In the early nineties, sometime after I’d taken up running on the roads to kick the smoking habit acquired as a teenager, I began to venture out further into the parks and valleys that circled the city of Sheffield. Following the trails up and out onto the edges of the moors that stretched toward my family home in Manchester.
On occasion I’d be passed by a wiry runner, often stripped down to vest and shorts in all but the worst of weather. They never wore trainers, instead, thin running shoes, the soles covered in truncated pyramids, tiny ziggurats, to afford a better grip whilst flying up and down the peat covered hillsides. These Fell runners were clearly a breed apart from the joggers and the keen road runners of the City. Out climbing on the gritstone edges I’d see imprints of these shoes in the tracks and peat trails leading up to and along the top of the crags. Stud marks on the summits.
In time, I acquired my own pair and took to running the tops when the weather was poor, the crags out of condition or to clear the cobwebs after a Saturday night. After stumbling across an organised fell race, a hundred or more runners snaking out of the Burbage valley I made enquiries and ended up joining the local club, Dark Peak Fell Runners and heading out on the moors on a Wednesday night wearing a headtorch and bumbag under the tutelage of two experienced and authentically bearded runners, Andy and Chas.
They lent me a book once. It was actually a photocopy, the original being out of print for many years and available only to the wealthy or enthusiastic collector. This samizdat edition, stapled in one corner, had passed through many hands.
“Stud marks on the summits” A history of Amateur Fell Racing by Bill Smith was the first authentic account of this most esoteric of British sports. I’ve always wondered whether the title came to him a flash of inspiration or took years of distillation to filter out the words. A mini haiku that means much more than the sum of its parts.
Last week, in a remote part of the Trough of Bowland, rescuers from the Pennine MR paused for a moments silence to pay their respects to the man who’s body they had just recovered from a peat bog. Bill Smith, aged 75 had fallen into treacherous ground and been unable to escape whilst out on a run across Saddle Fell. When he failed to turn up as a marshall at a local fell race the alarm was raised and several weeks later a walker found his body.
RIP Bill Smith.