If you go down to the woods today...
The scene: woodland, a car park, early evening, late December. For once, it’s not raining. The fog that’s blighted the North West for days has been exchanged for clear, crisp and cold. By heck, it’s cold.
Thirty-odd people (or should that be thirty odd people?) are skipping about in Lycra and fluorescent jackets, trying to keep warm. Some of this group are strangers, others are already firm friends but together, tonight, they’re taking on a 10k run around Wayoh and Entwistle reservoirs. They are the lucky ones, the first to sign up ahead of a huge waitlist for a charity event.
There’s an appetite for this challenge. It’s Christmas, and overindulgence needs the offset of exercise, but there’s also the element of risk here. It’s dark – it’s very dark – and by the light of head torches, they’re going to navigate footbridges, eroding paths, sodden ground, fallen branches, maybe climb a few stiles. They won’t have chip timing or a finish line to cross, they won’t be rewarded with a medal or a T-shirt.
They will, however, have an enormous amount of fun.
But it’s too cold to hang around, so if you fancy tagging along, let’s go. Let’s head out towards Wayoh and follow the edge of the reservoir before heading south and looping back to go north along the western flank. If you’re not following those directions, don’t worry, just take your cues from the person in front. Listen for their footfall on the firm cinder path, the sound changing as they cross a timber bridge. Be guided by the squelch of mud, the gasps as icy puddles prove deep enough to reach the ankles. And just enjoy it.
You might spot the half-moon reflecting on the water, but if you stare for too long, there’s a tree root waiting to trip you. Keep your wits about you and your ears open for warnings called out from those in front. Steps, branches, brambles, ice.
Concentrating is hard work, so we’ll stop at The Strawbury Duck for liquid refreshments (no, not that sort) where the landlord kindly lets us use the facilities. We slip and slide in the frozen carpark, eating fudge, and then, refreshed, we’re off again along the north bank of Entwistle reservoir where walkers have decorated trees with baubles and left tributes to those they’ve loved and lost.
We’ll head away from the shore, climbing into the woods where conifers in the torch beams reach like cathedral pillars towards the heavens. We’ll make out the outline of a castellated tower, we’ll sink into pine-needled, soft, dark mud.
If it sounds a bit bonkers, perhaps it is, but these thirty runners are guided by a team of four who have planned this event and know the route backwards – literally. Beau, whose backpack contains an eerie, glowing balloon, leads the way. Sarah brings up the rear. Andy sits mid-pack and, flying from one end to the other, is Rodger, whose approach through the trees is signalled by the strains of Simple Minds or Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger. This isn’t typical of LTR running, but the music adds a new dimension and it’s a hoot to hear dogs barking as we pass by. As Michael Jackson’s Thriller appears on the playlist, wait for the hounds to howl.
There is laughter and joy because we’re running. There are hearts and lungs working hard, legs pumping, arms driving and there’s a real sense of achievement when we arrive, too swiftly for some, back at the carpark. And there, because it’s Christmas, it’s more-or-less compulsory to wash down yet another mince pie with yet another glass of mulled wine. Because, after all, we’ve earned it.
Hang on a minute, have we?
Pause for a moment and think: we’ve nearly all driven here. We’ve left behind comfortable, warm homes. We’re dressed in technical, reflective gear and pricey footwear. We’re lucky, and we’re privileged to be able to make a small donation to Manchester’s Mustard Tree Charity. If we take away one thing from tonight, perhaps that’s it.
We’ve chosen this. We’ve chosen wet feet. We were cold, but we’re warm.
We’ve had a blast under the stars. Some people sleep under them on nights like this.
Same stars, different world.