AURUM PRESS £16.99 £15.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith

Exhausted, lost and injured - are you feeling human yet?

T o take part in a fell race is to run up and down one or more of the British Isles' many mountains. Fell-racers anticipate hypothermia, injury, falls (off cliffs, down scree slopes or into the occasional well), exhaustion, disorientation and death. Because if you don't realise how unpleasant it's going to be, says Richard Askwith, you're at risk of not enjoying yourself properly.

In his bracing and inspiring account of fell-running, Askwith argues that this demanding but little-understood sport has given rise to some of the British Isles' unsung sporting and folk heroes over the past 150 years: "Great things are done when men and mountains meet; and, though not one Briton in a hundred has any inkling that the great kings of their fells ever existed, the heroics of the greatest are as glorious as anything in sport's history."

Bob Graham is one of these heroes. In 1932, to celebrate his 42nd birthday, this Keswick B&B landlord decided to run 42 Lakeland peaks in under 24 hours. He trained barefoot so as not to wear out his plimsolls, and completed what was then considered an impossible feat. The "BG" is now a classic fell-running test and one which Askwith, a "yomping yuppie" from the South, miserably failed at his first attempt. This initiated a decade-long quest to conquer the BG, a quest which gives the book its structure: a 13-stone ex-smoker with dodgy ankles explores the history of the sport and meets its legendary runners to glean their secrets.

Time and again, Askwith hears that it's not enough to be fit; you've got to be hard. And some of the figures he meets are hardy to the point of absurdity. Billy Teasdale, for instance, the incomparable post-war runner, would often cycle, run or walk 20 miles simply to get to the start of the race (he'd do the same to get home and then spend the evening working on the family farm). Then there's Billy Bland, whose 1982 Bob Graham Round record of under 14 hours still stands and who later strolled the same course in under 24 hours to show it was "just a walk". Or "Iron" Joss Naylor, who overcame chronic back problems as a child to run (amongst countless other records) all 214 peaks described in Alfred Wainwright's Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells in a shade under seven days.

This grittier-than-thou attitude is the stuff of a Monty Python sketch. But Askwith passionately argues that the likes of Bland and Naylor are no mere headbangers, knocking off ever more obscurely conceived challenges: "The man who is truly at home in the mountains sees more deeply than that. He can see that our selves can never be entirely divorced from our surroundings; and that the man who is lucky enough to live among beautiful hills, and who enters into an intimate relationship with them, is also deeply in touch with himself."

The great fell runners, then, are Romantic figures for Askwith. (In a rare literary reference, he briefly compares Joss Naylor's written account of one of his epic runs to John Clare's Journey out of Essex, in which the poet described his escape from an Epping lunatic asylum and 95-mile walk home). They are also superb athletes, comparable to Britain's best road and track runners. Fell-running is an untelegenic sport populated by modest, tight-lipped stoics, otherwise more of us might realise this for ourselves.

Askwith is honest enough to admit that the tight-knit nature of the fell-running community has hobbled as much as strengthened it. The zealous application of the "amateur" ethos in the 1970s and 1980s nearly destroyed fell-racing, the history of which began with races for small cash prizes in the 19th century. Today, there is a minority which appears to resent that the records are being broken not by Cumbrian shepherds but by the likes of Mark McDermott, an IT worker from Cheshire. Modern fell-racing faces other problems: the typical fell-runner is, on average, getting older and race organisers are falling foul of spiralling race insurance costs (despite the fact that as few as six people have died in the past 70 years of organised fell races).

There is an undeniable nostalgia here for an ageing generation of rural Britain, epitomised by its great fell runners, many of whom have never moved more than a few miles from the villages in which they were born. But perhaps the sport is changing rather than dying - a book as entertaining as this, and by an "off-comer" such as Askwith, is surely a positive sign. You're left in no doubt as to the pleasures of running up and down mountains: "If you're not cold, or wet, or lost, or exhausted, or bruised by rocks or covered in mud, you're not really experiencing the mountains properly. You need to feel it, to interact with it; to be in it, not just looking from the outside. You need to lose yourself - for it is then that you are most human."

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas