Fabulous, but I’m never doing it again

I’ve just uploaded my route from this morning’s run to Strava. It tells me I have done one run on this route, congratulates me with a cheery “Nice Work!” and suggests I run the route again to see how I’m progressing.  It’s clear that Strava doesn’t understand the LTR philosophy where every run is different, and performance is measured in a unit called enjoyment, not heart rate or minutes per kilometre. 

Even if I wanted to run the route again, and it was a smasher, I doubt I could find my way. Sitting here now, nursing a brew, I have an impression that there was a lot of grass involved. Long grass that was hard to run through (or good training depending on your mindset at the time). But just as there was a lot of grassland, there was woodland where the paths snaked up and down and an awful lot of narrow footbridges which, after a couple of damp days, had turned nice and slippery. 

The landmarks I spotted weren’t landmarks as such, more things that change with the seasons. The tree which bracket fungi had made into a staircase was on our left as we ran into the woodland – something to remember, perhaps. The stump of a recently felled tree glowed orange where the chainsaw had been through, leaving a mountain range of sharp splinters pointing skywards – another thing to help recall the path. But in a few weeks’ time, frost will have taken the fungi, and the tree’s cut surface will be turning dark under a covering of autumn leaves. 

So, I’d struggle to put the route back together, but I know we started in a surprising and welcome bit of sun at Bashall Barn and returned there a couple of hours later, ready to sample the coffee, the cake and the homemade soup. I know we hung around on the banks of the Hodder finding stones to skim across its surface and I know that at one point the sun caught the flank of Pendle Hill and it looked magnificent. I know the hedgerows were filled with fruit and that the thistles were in bloom and that the floor of the woodland was carpeted with wood sorrel, ivy and mosses that glistened with the damp. 

I also saw a slug.  When you’re in Britain and are surprised to see a slug, something very odd is happening. I know they’re not the most popular of creatures, but I expect they’ve found this summer a little on the dry side. Yes, I know you’d like to hear that we saw deer in the woodland, or water voles on the riverbank or hares boxing, but we didn’t. Although one runner picked out the sound of squabbling kestrels, the only critters I spotted were a tiny black beetle; a ladybird; a nasty, unpleasant and bad-mannered horsefly and the aforementioned slug. 

As soon as I finished typing that last sentence – the one about the “only critters” –  I remembered the ducks on the Hodder. For clarity, I do mean ducks. Not drakes. I’m guessing a hundred female mallards all quacking at the same time (perhaps they were laughing at us). But now, questioning this shortage of drakes, I’ve had to head over to Google. It appears that in late summer, males can lose their distinctive plumage and appear very similar to females. As they say, every day is a school day. 

Getting out on an LTR run, you learn things, and not just how to pick a stone for skimming. We ran through Over Hacking Wood which was one of the places that inspired JRR Tolkien’s writings. Cromwell’s Bridge predates the man who it’s named after – it’s not his bridge at all – and you should never trust the weather app on your phone. 

Despite a drizzly, cool and breezy forecast, it was warm with plenty of sunshine. We managed to remain in an island of good weather that followed us around until we arrived back at the carpark when all the rain that should have fallen over the previous couple of hours arrived within a couple of minutes. 

I’m becoming convinced that we’re a bit too fond of technology. When Strava is encouraging us to narrow our horizons and weather apps suggest we stay safely indoors, we lose touch with what’s out there and our place and role in shaping the landscape. That’s sad because it takes such a short time to start noticing it. When the grass is growing, its snags our feet as we step through it, but it feeds the livestock that fills our plates. And there are so many varieties, from coarse ryegrass to cocksfoot and cats-tail. And there’s a giant grass, too – maize. We ran alongside a field of it, standing in serried ranks, where each individual plant was taller than we are, the corn cobs swelling inside their thick green husks of green. 

It’s not just the plant life. Take the relatively modern road bridge that stands next to Cromwell’s bridge. It’s quite remarkable, but few today will see the chisel marks in its stonework because they’re steaming across in a car. Few today will cross a stream using paired stones laid across it and worn smooth over the centuries. Few will follow the footpaths that criss-cross the pasture, but these routes were once in regular use. There isn’t much exploration happening. We saw only a couple of walkers out this morning, and they were on a very well-trod path, one that we left behind in favour of the cool and quiet of the ancient woodland. 

GPS technology can show me the route we ran, crossing fields as we headed south between the Ribble and the Hodder, and it can show me the course we took following the Hodder’s western banks when we started heading back north but compared to running it, the experience is sterile and shallow. I doubt I’ll ever look at the Strava map again, and I know I won’t try and replicate the route, brilliant though it was, because there are so many other wonderful places to see. 

Kate Woodward