I’ve been a member of the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) for a few years. I joined after JJ invited me on a couple of walks, both Social and “Challenge”. The Challenge walks typically have a short and long course with mandatory checkpoints, must be completed within a time limit and – best of all – have food at the end and at one or two of the checkpoints.
I would love to go out for a walk far more often than I do but always seem to have something else on. Sometimes the only way for me to make time to do something is to put it in the diary months in advance, so that’s what I did with the Anglezarke Amble. It wasn’t possible to enter on the day so I committed to sending off the form and that was that ….. I was doing it.
Rivington church hall was bustling with walkers when I arrived. Never at my best in the morning – and suffering from steamed up glasses – I found the crowds a little stressful at first but once I’d got my entry number and managed to dress myself [Note to self: buy some easier-to-put-on gaiters] I had plenty of time for a cup of tea and some toast.
The walking contingent set off at 8am – with the runners due to follow at 9am – and I blindly followed the throng. I had printed out the route sheet – which gives turn-by-turn directions – but the sleet deterred me from removing my gloves to open my pocket so my plan was to make sure I stayed in sight of someone who looked like they knew where they were going at all times. This short-sighted approach to navigation, coupled with the literally short-sighted visibility due to low cloud, meant that I had very little idea where I was all day! I had the route sheet, I had the map, I had various electronic means of determining where I was. Did I use any of these useful tools? No (until I got a wee bit lost, but we’ll come to that later).
The first viewpoint on the route was Rivington Pike. Here was the view looking back down from the Pike:It was cold and windy at the top so I didn’t hang around. Following a cluster of waterproofs I headed towards the Winter Hill radio/TV masts. I only knew that’s where we were going because I’d read the route in advance; I couldn’t actually see the masts even though, on a clear day, they can be seen for miles around. Up close, I could see a big block of concrete with a steel cable which must have been one of the tether lines to stop a mast blowing over but I couldn’t see the mast itself due to the thick clag.
There was a checkpoint on the road by the masts so I gave my number and kept walking. I then developed a niggling doubt about whether that was the first checkpoint or the second. Had there been a checkpoint up at the Pike? Should I check my route sheet? Nah, too wet and miserable to stop. I’ll own up to my possible mistake at the next checkpoint. (It turned out that I hadn’t missed one).
The Amble is a good mix of moorland, tracks, paths and sections of road. After a rough section it was a relief to walk on the road, although ice was an ever-present threat and many of the roads were covered in deep slushy puddles. My boots were soon soaked.
I’d been overtaken by the first male runner at 0940 and the first female at 0950. I enjoyed watching the runners with their lightweight gear and skimpy clothes (in comparison to me, cocoooned in multiple layers). I’d like to do some fell running but I don’t think the West Pennine moors in February would be a good place to start.
The clag lifted as the day progressed. It rained all day but at least I could see that this was a place I’d like to come back to. I like bleak moorland.
I reached the cut-off checkpoint for the long route at 1040. The official cut-off time was 1030 but they did seem to be letting people through. Having chosen the short route I hadn’t been rushing but I do doubt if I could complete the longer Challenge events in the time available; I just don’t walk fast enough.
By the ruins of Hollinshead Hall I found myself alone. I’d seen some walkers go down the hill and up to the right but, by the time I got down to where the path split, I could no longer see them and there was nobody catching me up who I could wait for. I took the right hand turn and went up through the trees but there was a choice of paths and I could so easily have wandered off in the wrong direction. Worried that I might miss the refreshments stop, I took shelter in the trees and checked my route sheet. Although I’d not been paying attention to whether I’d passed through two sets of gateposts – the second pair being taller – I did seem to be going the right way and I was glad to soon have a wall on my right. My relief was great when I saw the checkpoint with the refreshments gazebo!
The refreshments at the 9.6 mile checkpoint (at about 1140 for me) were very welcome. Sandwiches, jaffa cakes, cake and tea. I’d been carrying food and drink but this wasn’t a Shall We Stop For A Picnic sort of day. Before setting off again I changed my gloves. In the run-up to the event the weather forecast had promised persistent rain so I had brought spare gloves with me. My first set of “waterproof” gloves were now completely sodden and – although still keeping my hands warm by blocking the wind – did not feel very nice. I think in driving rain the water runs down my sleeve into the glove. I know I could tuck the glove inside my sleeve but that is less convenient when I need to replace the gloves after putting my phone/camera back in my pocket.
I checked with the marshals that I was leaving the checkpoint in the right direction. They gave me a very clear description of where I needed to go but, 2 minutes later, I was confused about whether I needed to go left or right. I checked the route description but that didn’t help and it said I should go through a “gate marked Hollinshead Hall” but my gate wasn’t marked at all. I wasn’t sure whether I’d gone far enough – and the route sheet very rarely mentioned distances – so I waited until a runner came along then followed him. It was handy that most people had their entry numbers tied to their rucksack, so I knew I was following someone on the Amble and not a random walker/runner.
Great Hill was a trial. Bog – sometimes frozen, sometimes not – and driving rain which was determined to fill my left ear……
The White Coppice cricket pavilion refreshment stop was wonderful. Lumps of cheese, cold boiled spuds, cherry tomatoes, and the most delicious parkin. Oh, and hot tea of course. Better still, I could have my first sit-down of the walk and ponder whether to walk the last 3 or 4 miles or call a taxi (just kiddin’).
The last few miles were mainly on roads and seemed to wend their way around a number of reservoirs – Anglezarke, High Bullough and Yarrow. If the weather had been better, and my feet not so wet and achy, I’d have got the map out and worked out exactly where I was. Making a mental note to come back to this area in better weather I yomped along the roads and tracks trying to keep the woman in the bright yellow mac in sight. My navigational laziness really was astounding on this walk!
I arrived back at the church hall at 3:13pm so it had taken me 7 hours and 13 minutes to walk 16 miles. Not fast for some people but quite a pace for me. I would normally plan for no more than 2mph on a mixed terrain walk like this.
I had a bowl of delicious veggie stew with red cabbage and beetroot, followed by cold rice pudding and tinned peaches and a cup of tea. The room was full of people who’d worked hard for their dinner ….. although many were runners who’d done the 24 miles and looked like they could do it all again. Strange folk!
Thanks to the West Lancashire section of the LDWA who organised the event. Although (or maybe because) it really was a Challenge, I’m looking forward to doing the walk again….. hopefully in better weather.