Stepping up, sinking down and getting stuck in
At the first LTR Intro/Taster event of the year, there were plenty of new faces, and it’s just possible that there was a touch of the ‘I will if you will’. We groups of friends from the Wirral, from Lancaster, the Fylde and even from just down the road in Longridge itself.
The morning was dry but chilly, and in what I think is an LTR first, some of the earliest arrivals showed complete dedication to the idea of a grand morning out and tested the Little Town Dairy’s coffee and cake before we’d set foot on the trails. And it was parky outside so the café – with its wood-burning stove – made the ideal venue for a pre-run briefing. A quick round of intros, then warmth and comfort were abandoned in favour of something a bit more adventurous.
The café is on a working farm, and we ran between open-sided cattle sheds, fragrant with the sweet smell of summer’s haylage and the gentle sounds of straw-muffled hooves. Then we ran up a wide track, firm underfoot with a gentle incline before we ventured onto the soft and squelching fields. And yes, they were very soft, and yes, we sank, and yes, the mud oozed over ankles and the water sloshed around inside our shoes. And yes, we laughed and whooped and navigated a rickety stile and laughed some more.
We trotted a short stretch of road, where the bare hedgerows sang with twittering birds then turned towards another farm, down a lane where the mud had pooled with something more organic, but we made it through, and we reached Hesketh Lane’s reassuringly firm metalled surface under the pale but welcome winter sun.
After crossing a footbridge over the River Loud (which wasn’t), we paused and split into two groups. The first took the more direct route towards our goal of Longridge Fell, while the other delayed the inevitable climb following a lane bordered by ancient hawthorns, then a pretty but tricky bridleway, before descending across more wet fields to ensure that Longridge Fell was even more of a climb.
Although we started the ascent at a run, we soon slowed. A deer provided a brief distraction from the burning muscles, but it showed us a clean pair of heels and disappeared over a small rise. High above, we could see the first group, nestled into the hillside. Hands on knees, we picked a route, through evidence of the nesting sites of red grouse. One startled bird called out its familiar ‘go-back, go-back’. We didn’t, but we did pause for a drink and to take in superb views to the West: the Loud valley, the village of Chipping, Parlick and Fair Snape blue-grey in the light, and just to the south the wooded flanks of Beacon Fell.
Refreshed, we finished our ascent, heading into a stiff, chilling wind and across a bed of rush and mosses that felt like running on a sponge. Minutes later, we were on the manicured slopes of Longridge Golf Course, making a quick and wary crossing into a stand of conifers where needles carpeted the floor and eased a steepish descent from the hill. The two groups met up again where the footpath crossed someone’s tiny patio. We left our guilty, muddy footprints by their table and chairs.
All morning we had heard the sound of shotguns. We passed the shooting party, whose young spaniel appeared happier to see us than the guns or the beaters, and then contoured around the lower flanks of the hill. We passed through a farm and stopped by a barn where the farmer was happy and proud to show us his fine young Angus and crossbred calves.
We paddled across tiny streams, crossed footbridges and then, thankful for the drying effect of the last few days, down fields stained brown with a thin crust of slurry, and into the two final wet fields. As we re-entered the farmyard at Little Town there was a real sense that we were ready for our breakfast. We’d stepped up to a new challenge, we’d sunk into the mud, and now we were about to get stuck into a fine bit of grub. A quick change of footwear, the worst of the lovely Lancashire mud wiped off, we headed back indoors to warmth. To eggs and coffee, to burgers and toasted cheese, to cake and crumpets – we’d earned it and it was bloomin’ marvellous!