Mud, glorious mud!

With 2012 being the wettest on record and this year already providing travel-crippling snow, winds and yet more rain it is no surprise that the countryside is sopping wet, like a fully-saturated sponge. The slightest foot-pressure on the ground promotes oozing of Alien-fluid and sucks the strength from your legs.

Quite why, then, I – and several hundred others – would want to circumnavigate a 24-mile course where almost every foot fall lands in mud or water or snow or deep bog is probably beyond then ken of many people safe at home in bed or in the shopping malls.

But this what we do, and even crave. Pushing your body against the elements whilst experiencing the raw nature of the countryside is one of the most exhilarating experiences, and reaches down to our primeval nature.

This particular event, The Anglezarke Amble, is typical of the sport. Starting from a small village hall in Rivington and organised by the West Lancashire Group of the LDWA (Long Distance Walkers’ Association) it attracts 300-400 runners and walkers over two courses of 16 and 24 miles. Also typical is the chaotic atmosphere in the hall at registration, as people boot-up, drink tea, eat toast and grease nipples. But this what we enjoy – please don’t ever change!

The threatened rain had so far amounted to a few splashes on the windscreen on the drive from Chester, and had stopped by the start of the run. 8am saw a surge of runners head towards the amazing gardens of Lord Leverhulme, below Rivington Pike. It’s a stiff start, climbing steeply up through 500 feet to the stocky Rivington Pike. There was plenty of snow still around, just on the turn to slush, which made some surfaces very tricky. My Adidas Kandia TR4s eventually won my personal ‘Gear Item Of The Day’ award and gripped tenaciously over all terrain, especially the treacherous stiles.

Once my body settled into a rhythm – only after the Pike had been reached – I started enjoy the atmosphere. As the field spreads out you find your own space and the thick mist and snowy environment together with the absence of wind and rain made this a beautiful space to be in.

High on Winter Hill was like running in a cloud – you had no reference points – just snow and mist. Normally you see the giant television mast long before you reach the checkpoint at its base, but today you could only make out a faint ghostly line as we had our tallies clipped by the wonderful volunteers – again typical aspect of our sport, and more on which later.

The descent is a gloriously long run, slightly tricky in these conditions, but great fun testing your reactions to the swiftly changing surfaces. I captured my run in a short video.

The next miles are grim. Almost all are sodden underfoot and frequently ankle- or even calf-deep. The cold water oozes through your toes, the mud squeezes into your shoes and before long the toes on my left foot were frozen-numb.

How welcome then the refreshments at Checkpoint One, by the dam of the Turton and Entwistle Reservoir, 9 miles in. Cake, sandwiches, tea and coffee. Loads of comments about the beef paste in one variety of sandwich! (Since horses are powerful beasts, maybe that would prove more suitable fuel?)

The next few miles are on good surfaces, all the way up to Darwen Moor. But soon all is mist, snow and bog again as the persistent squelch, squelch, squelch of knackered legs draws you nearer to Darwen Tower, one of the main icons on the route, now resplendent with new dome! (In the past we had volunteer checkpointers here, but sensibly this is now a self-clip – still, I missed the traditional jelly babies!)

Good tracks led to good food at the Slipper Lowe checkpoint, a real haven of activity. I caught up with my wife, Helen, here. She was doing the 16 mile route and making good progress given the conditions.

And then – Great Hill – the last obstacle of the route. Only Fleet Moss on the Fellsman Hike attracts more adverse criticism. The climb to its not very lofty summit is all reedy bog and slimy peat, concluding with a short sharp set of steps. But you are rewarded by a long descent, though this too is marred by extensive bog – especially after Drinkwaters.

 

How sweet then is the cricket ground at White Coppice whose pavilion porch provides the scene for the last innings of the run. This is an idyllic spot, green and calm and peaceful. Just the place to gird the loins for the last 3.5 miles, which are a pleasantly wooded and scenic finale to a great event.

Back at the Village Hall chaos is now sitting at tables eating hotpot and rice-pudding, chatting excitedly with fellow strugglers about – usually – this or that bog; or their legs; or their equipment. It’s a hub for colleagues to meet and plan their next venture, and its all served by the trusty volunteers who prepare the food, record your time and fill-in your certificate. These events depend equally on volunteers and entrants. Helen and I have check-pointed on a number of events and it is a very tiring affair, but it’s also very rewarding in it’s own way. Maybe one day I’ll find time to write about the checkpoint we did at Kidhow Gate in the 2008 Yorkshire 100 Marshal’s walk – lots of memories from a tough watch!

Maybe we should have a loyalty-card scheme; five checkpoints gets you a free years membership of the LDWA, or similar?

Anyway, Thanks to everyone at West Lancs LDWA for organising another great Anglezarke Amble. We’ll be back.

[Full set of photos here ]