As far as the eyes could see

Did anyone else spot the irony of running after dark to a sculpture set in the landscape and designed to frame the area’s outstanding views? Hmmm? Strange.

But who cares? The restricted visibility of a showery December night didn’t spoil the enjoyment – it added to the sense of adventure. Besides, we had most of the moon, we had head torches and when we dropped into the beautiful hamlet of Wycoller, we had the twinkle of Christmas lights. 

If we’d turned off our head torches, our eyes would have adjusted to the cloud softened moonlight. We might have seen the stars. But with 12 kilometres to cover, some technical sections and the extra challenge of sodden fields, we needed the battery power. Even so, this was running where you needed to stay alert. The torchlight’s range not quite sufficient to pick out the sudden dips and folds in fields of overgrown grass. We helped each other out, calling warnings – ditch, hole, oops! watch that – and at every stile, we made sure we had a firm footing and a safe place to land. 

As we climbed the first fields, our start point of Trawden quickly fell away. Its lights became distant, the yellow sodium glow confined to the valley. Higher still and the lights of Colne and Burnley came into view. Farms started as pinpricks of light. As we ran closer, their windows glowed, pale gold in the inky dark of the clough. Far, far in the distance, lights moving just below the horizon showed a vehicle heading towards Yorkshire. 

I’ve told people that I’ll run off-road at night, and they often look at me as though they suspect I have lost my marbles. Apparently, once the clocks have gone back, the done thing is to hibernate, until the daylight returns. Well, that might be what our ancestors did but then they didn’t spend their 9 to 5 sitting at a computer. They were getting their fix of exercise when they were out hunting and gathering. We need to grab the benefits of movement when we can, even at night, and although the experience is very different, hitting the trails after dark reveals things you might not notice if you were distracted by those ridiculously good views across Wycoller’s country park.

Run into woodland at night and the torch beam reveals every nuance of the world at your feet. Mud might be slippery, but it glistens. Leaf litter isn’t uniform in colour, but a tapestry of rich browns, greens and golds. Tree bark’s texture is thrown into relief. You climb a path bedded with stone and see the flaking structures of the sedimentary rock. You’ll notice the brilliant green of a sheltered path, the shadows cast by the bridleway’s cobbles and the light reflecting back from the eyes of a cudding sheep. 

Would you have heard the roosting birds in the treetops without being there at night? Would the water charging through the beck have been so loud and arresting if you’d been focused on watching it frothing across the rocks? Would you have spotted the tiny barbs on the brambles as you nipped up the lane by Bracken Hill Farm?

What’s more, when we reached the Atom, would you have tucked into the mince pies and hot Vimto with such gusto and relish if you’d been eyeballing the contours of the land? Joking aside, not being able to see the view made the structure itself the focal point. You wondered why there were places inside that were sheltered from the blast of the wind, and you spied the moon framed by the hole in the roof. You leant against the curved walls and felt the grain of the painted cement.

As is often the case on an LTR event, the route was “mildly undulating” and the surfaces varied. We picked our way through rock studded paths, jumped over tiny streams, avoided the slick grease of tree roots and took our time crossing an entirely friction-free footbridge. We gave helping hands across ditches and laughed as poached field entrances swallowed our feet, trapping them in sticky wet clay. The showers came, they stung for a minute and then blew away. We splashed along a flooded green lane, turned into a gusting wind, and made the final descent to Trawden Brook on soft forgiving fields. 

Oh, you want to know where we went? You want the route detail

Here goes then: Start at the Trawden Arms. Head uphill into the dark. Have a brilliant time getting to the panopticon, have a laugh on the way back. It’s a good seven miles. You’ll enjoy it. 

Sorry about that, but often it’s not the specific geography of a route that matters. It’s not a case where you can say, for example, turn west at the trig point and you’ll have the same experience we did. The magic is in the discovery, in the company, in the weather, the light and in the things that happen as you run the route. 

But if it helps, I’ll tell you that we went into The Trawden Arms afterwards and enjoyed some proper food and a good old chinwag. That’s the kind of thing that usually happens at an LTR event. Food to finish. Normally it’s a late breakfast, but if we can run at night, we don’t mind plate pies, proper chips, burgers and curries. It was all polished off in no time – as if it had been years since we ate. 

The Atom has been standing on the hillside above Wycolloer since 2006. It was designed by Peter Meacock, Andrew Edmunds and Katarina Novomestska and originally contained a polished steel ball which reflected the views.

Kate Woodward

Next stop on the Panopticon Nightrunner Series is the Singing Ringing Tree on 23 January 2019. Tickets available.