There’s the obvious route, but let’s not go there

Jumbles reservoir is a popular spot for walking and, indeed, running. There are broad paths, mainly level, that border the water, decent views, and, at this time of year, you’ll glimpse plenty of bluebells in the woods at the side. If you plan to circuit the reservoir, be prepared for a stiff breeze across the water and a set of steep steps near the dam at the southern end. If you stick to the obvious path, you can’t go far wrong, but you’ll miss out on some wonderful countryside that lies just beyond the major route. 

It’s easy enough to miss the tiny paths that veer off the main drag, wind between the tall trees, through those bluebells, zig-zagging away from the water. They emerge in fields, lush with spring grass. And there, the views really open up, a distant spire, the heather clad bulk of Holcombe Moor. There are hedgerows where the hawthorn is coming into flower and juvenile nettles hanging around gateposts. Blackbirds sing and sing some more. 

You may be in a corner of the world that’s sandwiched between a couple of busy roads, but there’s room here, room to breathe, room to stretch the legs and explore. When you defy the obvious path, you discover what lies in store if you take that track down the bank, daring to slip into the moss-green shade at the side of the brook. The prettiest cluster of houses, arched stone bridges, the babble of water running over stone. And look – here – go too fast and you’ll zoom right on by – it’s not a rockery, it’s a step of steps – narrow, stone built, half-hidden between tumbling perennials. 

Run out along that ridge, follow the fence line and begin the climb. It’s a bit of a pull but pause and look below you. There’s another reservoir, a mini-me version of the one you’ve left behind, without the broad tracks, without the parades of visitors. Cross the end using the narrow wooden footbridge that’s hidden by the trees. 

And look, now – at the top of a lane filled with bungalows, you’d barely expect to find a glorious, quiet footpath to Wayoh reservoir. You may know the broad path that borders that stretch of water, but have you ever reached it by dropping down from above. Take this route, try to create the mental map of where you are. Then throw caution to the wind and abandon anything that looks like a trail in favour of picking your way through, under, over and around the fallen trees in a stretch of woodland. Get to grips with a tree. Sit on it, hang onto its branches, test the flex in your knees and hips and you’ll soon be laughing and at the sheer silliness and pure fun of choosing no path at all. 

Of course, you make it through – just with a smudge of mud and a bit of bark stuck in your hair. And those who’ve chosen the obvious route, who’ve spent one minute on the straightforward path compared to your ten minutes amongst the pines and brambles, watch you come out of the trees wearing a grin as wide as the sea.

When you start to head south again, having crossed the top end of Wayoh, you could take the track almost everyone uses, following the shoreline path down to the weir, but don’t. Take the opportunity instead to head further east. Cross the railway at the bridge and head onto Spring Bank and Billy Brook. The sun will follow you. The wind will gently ruffle your hair. Every slope will be gentle and downhill. There will be orange-tipped butterflies on the bluebells and twin lambs suckling. There will be a fabulous pink camellia and a carpet of cheery daisies. A horse will be enjoying a good-old scratch, and another will be tossing its mane, like David Ginola in a shampoo ad.

Even better: when you take the quieter route, you can natter. Because it’s all downhill, you’ll have the breath to spare for a good old chinwag. You’ll even find the uphill stretch that leads to Turton Golf Course feels like a downhill stretch because the grass is packed with springs. The light will filter through Hazlehurst Woods accenting the bluebells and the vibrant lime of every tree’s new foliage. And it will be just marvellous. 

You’ll miss all that on the obvious path. 

Which is why you should only take the obvious path, those steep steps mentioned earlier, at the very last minute. And when you do, returning to the tarmac of the carpark and the promise of a coffee at the café, you’ll start to see all those who’ve taken the obvious route, shod in boots and still wrapped up in their coats, and you’ll know something they don’t – there’s more fun to be found off the beaten track.

Kate Woodward