Pendle Way in a Day
At 6 am there was a gale howling as I made my way to the start. I consoled myself that it
always sounds worse than it is. We got under way at 8am and that assessment held good for all of twenty minutes. As we headed up onto Weets Hill the wind penetrated a waterproof hood, woolly hat and bandana to recreate the sensation of a banshee screaming into my ear. On the other hand, as we came off the moor the wind was behind us and it carried me down into Barnoldswick without my legs seemingly having to do anything.
The only picture I managed to take all day.
From here we followed the Leeds-Liverpool canal to Earby which was sheltered enough to
allow you to forget how biting the air had been at the top. This is what is being lulled into a false sense of security. We ran and skidded through seven miles of lower lying farmland and ankle-deep mud to Laneshaw Bridge where I’d arranged to meet my brother at 20 miles. He was going to stretch his legs and run the second half of the route with me; I pretended not to be annoyed that all my relatively hard running until that point had been undone by having to wait ten minutes while he went to the shop. At Wycoller, we took the old packhorse route back up over the moors and joined the Pennine Way above Trawden. The wind was now a headwind. It was incredible: even running at full tilt I could barely get above walking pace as you leant in at forty-five degrees with a stream of tears being beaten from my eyes.
We gradually escaped from the wind-tunnel conditions on the moor and trundled along to
Coldwell CP; then back over much rougher and very muddy farmed land to Reedly. As we negotiated increasingly deep stretches of mud and water, and the ground became increasingly difficult, it was ironic that it was at a relatively straightforward stile that brother Ed came a cropper. He made a vault, which looked impressive as he took off but less so as he slipped on the other side, crashed onto it with a leg on either side and smashed his knee and hand in the process. If my eyes hadn’t been watering already, they would have started doing so then. But he’s a stoic sort and ran it off Rugby League style, the only difference being he was wearing tights rather than really short shorts.
Several people said that while the wind was gruesome, it was manageable; however, if you
added rain into the mix then it would become a completely different proposition. Hence, on the long drag to Higham, it started raining. We ducked into the checkpoint there, accepted Soreen but turned down a shot of vodka from the enthusiastic marshals, and headed out to Pendle Hill. On another muddy descent, headtorches on, now in the dark and rain, Ed fell again. This time I have to admit I found it funny. But amusement was short-lived: he’d landed on exactly the same bit of hand that he had hit before; as he took his glove off I could see that his little finger was very bent and very swollen.
We climbed Pendle Hill. It was wild up there and Ed’s hand become worryingly painful. We
thought we should get him out of the freezing and disorientating weather early, but our escape route was ill-conceived; we ended up on some very harsh, waterlogged moorland and probably added more time to our run than we saved. But the weather was improving slightly; while it was now raining steadily, the wind had dropped. Very kind marshals in the Barley CP gave me some new batteries for my dimming headtorch (my spares having been in my rucksack for a year and given up the ghost), and we teamed up with a great bloke and navigated back with him to the finish at Barrowford, where we could finally tend to Ed’s hand. I’d anticipated a finish somewhere between eight and nine hours; given the conditions, I’m more than happy with the eleven it eventually took – especially as the weather destroyed my A4 paper route description by about halfway around.
I’m a seasoned ultra runner and have run pretty much every distance up to one hundred and
ten miles in all UK conditions. This one is already settling in my mind as one of the tougher races. I guess that’s what you get for choosing to tackle east Lancashire hills in the mid-winter. But the event was well put together and the organisers had just the sort of low-key friendly approach that is the hallmark of the Run Further Ultra Series. And now I can put in my Three Peaks entry. A memorable day.