BOOKS: Hard Men of the Fells - A Tribute Part 1

"Iron Joss" doing 70 at 70 (70 lakeland peaks at the age of 70)

Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith
I'm reading a fantastic book at the moment, "Feet in the Clouds", by Independent journalist, Richard Askwith, a book about Fell-Running (Mountain Running in Britain, Fells is derivative of the Danish word "Fjeld" and the Norwegian "Fjell", the word used to refer to the Scandinavian Mountains).

I'd like to pay tribute to four of the greatest legends of the past: Bob Graham, Joss Naylor, Billy Bland, and Kenny Stuart.

The Legend of "Iron" Joss Naylor
One quote struck me more than any other. I have so often heard people ask why anyone would climb/run this or that mountain and get the smart response: "Because it was there" (a book of that title was written about the obsession with Everest). In Askwith's engaging tale there is a much better answer, explaining the driving force behind the legendary achievements of, arguably the best, fell-runner of all times: "Iron" Joss Naylor.

"Joss chose to pit himself heroically against the mountains not just because they were there, but because his heart was there too." (Askwith 2004)

I was born in one of the flattest of the world's flatlands, my home town crouched 5 metres below the level of the sea, on average, with barely a hill in sight, but yet the mere sight of a mountain from my office window, conjures a strange sense of longing, and I've realised that home has nothing to do with the place you were born. I don't wish to venture into deep psychological pondering of why this is so, but I know we reflect ourselves into everything around us, and some things reflect better back on us than others.

To get a taste of "Feet in the Clouds", and see how outstanding the achievements of Joss Naylor was I recommend reading the Independent article on him.

"King" Billy Bland
When you read Askwith's book, you may wonder how these men and women could conjure up such sacrifice just to run over endless hills, in a sport that barely gets any recognition (while footballers and other habitually pampered overpaid under performers are showered in the same). Fell-runners seek a deeper, more personal recognition, as Billy Bland said it: If you're nowt at home, you're nowt anywhere."

Billy Bland - Fell Running Legend

Joss Naylor, pretty much mirrored my own sentiment with his assessment of today's footballers:
"They're not playing to their potential half the time. A lot of these top players need their arses kicked. I just can't understand how they can take so much out of sport and put so little in."

But as Askwith weaves his tale we realise what I have come to now as well, the endless hours on the fells are not a sacrifice, there is no place they would rather have been (unlike many modern runners I suspect). I know I have light years of hardness to acquire before I could hope to fly through the hills in the midst of whipping storms like these giants but I have never once, not even in excruciating pain, wished myself back into a warm pub, a nice cafe, or a soft couch. I've wished that the pain would stop, but never that I was somewhere else.

And whenever I feel like taking a break, I remember the word's of Billy Bland, if you're the self-destructive type as well, you may want to keep them at the forefront of your mind: "Rest and Recovery? I've never heard such bloody rubbish in all my life."