Yes, finally, after banging on about it for well over a year, I have managed to complete the infamous (in my world anyway) Anglezarke Amble in…(spoiler alert)
Nine hours and thirty five minutes!
And here’s the story of the day (he says cribbing the Walking Englishman)…
I left home at the somewhat late time of 06:40 on Saturday morning, this simple act in itself is almost a revelation for me as normally for an eight a.m. start time I would have arrived by 06:40, let-alone set off then! The drive from sunny Southport (I’m kidding it was dark) to Rivington was free from incidents (well apart from one really bad gear change which I’ll write-off to being just clumsy) and before long I was driving through the leafy country lanes of Rivington trying to find somewhere to park. And that wasn’t easy because all of the other challenge entrants had got there before me! Oops!
After Mark (my co-challenger) and I had attempted and failed to call each other by Facebook Messenger (seriously Facebook give it up!), we ended up meeting outside of the registration building – which was teeming with entrants. I feared that we wouldn’t be setting off until after the official start-time of 08:00. However, so speedy was the process that by 07:57 we were stood twiddling our thumbs and eagerly awaiting “the off”. A note to women of the world – go to the toilet at home before setting off to the venue, that way you won’t all have to queue up for the same two/three toilets at Rivington Church Hall – it’s a Village Church Hall in the middle of nowhere not the bloomin’ Trafford Centre (Jeez, Louise!). (And relax!) I had my GoPro Hero with me (clipped to my new rucksack straps if you don’t mind!) and was intent on recording the official set-off announcement.
Alas, this didn’t go as planned because of a few things:
- I got there later than most people
- Nigel – The announcer doesn’t have the loudest of all voices!
- Some people were a bit overly excited (as you can imagine) and wouldn’t shut up!
Before long, we were off and following (for me at least) a new route up to Rivington Pike. All ways up to Rivington Pike are equal in steepness, oh yes, people can promise that this way is better or easier than the others…it’s not true, they’re all challenging and at the blistering pace we had set off at…I was knackered after about five minutes! At one point I seemed to forget that I was still recording (and more importantly AUDIO recording) and as we were positioned behind two walkers of the female distraction, wearing Lycra (and what a distraction) I commented to Mark that it might be rather nice to stay in this position (within the field of walkers I mean!). We were up to the Pike in what seemed like next to no time – about twenty minutes if not slightly more, had the briefest of all glances around the environment and then headed off down and over Brown Hill heading for the officially named ‘Rivington Dog Hotel’ – the kennels in plain speak. I wasn’t looking forward to the next part as Crooked Edge Hill can be a right pig!
The good news (for me) was that our ascent of the afore-mentioned Crooked Edge Hill did not feature in the (normally for me) diversion over to Two Lads. As this involves a further fifty feet of ascension, I was overjoyed! It was another few minutes before we’d finished hopping over the puddles and growing erosion amongst the peat hags at Crooked Edge Hill and joined the tarmac road which would lead us to not only Winter Hill (the T.V. mast) but the first of our checkpoints – I’d never done a walk featuring checkpoints before and was eagerly anticipating experiencing my first. At this point we had met up with some other blokes (we never really did bid a forlorn farewell to the ladies in Lycra), one of whom had a little dog on a lead the length of the river Severn! Okay, hyperbole aside, it was a bloomin’ long lead which kept tripping up the guy at the side of me (to be honest if he finished any route short or long then I’d be astounded!). After checking in we then began the wonderful drop down the north eastern face of Winter Hill (no trig-point tapping today, it was a ten minute distraction which we couldn’t afford to take). Readers of my blog will recall that this is both my favourite way up and down Winter Hill, so I was happy – even though my trousers seemed to be attempting a bid for independence (damn stupid weight loss 🙂 ).
At the bottom of the hill was the A675, we carefully crossed it as per the instructions (I do normally cross it with care as I’m guessing being hit by a car doing sixty-plus would hurt!) and from there it was onto foreign lands…Greenhill Farm. I attempted part of this route last year…it didn’t end well as I completely ignored the first turn-off and ended up getting kind of lost. This time however, we were saved the embarrassment of getting lost after less than six miles by simply following the ‘Amblers’ in front, even if (by now) the field had begun to split up somewhat. And so had the terrain, the pounding of a couple of hundred boots all marching at pace had left the grass pretty thinned out and the mud, ubiquitous! This made for a hazardous slide down and across the field and going up the other side after the footbridges was just about the hardest going of the entire day. I instantly recognised the antenna towering over Great Robert Hill (wonderful name but to whom does it refer?) to our right which instilled in me the confidence that we were still on the right path as we turned left, then right, across another quagmire then onto the marsh which is Higher Whittaker – part of the southern most fringes of Longworth Moor. We had a deadline to meet, if we were not at a certain destination in the middle of a field by ten thirty we would be discouraged from the twenty-four miles route and coerced onto the shorter (sixteen miles) one. There is a name for this particular destination: Charlie/Charley’s pole? Upon reaching the said ‘pole’ at 10:15 we were warned that as we were near the cut-off point time it might be wise to try the shorter route. We refrained from calling anyone a cheeky blighter (or more colourful words), after all just because we were a little behind the main pack (they’d gone!) that didn’t imply that we would not finish. I was encouraged to have a piece of the world’s most phlegm-inducing caramel which then set to work on trying to bung up my oesophagus and trachea at one and the same time – I would vehemently spit this out several moments later when the novelty of being chocked to death became no longer attractive!
The last time that Karl and I traversed this marsh I hated it…this was true once more. I love the Amble in concept and design but please God can we not find another way around this God-forsaken moor? Okay rant over, and before long we were busy sliding down the ‘path’ along side Holden’s Brook – whereby at one point I chose to stumble to my right in order to avoid falling in said ‘brook’ but still managing to impale myself on my mobile phone. Ouch just didn’t quite seem to sum it up really! Once Charter’s Moss Plantation was reached there was relief – just Turton Moor to do now and then the terrain gets easier. In itself this is true, apart from the fact that this does not take into account just what an absolute nightmare we were about to experience in crossing the northern reaches of Turton Heights. Hardly ever were two steps on even ground! Again, I had experienced this awful patch of land previously with Karl. That time we were not on any kind of time limit and there was the reward of pint of shandy at the Strawberry Duck to which we could look forward, this time there was neither of these luxuries to eagerly anticipate! My ability to flowery verbalise prose fails miserably when I attempt to describe how grateful I was to finally reach Green Arms Road which runs by the side of Entwistle reservoir. Checkpoint three beckoned and if it wasn’t for the fact that my freshly opened can of Red Bull was bitingly cold I would have been a delightfully happy chap. Mark seemed in very good spirits and had a fresh air of ‘we can do this’ which was infectious.
After stopping for a few moments at the checkpoint we set off on route for the most civil section of the walk, the climb up to Cadshaw Farm. Before becoming all Amble-obsessed I had never heard of Cadshaw farm, now I could describe every bump and tuft and contour of the trek as it was glorious (if a little steep in places) walking. I even took a phone call from Southport Computing Centre who told me that they still couldn’t fix my dead Samsung Galaxy Ace! The man on the other end must have thought that he had interrupted me in ‘other kinds’ of recreational activities as I was puffing and panting like Darth Vader on a fast treadmill. It was almost with regret that we hit Darwen Road / Blackburn Road / the A666. Now the hills were going to get a lot more serious and certainly more cold as Darwen Hill can be a horribly inhospitable place for most of the year. One of the greatest challenges was avoiding the turn-offs. We walkers seem to think that if we are not turning left, right, left, etc then we must be following the route incorrectly, but we persevered and managed to stay on track…mostly!
However, after some time an object appeared to our left. Perhaps wrongly (perhaps???) we set off to follow it, not that the object was in transit…only when we started to get closer did we notice another much greater object on our right. This would be Darwen tower then, as opposed to the thing to our left which was just a rather nice and quite large cairn. So we re-traced our steps through another sloshy field and re-joined the main path. Even though this was a twenty minutes diversion we still had to steal ourselves from taking another left-hand turning…I thought it was just me that did these things but then remembered that my walking mate Karl has something of a penchant for going off-piste, so it must be a common affliction for all walkers. I should mention that a few minutes prior to our sub-amble, we had spied a number of other walkers. This was good, Mark’s fantastic company but there is that irrational moment when one starts to think that perhaps every other walker has finished, or even worse; along with the rest of humanity; been abducted by aliens…I did say irrational yeah?
So, we now rejoined the walkers the first one of whom I spoke to was a lovely lady named Jacqueline (I couldn’t help telling her that was my sister’s name – I say was ‘cos the ignorant bugger never speaks to me any more!) and her husband Nigel who was the man that started off the event, who were in fact sweepers! A sweeper in this case being someone from the organising party whom deliberately does the walk at a slower pace and picks up any struggling waifs and strays on route. How complimentary was this? We were waifs and strays! All the same, it was nice to meet new people and we got chatting to Jacky her husband and the others who were accompanying them. From being a band of just two, there were now around eight of us, of which five of us would form a great little group who stayed together all the way to the end. This had been what I had wanted from the walk. It’s not just the walk that entices me out to the countryside, it’s the prospect of meeting people, of shared experiences and being a part of something bigger and unifying…and I do realise how soft and gushing that reads (ah well, I do live in Merseyside these days not stoic old Lancashire!).
We finally made it to Darwen Tower. This was to be the scene of checkpoint four (it was on the website instructions) but there was nobody to ask for our numbers – maybe they’d already gone. We had a short sit down and a swig of water and then set off the gloriously long downhill stretch towards Slipper Lowe. Actually I had remembered this part of the route with rose-coloured glasses over my mind’s eye! Although there was a lot of downhill walking, there were also many rises and a great deal of flatness. It mattered not, Mark, Julie and I with Chaz and her brother (damn it why can’t I remember blokes’ names???) slightly behind us; carried on relentless and even picked up our speed. We reached Slipper Lowe at a little after three o’clock and were treated to all the warmth and hospitality for which Lancashire is known…they mocked us for taking so bloody long! I had a slice of cake…it was absolutely gorgeous. I had a cup of coffee – with two sugars in it along with the justification of “this’ll get me up Great Hill!”…for this beast was next on our itinerary.
From the descent of Darwen Hill; Great Hill loomed threateningly on a horizon which was becoming worryingly nearer, as if mocking us, ‘you can’t escape me, I’m next‘. Great Hill is a pig! We ambled our way through the shaded path which dissects the grounds of the ruined Hollinshead Hall, crossed the A675 (Belmont Road) and yomped our way through the opening quagmire at the very start of the approach to Great Hill. Then it snowed! Fortunately this did not last long and nothing stuck to the ground, I’ve been on this moor in snow before and whilst it did look stunning it was painful to walk through then. I’ve heard Great Hill referred to as ‘Great Mess’ – they were right, this is one boggy hill in some sections. However, it’s not as bad as it had appeared to be. In all honesty, Great Hill’s bark is a lot worse that its’ bite – although a more fitting analogy would be that it looks worse than it is. Mark lead the way up the not-so-mighty mound followed by (damn I still can’t remember his name), then Julie then I, and at times Julie and I swapped places. I stopped twice for no longer than ten seconds, spurred on by the fact that there were some seriously dark clouds gathering over Winter Hill which was only some two miles away. Once atop the summit we paused for a while, smugness having set in as we believed that the rest of the route was all downhill from here. A time check revealed that it was four o’clock and we each agreed that we should be at the finish line in Rivington at around five thirty if we kept to our current pace, onward!
I knew this part of the route very well. It’s not hard to get lost in this environ, but the descent of Great Hill to White Coppice is something that I am proud to say that I’ve done a number of times and I was able to direct Mark and Julie away from taking the path to Brinscall. We arrived at the quaint little cricket ground within half and hour or so and had another cup of coffee and another slice of cake. I was feeling in high spirits as I left the pavilion…until I fell down the steps that is! Fortunately for me; the rucksack which I had come to loathe and despise for its’ unfailing ability to push at my trouser’s waistband – came to my spine’s defence. The only injury sustained was that to my pride and…well I’m kind of accustomed to that being battered, it usually recovers. ‘No time for dramatics, just get on with it’ was what my inner voice was saying to me, I listened and carried on as we marched past Stronstrey Bank and out towards Moor Road. We crossed the road, fortunately without being hit by cyclists as can happen here and from here on in I admitted that I was now in foreign lands once more. Luckily enough for us Chaz’s brother had the text version of the route to hand and lead us through scenery which I will long to see again – the sunset over Anglezarke Reservoir was stellar! There was some ascension…actually there was some descent from Chaz as she began to detest every single rise, but she coped wonderfully and I believe that we each kept our spirits up.
And at five thirty-something-or-other, tired and straining to see because of the onset of dusk, we limped into the tiny village hall at Rivington, we’d made it around the route and with time to spare!
Within moments we received our certificates of completion and Mark very generously paid for my ‘badge’ a picture of which will be posted later. We were informed that there were drinks and food available (some kind of stodgy potato-based gloop which smelled divine) but I simply couldn’t eat, I never can immediately after big walks and this was my biggest so far. I sat back in my chair and simply ‘was’ safe in the knowledge that I had completed my first Amble. It was only on Monday, whilst on the way home from work, on Ruff Lane of all places, when I felt that I had done the ‘Amble’. It’s one thing to have the knowledge of having accomplished something that we had set our hearts on achieving, it’s altogether another to feel it…I remember this realisation process kicking in a lot quicker when I’d completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks last year. It’s a lovely warm surge of euphoria – it’s okay, I’m not going to get any more erotic than that!
If I was to do no more walking for the rest of the year, then I have still done the ‘Amble’…but I will do more walking, and possibly there are even greater high’s to experience as this year I do intend to do longer walks and greater peaks, Snowdon and Scafell Pike both spring to mind. For now this is the culmination, the end-game of my obsession of wanting to complete the Anglezarke Amble…I may never watch the Great Galleymo’s You Tube video again! I doubt that very much. I have said that I’d like to try the next long distance challenge walk – The Peeler’s Hike in March and may very well have the company of Mark once more and Darren of Y3PIR and Snowdon walks…an embarrassment of riches with regards to walking companions. Also there is ‘The Return of the Pig’ (Ingleborough – Simon Fell – Park Fell – Whernside) walk in March to look forward to, so I’m definitely going to get some exercise in.
Song of the walk? Well it had to be “Beauty Hides in the Deep” by The Doppler Effect as featured on the afore-mentioned Mister Galleymore’s excellent and inspirational video.
Read the Blog? Now watch the video: