Tributes for hero of the fells, found dead in a peat bog


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The Independent Online

The rescuers paused to pay their respects to the man they had found submerged in a peat bog on the remote Trough of Bowland last weekend. It is an honour afforded to all those that perish out on the wild Lancashire fell sides.

Yet few among the recovery party could have realised that the remains, discovered the previous day but thought to have lain undiscovered for up to three weeks, belonged to one of the legends of the British sporting outdoors. Yesterday it was confirmed that the dead man was Bill Smith, a pioneer of modern fell running and author of one of the sport's definitive works, Stud Marks on the Summits. Lavish tributes were paid to the veteran athlete who, aged 75, is believed to have fallen as he ran across Saddle Fell.

Graham Breeze, chairman of the Fell Running Association, said: "Fell runners come and go, champions come and go, but no-one will ever be as important to the development and history of fell running."

In one particular feat of endurance in 1975, he completed 55 peaks in 24 hours. The following year he scaled 63 peaks in 23 hours and 55 minutes.

Peat bogs remain a potent menace to all runners and walkers. Although they are among the most endangered and sensitive landscapes in Britain, they are a common site in northern uplands.

To the unassuming eye they appear to be solid ground but are in fact little more than a veneer of soil floating on often ice-cold water. Survival experts recommend slow movements or a wide swimming action, but panic can cause those that get stuck to sink deeper, eventually making it impossible to escape.

Despite his towering reputation within the sport, Mr Smith, who lived alone in Liverpool, was described as a "staggeringly modest and unassuming man" who used to travel by public transport to the often remote events.

Racegoers had become concerned when he failed to turn up to marshall at the Thieveley Pike race near Burnley in September. His body was discovered on Saturday by a lone walker. The area was remote with no mobile phone signal and it took him several hours of hiking before he could raise the alarm.

Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue Team decided to return the following day in the light and the body was recovered by police helicopter after a five-hour operation.

Stud Marks on the Summits sold out completely when published in 1986, but continues to change hands for more than £100 on the internet.

Commonwealth gold medal-winning long distance runner Ron Hill described Mr Smith's book as a "bible" for future generations. "Bill was an extremely retiring sort of person," he said, "but he was always willing to help and made a real contribution to the sport."