Hills and Mills: A mini running holiday

Hills and Mills: A mini running holiday

Liz had an exam this week, one of many on her accountancy qualification, and she likes to take a little bit of time off after each exam to unwind following the intense period of studying and stress. We’d initially talked about going to Tintern and doing the Tintern Abbey run from the Wild Running book but by the time we’d actually got our act together, the trains had got really expensive and the B&B we were looking at was sold out, so we had to look for something else. After a lot of flipping through the book for an alternative, I remembered Jelley Legs, a running holiday company I was looking at way back when I was looking at running holidays before finally going on my first Embrace running holiday. We dropped him a line to see if he was able to fit us in something that would suit us. A week or so later he got back to us saying that he was busy this weekend but gave us a bunch of links of other companies to look at.

There was some exciting looking stuff in there, including a company that did rather challenging looking treks across the alps, but we eventually picked out Hills and Mills as they seemed to be pretty customisable to our needs and also Lancashire wasn’t far from Sheffield.

After a little bit of email to-ing and fro-ing with Molly she worked out what sort of thing we were after and our running experience and here we are!

Pendle Hill, taken by Andy Rothwell. Click for original on Flickr.

On Friday we hopped on a train to Steeton and Silsden, which was, rather surprisingly, a short 40 minute hop from Leeds making the whole journey around 2 hours. Molly met us at the train station and drove us from Yorkshire to Barley in Lancashire at the foot of Pendle Hill. (eek!)

She’d arranged us some accommodation in a set of log cabins next to some fishing ponds called Boothman Park. It’s pretty basic with the kitchen running on gas canisters and electricity only at certain times of the day (as they have their own generators), but it was definitely good enough for what we needed. It was really nice to be disconnected from the internet and TV for a bit. There was also a hoard of food left for us by Molly, including fresh eggs from her own chickens.

After a quick break to unpack, get changed and have a cup of tea and a slice of cake, Molly returned to the cabins and took us down the road to meet up with a group of people who were doing an orienteering competition. Neither Liz nor I had attempted to do orienteering since we were kids (and I’m sure I did it, but don’t remember it at all…) and being as I was looking at some trail races where map reading actually required, it seemed like a good opportunity to start getting used to using maps.

After a quick registration, we were given a pencil and a map with a bunch of navigation points mapped on it worth 5, 10 or 20 points each and an hour to figure out how many we could get to within the timescale.  We quickly plotted a very rough route out along the river with a little switch back after the first marker before starting the climb the north side of the valley and follow a very rough route which allowed us to complete a circle of the village, returning back to the start down the hills on the south side.

We had a great time, running along small paths, muddy trails and footpaths, jumping styles and stepping through kissing gates (although Liz seemed to keep forgetting that they were one person at a time!). We had a little hiccup early on where we detoured around a bull and ended up a field further along than we’d thought we were because a marked wall on the map didn’t exist (or was actually a line of trees we didn’t spot). There were a couple of decently little hills to push up, and some nice easy downhills to pick up a bit of pace on.

After getting back to the start with 90 points out of 150, and about 20 secs left on the clock, we headed over to the Pendle Inn for some beer and food. A rather chunky burger and chips for me, whereas Liz opted for the sausage mash and onion gravy. The also had Sneck Lifter on draft, which is a beer I’ve really enjoyed from a bottle before, but never had as hand pull before. Just about perfect. We hung around in the pub till about 9ish before walking the 10 or so minutes back to the cabins to find that we had no power…. for about 3minutes! Turns out that there is guy on site who had turned the power off because there wasn’t anyone in who turned it back on when he spotted us turning up. This meant we could have a hot shower and settle down to some hot tea and a slice of cake.

Saturday morning, Molly turned at about 10 to take us for our first proper run of the weekend. Also, it was bloody pissing it down! We got ourselves prepped, long running trousers, trail shoes, tech tees and our waterproof and windproof jackets and stuffed our running packs with gels, gloves, waterproof trousers and water. The run started from right behind the cabins, along the old Barley road, which was more like a stream at this point than a trail. My feet were wet pretty much from 2 minutes into the run and stayed that way the whole run. We followed along the trail until we ended up in Barley, then followed another path up a steepish hill until dropping onto a path running along the valley where the lower and upper Ogden reservoirs are. This was quite a bit of reasonably technical, wet climbing and as we came to the top reservoirs (which is a rather impressive looking bit of engineering) we came up behind a large group of kids on a walk. As we picked our way past them some of them seemed a little bit incredulous that we were running up here in the rain!  The side of the valley got pretty steep as well off the path on the left-hand side. I was pretty comfortable with it, but one of the lads certainly wasn’t. There was definitely some gibbering going on. I think Liz just didn’t look. Eventually after hopping across a couple of little streams that had formed and were running down over the path from the right, we left them behind.

The cloud was pretty low, so we didn’t have great views, but even so, the steep sides of the valley with lots of little streams running down looked fantastic. We were curving up and around the base of Pendle hill to approach summiting up the less steeper southern side (I think!). This meant at one point us having to ford a rather fast running stream that had grown pretty deep with all the rain overnight. It was knee deep and running really quite quickly so we needed to be really careful not to end up sat up to our waists in it! After here we properly started to climb up Pendle Hill and the rain, which had died down a little for a bit, started up enough for us all to put our hoods up. The wind had picked up a bit too and the hoods helped shield us a bit from that. Molly set the pace ahead and I brought up the rear, jogging along behind Liz. The path was often covered in deep mysterious puddles which you often just had to plough through hoping that there wasn’t a deep ankle breaking hole under there. We had the wind at our backs helping us climb the hill, but right in the faces of a rather glum looking group of walkers we encountering coming down the hill. I think we chose the right direction to approach the summit! After fording the stream again to the other side, it was the final climb to the summit up large stone slabs which meant it was like climbing a really long set of deep stairs. Soon we were ascending into a cloud and as the surrounding landscape disappeared into whiteness, I spotted a bird struggling to fly into the wind. It wasn’t making any progress at all and I saw it give up and stop flying completely so it was whisked away. Quite a comedy moment

Eventually we made it to the summit trig point and paused for our photo, before heading off for the decent down the steeper side. It was like being in the end few scenes of The Never Ending Story where The Nothing had destroyed everything, leaving just whiteness. You could see about 10 yards of grass around you and not much else!

We took a winding path down the hill, some of it slow as we picked our way down rocky sections, other bits where we could run quickly over some slippery fields until suddenly we were out from the cloud and rain and got were rewarded with spectacular view of the hills behind lower Ogden reservoir and the villages to the east of the hill. We paused so I could get my camera out and grab a photo, but the panorama shot I took didn’t actually work (probably because my phone found signal for the first time in about 16 hours so was being hammered with notifications). Never mind, I’ll remember it.

From here it was a couple of k of winding trail and lots of kissing gates before making back into Barley and then our cabins.

After a shower and a little feast of cupcakes, Powerbar cappuccino crunch protein bars (yum!) and bread, jam and tea we headed back into Barley for a hot drink and then attempt to find the Pendle Sculpture Walk.

It was a little walk out of the village along a private road past the Black Moss reservoirs and then a right up a steep track into the woods. We were pretty tired so the steep hill was pretty testing, but it was really worth it. The Sculptures along the trail were really quite good; very dark in concept and fitting well with the Pendle Witches theme. The wood was really gloomy and moody, really enhancing the sculptures and how they fitted into the landscape. Sadly we couldn’t find one of them, a spider in a big spiderweb between two trees. We think the trees may have fallen!

The rain was gradually getting heavier and heavier and by the time we’d finish the circuit and were walking back down to towards Black Moss, we were getting really quite wet. The run off from our jackets has started to soak through our trousers, so the final k or so back to the village was pretty grim. Luckily, we once we were in the village it wasn’t far to a pub; The Barley Mow, where we sat under their terrace next to some heaters and tried to dry off a little with a hot drink. We ended up staying for food and both had the “Rag Pudding” which was a really nice minced beef suet pudding, but like a big suet calzone with mushy peas and fries. Yum. Then it was a short walk back to the cabin, still slightly damp, but with full bellies. Finally, the rain had stopped and we were treated to an hour or so of blue sky, lovely light and a rabbit hopping around. It was a bit nippy though!

We had a little bit of an earlier start on Sunday. Molly picked us up at 9 o’clock and took us out for a circular run along the Pennine Way. We ran in a big figure of eight starting at Worsthorne and looping around the Hurstwood and Widdop reservoirs and lucked out a little with the weather. We started out across a set of fields until we came to a little village called Hurstwood, and after running along a lovely avenue of tall trees, came up to Hurstwood reservoir. The path was pretty good here between the cold looking water and the weirdly shaped hillocks formed from the spoil when they dug out the reservoir. It looks like there is some great biking to be had here.

Soon we hit some hills. Nothing as technical or sustained as the Pendle climb on the previous day, but Liz was starting to feel it a bit. This was her 4th day running in a row and it was starting to get tough! Luckily we came to a gorgeous switchback 50m descent which was a welcome breather, but it swiftly turned into tough little climb of about 100m. Molly dropped back with run with Liz and I and we talked a bit about coping strategies for when you were knackered! Liz picked up a couple of tips for keeping moving which really helped us get to the top. Once we’ve topped out, we had great gentle downhill section across open moorland, with lots of mud puddles, cotton grass and wildlife to keep an eye out for.

After a quick downhill section along some road, we stopped for some water and to eat an energy bar, and then looped around Widdop reservoir. The north side was nice and fast so I could stretch my legs a bit. There are loads of buttresses around here, all looking very tempting and I got chatting with one of the other runners with us about the, as this was where he cut his teeth on gritstone. The south side of Widdop was a fierce little climb which I got stuck into and got my heart rate up for a bit. We stopped just shy of the top and waited for Molly and Liz to catch us up. A little bit more climbing and we stopped at the Upper Gorple rocks for some jelly babies.

Just 5k to go now, and it was mostly a lovely fast downhill section with one little climb near the end and soon we were back in Worsthorne where we stopped in a tiny tearoom called No 11. for lunch.

Molly had booked us a couple of hours to relax and recover at The Inside Spa in Nelson. Although we weren’t able to get a massage or similar, the time in sauna and jacuzzi was good for helping our legs recover a bit.

Sampling the local brewery beers with a flight

After getting changed back at the Cabin, we headed back down to The Pendle Inn and had a few drinks before settling into dinner. The pub was really packed, which we think was to do with the local running clubs fund raising event that had been going on this weekend. Our 22 for the 22 will have a group of people running up and down Pendle Hill 22 times. Wow! One was enough for us, and we did the easy approach rather than tackling the hill head on.

We’d intended to do something more than just chill out on Monday morning before our train back in the afternoon, but the weather wasn’t really helping. It would have been nice to walk up Pendle Hill so we could actually see something from the top, but the rain and threatening clouds, not to mention sore legs put us off. Instead, we spent the time tidying up the cabin and playing cards!

Wow, that was a bit of a long post. What you get for writing it up as you go along I guess! Thanks to Molly at Hills and Mills for looking after both of us. They come highly recommended.

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