Obituary: Sid Cross

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The Independent Online
SID CROSS was a pioneer of Lakeland mountain rescue and the much- loved proprietor for more than 20 years of the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel, in Langdale.

He was born in Kendal in 1913 and discovered rock climbing at 14, during a Sunday school outing to Langdale. For his first big climb, the intimidating pinnacle of Napes Needle, on Great Gable, he borrowed a length of old coffin rope and wore rubber galoshes.

Later, having left school at the age of 14, he trained as a cobbler and made his own more appropriate footwear. When he joined K Shoes he tried to interest the company in manufacturing a modern mountaineering boot to compete with French and Italian imports, but although his boss, Lesley Somerville, was the brother of the famous Everester Howard Somerville, the idea was rejected. However, Cross's entrepreneurial spirit soon found an outlet when he left the company in 1945 to buy a dilapidated hotel in Eskdale.

His business partners were all fellow climbers - Albert and Ruth Hargreaves and his own wife, Jammy, whom he had met at K Shoes. Together they renovated the building and named it the Burnmoor Inn. Once open it was popular with walkers and climbers and appeared in the first edition of the Good Food Guide published in 1951. Building on that success, in 1949 the Crosses also took over the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel where as a teenager Sid had helped out in the kitchen.

During the Thirties Sid Cross was near the forefront of Lakeland rock climbing and his finest achievement was probably the first ascent, with Maurice Linnell, of Great Eastern on Scafell - a bold climb on a very steep piece of rock. Equally bold was Jammy Cross's first female ascent of Central Buttres - in those days a formidable challenge climbed by few. The hotel business put an end to free weekends and limited Lakeland climbing to occasional snatched afternoon outings. However, the Crosses managed to get away in the off-season and most years they visited the Alps for ski touring.

In 1949 there was no official rescue service to cover the mountains around Langdale. Sid Cross, a natural leader, organised the volunteers into a team, based at the Old Dungeon Ghyll, or ODG, as the hotel is still known. To this day, Britain's highly effective mountain rescue service remains voluntary. With advanced navigation equipment and RAF helicopter support, it is now much more sophisticated, but the whole ethos owes much to the pioneering work of people like Cross, who had to improvise with very rudimentary equipment.

After the Langdale team amalgamated with Ambleside in 1969, Cross remained president of the Langdale/Ambleside team almost until his death. He was also the first president of Sarda, the search and rescue dog organisation, and, from 1954, a committee member of the new Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme, under Sir John Hunt, who would frequently bring visiting dignitaries to stay at the ODG. Whether it was in the barn he converted into a climber's bar, or the more salubrious resident's bar, Cross could hold his own with anyone. The Rev Graham Hartley, who first visited the ODG in 1950, recalls: "It became a bad habit to stay with Sid; such was the atmosphere of the place that you kept going back. He was a superb raconteur and he always kept us entertained after dinner. You also tended to get involved in rescues. He was looked upon very much as the elder statesman in Langdale. When I was appointed vicar, one of the churchwardens was a bit suspicious - I was appointed by a bishop, but apparently that wasn't good enough for Langdale. So the churchwarden asked Sid if he knew a parson called Hartley. 'Aye.' 'Is he all right?' 'Aye.' So I got the job."

Dinner at the ODG was frequently interrupted by rescue calls. On one occasion Cross was summoned to help a foreign woman reputedly about to give birth at the top of Rossett Ghyll. After a brief telephone consultation with the doctor, he set off up the hill. Later that night, when asked how he had managed, he replied in his broad Westmorland, "Piece of cake." In fact the woman had not even been pregnant - just suffering from an upset stomach and unable to make herself understood.

After retirement in 1970, Sid and Jammy Cross continued to live in Langdale, amongst the hills they loved so much and where they shared 58 years of married life.

Sidney Harold Cross, climber, mountain rescue leader and hotelier: born Kendal, Westmorland 18 March 1913; married 1940 Jammy Nelson (two sons); died Kendal, Cumbria 31 March 1998.