Piggies in the Middle
Ahh. One of those mornings. One of those mornings when it starts off bright and promising and stays that way until two whole minutes before you arrive at your destination. As we neared the run’s meeting point, the fog closed in like a blanket, the temperature dropped, and the sun said, sorry, nowt I can do about it and went off to sulk.
Now us trail runners are proper ‘ard. We don’t turn tail when the conditions turn grim. Okay, we do sometimes, but that’s when it’s necessary, not when it’s just a bit Northern – a bit drippy and damp. So, at the appointed hour – a lie-in friendly, cheeky-Monday 11 am – we set out into the clouds.
To the bemusement of a couple of blokes weighing up a building job, we trotted through the houses and nipped into a ginnel. A few steps down a banking and we were by the side of the Irwell, heading upriver through a carpet of fallen leaves. We climbed up a green and mossy stone staircase, probably the relic of a more industrial age, and then out onto grass, then a track and headed uphill. The sounds seemed magnified. Footprints splashing down on the muddy track. The rustle of rain jackets. The bright, cheerful voices of runners excited to be exploring somewhere new – even though the wind was showing no signs of getting its act together and shifting the cloud.
The track gave way to rough grazing, poor grasses and moss. A few Shetland ponies eyed us from beyond a tumbledown wall. By a stile, we turned to admire the view of the village of Weir: its stone cottages, isolated farms and the striking pitched roof of its new Baptist church. In truth, we couldn’t see anything beyond a few yards in any direction.
Over the wall, a wide track led north onto the higher ground of Heald Moor. A few stones on the path and the odd puddle, but it was firm enough underfoot and we were in good company, chatting away even though it was sometimes tricky to see everyone. In the cloud, even the brightest of running gear becomes muted. Figures loomed out the mist. One of them suddenly seemed to be wearing horns.
Ah, that would be a cow then. A Highland beastie, complete with very sharp pointy handlebars standing smack bang in the middle of the track. And then her pal appeared out of the murk. Dropping our voices to a more respectful level, we steered around them and set a course towards the summit from where we would be able to see an enormous distance and pick out all the landmarks: Pendle, Stoodley Pike, the Yorkshire Three Peaks, Winter Hill, Blackpool Tower, The Angel of the North, York Minster and The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Only some of those are visible from the top, but when you can’t see fifteen feet, it’s fine to use your imagination.
What we did see at the top was a generous amount of fairly dry bog. It wasn’t easy to get around the dark, black peaty stuff with dry feet but with a lot of swift changes of direction, it was possible. When I am 95, one of my favourite memories will be of watching the spectacle of a dozen people, faded to grey by the fog, darting, dancing and hopping around, aiming for the dry bits and frequently missing. I was, of course, doing the exact same thing.
The summit gained, we ran down the steeper side of the hill, in the direction of Portsmouth. No, not that one. There’s another, don’t you know? (It’s amazing what you discover if you run with LTR.) Taking shelter from a wall above Beater Clough, we made short work of the choccy biccies, slurped down some drinks and then, because if you run down a hill, you’re going to have to go up one, we started up the bridle path by Green’s Clough. One side of the track heavily grazed, was fresh and green. The other, long overgrown, had turned a rich biscuit shade. Despite the fog, Autumn was still managing to impress with its colourful tricks.
Over the top and then back down again, and as we’d lost height, it would be reasonable to assume we might be dropping out of the cloud. It wasn’t working. We were still stuck in the middle of it, but we weren’t alone. As we ran down the fields towards Scar End Brook, we met plenty of pigs happily trotting around. As none of us was carrying a bucket we were largely ignored. A mix of Gloucester Old Spots, Large Blacks and some Berkshires were snuffling around, rooting, digging and doing what pigs like to do.
A couple of imaginative stiles later, we were running through a lovely bit of open woodland. A few pines, but mostly young deciduous trees, probably struggling to make much headway in the poor soil. A narrow path wandered through and we called out warnings to watch heads and feet as low branches and tree roots spread across the path.
Almost back in Weir, we spotted a pair of deer – one full grown, one still a youngster. They had spotted us, too. Their ears were pricked, their stance ready to bolt. Down a green lane now, back towards the Irwell, its banks shored up by a gabion wall and back up through the village towards our final stop, Anna’s Café.
Let’s be frank. We saw next to nothing of the sights, but because of the lack of visibility, the things we did see were perhaps more magical. The deer. The silhouetted Highland cattle. The pigs were definitely a highlight – but this is Britain and if you stayed indoors on every day the weather was disappointing, you’d soon become a recluse. Besides, if we’d stayed home, we wouldn’t have ended up in a fabulous little café eating pumpkin soup, toasties, doorstop sandwiches, chilli and carrot cake.
Inspired by our friends on the hill, I made a pig of myself.