Living life sunny side up

A lot has been written about the positive benefits of running on mental health. Digging into the literature, you find that the effects are enhanced when nature is thrown into the mix. Get outside, into the green spaces and your heart and soul are restored. 

It sounds brilliant, and it is true, but when you get up on a dark December Monday morning and peer out of the curtains to discover rain bouncing back out of the puddles it takes an extra bit of grit to go and get your outdoor fix. But anyway, you pack the wet weather gear, get in the car, windscreen wipers on full and set off to Spring Wood in Whalley anticipating that in a couple of hours you’ll be exhilarated, heart and soul in full working order, but looking like a drowned rat.

Then, because you haven’t stayed home, the magic happens. Below that layer of thick cloud, there’s the merest shaving of blue and a promising pearlescent light. The raindrops become more and more sparse, until, when you’re ready to set out running, you have enough confidence in this day to leave behind the hat and gloves and trust that nature is, for once, going to play nicely.   

You leave Spring Wood and nip under the main road – who knew such a track existed? – it’s not ideal for tall folk, but duck and you’ll be fine. Beyond, there’s a fine field and paths that lead down to the banks of the River Calder. All the rain we’ve had in the last week seems to have gathered here, pooled, brooding and waiting for its chance to shoot over the weir. 

In Whalley you discover a network of ginnels, passing the Abbey, the fine medieval church and further on, for those with more secular interests, the tennis club and cricket ground, and then you leave behind the village, head through the community woodland and out onto the soft muddy fields beyond. 

Yes, it is wet underfoot. Yes, there’s a series of stiles that come in such quick succession you think someone, somewhere, is having a laugh at your expense, but look – that sliver of blue sky has grown. Now only the tops of the hills are shrouded in cloud. And here, just along this lane, just across this road, past the stacked Christmas trees with their wonderful wood and spice aroma, there’s a field that just begs to be run through – short cropped grass and rushes. Weave your way through to the hedgerow where the fat red berries are becoming few and far between. The birds have been busy. 

You skirt the edge of a roundabout, fight overgrown hawthorns to stay safe on the verge and then you’re away again off into the fields, playing out. Talking with your fellow runners about anything, everything and nothing, because this is terrific, and even a greasy plank across a ditch doesn’t faze you. 

On and on, wondering where you are, imagining you’ll be climbing the hill in front and then hanging a left through an unseen gate. Up ahead there are some truly magnificent trees, and it’s easy enough to forget that there’s an A-road just on the other side of the hedge. Focus on the good stuff, the green stuff, the gently rolling hills and their distant farms, not the cars. Live your life sunny side up. 

Tucked away on the other side of that busy road, you’ll find a stile that whips you away again from the built environment. There’s an industrial unit for sure, but there’s also a fine flock of curious sheep, and just a minute on the pavement, and you’ll find a track that takes you out to fields where rabbits are ten a penny and the ground is, consequently, full of holes. Pause, take a drink, scoff a biscuit, peel off a layer. This morning, you could have stayed home, missed this. Missed out. 

You’re at the northernmost part of the route now, and when you start to head south, the sun decides it’s time to get cracking. That chilly start has given way to a fine bright day. When you pass a farm, you’re told the fields are too wet and you’ll sink, but you don’t. Every step, however, shimmers with sunlight reflecting off the water droplets. You can’t quite see where you’re going because the sun’s so low, but its warmth is welcome and its touch kind.

There are streams now, emerging from the soaking ground, winding snakelike through the pasture. There are birds busy foraging in the hedges, sheep barely bothering to register your approach. You head into the sun, wondering why you brought a rain jacket and not a pair of shades.  

Through Wiswell, a tiny stretch on the road, and then, after scooting up what seems to be someone’s driveway, you come out onto more shining green fields. It’s a stretch of the route with weird symmetry as you scoot through a back garden and along another driveway, emerging onto Moor Lane. There’s a stiff climb to follow, but it’s worth it for the view. You spend a few minutes getting your bearings, spotting the viaduct, Barrow, Whalley itself, Stonyhurst College and Longridge Fell, and then you cut through a plantation and all you can see are the trees.

The sky’s blue, the sun’s shining, it’s warm, there’s even a stile that’s solid and not slippery. It’s already near perfection when things get even better – it’s downhill all the way back and the gradient is runnable. All too soon, you’re done. The morning’s gone. It’s a long time since you’ve eaten. You pop back into Whalley where Tastebuds Cafe offers a fine all-day breakfast, and naturally, you order your egg sunny side up. 

Kate Woodward


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