In mist and meltwater

Beacon Hill – the clue’s in the name. The summit’s visible for miles, so the views must be spectacular. Unfortunately, him upstairs had chosen this day to demonstrate another natural phenomenon. Mist. The landscape was smudged and muted, colours were subtle with none of that harsh, unforgiving sunlight and no sharp blue. There was no battering wind, no ice and the few remaining patches of snow had been reduced to damp sugar. 

Some would have called it a fair soft day, and indeed it was for much of the ascent, but as we were climbing the rain increased its intensity. Even if we could have seen the view, it wouldn’t have been a morning for hanging around. We got to the trig point, moved on, and the rain eased, but the cloud stayed, hugging the hill. Above us, lapwings circled, their frantic alarm calls drawing us away from their nesting sites. It was easy to see their point – what were we doing up there? Why would anyone choose to run 700 feet up to a clouded hilltop when the valley below was clear? 

I guess if you don’t get it, you don’t get it. It hurt running up that hill, but I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning, and the strange thing about this LTR Route was that once we were up, it was all downhill. There really were no more sneaky hills. 

Well, only tiny ones. And they don’t count.

And when you’ve run up into the clouds, there’s something wonderful about when you run back out of them and the world beyond your immediate vicinity comes back into view. A damp grey day has never looked more stunning. 

But I’m getting hung up on low clouds, and I shouldn’t because this route was remarkable for water at ground level. We started the run by a swollen Kirk Beck and within minutes were helping each other along the soft slippy bank of a churning Holden Beck. Neither water course looked inviting, and Scarloom waterfall at Holden was spectacular and noisy, rather than pretty and picturesque. 

We crossed fields where drainage gullies roared with muddied water and ploughed through streams that don’t exist on any map. The recent snows, now melted, were working their way, eventually, to the sea. Perhaps I’m wrong, but even sloping fields seemed to hold a layer of standing water. We ran along a green lane against the current, skipping stones that were trying to hide beneath the black water and as we left the summit of Beacon Hill, relied on the rushes to stop us sinking knee deep – or deeper – into the sodden earth. 

It was soggy underfoot, no doubt about it, but it was also tremendous fun to thumb a nose at the weather and refuse, point blank, to stay indoors. Turning onto a track between stands of conifers, lapwings still protesting, we navigated a route that saw feet sinking into mud one second and sluiced with icy-cold water the next. As we stopped in the shelter of the woodland for a drink, I picked out a Christmas tree but, at the height of a house, the logistics of getting it home were beyond me. 

I opted for the non-technical descent, and while half the group contoured around the side of Harrop Fell, our party splashed our way down a gentle gradient. The views reappeared, wide and open. A few sheep, farms hunkered into the hillside, ribbons of dark trees and distant hills zebra striped with snow. A stone barn, stuffed with farm machinery. A stone memorial bench – more like a sarcophagus than anywhere to settel. A stone in the running shoe that simply wouldn’t budge. 

At a gateway, a collection of drainage pipes was stacked. One pipe – and only one – held onto its filling of drifted snow. A grey heron flew lazily across our path and we ran up a holly-bush bordered lane where birdsong competed with the sound of rushing meltwater. Shortly afterwards, the two groups back together, we took to paddling through streams too wide to jump. Across the valley bottom, way beyond our Bolton-by-Bowland start point and the distant Ribble, more hills climbed into their own thick blankets of cloud.

Now, we got the benefit of starting the day with a climb. Downhill through field after field, with the challenge of a greasy stile at every fence and the odd farm track for a bit of something solid underfoot. We were heading back towards Holden, passing just a smidge from where we’d been a couple of hours earlier, but now instead of sticking to the shaded riverbank, we were out in the open or scaling the biggest boundary walls via stiles built for giants. 

Then, even the gentle gradients faded away and as we ran back towards Bolton-by-Bowland it was flat ground. I don’t think I was the only one who found it impossible to decide if the standing water flecked with waterfowl was a permanent feature or yet another flood. 

A couple of brave souls stepped into the beck to clean their shoes. The less hardy of us bagged up our shoes to be tackled later, and then we decamped to a café.  Faced with a welcome as warm as the meltwater, we moved to another café at Holden Clough Nurseries, where we put ourselves around the outside of a very good late breakfast and talked running.

Did I mention that it had stopped raining just after we left Beacon Hill?  It did, you know? Even an unpromising start can turn into a great morning on the trails.

Kate Woodward