Water sports and river crossings
At the end of 2017, the North West had just enjoyed it’s seventh consecutive month of higher than average rainfall. With January seeming set to continue the trend, the region is well-placed to become a major centre for water sports. A hardy band took to the countryside around Higham this weekend to test the conditions and reported that there is no imminent likelihood of drought, with plentiful supplies of soft ground and more than adequate mud. Puddles are reported to be deep and refreshing, tributaries of the Calder are burbling happily and both flat and steeply banked fields are well lubricated with the very finest soft rainwater.
Or to sum up, LTR2 around Higham was wet underfoot and staying upright was a tad challenging. But – it didn’t rain. It snowed instead. Not enough to stop and build a snowman, but enough to temper the colours and to remind the wet feet that there’s a lot of winter still to go.
The route headed south from the Roaming Roosters Farm Shop meeting place. We splashed across the gentle slopes, before descending into a plantation at Pendle Hall, where tall pillars of trees still retained papery russet leaves and a footbridge took us across Moor Isles Brook. Minutes later, we’d left the sheltered woodland behind and paused at the top of a long, broad field overlooking the valley. With the perfect gradient, it simply had to be run, and a hare showed us how. Like a bunch of kids, we let go and tore down the slope. At the bottom, water had pooled and although there was a way to avoid getting even wetter, high on the thrill of the descent, most of us went straight through.
We followed the Calder north, through sparse scrub and trees on rutted brown paths, across stiles and through kissing gates and then turned west to charge – by way of a footbridge – across the M65, emerging at Wood End, by the impressively engineered stonework and the bridge over Pendle Water.
For a couple of hundred yards, we had firm-footing on tarmac, but we also had thorn bushes encroaching. Turning off Barden Lane onto a path that led back into a wooded valley gave us a new challenge. Slick tree roots required nimble footwork. Stone set into the path had turned green in the shade, a plank spread our weight over an expanse of soft and squelchy. Below us, the sound of rushing water.
We were warned about the steps out of woodland – that they’d be slippy, to walk up and to keep a hold on the handrail, but there was no warning about the number of steps. On and on and on, until eventually we arrived out into the light onto a track. We crossed the motorway again, ran through a quarter-mile of icy puddle interspersed with bits of lane and turned to see the boom of a crane, its cables swinging behind the blocks and grey concrete slabs of what will soon become a swanky, new hotel.
We paused for a drink, for sweets and snacks, and to sing a traditional birthday tune, but then someone mentioned a waiting breakfast and it was back onto the trails. This time the path was well-drained, packed firm and we made swift progress down to the Calder again and across another wide footbridge. We climbed a lane that skirted housing, took in a few more fields to verify that the water level was still somewhere between saturated and sodden, and passed Ightenhill before crossing the meandering Calder again to join the Burnley way. There on the short stretch of road, we passed dog walkers on their morning stroll and then dropped off the solid ground into the Mona Bents Plantation.
Mona should have planted more trees, but the ones she had had made a decent – if patchy – job of drying the ground. One minute it was easy going on firm, black soil. The next, your shoes where being sucked towards the very bowels of the Earth. Hauling yourself out was a strangely satisfying workout for every muscle.
And then, as we started to leave the valley below, when talk about coffee and milkshakes and bacon butties got serious, sleet arrived. And the sleet, as it will, turned to snow.
And it was pretty. It was. But it was chill. It bleached the colours, dampened the sounds and blurred the skies as we climbed the last few fields. When we arrived back at the café, there was a temperature inversion and the valley we had run through was smothered in cloud. We, meanwhile, were smothered in mud.
After a run like that, we deserved a hearty breakfast, so we had one and talked about the next adventure.