At 6.30 am on a Saturday, eating porridge that you’re not ready for whilst peering into the dark, cold and drizzly, you might well question why you booked yourself onto a 16km LTR trail run at the end of December. Driving to the Tockholes meeting point, past piles of slush on the roads, with dawn having little effect on the daylight, you’ll say to yourself, ‘I must be crackers’. Three hours later, you’ll be glad you swapped your duvet for the scour of the wind. You might be tired, you’ll definitely be damp, and if you’re not muddy, it will be something of a miracle. But you’ll feel brilliant.
This run started with a potter through the sheltered woods, where a long traverse started to warm the muscles. The chat began, and we got into the swing of passing advice down the line: mind your head, boggy bit, really boggy bit, and by the time we emerged onto the Witton Weaver’s Way, where the wind had been waiting, it was a well-oiled routine. On this exposed section, most of the warnings were about ice underfoot and thoughts of keeping feet dry went out of the window. It was safer to run through the water flowing along the track’s sides, and strangely, soon enough, that water started to feel warm.
Belmont Reservoir was below us, bright and silvery, and as we descended towards it, the hills framed the spire of St Peter’s Parish Church, a view no doubt photographed countless times. After crossing Belmont Road, we took advantage of some shelter at Ward’s Cote before heading around to Ward’s reservoir. Locally known as the Blue Lagoon, there was nothing enticing about the water – the dam below the waterfall was ice-coated and we crossed it with great care and lots of helping hands.
Beyond the dam, there were wooden decks which crossed foaming streams. There were narrow, gullied paths, rushes, tussocky grass and, always, a patch of ice where it was least expected. We ran a short stretch on the road, climbed a steep bracken-clad bank and then, with the brown rump of Winter Hill behind us, we headed north, into the wind again, up the sticky clay path of Hordern Pasture and onto the flagstones of Spitlers Edge.
We were in a land of bog grasses, peat-stained water and, again, lurking ice. It hid in the water pooling on the flagstones and again, we were calling out warnings, looking out for each other. A group of mountain bikers passed in the opposite direction. A couple of walkers were heading, like us, for the top of Great Hill, where the wind whipped at our jackets and reminded us who was boss.
The descent was a joy. Sheltered and soft underfoot – sometimes too soft, and we did a fair bit of sinking into the mud. It was good practice for when we crossed Belmont Road again. In the plantations that border the River Roddlesworth, the mud was particularly fine and speckled with still colourful beech leaves.
There was a sting in the tail – the route finished with a climb through the woods we’d traversed earlier that morning. It sapped the energy in the legs, but suddenly the gradient lessened and we emerged back onto the road with the car park opposite and, even this late in the year, the sound of birdsong.
There were smiles all round, a sense of satisfaction, and a brew and bacon butty at Vaughn’s Country Cafe, but the real reward for leaving behind the bed and the blankets will last much longer. We are part of nature, and immersing ourselves in all its mud, guts and elemental glory is, surely, the way to feel alive.