Primroses, puddles and peacocks
If during this morning’s LTR run, everyone bar me was suddenly beamed aboard a spaceship, I’d have struggled to find my way back. Luckily, there weren’t any aliens in the skies above Lancashire and our guides had the route sorted, allowing people like me – who have absolutely no sense of direction – to spend 90 minutes or so swivelling my head around gawping at the sights of spring.
Instead of thinking about where we were heading, worrying about whether it was East or West, clockwise or anticlockwise, up or down, how far we’d gone or how far we still had to go, I could admire a bank covered in pale yellow primroses or get all sentimental at the tiny, newborn lambs.
There were tiny lambs on our route, but we ran into some pretty sturdy ones almost as soon as we’d started. We’d just left McDonald's drive-thru behind – we didn’t partake, we ran past, okay? – hopped over a stile and were almost mugged by a flock who hoped we’d brought breakfast. We hadn’t, so we hopped it over another stile and cleared off. The bleating followed us, and more sheep joined the chorus as we passed. Finally, we left the blarting behind and turned into a tree covered lane.
Here the hazard wasn’t hungry livestock. It was the slippery conditions. A steep bank, lush with new spring growth on one side, a wire-topped fence on the other, leaving us a narrow path churned to black mud and crisscrossed with tree-roots and brambles. Oh, but It was lovely – soft, damp and drippy, like a rainforest but without the scary stuff, and then it ended. We found a road and crossed it, and then took off across wide open fields.
It was pretty-darn perfect. The rain had stopped and it was warm. Jackets came off and were tied around waists. The fields were wet but so what? Mud splashes don’t matter when you have a great view of Longridge Fell, still draped in cloud and when the hedgerows are filled with song. I’m no expert on birds, but they sounded happy to me.
Below us were the stone arches of a railway viaduct. We made our way down and nipped underneath it. It was the first of six visits to the Ribble Valley line. A few minutes later we were heading back underneath the line a little further north.
More fields to cross, and then we ran through a cluster of fine stone houses and onto a lane. It seemed as though we were in the most tranquil, secluded spot, but suddenly we were passing industrial units at the southern tip of Clitheroe itself. This is another great thing about the LTR experience – the mix of escaping into the purely rural and discovering the byways and snickets that surround our towns. You’ll see a stream falling between trees but when you look closer, you’ll find the hand of man in concrete spillways and masoned stone.
Just as soon as the dalliance with the urban had begun, it ended. Moments later we were back in fields, splashing through the mud, and once again trotting beneath the tracks. We followed Pendleton Brook out towards the Ribble. Its banks were scoured, undermined in places by the force of water, great piles of stone tumbled into beaches, and the Ribble, when we reached it, was no less impressive. Anyone would think we’ve had a drop of rain these last few months.
Whoa! Back up. In my urgency to get to the Ribble, I almost forgot the peacocks, but then I did almost miss them when I was running. They were perched high in a tree. A hen and a cock whose spectacular tail was simply hanging amongst the branches and drifting slightly in the breeze.
We crossed the railway line for the fourth time via a bridge, not a tunnel. Its stonework must have been crumbling because it was clad in galvanised steel, still bright and shiny, and perhaps too far from the beaten track to have been subjected to spray-can graffiti.
Then, suddenly, there were voices, not ours, although we’d been talking all the time. We were passing a golf course. The contrast was superb. To our left, manicured slopes, raked bunkers, electric trolleys, Pringle sweaters and the acid yellow of King Alfred daffodils. Where we ran, at the bottom of the slope, through trees tangled with ivy and deep wet earth, wild garlic was growing and primroses emerged from a carpet of leaves.
And then there was a railway crossing with gates, where we walked across the track itself. And although our behaviour was exemplary – with no mucking about whatsoever, and an eye always on everyone’s safety – the gesture from the driver of the train that passed after we’d cleared the line suggested he wasn’t in the best of moods. But then he was working, and we out having fun.
We left the grumpy driver to take his train to Clitheroe and ran through a wood planted (or so the sign said) fifteen years ago. It was doing well enough but couldn’t match the woods we ran through later, carefully picking our way over roots and rocks before we emerged into a moss-carpeted field. The soft, springy ground was echoed in the rubber mats laid between the tracks where we crossed the railway line for the final time.
And then, because the weather had been too kind, it got soggy again, but by now we were heading home. Don’t ask me how, but this route, that seemed to my directionless senses to be heading always away from our start point, had looped back in that direction. It’s a mystery to me, but thankfully not to those leading the way.
Another field, another ginormous puddle, another lane with mud and footbridges, and as we were approaching civilisation, dog walkers and their canine companions. A final loop of a pond, its location given away by golden arches decorating a waterside bin. Then we were back, a little soggy, a bit grubby and a lot happy. We cleaned ourselves up, leaving just enough mud to prove a point and popped into Starbucks for a coffee and a bite to eat.
It was a great route, you’d love it. Just don’t ask me to give you directions. I’d say something like, “Turn right at the ewe with the triplets and hang a left when you reach the tree with the blossom.”