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
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
‘The Late Late Show’ presenter James Corden is joined by Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks for his first night as host
Arts and Entertainment
Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and Blackberry Wine, wrote a blog post attacking the app and questioning its apparent 'strong Christian bias'
Arts and Entertainment
Leading light: Sharma in London

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
Brooke Magnanti believes her reputation has been damaged by the claim
Arts and Entertainment
A large fire has broken out in London's historic Battersea Arts Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Orla Brady as Anne Meredith, MyAnna Buring as Elizabeth Quinn and Joanna Vanderham as Katherine McVitie in Banished
tvReview: Despite the gritty setting, this drama is as fluffy and soppy as a soap opera
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and co-director Richard Glatzer, standing, on the set during the filming of ‘Still Alice’ in New York
Arts and Entertainment
Great British Sewing Bee finalist Matt Chapple
tvReview: He wowed the judges with an avant garde dress
Arts and Entertainment
Driven to the edge: 'Top Gear' producer Oisin Tymon is said to have had a row with Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Nazi officer Matthias Schoenaerts embarks on an affair with married French woman Michelle Williams in 'Suite Francaise'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Prime movers: Caitriona Balfe (centre) and the cast of Outlander
Feasting with panthers: Keynes
Arts and Entertainment
Strung out: Mumford & Sons
Arts and Entertainment
Avant-garde: Bjork
Arts and Entertainment
Despite a decade of reform, prosecutions and convictions of rape has remained consistently low
arts + entsAcademic and author Joanna Bourke in warning to arts world
Arts and Entertainment
Electro Velvet, made up of Alex Larke and Bianca Nicholas, will represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
    Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

    Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

    A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
    Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

    Election 2015

    Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May