Older and Wiser
A few weeks after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, I went on a four-day tour of sheep farms in Northern Ireland. A lot about the trip impressed me – we saw rams that cost more than houses. The hospitality was superb – I have never eaten so much – and the scenery of the Antrim coast was spectacular. But here’s a confession: the aspect of the trip that I really enjoyed was not having to think.
We travelled by coach and the only part of the logistical arrangements I had to worry about was being in place to be collected by the coach. I never looked at a map. Never gave a thought to where or when we would stop to eat. Never considered whether we should take the direct route out of Belfast or wind through the lanes. For someone frazzled by too many responsibilities, it was incredibly relaxing.
Now, older and wiser (perhaps), I don’t allow myself to get frazzled. I know the importance of looking after my mental health and in many ways, running is part of that. There have been a lot of studies published which document the benefits of exercising – particularly outdoors – for both physical and mental health, which is why it makes no sense to me that a lot of people stress about running. They worry about pace and statistics, about form, technique, racing and getting it right, and although there are good reasons to consider all these things, it’s much more relaxing to just get out and run.
Now there are two ways to do that:
Run the same route so that you don’t have to think about where you’re going.
Let someone else do all the thinking.
Option 2 is my preference. It’s the equivalent of that coach tour – just slightly reduced numbers of sheep and a bit more physical effort. You get all the benefits of the wonderful scenery, discover amazing little villages and quiet wooded dells but you don’t have to worry about getting lost or whether the track you’re following will peter out before it reaches somewhere you recognise.
Another confession: yesterday, I had to check the map to find out where Ribchester was. Today, after a quick tour of the area to its north, I feel like saying to people, “Oh, you must go to Ribchester, it’s wonderful.” And it is. It’s even better when the weather forgets that it’s January and turns the thermostat on the sun to “pleasantly warm”.
The route took us anticlockwise. We ran down towards the Ribble and then headed out past Stydd and up to Duddel Wood where trees hung perilously above the brook. The water flow had exposed their tangled roots. One tree sat on huge stone blocks as if wedged in place. A steep drop, a footbridge, a stiff climb up the opposite bank and we were out in the fields again. Rolling, still green, more like spring than winter.
A short climb on Duddel Hill was quickly followed by an easy descent towards more woods at Davies Gate. Inside, rustles of busy birds, trees smothered in lime green moss, trailing ivy, whip-thin brambles and another footbridge across Stydd Brook. hen out and across the old Roman road.
The farm at Old Buckley seemed deserted. No noise from the livestock sheds, no tell-tale scent of manure. A small flock of ewes took umbrage at us crossing their field and scarpered through a gatewayas we headed west under skies turning a more and more glorious shade of blue. What a morning – it was hard not to feel blessed.
By Springs Farm we turned south, and finding a spot near another burbling brook, stopped to have a quick drink and some sweets. We discussed where Preston might be and had arms pointing in all directions, but nobody really cared. Even if only a couple of the party knew where we were, it was a charming place and ideal for a breather. The short break set us up nicely to ascend a steep but mercifully short bank. Strangely, the route up seemed to have been mown especially for us. In the overgrown grass alongside, a white cat was keeping a wary eye on our progress.
Our last trip into the trees was at Buckley Woods. The trails through were soft and muddy, rocks and roots across the path, low branches and a wonky stile, but we emerged to the sight of a distant rainbow. Someone, somewhere, was enjoying a shower. They were welcome to it.
Now we were heading back towards Ribchester and had a great view of St Wilfrid’s church with St George’s Cross flying from its tower. This was the best of England – dotted farms, softly curving hills, birdsong, hedgerows and beyond the village and the fine stone bridge over the Ribble – everything bathed in pale sunlight. All rather perfect, we rounded off the run with a trip to the riverside and gave a nod to our heritage by trotting through the churchyard. It was a good workout for the body but ideal relaxation for the old grey matter because somebody else had done all the thinking.
Unfortunately, I did have to put the brain to work after we’d stopped running. Potter’s Barn Café had more than one option on the menu and walking in and saying “I’ll have food, please” wasn’t going to be all that helpful. But what a smashing place that was for a refuelling stop! Really good grub, some very large pots of tea and a free tangerine. Great service too, making the café another reason Ribchester is sitting high on my list of new favourite places, all of which I’ve discovered by letting someone else guide me through the landscape.