On top of the world at the start of the year
Anyone who’s done an LTR run will be familiar with guide Rodger’s strange concept of what constitutes a hill. In the pre-run briefing, he described the route as fairly flat, forgetting to mention that we were going to head up to a trig point at over 1,300 feet.
He’s forgiven because it was worth it. The views from the top of Weets Hill were extraordinary. A full 360-degree panorama of distant hills dressed in their soft-toned winter plumage and lit by the rare phenomenon of blue skies and winter sunshine. But first, we had to get up there.
We met at the Esse factory and from the carpark nipped onto the towpath of the Leeds–Liverpool canal. Firm-footing to start, with just a few greasy cobbles to raise the uninviting prospect of an early morning dip, but minutes later, after passing a deserted playground and sports fields, normal service was resumed. Our feet were sinking into the sodden earth of bright green fields.
It was heavy going and the mud claimed a shoe, but the gradients were soft and forgiving. We skirted a plantation of trees which had drunk sufficient to firm the ground. We crossed footbridges, passed a stubbled field, and disturbed a flock of sheep which gathered – not in a rush and tumble panic but with a sedate stroll – forming a V-shaped pattern like geese in flight.
In January, you’d expect a farmyard to be home to cattle, their breath visible in the chill air, but the yard we passed through seemed deserted. Then, through the broken Yorkshire boarding of a barn, we spied the white blaze of a fine chestnut horse. As we ran along outside, it followed us inside, but it couldn’t follow us through the slippery ford and onto the bridleway.
Bordered by overgrown hedgerows and trees, this lane was long, cool and damp with water running along the sides and a moss-slippy middle route. The climb had begun. And once it had begun, it didn’t know where to stop. When the lungs were heaving, it allowed us a brief respite and then kicked-in again. A breather, a drink and jelly babies at Stocks Lane were more than welcome, but we were still well shy of the summit.
From over the top of the hill, there appeared a strange, almost white light – the sun. Like moths, we were drawn towards it and started to climb again. When the gradient blocked its rays, it was like someone had flicked a switch. Eyes readjusting, we went through a stile and out onto the moor. The shale path was worn by water, littered with rubble and always, always ascending.
But hey, wasn’t it fabulous to make it onto the top of Weets Hill with its fine rust-coloured grasses, its emerald moss and its amazing views. A geographer would have named every peak, every hill, ridge and valley. We made do with a few names before the wind’s bruising chill made descending a priority.
A tricky section of the Pendle Way, with stones half buried in the swampy earth, finally gave way to the sheer delight of slopes you could run, and we did, fast and laughing, down to the wonderfully named Folly Lane. We made our way back through small fields where a Texel tup was penned in a race, and onto Gillian’s Lane which was guarded by a small terrier, barking his desire to join in the fun.
Back in town, we tackled more cobbles, relics of Barnoldswick’s industrial past, and tackled is the right word. We clung to a freezing handrail and hauled ourselves up the steep and slick stones. As one of our party commented, “there’s no pushing a pram up here”.
After heading into Letcliff Country Park, we enjoyed the last couple of soggy fields and then we were back on the canal towpath. Saturday morning and the streets now aired, we passed a couple of cyclists, a man out for a run – without the required coating of mud – and a narrowboat aptly named Ploddinon. For us, however, there was little plodding left. We were back at the Esse Factory Café.
The breakfast was brilliant, the café warm (as you’d expect from a manufacturer of stoves and ranges) and, as usual, the company fantastic.
Weets Hill isn’t the biggest in the world, but who cares. The summit was reached, the sun had shone, the mud had been conquered. Another great year of trail running had begun.