Grabbing chances, getting out, eating pie
Weekends are good for running but a midweek trot on the trails is good for the soul. There’s something magical about the light evenings. The late setting sun gives you more chances to revel in nature, and if you’re running, you can explore places you’d never reach on wheels – either four or two. Summer evenings are built for grabbing chances, getting out, discovering new routes, meeting new people, embracing a few nettle stings and finishing your adventures with a pie and a pint in a local pub.
The area explored first in this summer’s series of Regular-paced routes, Hoddlesden, was a mystery to many, but it’s very accessible from the surrounding towns. For much of our route, we could see both Darwen’s Jubilee Tower and Robert Peel’s Monument. The familiar Entwistle and Wayoh reservoirs – locations so popular with runners who want to get off road – were close by, but we had the advantage of high ground, open country, new vistas. From Black Hill, we could see the tower blocks in central Manchester. The hills beyond were lit with sunlight while our skies were cloudy but – considering the forecast – surprisingly dry.
The route took an anti-clockwise, raggedy circuit across terrain that rarely eased-up on the challenge. The old peat workings of Aushaw Moss were crisscrossed with heather, tussocky grasses, cushions of moss and hidden pools of black, water. Over Hoddlesden Moss, the trail wound snake-like through still-bare heather which exfoliated the skin of anyone who’d chosen to wear shorts. The tracks got narrower, barely room to plant a foot, disappearing altogether into bracken fronds, whimberry bushes or straight across the rubble of tumbled walls. The shouts of ‘eyes on the trail’ were frequent, the pace modest, the laughs and surprises plentiful.
In each stand of trees, blackbirds were singing. In a short section of fenced track, a ewe and four lambs huddled in a corner, before making a break for it, bounding high into the air to deter us if we had any foolish notions of hunting them down. A fine grey pony followed us to the corner of its field. As we descended one bank, a pair of deer made their escape, gliding up the steep opposite slope as if it were nothing at all.
Round Barn quarry seemed deserted. Its gritstone blocks, dark and weathered, its gritty paths winding up and through, getting the heart rate soaring. Along the path by the quarry’s rim, the iron pegs for belay anchors were hammered hard into the rock, but climbing is restricted in the nesting season and there were no trailing ropes, no bags of chalk and no-one bouldering on the lower tier.
As we were running, the light started to change. The clouds were thinning, and enough sunlight was getting through to highlight the beauty of nature. Seeds heads of grasses in delicate soft pink. The silken heads of bog cotton – shining, brilliant tufts of white dotted across the damp brown sweep of Orrel Moss. In a patch of woodland, we ducked under twig-like branches and fallen trunks, our feet snapping twigs, twisting, turning through pink-tinged hawthorn, young oaks, trailing brambles and the soft scents of resin and earth. Deep inside there were no paths, no evident route, just a feeling of privilege to have this chance to be right in the middle of the crazy game of life.
It wasn’t all idyllic. There was an incident with a gang of thuggish wasps who, annoyed at the passage through their domain of the first runners in the party, took their revenge on those of us at the back. It was a quiet corner until the wasps’ four victims were assaulted and then the peace and tranquillity were replaced by much swotting, swiping and just a teensy bit of swearing.
We missed the train, too. It was late, and we’d crossed the footbridge long before it arrived, catching the sound of its whistle as we ran off into the distance. But maybe that’s a good thing, the speeding train could have distracted us from the size and scale of the bridge’s abutments which seemed entirely out of proportion to the footpaths on either side.
Did we get a sunset?
Not really, no. But as we came along the side of Scotland Reservoir, and climbed the stile into the next field, the sun was there. Framed by the brilliant green of the trees, it was half shrouded by cloud, but nevertheless intense, brilliant, silvery and arresting.
The run was nearly over, a paddle across a stretch of boggy stream, a swift spurt across a field just cropped for silage, and then we were at the head of the track that led back to the pub. A phone call was made to alert the kitchen staff that it was getting close to pie time, and we finished our 12km route with an easy descent to the Crown and Thistle.
If you weren’t there, you missed out. The route was technical, varied, “mildly undulating” and a bit soggy in places. The views were amazing. It was quiet. It was interesting. It was fun. It was a brilliant way to spend a Wednesday evening. Yes, there were a few wasps, but there were also some lovely tasty things wrapped up in pastry.