Built for running
We met at the Grey Mare on the Grane Road which has an equestrian theme. The loos have snaffle bits instead of door handles and the walls are hung with images of horses. The pub sign depicts a silver-grey mare, stylised, not quite believable, as if the horse had trotted out of an Arthurian legend.
Our run, a cracking 7-miler under blue skies, was a horsey one too. Mid-route we walked – yes, walked – through a field where about a dozen horses were running free. I’m no horse expert, I couldn’t tell you their breed or type, I couldn’t accurately describe their patchy colouring or give any indication of how many hands they stood, but I do know that to see them run, their manes and tails flying, was a moment of pure pleasure. Several of the horses had young foals, which tucked themselves close to their mum’s flanks as we passed. The mares were strong, solid and powerful, but their young ones – cute as buttons, still fluffy-coated – were all legs. And we all know that legs are made for running.
Many runners feel nervous about entering fields with livestock. Every so often there’s a tragic story of someone trampled by a cow or finding themselves on the wrong end of a well-aimed horse’s hoof, and I’m not denying that these things happen, but the nerves stop people exploring trails. They stay on unforgiving roads and dusty tracks, avoiding the stiles that lead to footpaths across the nice, green springy stuff that livestock like to eat. And yet, on this run, we crossed several fields, with both cattle and horses and had no trouble at all. The group is managed, the energy is kept low, and we’re sensible. And when you approach crossing fields in this way, with respect for their occupants and due caution, you open up far more of the countryside. You see sights that would otherwise be obscured by hedgerows. You smell the sweetness of just mown hay.
At one point on the route, from a hillside, we could see miles over to the North West, where a bank of cloud shone like silver, easily mistakable for a shimmering sea. All around were distant fells, moorland tops, Blackburn tucked into the valley. This vantage point too was a field with cattle in – cows and calves, placid and settled on one of the few warm summer evenings we’ve had this year.
Exploring can take you into challenging territory, but it’s not always the animals that are the issue. It could be a slick and slippery clay path or a shallow river to pick your way through, but it’s usually rewarding. Soon after we’d set out, we crossed a field with a hefty crop of reeds. Seeing where your feet were or what you might be stepping in was nigh on impossible, but it was good training for the brain and the balance, and good for a giggle. Beyond was one of the steepest slopes of the night – a sharp zig-zag descent through heather and thistles to the waterfall by Tinklers Brook – but what a special, secluded place. It was worth it to experience the sounds of rushing water, the chattering birds, tiny flowers of tormentil peeping through the fine grass.
We were blessed with gorgeous weather, not hot, but warm, calm. We stopped for drinks, chocolate peanuts and jelly babies on a lane between two steep banks. It was relaxed, friendly, fun. Beyond lay open fields with more grazing horses which ignored us. A series of stiles along the footpath, some tattered electric fencing tape – happily not buzzing – and then we were contouring across green slopes, feeling the joy of moving through nature.
A few minutes later, we were back on the high ground, the grazing fields replaced by heather and narrow sandy tracks, hidden pools of cold black water to splash through, tumbled walls to negotiate, a flooded path, that some waded through and others wisely picked a route around. A few sheep and a few curious steers watched us pass. Where the cows and calves lay cudding, we gave them a wide berth. We crossed the Grane Road again, plunging into thigh-high grass, no choice but to wade through it, and up at the highest point, we turned directly into the sun to start a twisting descent through, whimberry and willow herb, back towards supper which was waiting in the pub.
We sat around polishing off pies and curries, plates of fish and chips, pints of pop, talking about anything and everything. Some of it might have been about running, but what I remember, and what came up in conversation, over and again, were the young foals, their cuddly coats, their watchful eyes and those long, long legs, just built for running.