Small but perfectly formed

A couple of months ago, LTR held a competition to win an Escape holiday. Entrants were invited to complete the sentence, “I love trail running because…” and a flurry of answers came from all over the country on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The guides sifted the entries, came up with four they thought best matched the LTR vision and the finalists were invited to get as many people as possible to like their posts. Competition in the closing stages was fierce, with the winner only narrowly squeezing out the second-placed entry.

It was clear that there was real passion for the trails, and recognising the effort that went into winning, the LTR team invited all the finalists for a special, one-off LTR run. A date was set, a route devised and then, as often happens with runners, an injury flare-up derailed plans. Co-ordinating people from Scotland, Cheshire, Wales and the Wirral had already proved challenging, so the run went ahead with just Trish and Carolyn. Although it wasn’t quite the run originally planned, it would have been criminal to waste such a glorious day, and the size of the group meant the run was relaxed and chatty, with frequent stops for drinks and fizzy sweets. It was pretty spectacular, too, a point I’ll try not to labour because those who missed out really did miss out. Sorry.

Sorry that you didn’t get to run through that field of gold and green, a rolling wave of buttercups and tall swaying grass. Sorry that you didn’t experience the bluebells down by the river, a sweep of colour almost absurdly blue. Sorry that you didn’t stand on the side of a hill and spy, 30 miles away, Blackpool Tower as a smudged pencil stroke on the horizon.

It had been a blowy couple of days. Trotting around, there was plenty of evidence: leaves had been ripped from trees and, at one point, on the surface of a reservoir, a film of white hawthorn petals. Shakespeare’s “rough winds” had been shaking the “darling buds of May” but the wind was welcome. It was as the tabloids like to say, a scorcher. The dry spell had cracked pasture into hexagons. The first cut of silage had been taken, scalped fields were stubbly and bleached. Where there was water – our route followed the wooded banks of Tan House Brook – there was sure to be dog cooling off in it.

It’s easy in winter to forget that summer running has its own set of hazards. Instead of the trainer-stealing bogs of mud, we were on trails so dusty and dry there was precious little grip. The risk had gone from slip to skid – although everyone stayed upright and enjoyed a different type of challenge. I think that every one of us ingested – albeit involuntarily – some form of insect life. At one of our stopping points, topping up fluids in the shade and speculating on which of the three obvious lanes we would be taking, a gang of gnats were picked out by the sun. I swear they were dancing.

This was a day all about life and its cycles. Flowers competing for pollinators, cocksfoot grasses with fat seed heads, bees bumbling and the ever-present song of blackbirds. The lambs are fattening, cattle are out of their sheds, the swans on the reservoir are keeping a close eye on their fluffy grey offspring. Beautiful but busy. Nature knows the year is already rushing by. Nature isn’t wasting a second.

Where is all this miraculous stuff?

It’s just outside. It’s when you step away from the place you know, and it’s often on your doorstep. In this case, we met at Heapey just north of Chorley, made our way through meadows and woodland via Black Brook, up to the birch and heather of Healey Nab where we were treated to fine views of Anglezarke. Dropping down we crossed the top end of the reservoir and then ran out and up to the crags by Black Brook above the hamlet of White Coppice. In the brook, people were paddling, and one or two had taken advantage of the pools for a quick “refreshing” dip’. Back down the hill, heading north we picked up another brook again, glad of the shade, crossed a stone built bridge and skipped through woodland, keeping eyes peeled for both tree roots and for kingfishers – which, sadly, proved elusive. A heron stood motionless until he realised he’d been spotted. A second, blended into his dead-tree perch, and then lazily flapped away. White Coppice Cricket ground was missing a match, but no less picturesque. It was easy enough to imagine the sound of leather on willow and the ritual of the cricket tea.

We ran back along the banks of reservoirs, the wind strong enough to be creating waves on the surface, the hawthorns packed to bursting with pink-tinged blossom. A wooden decked walkway suggested that our route was through normally sodden ground, but it was, today, dry and firm. Butterflies were busy, seeds floated through the air. There was yarrow, Herb Robert, cow parsley, the tiny blue-flowered speedwell and a bold pink flower I couldn’t name.

The day was getting hotter, and after almost ten miles, we were heading home. We ran back into a wood we’d passed through earlier, but which from another direction looked unfamiliar, skipped across a few fallen logs, snapping dry twigs underfoot and picked a route through a nettle filled alley. A few minutes later we were grabbing a well-earned pint at the pub.

No. We weren’t hitting the beer. Even with bags of drink stops, even with the shade, it had been hot and sweaty out there, and rehydration was a priority. We sat on the banks of a canal, musing about running, about road versus trail, about Strava and segments and the whole industry of running. And although we’re all different, and technology has its uses, there’s nothing nicer than a relaxed potter through a small corner of the countryside, just a few minutes, but a million miles from the main road.

If you missed your chance to run with us, sorry, but thanks to Carolyn and Trish for great company. Thanks for testing yourselves, for travelling to meet us, and being part of another brilliant day out. We might have been few in number, but in the end, things were just grand.

Kate Woodward