PHIL CALVERT: Cold snap opens up the countryside for walking

Phil Calvert
Phil Calvert

The bitterly cold and snowy weather over much of December and Christmas caused travel mayhem nationwide.

Heathrow was closed, people queued for hours for Eurostar and some rail and motorway networks ground to a halt. But in our part of Lancashire it was perhaps the very keen overnight frosts which have been most memorable with temperatures plummeting towards record lows around -17 degrees Celsius.

Ironically, however, this bitterly cold weather has opened up large sections of the countryside which were effectively out of bounds to me previously. Wet summers making low-lying fields very muddy underfoot, and the difficulty of walking a dog through pastures populated by cattle has made choosing routes for our outings difficult, and we have been restricted to dryish mud-free paths that avoid traversing fields full of cows (and horses). When 20 cows start stampeding towards you, it is no joke.

At this time of year, however, most cattle have been moved inside making following local footpaths rather less traumatic. All too often the muddy field left by cattle is thoroughly unpleasant to walk through, but not so this year!

As the icy weather has gripped the land, deep penetrating frosts which have frozen pipes, garden ponds, canals and even the surface of small streams, have meant soft ground has firmed up nicely.

The outlet pipe from our own shower froze up causing panic as water levels rose and rose in the shower tray. The pipe that takes condensed water away from these supposedly efficient condensing gas boilers froze up at the houses of at least two people we know almost causing misery, but we managed to avert disaster.

Out in the fields it was a different story. Every day, Wifey and I tried to get out walking in the snow covered countryside.

Green lanes around the Martholme Grange area, which in the past have been more like muddy rivers, became white highways through the beautiful landscape of the lower Calder Valley. Trees were heavily laden with cottonwool-like frozen snow. Little springs had turned to cascades of glass. The Calder itself was frozen all the way across in places, and above it all Pendle, shrouded in glistening white snow, looked majestic.

Underfoot the going was good, the ground iron hard where previously had been deep sticky mud. With the extreme low temperatures, usually below minus five degrees Celsius, even during the day, the snow had a dry powdery quality meaning our feet stayed dry throughout.

Perhaps best of all though, was the walk from Spring Wood at Whalley on Christmas Day. This time it was just me and little Monty. A steady pull up the golf course on the path towards Clerk Hill gave fantastic views across to Whalley Nab and Longridge, wasted on Monty who was running around like a crazy thing. We dropped down to Wiswell, past the pub full of folks munching Christmas dinner, but met no one.

Straight down hill towards the A59 through empty meadows of white, across the empty A59 and then to Barrow and the fields and railway beyond. Still we met no one. Across the road to Mitton into Turkey Drive behind the old Calderstones Hospital, before walking under the A59 alongside the ice floes of the Calder. Only after we walked under the magnificent red brick railway viaduct and walked past the ruins of Whalley Abbey did we meet anybody. Then it was up the path to Spring Wood and home. A day of first class walking, in peace and quiet – but I wouldn’t fancy bits of it after the thaw!

On Boxing Day night we were again on the receiving end of the cold weather. We had met up with and were stopping over with friends at a little pub in the Dales. I nearly had a mutiny on my hands. The bedrooms had no en-suite bathrooms but two “common” bathrooms across the freezing landing. These featured no showers and the outlet pipes from both the sinks and the bath had iced up. Water stood, iced over in the basins.

The sink in the corner of our initially frozen room did thankfully work, though it did possess the loudest plumbing known to man. Worse, it seemed reluctant to deliver heated water through the hot tap but did oblige if you didn’t mind waiting 15 minutes.

There was no double glazing, thin curtains and the storage heaters were as effective at warming the place as a novelty candle.

There was no telly and our mobiles didn’t work. My mate Johnnie had stayed previously and had brought a fan heater which we borrowed (and didn’t give back), but thankfully our host produced a portable oil-filed plug-in radiator, which actually was quite good (if he hadn’t I fear we may have upped sticks and gone home).

Thankfully, the bed was comfortable and not damp though cuddling was popular for the first 15 minutes (and you could argue it was worth going just for that). But we would only consider stopping for one night.

As it happened, we did have a pleasant evening, huddled round the stove in the (otherwise empty) bar playing cards and dominoes, followed by a surprisingly good night’s sleep, punctuated by the odd trip across the freezing landing.

I was up, washed, dressed and down for breakfast for 8 a.m. to be greeted by a 2in. layer of fresh snow on the road outside.

There was the potential to be blocked in (at a pub that sold excellent real ale and did a fair full English). Besides I like woodchip and it was cheap. I was tempted, but with questionable bathroom arrangements, Wifey would have none of it.

Rebuked for selling my Land-Rover five years earlier, she was insistent we got back to somewhere nearer civilisation to avoid getting stuck in the snow, and that turned out to be Bolton Abbey, where amidst the gorgeous snow-clad scenery a couple were getting wed. (I bet they had been panicking an hour or so earlier).

We drove home as night was drawing in, but something had changed. The chill in the air had gone. Overnight the thaw took hold and rain washed much of the snow away. I’m glad to see the back of it really, but from a walking point of view I’ll miss it. But then you never know, it may be back! Happy New Year!