Two significant things have happened to me in the last week… I ran 31.8 miles over mountains for fun and I have realised that I am not a natural dog owner. The latter escapades with a friends borrowed dog have scarred me so much, I’m not sure that I am ready to write about it… lets just say it involved a dog running off, a house left wide open and a random family on holiday from Australia helping me catch it…
So lets head to my happy place for this blog… running and the Lakes..
Let’s rewind back to April and the glorious trip we took as a family for some R&R in a barn… in the middle of nowhere overlooking the awe inspiring mountain of Skiddaw. On our way back from the weekend, we stopped (as usual) in at the famous George Fisher outdoor shop which lives in the heart of Keswick. After mooching around the shop looking at all of the climbing gear and lovely shiny outdoor stuff we headed upstairs to Abrahams tea room for some light refreshment. Towards the end of our food, Mr Me-myself and eye suddenly piped up with “Oooh look, there is a Tea Round that you can do, running up all of the peaks that you can see from the tea room, fancy doing that at some point?”
Now there are two points to remember here, number 1) the children were running wick around the tea room at this point (they do not do very well inside) and number 2) Mr Me-myself and eye NEVER does anything on a whim, he is always very well planned and usually takes a zillion years to make a decision about doing anything. Taking this into consideration and glancing out of the window and seeing only about 3 peaks in view whilst trying to herd the children, I thought that it would never actually happen, and so I said “yep, sure, sounds great.”
So imagine my shock when 2 months later, both me and Mr Me-myself and eye were on the road back to Keswick with the intention of trying to complete the infamous Tea Round. Neither of us had run more that 10 miles in the last 6 months and I started wheezing like a steam train at the thought of an incline….. I had a strange feeling that this was not going to be the fun couple of days away that had been sold to me.
Billed as the younger sibling to the Bob Graham Round (which is a brutal 64 mile run around the Lakes in 24 hours) The Tea Round is a mere 30 ish miles with no time limit and the overall description of the route made it out to be a lovely gentle undulating jog around the fells and peaks of Keswick…..
As we arrived in Keswick on a picture perfect evening, we headed towards the main lake which was empty of tourists and we marvelled at the incredible views and the way that Skiddaw is always there, like your best mate, looking out for and protecting Keswick. The air was that bit fresher, the 4G signal was that bit poorer… there we were, back in our happy place.
The next day was another blooming beaut of a day as we set off from the front of George Fisher outdoor shop towards our first fell and peak of Catbells…. a mere 451 metres high. By 0740 it was already 17 degrees and I had sweat off all of the sun lotion I had so carefully applied an hour before….. it was going to be a warm old day…. I optimistically started the day ‘patch less’ wanting to challenge myself, but after the first mile I realised that this was not going to be an option as ‘the eye’ and the socket were drier than one of Ruth’s sandwiches (cheeky Tony Audenshaw, aka Bob off of Emmerdale reference there) and every time I blinked or moved ‘the eye’ it was like dragging skin over sandpaper, and so it was on with the trusty eye patch.
Catbells is a lovely fell to run up… but it has a sting in it’s tail with some pretty hard scrambling towards the top. This was the first indication to me that I was going to have problem. Not only was I breathing so hard that I thought that my lungs were going to pop out of my chest at any moment (and this was the smallest of the peaks that we were going up…) but I realised that I couldn’t actually see that well. Back in the day I would have bounded (ok, meandered at a pace) up the scrambling parts, but now I was finding it difficult to see where to put my feet and hands….. I also realised that this was on the ups….. what the hell was it going to be like on the downs….?!
I think that it is important to note here that Mr Me-myself and eye is actually a mountain goat (the children have inherited this trait) and although he probably hadn’t run in about 4 weeks, he bounded up each peak as if he had trotters on his feet and sat waiting patiently munching on a snack at the top… and bottom…. of everything.
Once I had got to the top of Catbells and revelled in the unbelievable beautiful view and made sure that I could actually see Abraham’s tea room from the top (I wanted to make sure that this was a legit route and not randomly made up) I casually asked Mr Me-myself and eye how many of these peaks we would have to do and when we would actually get a cup of tea….”oh i’m not sure, maybe about 8 or 10 peaks and you can have some tea at some point…..” errrrrr sorry what?! 8 or 10….. EIGHT OR TEN?!!! (it actually was about 12 in total) I started to curse myself for not paying more attention to when Mr Me-myself and eye was actually explaining what the route was and agreeing to do the thing in the first place. I mean what was wrong with just casually strolling up one or two of them and then grabbing an ice cream and spending the rest of the day paddling in a lake or stream?!
The following peaks of Robinson and High Stile passed in a flurry of sweaty swearing (as we had to descend back down before climbing back up nearly 800 metres each time) on paths that weren’t actual paths and with almost vertical descents where I had to turn around and scramble down backwards or run the risk of toppling over. I have to mention the brief pause at the beautiful river at the bottom of Robinson where we filled up our water pouches and dipped our caps in the water to cool off… a glimpse of what it would be like living in the wild.
The blessing after High Stile (which was a pig of a climb with a tiny, tiny overgrown path) was that there wasn’t much of a drop before heading up Red Pike, however the descent from Red Pike was bloody awful and I spent most of it on my arse sliding down (ending up with a very red bum, the rock is actually red!)….. as I was sliding down, I passed an American couple who were heading up Red Pike (woefully underprepared in their very white trainers) they asked me if it got easier the higher they got…. I didn’t want to lull them into a false sense of security so I firmly said to them “if you are prepared to spend most of the next 400 metres crying, you’ll be fine.”
I actually think that the worst part of this decsent was the fact that I could see Buttermere below me (half way) but it just was not getting any closer…. all I wanted was a pint of juice and a cheese baguette and it was so near but yet so far…..
After what seemed like a zillion years we arrived in Buttermere and refuelled with juice, baguettes and flapjack, it tasted unbelievably good. Whilst having lunch I questioned Mr Me-myself and eye over what the plan was (after seeing the bus pulling up heading back to Keswick and thinking that it was my ticket out of there) Mr Me-myself and eye said that it was only one more up and then we would be running all the peaks once we were up and we wouldn’t come back down until we were making our final descent into Keswick. I naively believed what he said…. what an idiot.
This is what we were faced within the last 18 miles of the ‘fun day out together…’
- Whiteless Pike
- Crag Hill
- Grisdale Pike
- Hopegill Head
- Eel Crag
- Sail and Scar Crags
- Causey Pike
- Rowling End
- Stoneycroft Ghyll
*with a few more thrown in for good measure
It is true that we didn’t have to come right back down to go back up the majority of the peaks, but none of them were easy ‘lets just pop across to the next one’ type of climbs, they all involved blood, sweat, swearing and a fair few tears.
The straw that almost broke the camel back (cheeky pun) was after we had reached the top of Stoneycroft Ghyll. It was getting late and it had been a really tricky descent off of Causey Pike because it was all in the shadows and it was a proper scramble down the rocks. The wind was picking up and we had to run along a ridge to get to Stoneycroft Ghyll. There was a long, long drop to the left and right of me. Before ‘eyegate’ I would not have thought twice about running along it but now, not only was I tired, but the light was dodge which meant I couldn’t see the ground properly, and more importantly the trip hazards which left me worried that I was going to trip and fall to my death. I gingerly made my way up to Stoneycroft Ghyll and prepared myself to run off the back of it towards Keswick which was tantalisingly about 2 miles away…… until Mr Me-myself and eye piped up,
“Errrr.… so you know the ridge that we have just run along…?”
“You mean the ridge that is in shadow and I can barely see?”
“Yep that is the one…”
“Yes Mr Me-myself and eye, I can see it….why?”
“Weeelllllll, we kinda have to run back along there for a bit and then go down down down to get across to Barrow and then go up Barrow before we can head back to Keswick.”
I would love to actually write what came out of my mouth at that point, but I fear that people’s perceptions of me may change….. lets just say that I was a tad unhappy at this prospect (especially as it also meant going down an almost vertical slope of heather which is awful to run through.. you kinda have to gallop through it with your knees high) I believe I may have said (the family version) that I wasn’t going to do it and he could leave me there to die for all I cared. Mr Me-myself and eye told me to pull myself together and if I didn’t get on with it then we would have completed 28 miles of it for no reason and we would have to come back and do it again another day. That was all the boost that I needed, there was no way I was coming back to do it all again…. I had a handful of drier than dry pretzels and peanuts and stormed *limped* through the heather and up Barrow.
Arriving on the peak of Barrow, and looking across at Skiddaw, still there protecting Keswick in all of it’s glory, a flood of emotion came over me. I was alive and I was living and I was seeing the beauty in the world.
Having had my eye removed and having had cancer does not define me as a person but it certainly will shape me as I move forward in my life. I am grateful for everything that I am able to do and for the challenges that I am making myself do as a result of what has happened. I am physically and emotionally stronger and more resilent and I am forever thankful to the Lake District for helping me recover.
Yes the Tea Round nearly broke me and I am still cross that there was not a drop of tea in sight for the whole 31.8 miles (and that Abraham’s tea room was shut on our arrival back) but as we were sprinting back into Keswick to touch the door of George Fisher for our grand finish, I thought… that wasn’t so bad….. how much harder could the Bob Graham Round be….?
Keep adventuring peeps,