Bill Smith: Lonely death of a modest giant of fell running

 

The rescuers paused for a few moments 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 all those that perish out on the wild Lancashire fell sides.

Yet few among the recovery party could have realised that the remains of the elderly man, 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 as the man who died in September on the Bowland fells."

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 to get out, but panic can cause those that get stuck to sink deeper, eventually making it impossible to escape without help.

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

In later years he used to photograph runners and help with organisation, and continued to train. Racegoers had become concerned when he failed to turn up to marshall at the Thieveley Pike race near Burnley in September.

Mr Smith's body was found on Saturday by a walker. The area was remote with no mobile phone signal and it took several hours of hiking before he could raise the alarm.

Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue Team returned the following day in the light. The body was eventually recovered by police helicopter after a five-hour operation. It was identified by his elderly sister who lives in Liverpool.

Mr Smith began running after a chance encounter with another legend of the sport, Stan Bradshaw, on the Todmorden Boundary Walk in 1971. Soon he was running up to 100 miles a week completing long-distance races, such as the Wasdale Horseshoe, and setting records.

Among the runners inspired by meeting him was Boff Whalley of the anarcho-punk band Chumbawamba, which recorded a song called "Stud Marks on the Summits". He said Mr Smith encapsulated the ethos of the sport – its emphasis on self-reliance and nature and its history.

Stud Marks on the Summits sold out when it was published in 1986, but continues to change hands for more than £100 on the internet. Commonwealth gold medal-winning long distance runner Ron Hill said Mr Smith's book was a "bible" for future generations.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee