers crossed both of these races have been good preparation what I’ve got in mind next – the short races at Ambleside, Burnsall and Grasmere shows respectively. Hope to see a few Striders at some of these over the next few weeks.

Otley and Kettlewell fell races

You wait ages for one then two come along at once. Thought I’d share how my first 24 hours back with Valley Striders (after a 10 year interlude) have gone. Two fell races on successive evenings. I’ve given myself an evening off this running lark tonight quite happily!

On Wednesday I did the Otley Chevin race. This is a good introduction to fellrunning for us north Leeds types, being the nearest fell race to Leeds on the calendar and a relatively straightforward prospect – run to the top of the Chevin from Otley town centre and back. Of course, it’s still pretty demanding in its own way. Most of the 700ft climb comes steeply all at once and needs pacing carefully, otherwise you really suffer on those interminable steps (215 – count ’em). Once at the top, you’re very quickly into the rapid descent, so not much time to do the transition from uphill to downhill running (two very different disciplines). And the sting in the tail is the long, flattish run-in through the coach park and down the cobbles of Queens Terrace – difficult to do a flat-out finish along here.

Anyway, it all seemed to go pretty well and it was good to be back fellracing in a Striders vest for the first time since Withins Skyline 2007! Stiffness wasn’t too bad in the morning, which encouraged me to head up Wharfedale later in the day and have a crack at the Kettlewell Anniversary race as well. This presented a rather different kind of challenge, having 2 significant climbs and descents in its 5 miles, plus an abominably stony track towards the finish (almost like scree running at times). After the exertions of the previous evening, I was even more glad to reach the finish line than usual. However, this was more than compensated for by the spectacular scenery on a gorgeous Dales evening, plus the route being mainly on sheep-cropped grass, always a pleasure to run on. And the convivial, informal banter of the “50 folks in a field” doing their mildly eccentric midweek thing definitely takes the pressure off – no big race nerves here!

Due to working weekends at the moment, I’m on the lookout for midweek short fellraces like these this summer, and happy to offer a lift to any Striders that want to give one a go.


The initial climb of the Kettlewell Anniversary race up to Gate Cote Scar

Walking over uneven ground

Review of “Mariner – A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge” by Malcolm Guite


I’m currently working at a charity shop with a good range of books on our shelves, but behind the scenes you get a slightly different picture of what the Great British Public are donating to charity. Just how many copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, The Da Vinci Code and anything by Jeremy Clarkson are there in the world? Anyway, the fact that these books aren’t wanted anymore tells you all you need to know about them….

So, it’s been a relief to get hold of a much more substantial title this week – “Mariner”, a new biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge – by Malcolm Guite, recently out in paperback. I’m usually a library or charity shop addict, but this was £15 on a new book very well spent.

It’s almost 2 centuries since the death of the revered Romantic Poet, so there are plenty of biographies already out there, but this one has found a new and refreshing way of telling his life story – paralleling his ups and downs with the plot of his most famous work – The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. So for example, the Mariner infamously shoots the albatross for no apparent reason….. equally, Coleridge, on hearing of the death of his son, unnecessarily delayed his return from a trip to Germany by several months. Later, the Mariner falls into the pit of despair, drifting “alone on a wide, wide sea”, before slowly realising his mistake in killing the albatross and returning home, renewed. Similarly, Coleridge experienced the horrors of opium addiction, but with careful supervision managed to make something of the final years of his life. Indeed, Guite explains how – 20 years after writing the poem – Coleridge had sufficiently recognised how his own life mirrored that of the Mariner for him to add an instructive “Gloss” to the poem (to the left of the text – see photo above) and even to start referring to himself as “The Mariner”.

The book’s structure is not only an effective way of telling a life story, but also of bringing the whole of the famous poem itself to life. At 625 lines, over 7 parts, the Rime can sometimes feel a daunting prospect for the reader (I have to admit to getting a little bit bogged down in the middle sections before – like the Mariner himself). But in considering the Rime as a whole, and giving equal emphasis to each of the 7 parts, Guite allows you to see the whole of Coleridge’s vision. Just as there is much more to Coleridge’s life than the annus mirabilis of 1797/8 and his friendship with Wordsworth, so does an albatross round the neck and water water everywhere only scratch the surface of the poem.

Guite also wishes to address an apparent oversight in previous biographies – namely the importance of Coleridge’s Christian faith in both his life and poetry – and argues the point convincingly. This is not to say that either the book or the Rime is exclusively for Christian readers though. I found the passages explaining the source of Coleridge’s inspiration illuminating. And the tale of the Mariner is universal, and can be viewed at a number of levels – a good yarn, dozens of nifty rhymes and phrases, simple moral messages (“don’t do stupid things”, “learn from your mistakes”, “look after nature”) as well as extending to the full-blown religious allegory. Perhaps that helps the Rime remain as relevant today as ever.

Finally, having previously blogged on Coleridge’s fellwalking adventures (not once but twice!), I was interested to read Guite’s take on this habit. After all, the Rime was largely composed on a 40-mile walk in 1797 with the Wordsworths, and around this time their mutual friend William Hazlitt observed (quoted on pp 113-114):

Coleridge has told me that he himself liked to compose in walking over uneven ground, or breaking through the straggling branches of a copse-wood; whereas Wordsworth always wrote (if he could) walking up and down a straight gravel walk.

Like the changing seas his Mariner was navigating, “Walking over uneven ground” seems a fair metaphor for Coleridge’s tumultuous life, and Guite has struck on a novel way of presenting it. I zipped through the 400-odd pages of “Mariner” in just a few days. This is one book I won’t be donating to our charity shop in a hurry.

Stanbury Splash

I’m a bit of a fairweather fellrunner to be honest, preferring spring, summer & autumn races to the harsh stuff over the winter. If there’s one exception it’s the Stanbury Splash, a mid-January mini-adventure over the Haworth moors to and from Penistone Hill. 6 miles in total with plenty of exciting descents and 4 stream crossings – hence its name.

This year’s “Splash” on Sunday was the first of the “new era” of Penistone Hill races – the legendary Woodentops having now passed the baton on to Wharfedale Harriers – but it seemed a pretty seamless handover. As usual, I got there early, as delays with parking, registration and kit selection can happen. Note to self – in January, print out the universal race entry form and fill it in at home, rather than attempting to fill it in on the day with freezing cold hands! And predictably I changed my mind 3 times about what combination of kit I was taking, eventually plumping (rather cautiously, although it was very cold) for a lightweight breathable walking jacket. I found this worked well – I didn’t overheat during the race – and I wasn’t too put out that many had just opted for a running vest. A different breed!

At least with the Penistone Hill races you’re starting at the top of the hill, so you get a pretty good idea of what conditions will be like throughout the race. The flip side of this is that you often get a good descent towards the start of the race, and an agonising climb back up at the end. But it does provide a good spectacle, and the view from the Back Lane car park of 300 runners charging down the hill towards Sladen Beck is a memorable one – almost reminiscent of a medieval battle scene!

After that initial down and up you do a full loop of Ponden Kirk before repeating the first mile and a half in reverse on the return. Conditions were certainly kinder than last year, which was all freezing rain and swollen streams – this time the “splashes” were no barrier and I got round 10 minutes quicker than in 2017. The sight of the finish line on the cricket pitch –  with the tea urn and pile of broken biscuits – always very welcome!

So many thanks to Wharfedale Harriers, the Woodentops, and to all the supporters on the day, including everyone that took photos and clips and generously shared them so we can relive it all again from the comfort of home. See you next January.


September in the Lakes with YHA



This is a blog with a slight difference. In September I’ve been doing some volunteering for the YHA (Youth Hostels Association) in Borrowdale in the Lake District, and in between times exploring the area, mainly on foot. I’ve decided that as good a way as any of describing how it’s gone is just to reproduce extracts from my daily diary, and to share some of my photos. I’ve really enjoyed my 3 weeks volunteering and am very grateful to the staff at YHA Borrowdale for giving me the opportunity to volunteer and for welcoming me into the team. 

Just to provide a bit of context: I ended my most recent paid job back in August. The blog begins with me thinking about what to do next when we got back from our family summer holiday at the beginning of September. It ends when I went off to enquire about a paid role with YHA at another hostel…. so this may not be the end of my time with YHA!

I didn’t have much internet access while I was up in the Lakes and (ironically enough for a blogger) I didn’t miss it. I packed quite a lot in around my volunteering and, typing up my notes, it’s been interesting to reflect on how I spent my free time while away from the routines and conveniences of home. 

I’ve included some notes* at the end to explain some of the locations/references mentioned. The geography of Borrowdale is best understood with the help of an OS map, of course… 



Sat 2 September (home, ie Leeds)

I’m planning a 3-day youth hostelling trip this week. Innuendo from all members of family nudging me towards making it a more vocational trip, ie exploring volunteering opportunities. I may try and make initial enquiries tomorrow.

Sun 3 Sept (home)

I had a brief chat with Buttermere YH tonight which reassured me that a short hostel placement may be worthwhile. I’m minded to book Tues night there. Will try to get through to some other hostels again tomorrow before making a final decision.

Mon 4 Sept (home)

In fact, I decided to “apply” online for a 2 week placement at Keswick, starting on Saturday. I couldn’t get through to them on the phone so have booked tomorrow night there. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll try somewhere else….

Tues 5 Sept (Keswick YH)

Just a brief entry, as I’m going to do a more extensive report of the day in a letter home. Kids back to school. Arrived Keswick about 1.30pm. Poked around town a bit, then checked into YH. Warden’s day off, so hope to discuss tomorrow. Ran up Skiddaw by main path, returning by Skiddaw House – about 3 hours. Great!


Wed 6 Sept (Keswick YH)

A much longer report to follow here. No point writing another letter home as I’m heading home on Fri anyway… although not for long!

After a typically-fitful night in a YH dorm, I followed a gut instinct this morning and headed to Borrowdale YH to try to “catch the warden”. Come back at midday I was advised. So, returned to Keswick to go online at the library to register my interest in the opportunity. (Incidentally, the library has enough books by/about Coleridge to fill many a rainy day – a reminder that although remembered for a few poems, he was writing letters, notes and works every day – a bit like today’s bloggers!).

Returned to Borrowdale and met managers Chris and Simon. Both fellrunners, in fact Chris had been helping a Bob Graham Round-hopeful yesterday. The upshot of our chat was that I was offered a 10-day placement starting on Sunday morning. Albeit residing in a shared room. But this was almost as good an outcome for this week as I could have hoped for. I can park the car next to the hostel and Chris even offered me a free night tomorrow (which I accepted). Note the dates & accom I was offered were based on hostel availability.

Anyway, slightly reeling from all this, I was granted free parking at the hostel for the rest of the day and headed off for a run (as conspicuously as possible to confirm the impression I was the right sort). The weather was OK at this point so I headed up in the direction of Dale Head. Unlike yesterday’s long and gradual climb up Skiddaw, this was much tougher – steep and technical and not runnable all the way. Anyway, at the ridge the sight of Dale Head soaring 500 further feet above sent me heading off in the other direction – over High Spy, Maiden Moor and, finally, Catbells. A fine traverse this, with the view of Catbells and Derwent Water from Maiden Moor exceptional. The summit of Catbells a delectable spot, but heavily populated with kids and people without maps. But it is understandably a popular climb for all.


I dropped down from Catbells to Grange – tea in the café – then back to the YH alongside the river. 3 hours overall and pretty knackering, I wonder what I’ll be up for tomorrow?

Spent the evening rather hobbling around Keswick and going down to the lake. A fine view here and plenty of (older) people wandering down to the Theatre by the Lake, which looks like an attractive-enough place.


Thurs 7 Sept (Borrowdale YH)

Morning drizzle, a deteriorating forecast and aching limbs meant I was only up for rambling this morning. I chose a circuit of Derwent Water. 10 flat and pleasant miles, so fair enough, but not exactly exciting. Too many dog walkers and umbrellas to really be my thing. All inspired me into an off-piste adventure: a scramble up the side of Lodore Falls to find stretches of pools and rapids above far more interesting than the main falls themselves. The Romantic Poets seem to have been inspired by picturesque scenes… but like Scale Force you can’t get anywhere near them*. I eventually popped up on the Watendlath road, passing Surprise View (well named) and a misty Ashness Bridge on the way down.

Then back to Borrowdale YH. Nice running and walking chat with fellow hostellers. Rain coming down in buckets now. A momentary easing encouraged me into an evening run. And quite an adventure this turned out to be. I took on the hostel’s fellrunning challenge of running from the bar to the top of Castle Crag. Half a mile along the riverside path first – river in spate and much of the path underwater. Then a steep and technical climb. 17 mins 50 secs – compare the record: Ricky Lightfoot’s** 11.30! On the return, the path even more underwater – thigh deep in places. Rain torrential now, fading light and I even had to divert round a bull! Heady stuff.

Anyway, all this reassures me I’m in the right place.

Fri 8 Sept (home)

Up early after a rather better night…. drove home – back by 10.30am. Sorting washing and stuff, catching up with family, mulling over whether I’m doing the right thing. I think so. My main concern about the next 10 days is sleeping in a shared dorm and not having private space. Plan is – back to Borrowdale tomorrow.

Sat 9 Sept (Borrowdale YH)

Back in a very busy hostel – big contrast to the other night, but good to see it at full capacity.

We decided to have a family day out to make the most of our short time together. So, we went to Ingleton Waterfalls – halfway to the Lakes for me, the girls returning on the train. Waterfalls very swollen and impressive. We went from the car park to Thornton Force and back which was enough, before a drop off at lonely Clapham station.

I need to “report” at 10am tomorrow so I may squeeze in a morning run. Forecast foul tomorrow – it ended up quite nice today – Borrowdale less gloomy in the sun!

Sun 10 Sept (Borrowdale YH)

Another brief entry as another letter home will follow. Early morning run to see Blackmoss Pot – certainly would be worth a visit in hot weather. Then changing beds, hoovering and cleaning the self-catering kitchen. I enjoyed it! Then a walk in the rain to Seathwaite and back. Rain unbelievable!

Mon 11 Sept (Borrowdale YH)

Knackered now, after a very long day.

Started with a shopping trip. Drove over Honister to Cockermouth in 45 mins. Note – try it in the other direction, to avoid the steep descent at the top. Sainsbury’s. Ended up rushing back due to trying to find a postbox, roadworks in Keswick and getting stuck behind the Borrowdale bus – so 45 mins by this route too! Back to the hostel at 9.58am, 2 mins before my shift started.

Straight into bed changing, then hoovering the whole hostel (3 hours!) and doing the kitchen. I’ve now got my shift sheet for the week. 7am start tomorrow, bar duty Wed eve, then home Thurs and Fri. Fingers crossed I’ll be able to run the Dale Head race on Sunday.

Weather much improved, so my evening adventure was up Bessyboot from Stonethwaite, then returning via Tarn at Leaves and Comb Gill. Fellrunning in the Lake District can be at a whole new level to what I’m used to! Not much of this route was really runnable. Very steep climb, rough ground on top and tricky, slippery descent. Set off around 5pm and was surprised to find it was 6.30pm on top. Had to keep a cool head on the way down as I missed the path and the light was beginning to fade. Superb country though – didn’t see a soul. Back to the hostel just after 7pm.

Tues 12 Sept (Borrowdale YH)

Fitful night, conscious of the early start. Donned apron and natty catering headwear and straight into knocking up packed lunches, cleaning fridges and industrial-scale washing up. An intense 2 and a half hours but the free leftover fried breakfast a good consolation! 2 further hours of bed-changing a light relief by comparison.

After lunch I had a nice chat with colleagues in the staff house. The atmos of a shared student house, and a good bunch.

Afternoon trip to Keswick for a bit more food and to catch up with the outside world at the library. Then another run up Castle Crag, this time in much better conditions than last week, hence 16.58, almost a minute’s improvement. I returned a different way this time – dropping round the back of the crag and traversing to Seatoller – a good runnable route. Note to return to Castle Crag with camera due to the spectacular view from the cairn by the slate heap.

It’s been very easy falling into conversation with hostellers this week – a nice aspect of being here and made easier by having my volunteering as an ice-breaker. Tomorrow, rain forecast – a shame as I’m not on till 6pm.

Wed 13 Sept (Borrowdale YH)

Today’s shift started at 6pm, so I was interested to see how I could make the most of the day beforehand and still be ready for work. Particularly as the forecast was poor.

So, I just set out, walking initially up a pleasant little fell at the back of the hostel – High Doat. Weather OK-ish, so I decided to start recce-ing some of the Dale Head race route. Got to the top of the mine and decided to go for the summit. In the end, I got the full variation, including a brief shelter behind the summit cairn from pelting hail, before the clouds parted to reveal the classic view of Newlands. No doubt it will be a tough race on Sunday, with local knowledge a distinct advantage.

Had a quiet afternoon dozing and reading, including a brief time on the bench by the river in sunshine!

Then to my first ever evening behind a bar. Very manageable as it turned out – busy enough and the systems all seemed to work. Nice to chat too, which by my standards I’ve been doing a lot of here.

Tomorrow – housekeeping shift 10am-4pm, then home till Sat.

Fri 15 Sept (home)

Yesterday’s housekeeping shift included my first taste of emptying bins & cleaning sinks/mirrors. Then drove to Leeds, meeting all at the climbing wall – a happy reunion. Catching up with domestics at home today.

Sun 17 Sept (Borrowdale YH)

Bitty Saturday morning supervising an emergency plumber to fix a leaking loo. He fixed it, I paid him, it started leaking worse than before. Had to call him back which meant Rosie missed her cornet class – a shame. Then back to Borrowdale, and a nice evening chat with colleagues in the staff house.

Early Sunday morning shift – 3 hours of frenetic activity which flew by, serving around 50 breakfasts. A seamless exercise in cooking, serving and cleaning.

After my shift a real treat – a 10 minute walk to register for a fell race! And the first half of it – on a perfect day for running – went swimmingly. Up to the top of Dale Head in 40 minutes – I think this must be the longest continual uphill run I have ever done. Misfortune 100ft into the descent though. The sole parted from the rest of my shoe! Somehow I managed to effect a descent with a flapping sole hanging on by a thread, but it was a descent significantly slowed and accompanied by plenty of cursing and bum-sliding. I still finished in 1hr 7mins though – quicker than I was expecting. New pair of shoes tomorrow!


Nice evening walk a third of the way up Bessyboot as you view it from the hostel. Great view from the top of some rock slabs which provided some interesting scrambling opportunities.


Mon 18 Sept (Borrowdale YH)

I initially resisted offers from colleagues to go to the pub last night, pleading aching limbs. About 10pm though I realised I could drive there and join them for last orders. Perhaps I should have gone earlier – my sparkling mineral water contrasted rather with their high spirits…

Another early morning shift today, but only 16 breakfasts, so not as manic. Then cleaning bogs & showers for the first time – lovely. Afternoon trip into Keswick to spend £xxx (!) on a new pair of running shoes – the assistant droned on at me for a full hour, by which time I would have done anything to get out of there.

Evening bar shift 6pm-9.30pm. And so I successfully negotiated my first split shift day.

Have told Chris I want to stay longer. He’s OK in principle – needs to work out my accommodation – may involve some time living/working at Honister YH***, which I’d be OK about.

Tues 19 Sept (Borrowdale YH)

Glorious day of weather, but had to deal with working the housekeeping shift first – lots of hoovering and glass shining.

Chris let me knock off half an hour early, which gave me the chance to make the most of the conditions, and try out the new shoes! So, climbed up Bessyboot as you see it from the hostel (strictly speaking, “High Knott”) – an exciting scramble. Then along the tops a bit through a moonscape of bumps, crags and hollows – great country on a clear day like today.


I then dropped steeply down into Langstrath next to Caw Crag – an infinity of climbing possibilities here. This brought me down right next to Blackmoss Pot, and I couldn’t resist a late-season dip. Excruciatingly cold, but I managed to effect an “immersement” by clinging on to the rocks on the side. But what a place – water as deep as the rocks are high that surround (and conceal) it. Back down the valley to the hostel.


After finishing at 4pm on Thursday, I’m now scheduled to start at 3pm Monday, with my accommodation for next week being Honister. So, a nice long weekend ahead.

Wed 20 Sept (Borrowdale YH)

Another early shift – breakfast for 40 teenagers by 7.30am, then rest of the morning clearing up the teenage mess in their rooms.

Afternoon off initially into Keswick but had an urge to “get out of the Lake District” so plumped for visiting Whitehaven. Not beautiful, but a peculiarly fascinating place. A huge old dock in a bay framed with cliffs – the town sloping down with a surround of hills. Walked to the end of “The Beacon”, then a wander round the attractive Georgian terraces of this planned town. A real maritime feel. Fish and chips in a bus shelter as the rain set in. Despite many attempts at regeneration, the rather inevitable air of a fading town, but the setting and sense of history very potent.


Drove home over Honister and popped into the YH, meeting the manager and checking the accom arrangements for next week. Am very glad to be getting my own room – tonight will be my final night in the shared dorm and, frankly, good job too.

Fri 22 Sept (home)

Fish and chips on Wed eve did not settle easily, but an hour in the relatively fresh air of the smokers’ shelter put me right. Surprisingly decent night’s sleep meant my final housekeeping shift of the week was do-able. As per last week, drove home via the climbing wall.

Sun 24 Sept (Honister YH)

I’m looking forward to a week in my own room at Honister…. speaking of which, I’m in it now. And I feel like a king with my stuff spread out and my own key….

Plan tomorrow is a tour of bothies and huts in the morning, before my 3pm-9pm shift down the road.

PS – I took a short diversion on my way here to look at Ullswater for the first time – it really is as beautiful as people say it is….

Mon 25 Sept (11.30pm, Honister YH)

Frankly, a bonkers day – like 3 days in one.

Early morning mist forced a change in plan, so it was an hour’s run down the old toll road, then round High Doat through the wood, a surprising waterfall (Scaleclose Force, I think) and back up the track.

Plan then was to kill time in Cockermouth but in fact the mist cleared so walking boots back on. 2 bothies visited as originally planned. Dubs Hut – pretty large but basic, and Warnscale – much smaller, cosier perhaps, and with a spectacular view – much the better first impression. What it’s actually like to spend a night in either of them though…..


Lunch and rest back at Honister, then to Borrowdale at 3pm…. only to be told “you’re not needed till 5”! So into Keswick to get a couple of things done.

So by 5 I’d already had a pretty busy day, but the busiest was yet to come! Helping with tea for the first time – for 64. Prep, serving and cleaning through to 9pm. Then an extra hour and a half helping on the bar and cleaning up after that, ie some of the late evening reception routine. Finished at 10.20pm, then back up the road in the dark to Honister. And I have to be back in before 7am tomorrow to cook breakfast for the same 64!

Plan for tomorrow afternoon = some quiet reading. I’ve got Johnny Marr’s autobiog out of the library, which I’m looking forward to.

Tues 26 Sept (Honister YH)

Too tired to write much. Chef for breakfast from 6.50am under the Catering Manager’s expert guidance. Then bogs & showers. Almost broken, returned to Honister for rest and reading. Back to Borrowdale to chef tea, then was mercifully released “early” at 7.30pm. Same shifts tomorrow, fulfilling the “second chef” role.

Thurs 28 Sept (8am, Honister YH)

Wednesday a bit of a blur, working the split shift and trying to get stuff done in the middle of the day, including rest. Physically, it’s very demanding.

Day ahead of working on the hostel grounds. Fortunately, it’s a nice day forecast.

PS – the Johnny Marr book has really helped fill the gaps over the last few days. Great to have a good book to hand for the first time in ages!

Fri 29 Sept (12.30am, home)

Now back home and it’s half midnight. Helped fill potholes, clear scrub etc, then knocked off at lunchtime. Then home, again via Thurs night climbing. For the moment, that’s the end of my time at Borrowdale….



*Robert Southey wrote the famous poem “The Cataract of Lodore”; Samuel Taylor Coleridge raved about Scale Force near Buttermere.

**top Lake District fellrunner

***YH at the top of Honister Pass, 2 miles beyond Borrowdale YH, and 1000ft higher

Why Burnsall is a classic

Just back from running today’s Burnsall Classic Fell Race – a brilliant event and the “classic” tag well-earned.

I’ve blogged before about Burnsall’s renowned history and records, but what stood out today for me were two things. Firstly, the particularly good atmosphere and friendly banter between runners before and after the race. I got chatting to a couple of lads while recce-ing the course beforehand who were only too willing to share their route-choosing tips and reminiscences of previous races. Eg, we decided that keeping to the left of the tree straight after the wall on the descent was the best bet – I think this was proved correct! Good to give the “lower” half of the race a proper recce on the day as strictly-speaking it’s out-of-bounds the rest of the year.

Secondly, loads of chat at the finish line about just how good a course it is, and I have to agree. It’s got a bit of everything squeezed into its 1.8 miles. The initial runnable climb, the steeper bit near the top where you have to walk, a proper wade through heather, the awkwardly steep (and today, slippery!) initial descent, the wall to hurdle and then the exhilarating rush down to the finish. And only 50 yards of road at the beginning and end (albeit with loads of spectators!). It’s like all the best bits of fellrunning neatly packaged into 20 or so minutes.

You can toy with a few tactics too, although probably more of an issue for better runners than me. I made a daft effort to get ahead of a few just before the wall on the climb – knowing the difficulty of overtaking from then on – and almost came to a complete stop straight after and lost all the places again! Further on, some near me on the descent tried their luck on the heather rather than the path – not sure it worked for them though.

So overall, great day, sure I’ll be back next year, and many thanks to all the organisers and volunteers that make it happen.



24 hours round the Lakes

A day long circuit of the Lake District in the footsteps of Coleridge.


In a previous post I reflected on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s account of his perilous descent from Scafell in 1802. The passage is widely-quoted as being the first recorded example of that now well-established genre of literature: non-fiction mountain adventure. Indeed, because the route he took (known as Broad Stand) is now graded a “Moderate” rock climb – and because climbs have to be recorded to be officially recognised – 1802 is often mentioned as being the Year Zero of the sport of climbing.

But the descent of Broad Stand was just one short incident in a much larger adventure. Coleridge was in the middle of a 9-day circular walking tour of the Lake District, starting from and finishing at his home in Keswick. Today, long walks are familiar to many, and a mainstay of the tourist industry in places like the Lakes. But in 1802, it was pretty much unheard-of to venture into the mountains for the sake of adventure alone. Coleridge was doing something highly unusual to head off on a hike like this, let alone almost fall down a mountain on the way.

Obviously, there is a fine line between adventure and foolhardiness, and Coleridge – without previous knowledge of Scafell, let alone map or compass – crossed it by descending Broad Stand. But his spirit of adventure in taking on the 9-day tour, in defiance of the conventions of the time, is still admirable. We all need a little bit of adventure now and then!

We know about Coleridge’s tour because his write-up of it, in the form of 2 letters and various notebook jottings, has survived. It’s available here and going through it, with a few OS maps alongside, it’s possible to plot the route he took all those years ago. An obvious thought follows – would it be possible to retrace this route, and perhaps get a better insight into what inspired his famous writings?

A little bit of research reveals it’s already been done. In 1989 local writer, the late Alan Hankinson, walked almost the entire route, and in 1991 his fine book Coleridge Walks the Fells was published. His walk was a very noble enterprise, in that it turns out that the vast majority of the route – mostly just tracks in 1802 – is now roads, and main roads at that. Hankinson reluctantly concluded that Coleridge’s spirit of adventure could not be recaptured by following his exact route on foot – and he said that nearly 30 years ago!

I had another day to me in the Lakes recently and decided to dedicate it somehow to Coleridge’s journey. In the end I settled on an acceptable compromise – a circular drive around the Lake District visiting various spots mentioned by Coleridge on his tour, plus a long journey on foot to where he went immediately after descending Broad Stand. Although this felt like trying to squeeze a 9-course meal into a lunchbox – and I’m not really in the business of recommending scenic drives! – it’s the best that could be done in 24 hours. A pretty full day as it turned out, but a rewarding one.

Coleridge started out from his home in Keswick – Greta Hall – just a couple of minutes walk from the town centre, but up on a hill and commanding a view that he raved about. It’s possible to walk up to the gates now and get a peep of this very fine residence and also the view of the mountains above today’s rooftops:

The route heads up the beautiful Newlands Valley, at the top of which is Moss Force, a disappointing spectacle on 1 August 1802 but a very fine one on 27 July 2017 after much heavy rain. Not often you can drive (and park!) so close to such a fine cataract:

DSC03625Dropping down to Buttermere, Coleridge’s route took him over Floutern Pass, but for the modern day driver you have to go round Crummock Water and Loweswater. I pressed on along the main road to Egremont, missing the diversion Coleridge took to St Bees. An unsucessful addition to his journey this turned out:

I walked on to St. Bees, 3 miles from Egremont-when I came there could not get a Bed-at last got an apology for one, at a miserable Pot-house; slept or rather dozed in my Clothes-Breakfasted there-and went to the School & Church ruins-had read in the history of Cumbd. that there was an ‘excellent Library presented to the School by James Lowther,’ which proved to be some 30 odd Volumes of commentaries on the Scripture utterly worthless- & which with all my passion for ragged old Folios I should certainly make serviceable . . . for fire-lighting.

I continued on the main road to Gosforth, trying not to think about Sellafield looming to the right, and then up Eskdale to the foot of Hardknott Pass where I switched to fellrunning gear. Across the fields was Taw House Farm, where Coleridge spent the night after his Scafell exploits and where he wrote the letter describing them:

DSC03626I had a choice of routes here – either to keep to Coleridge’s route from Scafell to Taw House on the west side of the River Esk, or to stick close to the east bank of the river and join up with Coleridge’s route 3 miles higher up. Either way, I knew it was most likely I would have to return the same way, as the river was in spate and probably unfordable. I decided on the latter route, to view some of the dale’s impressive rapids and pools:

DSC03629At the top, across the indeed-unfordable Esk, was the biggest fall of them all – Cam Spout – next to which Coleridge descended:

DSC03634Having done so…..

And now the Thunder-Storm was coming on, again & again!-Just at the bottom of the Hill I saw on before me in the Vale, lying just under the River on the side of a Hill, one, two, three, four Objects I could not distinguish whether Peat-hovels, or hovel-shaped Stones-I thought in my mind, that 3 of them would turn out to be stones-but that the fourth was certainly a Hovel. I went on toward them, crossing & recrossing the Becks & the River & found that they were all huge Stones…….

I came to a little village of Sheep-folds / there were 5 together / & the redding Stuff, & the Shears, & an old Pot, was in the Passage of the first of them. Here I found an imperfect Shelter from a Thunder-shower-accompanied with such Echoes! O God! what thoughts were mine! O how I wishes for Health & Strength that I might wander about for a Month together, in the stormiest month of the year, among these Places, so lonely & savage & full of sounds!

The stones are known as Sampson’s Stones, viewed here from the other side of the river with the sheepfolds to the left:

DSC03635The low clouds were very suggestive of the weather Coleridge described. Indeed, the whole walk up the Esk was accompanied by the thundering sounds of falling water, which would have very much suited the author of “Kubla Khan” with its frequent references to water – sacred rivers, romantic chasms, mighty fountains and five miles meandering. Ceaseless turmoil seething indeed.

Returning to the car, I continued my own meanderings over Birker Fell and down to Ulpha Kirk in the Duddon Valley. Coleridge waxed lyrical about the place:

The Kirk standing on the low rough Hill up which the Road climbs, the fields level and high, beyond that; & then the different flights of mountains in the back ground, with wild ridges from the right & the left, running like Arms & confining the middle view to these level fields on high ground is eminently picturesque-A little step (50 or 60 yards) beyond the Bridge, you gain a compleatly different picture-the Houses & the Kirk forming more important parts, & the view bounded at once by a high wooded rock, shaped as an obtuse-triangle/or segments of a circle forming an angle at their point of junction, now compleat in a Mirror & equally delightful as a view/

Coleridge’s best friend in poetry, William Wordsworth, agreed about the area, so much so that a few years later he wrote a series of 34 sonnets dedicated to the River Duddon. Number 31 starts:

The Kirk of Ulpha to the pilgrim’s eye
Is welcome as a star, that doth present
Its shining forehead through the peaceful rent
Of a black cloud diffused o’er half the sky;

Happily, this particular pilgrim managed to take a photo just at the moment the sun shone on the shining forehead against a black cloud:

DSC03656The Kirk seemed rather distinctive with its bells on the outside and (in that very civilised fashion) the door was open so you could have look around inside.

The next part of the drive – from Ulpha over to Broughton Mills – was very pleasant along a quiet, gated road. I soon came to The Blacksmith’s Arms where Coleridge:

Dined on Oatcake & Cheese, with a pint of Ale, & 2 glasses of Rum & water sweetened with preserved Gooseberries

I thought about going in and asking for the same but had second thoughts, particularly when the staff came out the front for a fag break. A lovely looking inn though:

DSC03657My head used to feel a bit like that anvil after spending too much time in places like this back in the day….

Once you’re over the next hill into Torver the return to Keswick is a long way by main road, roads familiar to generations of visitors to the Lakes. I did stop off quickly at one famous spot well known to Coleridge – Dove Cottage in Grasmere, his mate Wordsworth’s place. But when Coleridge passed on this occasion he didn’t stop for long – William and his sister Dorothy were away, en route to France to visit Annette Vallon, with whom Wordsworth had had a child – Caroline – several years before, a fact known to Coleridge but not to the general public until the 1920s! This was August 9 1802 – 4 weeks later, and still on the road to France, Wordswoth wrote one of his most famous poems – “Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802”.

DSC03620Well, that was a long day in the Lakes, but a memorable one. Obviously, you can only take so much in from behind the wheel, but I felt I got some sense of Coleridge’s tour from my journey, helped of course by the excursion into the wilds of Eskdale. Coleridge would have felt his circuit was taking him off into the unknown; to do that now you’d have to find a different circuit, off the roads. There is a well-known challenge called the Bob Graham Round – 42 peaks, again starting and finishing in Keswick. The “proper” fellrunning challenge is to do this in 24 hours – don’t worry, I’m not ready for that yet (ever) – but holiday companies also advertise it as a package walking holiday in manageable chunks. Maybe when I’ve got nine days to hand rather than one….

Friends of Meanwood Park

Last Saturday morning was the first meet-up of a new group – the Friends of Meanwood Park  – and it was great to go along and get stuck in to some serious legwork for a couple of hours for the sake of our local park.

This first session was advertised as a chance to “do various jobs including unblocking the mill race (muddy!) and remove invasive plants (muddy!)”, and it didn’t disappoint. The 15 or so of us that came along were soon busy in and around the duckpond in the American Garden. Before long we experienced the peculiar satisfaction that comes from unblocking stagnant water, by clearing out the silted-up outflow from the pond and releasing a rush of water down the mill race.  Listen carefully and there is now a faint, and soothing, tinkling sound as you walk over the bridge.

We then turned our attention to tackling the invasive species that had become prevalent around the pond – American Skunk Cabbage. That’s the yellow plant below:

Version 2You can find out more about this plant and why it needs removing here (there is also another blog on this site about invasive species in general). Needless to say, the various specimens dotted around the pond weren’t always conveniently located, and I had a particularly adventurous excursion at the end of a little promontory into the pond to get at the final few. But eventually we were satisfied that the pond was a skunk-cabbage-free zone and hopefully it will stay that way!

Meanwhile a few of the group concentrated on clearing holly around the stone footbridge over the beck, and there is now clear daylight where previously just a spiky passage. A bit of tidying up and that was your lot for the couple of hours, but very satisfying to be able to notice a real difference in just that short time. If you’re around the duckpond/American Garden in the next few weeks, I hope you agree.

Many thanks to the LCC Ranger Steve who gave the group a hand, giving us a timely reminder of some of the health and safety issues before we got stuck in, as well as providing the tools and, crucially, the tea and biscuits!

FOMP1st outing15July2017The next two meet-ups of the group are on Saturdays 19 August and 16 September, both from 10am to midday, from the car park at the end of Green Road. Wear suitable work clothes and boots but tools, wellies and gloves will be provided. If you like doing something practical and outdoors for your local park, and meeting some like-minded people, then I really recommend it.