“Proper” trail running

We could get into a debate over what constitutes “proper” trail running, but feedback from yesterday’s off-road adventure suggests all the elements were included. Fantastic scenery, great company, plenty of miles, some tough hills, swift descents and a sense of exploration and discovery.

There’s another element, though – the wee bit of discomfort that reminds you you’re alive. Before we’d even started running, several of us had bagged a few nettle stings. When we sat in the café after completing the half marathon distance and more than enough elevation, legs were said to be zinging. Most of us had fallen prey to brambles and had a decent collection of cuts and scratches. It was proposed that it wasn’t a proper trail run unless blood had been drawn. 

What I loved about this run was the adventurous spirit, but really, that’s in the people, not the terrain. We’d just descended through a section of overgrown woodland, ducking under branches and weaving through saplings. We’d slipped on mud and been snagged and tripped by brambles, but when offered the option of a tidy bit of tarmac or another jungle, it was hacking through the undergrowth that got everyone’s vote. 

This approach doesn’t get you PBs. It doesn’t get you to the summit of Boulsworth in double-quick time. It gets you caked in mud, caught on thorn bushes and, as happened on a couple of occasions yesterday, tumbling into holes. It gets you laughs too. Lots of them, and what’s better than being out in the fresh air, running and having a laugh? And in case you’re worrying, anyone who fell into a hole was hauled out again and was none the worse for the experience. 

We left Ball Grove Park about ten. The sun was surprisingly warm, and we made our way out along the side of Colne Water, enjoying the easy start, trotting past ducks and dog walkers. In the far distance lay the bulk of Boulsworth and all the climbing that was still to be done. We followed the track as it branched along Wycoller Beck and then into Wycoller itself, where, tucked in the corner of a garden was a flight of narrow steps, which led out into wide-open fields 

The steps marked the end of easy running. The fields were thick with grass, beyond lay more steps and then an ascent through the woods up to Raven Rock Farm. Then we lost all the height we’d gained by heading back down to Wycoller Beck, but it was worth it to cross the ‘Clam’ bridge – a single, sloping gritstone slab balanced across the water.  

We carried on heading south and climbing. The leafy valley turned into a rock-strewn clough, filled with bracken and rowan, water tumbling over the stones below. The high ground was closer now, but still ominous, still imposing. The clouds were high. Skylarks were playing. Apart from a couple of walkers we had the place to ourselves. A major bridleway and one of Lancashire’s highest peaks – near-deserted on a cracking Sunday. It made no sense. 

We followed the track as far as Lumb Laithe and then headed up the hill. Soon the running slowed, the path softened to moorland peat, patches of sodden earth, sparse grasses, heather and grit, and in time, Little Chair stones and then the stones on the summit were close enough to touch, sun-warmed but sculpted by the winds. 

We took in the panoramic views:  Widdop, Haworth Moor and Hameldon Hill, Pendle and Weets – the other hills in the challenge – and then because there was no more up to climb, we dashed back down the hill, through Antley Gate and then worked our way back to the bridleway through a soft and soggy pine forest. The blue sky was reflecting off Upper Coldwell reservoir as we passed. 

Between Coldwell’s reservoirs, we stopped for a breather. Sarah had soup waiting, and the wicked luxury of white bread went down a storm, but we still had a good distance to cover, so a few minutes later, we were back out there, in the fields again. 

We ran through a strange bit of woodland, wild and overgrown in some places but with mown paths in others. Artworks and dog roses competed for our attention. Patches of nettles needed wading through to get to the way out. Beyond lay a return to the high-knee running style needed to negotiate fields of long grass. 

Soon the only way was down-hill. Across grazing fields, across back gardens, across footbridges and stiles. Colne was below us. A winding path plunged us into a stonemason’s yard and then we were back by Colne Water, following its bank, first on one side and then on the other. It was cool in the shade of trees, but leaves were already starting to fall. Copper bright, they were spread across the dark trail, heralding the change of season. 

Heading back towards the café In Ball Grove Park, we attracted a few bemused looks. Shorts and hydration packs, mud-caked legs, glowing faces – a group of runners on a mission – intent on getting a brew and a wedge of cake.  But why not? After all, this was a proper trail run, and a proper trail run should always be followed by some proper attention to nutrition. 

‘WEETS HILL HALF’ - the 2nd in our Pendle Peaks Challenge Series takes place on Sunday 10th November! GET TICKETS HERE