The many faces of Chipping
I first went to Chipping just shy of a year ago. I’d never heard of it and relied on SatNav to get me there, convinced the winding lanes were going to go on forever. They didn’t. Soon enough, I arrived at one of Lancashire’s prettiest villages – the kind of well-kept place that wins awards each year.
It was December. The colours were muted, the skies were grey and before long the rain began to fall and the temperature plummeted. Luckily Chipping has a great place to warm up – the Cobbled Corner which attracts and refuels a steady stream of cyclists and the odd trail runner.
This summer, but not in the baking part of hottest weather, I ran from Chipping again. It was a warm sunny morning. The earth was recovering from the near drought conditions. The grassland was bright green. The birds sang. Flowers tumbled from hanging baskets and from gaps in walls. Leaves were dark and glossy.
Today, I went back again. It’s the start of November. It was mild and breezy, with the odd spot of damp, and Chipping is now in its full autumn plumage. The leaves that still cling to the trees are yellow, ochre, tan and rust. The hedgerows are studded with red fruit and the poor grasses on the moorland are turning a rich nutty brown. The sky hasn’t decided on its colour scheme. It flits from blue to grey, heavier purplish cloud is shot through with slivers of silver light.
Each of these occasions was an LTR trail run. Each route, each distance and each experience was different. Other than the car park where we met and the café where we gathered afterwards, the sights and sounds were new. Change the seasons, change the mileage, head out of Chipping in a different direction, turn left instead of right and you’re exploring somewhere completely new. You could be on high ground picking your way through tussocks. You could be paddling across a ford. This area is fabulous in its diversity, and that’s multiplied by nature’s changing palette.
I’m no expert on the great outdoors, but sadly, and speaking in very general terms, I believe that our understanding of the countryside is diminishing year on year. Surely, one of the simplest ways to address that situation is to get outside more often, not just on days when conditions are perfect, but throughout the year. And of course, by running through our countryside you see much more of it.
Today, in a smidge over two hours, we covered about 15km of ground, climbed some of the county’s most rickety stiles and picked our way across 736 cattle grids (that last number is a rough estimate). We crossed waterways designed to test the efficacy of waterproof shoes and bridges tucked into narrow valleys. We sped down rough farm tracks and fought brambles. We sent pheasants panicking out of the undergrowth and slowed to a snail’s pace on steep, slippery banks. And all the way around the route, we were nattering. Nobody watching the pace, nobody jostling to lead the pack, just happy to be outside, just happy to be running.
This route went clockwise, north from Chipping, through new coppice and onto pastureland. Gentle gradients to start, through a couple of farms before we dropped into a valley and had the joy of climbing out again. Up to Birchen Lee, named perhaps for the tree, and out towards Laund Farm. A good crop of grass made the fields we crossed hard work but, compared to the summer when the ground had no ‘give’, it was easy enough. We crossed Buckbanks Wood, through Park Gate and onto the higher ground of Stanley. A fast downhill blast off the top followed, and then after a quick stop for refreshments, we headed north again past the quarries and through puddles up to Dinkling Green.
Now, we turned south and started losing height, heading through Greystoneley and its ford (although to be fair, most of us, being mindful of the slippery surfaces, opted for the footbridge instead). Once we’d negotiated the waterway, the route to Leagram Mill was a breeze, a wide track, the ideal gradient for speed without the worry of wrecking the knees and quads with too much braking. A potter around the complicated arrangement of stiles at Townley House, up the slope of Hill Clough, through Dairy Barn and across fields recently and liberally spread with plenty of the organic stuff and Chipping was in sight.
We crossed a wonderful stone footbridge, followed a wee bit of tarmac to the wonderfully named Startifants (you may want to read that again) and then peeled off through a deserted campsite, passing a pile of wood being prepared for a bonfire, through a spindly copse and up the field to finish.
Here’s the thing: three runs from Chipping and I reckon it would be easy enough to do ten times that many and not become jaded. It’s more than seasonal colours. The landscapes are ever changing, across relatively short distances. Woodland, pasture, scrub, moor, coppice and clough. It’s crisscrossed with brooks, streams and rivers. The fells rear up from lush valleys where farming and quarrying have shaped the terrain.
Another thing – it’s beautiful, but unlike some parts of the country, it’s quiet. We saw one pair of walkers on our travels, heading up towards Parlick. They saw a bunch of people out running and having a great time.
I can’t wait to go back to Chipping. It’ll be different next time, too.