By Ian Harford
"Beside the tail and best with mint", was the one clue we didn't have to find an answer for in this year's treasure hunt. Fortunately, because road works, a farmers' market, local celebrations and just finding our starting point at the Shoulder of Mutton pub in Holcombe village had already required navigation and driving skills of a high order.
Dave and Vanessa Miller had walked the walk and typed the type all the week before to prepare for the small intrepid group of nine SCoM members who descended on one of Lancashire's most fascinating mill towns in early September. Under a hot sun and armed with a local map and three pages of questions, the groups of treasure seekers were released from the car park at intervals to find their fortunes.
Led through nooks and woods, along cobbled alleys and green lanes, besides dry stone walls and over hilltops, we were being slowly introduced to this intriguing hillside mosaic, built on the wealth from Lancashire's cotton products in the 19th century.
As the clearly laid out trail led us up a narrow ginnel past the local school, I wondered if the swaying crop of ragged robin, which filled the garden behind was to form part of a clue, but the avian section of the competition was to be restricted to Wren Cottage and pigeon lofts answers in the final section of the walk.
An obscure reference to 'broomstick lessons' (Answer - Hagg Riding School) and a tricky anagram test soon made us realise that we were in the hands of two crossword fiends. Passing gardens, barns, coops and stone markers, we were soon keeping our eyes strained for every possible clue and the weirder the better.
Were the two small groups of bearded young men striding past in flowing robes laid on especially by our two clue maestros or just part of everyday village life? What about those neighing horses as we rose above the village to Holcombe's landmark Peel tower?
Respite came though at last at the top. A Christie hospital volunteer was there with hot tea and obligingly Andy had left his mark in bold hand on a large stone to answer Question 13, "Who loved Deb in '99?" Lucky for some, we thought - at least we'd got one right!
After a breezy contour walk we were heading down again through fields and woods to some of the jostling clues that marked our return to human habitation. "Keep your eyes peeled", said Lindsay and she was right. Men seem to like leaving their mark everywhere in Holcombe, like tomcats marking territory with their stale. Andy wasn't the only one.
The answers were flying past us now - Mr Grant the wood owner, Strang the engineer, Needham the lamp-maker (from Stockport). Finally we reached the graveyard - a mine of answers hidden among the gravestones and statuary of this little gem with its wicket gate.
One straight stretch was left before we were back at the Shoulder of Mutton pub. Behind us the 35 questions, addressed by each team with varying success, as we found out when the answers were revealed by Dave and Vanessa after a good supper.
Congratulations to the Sun-Seekers whose sharp (eight) eyes brought the highest score and won the box of chocs and their Brenda, who's offered to organise the 2007 hunt. A big thanks must go to the "couple who grind the corn" for introducing us to their hilltop village. If next year's is anything like this one, there should be more like 39 of us after the treasure!