Why fell running remains one of the most popular activities in the Yorkshire Dales

PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 July 2020

Simon Bailey comes off the top to victory in the Kilnsey Show Crag Race by Stephen Garnett

Simon Bailey comes off the top to victory in the Kilnsey Show Crag Race by Stephen Garnett

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We catch up with writer Victoria Benn to find out more about fell running, one of the Yorkshire Dales’ oldest sports, still going strong after nearly 200 years

Bill Teasdale MBE winning Inglebrough Mountain Race in 1955 held at the old Ingleton SportsBill Teasdale MBE winning Inglebrough Mountain Race in 1955 held at the old Ingleton Sports

If there’s one thing we’ve all learnt over the last few months, it’s that there are few things we can and should take for granted. Our health, our social freedoms and even our loo roll supplies, have all become luxuries to treasure. Also telling was the fact that when many of us saw the constancy of our normal diversions and entertainments like pubs, clubs, gyms and restaurants temporarily evaporate, thousands of us headed for the hills. As Snowdonia National Park and closer to home, Malham Cove, tried to cope with the busiest visitor days in living memory amidst strict guidelines on social distancing, one thing became clear, that the inspiration and sanctuary our magnificent Yorkshire Dales’ fells and mountains offer, remains unparalleled.

We might be standing still in some ways but it’s a perfect time to shine a light on the Dales’ traditional and enduring sport of fell running. With nearly 200 years of epic feats and sporting stars wrapped up in its current schedule of 30 plus races and events - to this day still hosted in the local landscape - once the Dales is back up and running, you might just be tempted to get the legs moving.

‘The brilliant thing about fell running is that it is and always has been one of the great social levellers. No fancy kit required, no expensive clubs to join and no elitist ideology. From shepherds to students to shop keepers to accountants – it’s a sport for every age group from Under 9 to 90 from every walk of life,’ explains Victoria Benn author of new book Peak Performance sponsored by Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust and the website runthedales.org.uk which has been made possible by a grant from the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund.

‘My love affair with fell running started in childhood thanks to my dad who was not only a prominent runner, but was passionately involved in making the sport open to all, along with reviving many long ‘lost’ races such as the ones at Cracoe and Gargrave Show which had fallen by the way side after the war’ , she says.

Author Victoria BennAuthor Victoria Benn

‘Much of my childhood seems to have been spent stood in a field somewhere watching the stars of the era bust a gut racing up and down these hills in just a matter of minutes, which for the non-runner would be a half day hike with a packed lunch in tow. It was and still is heart in the mouth stuff watching some runners’ spectacular near airborne descents from the tops of the fells. Thrilling to watch and even more thrilling for those with the inclination to compete.’

Peak Performance charts the sporting stories and stars of Ingleborough, Yorkshire’s most famous peak, unveiling the origins of the Ingleborough Mountain Race – including a previously uncollated roll call of its winners since the first event in 1934, along with further stories of the iconic Three Peaks Race, world class 3 Peaks Cyclo-Cross and Yorkshire’s original ultra, the Fellsman.

Juxtaposing historical fact with brand new research, Victoria brings to life the mountain’s legacy of epics firsts and amazing feats of endurance, all the more vivid through the inclusion of recent interview excerpts from some of the sports current and former pioneers. The book also features previously unseen photographs and original new artworks and illustrations by Yorkshire artists Victoria Alderson and James Innerdale.

‘One of the absolute joys of writing this book was speaking to Fred Bagley who started the Three Peaks Race in 1954 and Kevin Watson, the school boy who took his bike round the peaks in 1959, an adventure which inspired the current 3 Peaks Cyclo-Cross,’ says Victoria. ‘Being able to speak to innovators like Fred and Kevin along with all the record holders and champions who have also made history on the mountain has been such an eye opening joy, especially since many were pushing their minds and bodies to the limits of what was possible long before it was even slightly fashionable!’

The ‘Run the Dales’ website brings together the award winning photography of Stephen Garnett with Victoria’s insider insights to create a visual celebration of the sport along with ‘one stop’ information about everything from getting started, to finding a race, to locating its nearest camp site.

‘The beauty of fell running is that just one race can incorporate many unique challenges; from soft, muddy and boggy moorlands to rocky, rugged and sheer fell sides, to climbing walls and stiles – all of which test strength, flexibility, coordination and balance, in addition to running ability.

‘For these reasons fell running is already a very popular sport, but for newcomers it can be a little bit off the radar unless you know someone else who runs. So, this website is designed to put all the information about the sport in one place. There are links to and information about all the best Yorkshire Dales’ races – especially those which are part of a show, village fete or other fun day out for families and young adults. There are also tips, information and even some training videos from some of the best runners on the scene about ‘getting started’ which also feature good cross training demonstrations.’

Kirsty Hall leads out at Cracoe fell race by Stephen GarnettKirsty Hall leads out at Cracoe fell race by Stephen Garnett

The mountaineer and explorer Sir Edmund Hillary wisely said: ‘It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves…’ and following our strange summer of introspection now might just be the right time to follow in the footsteps of the farmers and shepherds of yesteryear and contemplate our majestic Yorkshire landscape afresh.

Transforming a fell hike into a run elevates it from a pleasurable labour into one of the greatest and most exhilarating adventures there are… and the cost? None to anyone including the environment (as long as you adhere to the countryside code), save a little bit of training and the price of a good pair of shoes. 

To purchase Peak Performance email: info@runthedales.org.uk For further information about fell running in the Dales visit: runthedales.org.uk

After the race by Stephen GarnettAfter the race by Stephen Garnett

Latest updates on visting the Dales at yorkshiredales.org.uk

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