The grass is greener

Remember the old saying which suggests grass is no greener on the other side of the fence? The idea is that if you change from one thing to another, you’ll find it’s pretty much the same. Well, I might be biased, but I think that saying is a load of old tripe. 

Take running. Most people start out on the roads. Some love it, and that’s fine. Others mix up a bit of off-road running with the miles on the tarmac. Again fine. It’s what makes you happy that counts. But there are a lot of people who have tried trail running and can’t imagine what it was they ever found attractive about running on roads. I’m an example. After twenty-odd years running on roads – very happily – someone persuaded me to venture onto the fells. It was the end of one love affair and the start of another. 

It’s still running, but an entirely different experience. The pleasure comes not from the post-run endorphin rush but is there throughout. Instead of counting down the miles, trying to shave a few more seconds off a target time, you are spotting hills in the distance, feeling the spring in the earth, listening to the sounds of nature. 

That’s what we’ve been doing this morning, around Gisburn in the Ribble Valley – experiencing a run, not enduring it. And guess what – at one point we stopped for a drink on a mown stretch of verge, just after we’d crossed a busy road, and on the other side of the fence, the grass really was greener.  

Right now, there’s an incredible variety of the green stuff about. We crossed lawns and skirted fields of wheat. Wild oats grew in the shade alongside the fat heads of cocksfoot. There were grazing paddocks and meadows ripe for cropping. In some fields, sheep had taken the sward down to the bare bones, in others the grass was so long that running through it was near impossible. There was an infinite variety of shades, and the lush green stuff was filled with wildflowers. We descended one field thoroughly peppered with the blue dots of speedwell.

Of course, we’re not all fans of wildflowers, and there are those like me who have no idea which bird is calling, but you don’t need to be a botanist or a birder to enjoy landscapes like these. Just drop down that bank to the Ribble and watch the clear waters flowing by. You don’t need to know the plant is wild garlic to appreciate the intensity of its scent. There were plenty amongst the runners this morning who could name all the distant hills, but those who couldn’t weren’t missing out. You can appreciate the colours of a tree’s foliage without knowing which species it is. 

In short, you don’t have to be the consummate countryman to enjoy exploring the trails, and if you’re with an LTR guide, you don’t even need to know where you’re going. In fact, that’s half the fun. Unlike a familiar road route where you’re expecting the climbs and the descents, on an LTR event, it’s always a mystery. Will you be going through that stile and down that obvious track or squishing through the almost invisible gap in the hedge? 

Let it be a surprise. Let the route unfold. Let the conversations flow. Take it steady through the cattle fields, spot the deer, the scampering squirrel and the swallows swooping low. Stand in the stream if it suits. Jump across if it doesn’t. Skirt the mud or plough through it, but either way, embrace the wonderful variety of the countryside. The sloping fields, the stands of ancient trees, the kissing gates and the rickety stiles, railway bridges and footbridges, broad rivers and tiny becks, the tidy farms and the swanky houses, the cottages and the fine stone gatehouses on the Gisburne Park estate. 

After we’d completed the route this morning, quite a few were surprised by how far they’d run. Unlike on the roads, the time flies – it’s the element of discovery, the company, the scenery. It’s a couple of hours running that doesn’t involve a mental battle to keep pounding the pavements but is relaxing, restoring and yet still a darn good way to build fitness, endurance and strength. 

We rounded off, as usual, with a visit to café. It was warm enough to sit outside the Delicious Deli in Gisburn eating paninis and baked potatoes. Rather than split times, we compared our nettle stings, hay fever symptoms and grass rash. It has to be said that the lovely green stuff does cause a few issues, but even so, I’ve got no plans to head back to the road-running side of the fence.