Reflections Of A Yorkshire Fell Runner

Post date: 
Thursday, 2 November 2017

Connect member, Gerry Hird, reflects on his time as a Fell runner in the Yorkshire Moors.

It was cold, raining heavily, and it was November. I was standing on the village green, beside the river which was in full flow, in Burnsall, a small, beautiful village situated in the Yorkshire Dales.

As I stood there I slowly turned my head towards the Fell, a high and barren, bracken covered hill.   As I did so, I recalled the day, in August, when I had stood on that very same spot, the green had been full of visitors and runners, children were chasing each other, laughing and screaming with delight. Like me, the other runners, were jogging about on the spot to keep warm, all of us impatient for the start of the race up that steep face of the Fell.

I heard the starter blow his whistle to signify that the runners should gather at the start line, which was situated on the narrow road that ran through the village. As we prepared ourselves, we all looked up the Fell and contemplated the task that awaited us. The terrain rose gently at first, then, at a point where a dry stone wall formed a barrier between the rough pasture and the bracken covered moor, it rose more sharply until it was almost vertical just below a cairn which marked the summit.

The starter called us to form up ready for our assault, the gun fired and we were off.

I found myself running close to the leading group, two runners, one in a red vest and another clad in yellow were already drawing ahead of the main pack. The two seemed to have no problem negotiating the terrain or the obstacles in their path, but the rest of us, including me, were not finding the going so easy. I scrambled over the stone wall, which formed the dividing line between the pasture land and the bracken covered moor. There was a path, but it was narrow, ill defined and covered with vegetation, that meant there was little hope of passing the man in front, or indeed being overtaken by the man behind.

I have a clear recollection of pain beginning to affect both my calves and my thighs. I was no longer running, but had adopted more of a staggering scramble. At last the summit was reached, I tottered round the cairn and had my wrist stamped by a race marshal, as proof that I had reached the top.

I then turned and started to make the descent back to the village. The path that I had taken to reach the summit was blocked by those still seeking the top, so there was no alternative but to charge through the bracken. I have no real recollection of the descent, other than my unsuccessful attempts to overtake the man in front. My legs were in a state of severe pain and my eyes were watering so much that my vision was greatly distorted. I could see the runner in the red vest was in the lead, followed, about forty yards behind, by the man in yellow. As I watched them in the distance, the leader in the red vest, who had just entered a small paddock close to the finish line, stumbled and fell. This gave the runner in yellow the opportunity to hurtle past him and sprint to the finish line as the clear winner, the red vested competitor finished a dejected second. I finished well behind the winner, but it didn’t matter to me, I hadn’t finished last. Now as I stood there in the rain, with my head turned upwards towards the Fell, I could visualize in my mind, the events of that day but can no longer see the scene as my eyesight has gone, but I still have the vivid memory of that race, and that will stay with me forever.