First in a new occasional series from Ronnie. Running, who’d have thought it?
I love running. A simple enough sentence, you might think? But not one I’d have been able to write for most of my life. I couldn’t see the point. There they’d go. Trundle, trundle, round the outside of Sefton Park. And the only emotion they evoked in me was pity.
I’ve always loved walking. That’s why I’d see so many runners. We’d inhabit the same places, get in each other’s way. But I never wanted to join them. Not even with Sarah’s example to follow.
For much of our relationship Sarah has been a runner. Early on she’d proudly tell me that she’d just done the Liverpool Women’s 10k ‘in 41 minutes’. I now know this is impressive. At the time I had nothing to compare it with and was, well, just happy to be pleased for her. If she was enjoying running well, fine. It was doing no one any harm, so good luck to her.
In time she became part of a group of ‘running mates’. A group of women responsible for disturbing my sleep early on Saturday mornings, when Sarah would set her alarm for shortly after dawn, and then go off running with this group of, to my way of thinking, masochists.
Then breast cancer arrived for Sarah. And as she entered the years of surgery and treatments, one of the many casualties that left her life was running.
But then as she got moving again, she got running. She trained up and did a run for a charity that had helped her out – something she ended up feeling fairly ambivalent about – but the running was undoubtedly good for her.
She found that as well as helping with her physical recovery, running was also helping with the depression that long years of surgeries and treatments had left as their legacy. And I finally noticed. If running could be good for Sarah, in so many ways, then maybe it could be good for me?
I would have to start gently though, because I’d never really run in my life. As a child I’d suffered from asthma, and so had subsequently absented myself from all sporting activities, believing they might somehow be dangerous for me. So I talk to the personal trainer who’d been helping Sarah get fit again about whether she’d like to work with me. And we begin, getting me fit for the first time in my life, beginning in April 2011.
Starting with gentle half hour sessions, but soon moving on to full hours, we run, skip, do circuits and, like Sarah, even box. And a miracle happens. I build up my strength and my stamina, can soon run and I don’t have asthma. I get a few twists and minor injuries, but apparently this is normal as your body gets used to doing things it’s never done before. I go out several times a week on my own and come the end of the year she tells me ‘Job done. You’re a runner.’
And I am. I’m enjoying the running itself. And I’m enjoying the fringe benefits. Thinking more clearly. Being, somehow, more optimistic. And getting to know parts of Liverpool even better than I already did.
So I thought you might like to come running with me sometimes? Metaphorically at least?
Today’s run is one we call ‘Lost Liverpool’. It can be done as a really interesting walk. Indeed the pictures I’m using here are from doing this as a walk earlier this year – I certainly didn’t lug my camera round on the run today!
‘Lost Liverpool’ is a mostly off-road route that shows you a version of Liverpool very few people get to see. Very, very rich, eighteenth century Liverpool. We will run along ancient lanes where elegant horse-drawn carriages once drove. Past some of the houses of the slave traders. If you want the documented history of these people and their places, it’s not hard to find. And in Liverpool there is a whole museum which attempts some kind of recompense and recognition for the genocides they committed.
But today we will run.
Starting at the car park in Calderstones Park on Yewtree Road, just across Menlove Avenue from Strawberry Fields.
This leads round some muddy lanes – where John Lennon and Paul McCartney would walk on their way between each other’s houses – to Allerton Golf Course, formerly ‘Allerton’ the first of our wrecked mansions.
Allerton Towers was built for the Earle family, notorious slavers, who moved out here after selling their first Liverpool estate, around what’s now Earle Road.
At the end of the Orangery we turn left into the walled garden, then right and right again, through a Laburnum Arch, the laburnum flowers just finishing today. Then left along the main path and up to Menlove Avenue.
Here we cross Menlove Avenue and turn left up Allerton Road towards Woolton. This is the longest bit of serious uphill running. Turning right into Woolton Woods, the grounds of another former mansion, only its walled garden and woods left now. But no time for the walled garden today as we run through to the peak of the run. Camp Hill.
But even earlier, two thousand years ago, the Celts who lived here then named this place Camp Hill, and fortified and defended it as one of the area’s best vantage points. From here today we can see down across the river and over to Wales.
Down, down the hill we run, looking for the gap in the sandstone wall at the bottom that will take us back to Menlove Avenue. Across this again and left along to the sharp right turn into Springwood Avenue. Now turning for home.
Along past the Jewish Cemetery, then turning right and then left to run past the graves in Allerton Cemetery. Never does any harm to feel mortal for a bit. Out the top end of here, then turning right up the hill, past Springwood Crematorium. Here, we’re close to Allerton Hall, another of our mansions. Not wrecked this one, but doing a steady trade in funeral receptions. On a walk we’d go and have a look. But on a run we head off uphill.
Here we’re close to Allerton Towers again. And just before the still standing lodge of the Towers, we turn left.
Walking this, with a stop for a picnic on the steps of the Orangery, this can easily take a couple of hours. Especially if I’m with you giving you the history of Liverpool’s role in the slave trade, whether you want it or not. But running it today took just over 34 minutes. Not quite my fastest, but the lanes were muddy after the weekend’s rain.
Still though, eighteen months ago I couldn’t have run it at all!
Historical images from Streets of Liverpool.