Warning, this post does contain emphatic / robust language. If you’re easily offended I’d **** off now if I were you!
Oh how I hate to refer to this as the shorter route, as it is, in my opinion, in no way less challenging than the longer route, just less milage and ‘shorter’ kind of demeans this!
If there are worse kept secrets than my desire to complete the West Lancs hosted Anglezarke Amble each year, then I don’t want to know them! I bang on about this event incessantly so when the time came to actually take part in this year’s epic slog, solo, I was chomping at the bit (there is no verb – to champ so will everyone please stop saying otherwise). Besides a damn good walk in very muddy country this would give me a chance to have a minor respite away from the house-moving saga which seems set to last until April at least (although which April I’m not sure!).
So, as you might expect, I was at the start (08:00) by 07:25 as I am just not a last minute type of person (oh how I wish this was different). Registrations complete, I was back outside and ready for the off by 07:38 and decided all I could do was loiter. 08:00 arrived and we all headed north…well kind of north. I don’t like being in mass walks when stiles and gates are factored in so I kind of made my own way, appending some of the route so as to avoid getting stuck behind / being a burden, on the last stepped section leading up to Rivington Pike. In total this would have added around a five-hundred feet to the route but that’s not really salient. I did get chatting to someone on route who informed me that there was no requirement to actually go to the top of the pike, as that’s what the runners do, skip it altogether. Well for me, the Amble just isn’t the Amble without touching the tower atop the pike, hmph!
Next came the (I always feel) uneasy descent passing Brown Hill and onto Belmont Road before turning off to head up Crooked Edge Hill, often referred to as “Two Lads”…these were the two huge stone cairns at the top of the hill, now there is one enormous one…and about three to seven children cairns depenedent on what time of year one ascends the summit of this ‘little toughie” of a hill. The route detours before CEH’s summit to a rather boggy and muddy track which then leads to Winter Hill – the road. Yes folks, not only have ‘they’ named a hill Winter Hill, but also the TV station antenna is known as ‘Winter Hill’ and so is the road up to it! It was around this time, nearly close to ten past nine when I was passed on the road by…mostly everyone to be honest. On long walks such as this, I don’t get my second wind until waaaaayyyyy after everyone else gets theirs! The group I remember the most was the “Yellow Army” who appeared to be a mostly female (I mean most of them were ladies, not they were all transitioning!) group adorned in the most illuminated yellow tops that I’ve ever seen, honestly, you could not lose these people in fog…especially going off the noise they were summoning! All good spirits…the cheerful sods!
So now, having passed by my first checkpoint (Winter Hill) we began the long drop down the north-east face of Winter hill. It’s a good enough path, some mud but otherwise okay, but the type of route that I like to do on my own as there are parts where I’d have preferred to take my foot off the methaphorical gas pedal. There is no ambling around on the Amble and the added pressure of not wanting to hold others up sometimes does drag one’s spirits down a tad! I did nearly fall over on two occasions but I thought that I would save the genuine falls until later in the walk! The crossing of Belmont Road (A675) is always something to focus one’s concentration as the cars passing by are doing at least 50 mph. Next step was my least favoured part of the entire route: Green Bastard Hill!
You won’t find Green Hill (this one) on ordnance survey maps. It really is not that relevant to most people except for the ones who decided at some point to stick a farm on it named…Greenhill Farm. After one has summounted the rather high stile one descends into lots and lots and lots of mud…and the odd occasional cow pat! I hate this part of the route as it is so CROW – a path in theory as opposed to a real one! I ended up walking sideways down moss and reeds as the main trampled path – where the other 300+ people in the last twenty minutes had been, resembled one slippery cattle wade. I hate this part of the route. Another slip and slide as we head towards an unnamed stream and then it was up a steep and slippery climb to Egerton Road and then onto checkpoint two (Belmont) – I had made it to the cut-off point with a good twenty five minutes to spare! But, I still hate that part of the route!
By this time I had a right old case of jelly legs and decided to take on some carbs in the form of a SIS energy gel, which did the trick, and prompted a comment from someone “time for a sis already eh?”. Well yeah!
The next section would mark the departure from the main ‘long’ route but first I had the first half of Longworth Moor with which to contend. Longworth Moor, in its entirity is sodding wet! By now, lots of people were coming together – there are drier ways of making it to this point of the landscape, via cheating (I know because I had considered it) and by now most of us muddy ones were looking a bit caked in it around the shin area! Nevertheless it was with an enormous deal of delight that I spied the sign on the nearing horizon which indicated “Short and Long”. I’m 5’6″ so I went for short! Charley’s pole is actually not a pole, there is a sign there, I think it’s owned by the national trust or even ordnance survey, if it is owned by Charley” then nobody knows who he is / was / will be. All the same, it was a fantastic feeling to have made it six miles into the route, safe in the knowledge of:
- It all gets quite a lot easier for a good few miles from here on in.
- It all gets quite a lot quieter (sorry Yellow Army) and you get to look forward most of the time (instead of over your shoulder to look out for would be overtakers).
- It’s a fair bit drier, but there is still standing water so let’s not get carried away, (carpet slippers it is not!).
- There are no two ways about it, the less time that you spend walking next to Turton Heights the better, it’s a shithole!
So, we’re on Catherine Edge – that’s a place not a person (apparently there is only me in the entire world who finds that funny!). And although there is a fair bit of water I am ecstatic (or as happy as us reserved Ainsworth / Sandgrounder types get) to be able to go at my own pace…and that I’m able to relax. The views of neighbouring hills (Spitlers Edge, Redmonds Edge and a distant peek at Great Hill) lift my spirit, this is country walking. Occasionally I met with other none-Amblers who are walking towards me. All is well. It isn’t until gone eleven a.m. that I come across the farm which I refer to as Big dog farm. Aptly named as they have a Caucasian Shepherd Dog here which is the size of a semi-detached house! I noticed they have now adopted two Tibetan Mastifs which does make me wonder what the hell they are protecting? I consider taking a photo of Big Dog but he barks and I can almost feel my phone being pulled out of my hand each time the leviathan breathes in! Big dog is a handsome dog, I just think he could kill you in a heartbeat if he so desired!
After a lovely eon I arrived at the gate whereby for some reason, those who designed the route thought it might be fun to send us up a slope then down the other side. I’m happy enough to do this and just as happy to direct the group of three women walkers in front of me (who are just about to venture on to Crooksfield Road for no reason). To open the gate requires a doctoral thesis to be submitted or a pint of unicorn blood, a kick also works! The gradient is quite quickly reached but does leave me puffing and panting for a while and this impacts upon my ability to answer the ladies next question on how to progress? I try telling them that it’s just a question of through the gate, walk along the road then turn right to get to Slipper Lowe but, not for the first time, I cannot recall what Slipper Lowe is called and can only think of Teanlowe – which was a Burtons pie shop in Pulton-le-Fylde! So we all cross the road then spend ten minutes descending only to re-ascend the slope and ultimately ‘luck-into’ the checkpoint (Slipper Lowe every body, if you see me next year for the love of God tell me it’s called Slipper Lowe).
At last I am relieved to use the Nescafé cup that I’ve been seemingly carrying pointlessly for the last ten miles! I even recognise the odd face or two – a gorgeous girl from the start – believe me, you’d recognise her too as her face is nothing short of beautiful, even her partner is a bit of a babe…then I remember, I need carbs and all of a sudden, everyone appears normal again! Finally, I am at a place where I am able to sit down. I text Chris to let her know my progress, I’ve abandoned way before now on two occasions and her encouraging responses are all that I need to finish my drink and set off again. I try to keep up with the three women – they are about to take a wrong turning and head off towards Blackburn, then again near the path to Hollinshead Hall they’re doing the same thing. Walkers’ curse I call it, the overwhelming desire to turn left before one needs to do so. Honestly, if it was not for me they would have done some serious milage. Thankfully, I then run into walking friends Sue and Karl and some other woman to whom I am not introduced. This is brilliant as I hadv’t seen them for almost a year and I could quite easily spend the next hour just catching up. Ultimately it’s Sue who declares that they don’t want to hold me up, which is kind and thoughtful and I dejectedly make my way towards the A675 again, Great Hill is waiting for me, only me, he has it in for me today! Great Hill is a whaleback, all whaleback hills are male!
It takes me virtuallty no time at all to get to the road. Unlike previously when Mark and I completed, we were so far behind that we only ever saw stragglers. Today i got to engage with the faster of those doing the longer route, you’d think this would make me take a down-spiral in mood…
Great Hill’s path is sticky and wet and muddy and energy zapping in the extreme. Many people overtake me and I do not care. Gorgeous and her other half pass me by whilst I am kneeling on the floor having mis-timed a jump over a minor mud-stream. We exchange comments about me admiring the view, for the next thirty minutes or so and she counters that she knows just how I feel. She must be hiding it well then as they both look like they have just stepped out of their car! In the grand scheme of all things, Great Hill is an easy, 1,250′ little hill. On the Amble day, it’s a complete and utter git (and that’s being diplomatic). The gradient just seems to rise severely very near to the top so that what you think is a summit is in fact an outlying peat hag! Karl and Sue had warned me (because they’d already been here today) that the summit was on the blustery side today, I am glad of it. The breeze is soothing and I am over-joyed to have a few solitary seconds at the top to think and bask in the knowledge that it is all downhill for a good few miles from here.
But these are not just any miles, these are Great Hill miles and you’ve always got to be aware of the next step on Great Hill. I don’t fall, not even stumble (unlike the last time a fortnight earlier) and I fondly look forward to grabbing another few moments of rest at Drinkwaters Farm ruins, this has become my place. Soon enough I start off again, feeling better after more gel and water and more confident. It even appears to me that my stride is increasing. I always take my time with the last few steps down Great Hill, as they are bloody steep! Believe me, going up this way is cause for a sanity check! All the same I must look far different from how I feel. At the White Coppice checkpoint (where I fell over on my first ever Amble) I’m told that I don’t look like I’m enjoying myself…I counter that it is just because I’d heard this was the place to get some new knees, and ankles and hips… Instead I get a coffee and a surprise, I’ve caught up to the gorgeous couple!
My drink goes cold before I have a chance to drink it, the water from which it was made must have been quite cool by now. So I empty my mug as quickly as possible, no desire to cherish every drop – it’s nearly stone colde. I set off again. Before long I have caught up to the beautiful people again and although I had intended to slow down and have a chat…I speed up! I can almost hear them saying, “that was a bit ignorant”. But that’s the voices in my head, my personal, overly-self-aware demons trying to bring me down, I won’t let them, I’m on a mission. I want to finish this route before three o’clock, even though I have forecast four p.m. to Karl and Sue and anonymous woman. The rest of this route is easy, I practised well just two weeks ago, just a couple of muddy sections to go.
Over Moor Road I go and off to a minor uphill section, there is more mud than I remember from my last outing here, keep going, just be careful of each step, I have no wish to fall- over here, or anywhere for that matter. More people are on route now but these do not have the crazed look of Amblers in flight, they take their time, admire the scenery, don’t give way quite as easily. I’m now on the sheep-trod which proved so interesting two weeks ago, but I learned my lesson then and leave the comfort of the path that I know will turn in to one slippery little fucker in the next hundred metres, I’m on the slope of the hill itself, going horizontally. But no matter how ridiculous my plan looks in practice – it works. After I pass the mega-puddle I rejoin the sheep-trod and it’s over the next bridge and through the gate. Now its the first major downhill section with which I have to contend. Just a short drop of less than two hundred lateral metres and I practice my skill at using the moss-covered oaks and sycamores for support. It works wonderfully, not even any wormy hitchhikers like last time, I feel all kinds of Bear-Grillsish! I pass a couple, the man is an awesome size, must be close to seven-feet tall, we exchange greetings, they are going too slow, no sense of urgency, they are not Amblers.
At High Bullough reservoir I take a few seconds respite, it’s not as stunning as the first few times that I have passed it. the reservoir has been drained – there is an information board which everyone seems to take turns in reading, I’ve read it before, crack on! And now I’m making progress along the side of the ressie that was. I must be hitting four miles per hour now, for me, in my current cuddly condition, that’s awesome! Next step the gigantic downhill corner and the scenery takes a change for the beautiful as the Anglezarke Reservoir comes into view, it’s spectacular, it says home to me. I don’t have time to admire the moss-scape on my left but the knowledge that it is there lifts my spirits even higher. A couple of tall, tall female runners pass me, good on ’em! For the first time, I believe that I am going to get back to the registration church hall for 15:15, maybe even earlier. I pick up speed once more but still keep looking to my right and basking in the reflective tranquil beauty of the Anglezarke reservoir, it’s like I’m doing this in her honour, all bodies of water are female!
And now I’m at the far end of the reservoir, I cross the road early so as to avoid crossing on the deadly hairpin bend. All I’m looking at now is the tarmac (or whatever road surface it is) dead ahead of me which is festooned with ample amounts of horse manure, I believe that will not only stink to high heaven once its crust is penetrated, it’ll be slippery as hell and today – I’m all about avoiding the slippy! Moments pass, the memories of my first Amble flood my mind, it was dusk when I traversed this road then, now it’s golden sunshine. My coat is giving me more heat than I could possibly ever need but at some point soon I’m going to take that off, and it’ll be awesome! I ascend the rough path at the side of the Yarrow water chute and believe that I’m in my last two miles. I want to spend a minute or so simply drinking in the scenery, it’s some time since I last saw the chute in spate and it’s truly an impressive sight! Two more slopes to go! At the apex of the next slope lies the great green wall of the Yarrow reservoir.
I’m on the sometimes rough, sometimes cobbled path heading south. I have no competition, no other walkers are near me to spur me on, it’s all too easy to slow down and appreciate the day. I have to be tough on myself and think back to past triumphs – and failures. Scafell Pike, that was one hard son of a bitch, my legs ached for ages after that, the failure of last summer’s Y3P and how this walk, today, will be an excellent way to build more confidence for that arduous but wonderful task which lies in wait for me. The songs going through my head are again the theme music from Sonic the Hedgehog and I have no objection to this…apart from it’s pushed Billie Eilish’s “Everything I wanted” to the back burner, I can listen to that on the way home. And now I’m at the gate at the southern most tip of the Yarrow. Anyone who uses the kissing gate here has more time than they deserve – through the gap in the wall, you could get a panda through that, I’d love to see that to be fair! A sharp left turn, downhill and I almost bump into a family who know what I am, what I’m doing…
“Not far to go now, almost there” reports the patriarch. He knows I’m an Ambler and I smile, it’s like I’ve lost all of my verbal social skills.
Around a corner and through the millionth kissing gate, honestly, if you did kiss at each of these; you’d be well dehydrated by now! And now I’m recalling the Great Galleymore’s 2013 Anglezarke Amble (which got me in to this thing originally) and how he advises to watch your footing here for all of the divets! Walking back alongside the Dean Brook and I’m feeling on top of the world…okay, my hands are a bit numb? My feet are hot, my upper body feels like it’s been in a sauna for way too long and my thighs are chafing like a, like a…like two thighs which are chafing I suppose. And there are the steps to lead up to the paddock. I can hear voices, hurried, female voices behind me, it’s the bloody Yellow Army again, they’ve caught me up! I now feel compelled to take the last few steps a lot quicker. I pause at the top of the steps if only to ask the seemingly head motivator of the Yellow Army about their campaign – mission statesment – just what they are and what are they doing! She’s really positive (like a running version of an 80’s Bonnie Langford – but nicer looking) and she fills me in on what a great day this is. Even better she assumes I’ve done the 24-miler like they all have! I’m just too honest to let that go.
Twenty seconds or so later and they fly off into the distance with an illegal amount of energy still residual! I’m practically walking sidewards by now owing to the chafing thighs. But we are so close to the finish now that I can swear I can hear voices – real voices of people laughing and joking, regailing stories of the day. I’m forced to remove my backpack as we can both get through this last kissing gate – just not attached to one-another. Now I’m on the road, I turn right and in front of me lies the tiny entrance to the church hall, and once inside (for a change) you can keep your filthy boots on as you register your finishing time:
six hours and fifty-two minutes!
I never had anything to eat back at the hall, few and far between are the times when I can consume anything after a good walk, and how good this walk had been! I sipped my coffee, texted Chris my finishing time and a photo of my certificate and simply basked in the encapsulating joy of having completed the Anglezarke Amble again. Yes, I do moan a lot when my backpack is trying to push me to a muddy death when dropping off Great Hill. Yes I probably did look a real dick when I fell to my knees on the way up the bugger, I just don’t care. These are experiences, future anecdotes things you just don’t get playing Candy Crush Saga at home on the warm and dry sofa! I simply had to do this walk, to build momentum for what is turning out to be a challenging year on personal, work and home fronts. There’s no doubt that this episode of my walking life will put me in better position to complete September’s Yorkshire three peaks, it’ll help me do April’s Sefton Coastal Path walk too! But it’s more than that, success breeds success (and how quickly I am learning to hate typing that word!), any kind of success gives us the positive mindset to strive for more, we even begin to welcome the odd obstacle and take the tougher way! I’ve quoted him before but the afore mentioned Mr Gallimore is perfectly right when he describes the Anglezarke Amble as “Depicted as probably the hardest challenge on Planet Earth.” – I guess it kind of depends on just who is doing the depicting! To me, this is every bit as hard as the Yorkshire Three Peaks without the lofty summits and glory. With the Amble you get caked in mud – even if you’re doing it right. These days, doing the Y3P is a largely dry affair now that the ‘Mosses’ have been bypassed. I want to do the twenty-four miles version next year, do it proper! I’ll probably do it unaccompanied, there is less pressure that way and as I have seen today, less chance of someone getting you to turn left before you have to!
Songs of the walk: Billie Elilish – Everything I wanted, Joanne Koziel and Kris Nahony – I need to forget, themes from Sonic the Hedgehog: Greenhill and Marble zones.
Sefton…it’s over to you!