We’ve all seen the scene in the movie – the frumpy girl changes her clothes, lets down her hair, takes off her specs and suddenly, she is gorgeous – cue the orchestra and wait for the happy ending. Winter performed that trick this morning. It cast off its clouds. It exchanged its freezing puddles for glistening ice and swapped rain for sunshine. And, no two ways about it, it was glorious.
But then, this sort of thing happens on LTR events. Even on those where the weather doesn’t play ball, you’ll turn a corner and see a view that makes the jaw drop. You’ll discover a bridge that should have trolls underneath, spot a deer running for cover or hear the honking of geese in flight. And those of you who have travelled some distance to Fence – not quite knowing where it is – will wonder how to explain the beauty of Lancashire to the people you told, “I’m going for a run this weekend, somewhere out towards Burnley”.
We met up at Roaming Roosters in Higham and stashed the outer layers of clothing only at the last minute. It was chilly when we started running, but the first part of the route started the warming process with a gentle uphill gradient on solid ground before we peeled off the lane and started to cross fields. And, thanks to a couple of sub-zero nights, the ground was firm – just the occasional crunching noise as the frozen crust threatened to give way. In one field, heavily poached and churned by hooves, the freeze had turned mud to rock. From a stable block, the culprits watched us pass by. We emerged onto a lane, picked up the pace and reined it in again sharpish as we reached an ice slick that spanned the road.
And then, because it wouldn’t be a proper weekend without wet feet and a splatter of mud, we found the boggy bit and gasped at the sudden chill of water on the toes. We nipped through a farmyard, then ran down a lovely tree-lined drive and we were back on the Barrowford road again, a little further west, a little damper of foot, but quite a lot warmer.
We crossed the road and headed down another lane, again with a canopy of trees, but this time our footsteps were accompanied by a chorus of twittering birds. It was shaded, very pretty and short-lived. All too soon, we were back running across open farmland, finding that the hoofprints of sheep, collected over several weeks in mud, make a fine form of concrete if the ambient temperatures are low enough. Over a stile, we passed an ancient stone barn, skipped along under a tree, crossed a bridge that was being overrun by holly bushes, skirted around a few tussocks and climbed another stile into a plantation of young trees.
Still in protective tubes, the saplings were making good progress and included a number of hawthorns with whip-like, eye-level branches. We called out warnings and picked a way through, watching our feet for the odd, pale-green tubes, lurking in the dead grass at our feet. Just a few minutes later, after we’d rounded a farm, we dropped into Moor Isles Clough.
This spot would have made the run on its own: a picture book valley with towering trees, bright with moss, rich tones of fallen leaves against the dark of the rich, organic earth. A sturdy bridge crossed the clear stream which flowed across flat slabs of stone. The route out led us to springy pastureland and a glorious descent towards the shining River Calder. Could that really be Burnley in the valley bottom, airbrushed to perfection in the sparkling sunlight?
Of course it was, but instead of heading across the river, we stayed on the north side, following part of the Pendle Way, a route marked with witches on the gates and stiles. It was, indeed, a spell of tricky running with ups and downs, twists and turns, steep wee banks and sheep tracks, footbridges, hidden bogs and the odd snarling bramble. It got the heart rate up and the legs burning, and we stopped to recover with drinks, biscuits and some rapidly scoffed sweets.
We set off again, and as we were returning from the valley bottom, we had a few fields to ascend. It was testing terrain with heavy clay soils, deeply rutted then solidified by the cold. Five horses, high on a bank were, no doubt, still happy to be in their thick winter pelts, but for us, despite a brisk wind from the East, the work rate ensured that hats and gloves stayed off. An overgrown ladder stile left lungs heaving, and as we stopped to catch our breath by a half-demolished steel-framed building, we spied a crate of wine, the bottles apparently all full, plonked unceremoniously amongst the concrete rubble.
On every LTR run there is a bit of house envy. This morning’s treat involved weathered stone, mullioned windows, walled gardens and tennis courts. With eyes busy gawping, the cries to watch out for the low-slung clothes line prevented one or two of us from coming a cropper.
We had Spurn Clough to navigate. We clung to trees on the descent and climbed out on a steep staircase with what sounded like a shotgun ringing out above us. It wasn’t a firearm – the crack was wood on wood – the spring on a gated stile proving powerful stuff.
We’d done the climbing now, and were nipping across fields, down green lanes, passing snowdrops, squeezing through rusted kissing gates, listening to hedges that chattered with nesting birds. And throughout it all, on this most remarkable February morning, the sun still shone, and the sky was still blue.
There were probably some heavy legs as we finished, but hearts must have been light. We changed shoes, we waved to those who couldn’t stay for breakfast, and then we wandered into the café at Roaming Roosters where eggs and sausages were sizzling, and piles of toast were hot off the grill. The coffee went down, and, as usual, the chat flowed.