We’re the lucky ones
The wind whipped across the carpark of the New Waggoners where we met this morning. Just half an hour after leaving home, I was wondering if I’d made the right choice of running gear. The forecast app had changed its mind, becoming more pessimistic about the weather, and the clouds were already rolling in. Rain jacket on. Gloves for the first time this season. It was one of those mornings when you just want to get going. When we did, movement worked its magic and we forgot about the chill of the meeting place.
Almost immediately, we were off the road and climbing. We were on part of the Burnley Way, an open track, firm enough underfoot. A solitary runner passed us, heading the opposite direction. A few sheep bleated and scuttled off. The gradient lessened, we ran across the top of the hill and started down again. Warm now, the conversations started to flow. For some, it was catching up with those we hadn’t seen for a while. For others, it was getting to know new names and faces.
Our route crossed part of Burnley Golf Club. Only one golfer was on the hillside. We ran down the slopes between the tees and greens – I for one, enjoying the smug feeling of being up and about while the rest of the world was still nursing the day’s first brew. Turning by the 13th tee and heading into a lovely bit of brambly rough, we felt the first drops of rain and headed out towards Copy Clough.
This was a challenging section. Recent weather had made paths slick and slippery and they twisted and turned, climbed and dropped. Wooden footbridges were green and gripless, leaf litter hid the hazards. Concentration was needed, but the colours were fantastic, yellows and rust, reds and tans, deep green rushes, coal black mud. A carved owl perched atop a post, watching us pass, wondering perhaps why.
For the second time, we crossed Crown Point Road, and now on easier terrain, the pace picked up as we headed down the valley towards Clowbridge Reservoir. From there we had a great view of Hameldon Hill, but in true LTR fashion we opted for a less obvious route and after running halfway around the reservoir, we climbed a hill, turned a corner and headed away from our destination. As we contoured around the hillside, the skies became ominously dark and as we turned again to ascend Stony Hill, the rain started to gather momentum.
At the top, by Compston’s Cross, we stopped a moment for a drink and a snack. Although not a memorial to the fallen in The Great War, the stone cross, standing solid and resolute at this crossing point on the moors could well have been. On the one-hundredth anniversary of the Armistice, we were standing in the rain and wind, mud-spattered, on a bleak hillside, because we wanted to be there and because we had the choice.
As we started to run the mile or so across the high ground to Meadow Head, we knew, cold though it was, we’d be going home in a little while not hunkering down in a freezing trench. When we descended to the boggy ground near Dunnockshaw, weaving our way through waist-high rushes, we knew our biggest risk was wet feet, not a sniper’s bullet. Even though the weather wasn’t kind this morning, we’re still one of the luckiest generations.
We crossed Burnley Road and because we’d reached the lowest elevation on the route and still had to bag Hameldon Hill, we crossed Limy Water by a footbridge and set off uphill into the woods. From a distance, this plantation was marked by being two distinct colours, yellow and green, but once inside that distinction disappeared. Storms had brought down many trees which lay tumbled and haphazard. A carpet of needles was littered with snapping black twigs. Two or three steps then clamber over a tree trunk. Another two steps and watch your eyes as you push past the low branches. Watch as your fellow runners snake their way up the slope, first left, then right, duck, clamber, crouch and finally, a few yards where you could run towards a break in the treeline where you abandon the woodland for a steeply sloping field complete with thistles and sneaky ditches.
And it carried on going upwards.
And finally, on the top of a rust coloured moorland, there it was – Hameldon Hill and the golf ball of its radar station. On a sunny day, we might have lingered. The views would have been fabulous, but as it was – cold, wet and windy – the sensible course was to keep moving. We climbed a ladder stile and ventured onto the rumpled mossy top of Black Hill.
Picking a way through the hummocks and tussocks, across ditches and stones, across the sodden bog and bare cropped grass, keeping eyes peeled for the trap of a sudden hole or ditch might sound tricky, but it was fun. It was exhilarating to know that the terrain wasn’t impossible, that you’d just vary your pace to cope, get a shift on where you could, potter through where you couldn’t. As we started our descent, we kept catching glimpses of the turning arms of a wind turbine – alien, bright white against the natural green and brown tones of the landscape.
Our last few fields were lovely – easy runnable short grass – but access to them was via a collection of interesting stiles. Designed for people of immense height with tiny feet, we took our time negotiating them. The restaurant and its breakfast menu were waiting, and no one wanted to risk a tumble at this late stage. Onto a lane, then the road for a few yards, and we were back in the carpark trying to get into some warm dry clothing as the rain continued to fall.
Sitting inside, food ordered, warming up with hot chocolate and coffee, the picture windows still splattered with rain, the views still obscured by heavy cloud, we agreed it had been a great run and a smashing route. A bit of everything: pathless moorland, forests, wide firm tracks, technical bits, constant ups and downs. New places discovered. An adventure.
Sadly, an adventure is what thousands of young Tommies thought they were signing up for in 1914. A couple of hours in the wind and the mud isn’t a hardship if you love running trails. When we agreed today’s conditions could have been kinder, we need a bit of perspective.