When and where fell racing began is unknown, but as early as 1850 it was taking place at Grasmere. The participants ran up a hillside to a flag on the summit of the fell, then returned as fast as they could to the starting point where the winner was greeted by a band playing ‘See the conquering hero.’
Today fell races are a popular sport in many parts of Cumbria. Borrowdale's 17-mile race is a challenging example. It involves 6500 feet of climbing with checkpoints located at Bessy Boot, Esk Hause, Scafell Pike, Great Gable, Honister, and Dale Head. Ambleside is another popular venue for this sport. The three-mile Latrigg race starts at Keswick.
Anyone with the stamina to stay the course can participate. Traditionally farmers, farm workers and shepherds were involved. Now women take part as well.
The Fell Runners Association divides races into categories based on length and difficulty. Lengths are divided into 12 or more miles, between 6 and 12 miles, and under 6 miles. Difficulty is indicated by:
a. no less than 250 feet climb per mile, not more than 20% on roads, at least 1 mile in length
b. not less than 125 feet climb per mile, not more than 30% on roads
c. not less than 100 feet of climb per mile, not more than 40% on roads and contain genuine fell terrain.
For full details and a race schedule visit the Fell Runners Association website: www.fellrunner.org.uk
Another organization involved in racing is the Lake District Mountain Trial Association www.ldmta.org.uk . This race, the longest established event of it's kind in the UK, is run on orienteering principles and evolved from an event organised by the YHA in 1952.
Borrowdale Fell Runners began in 1991 and have won the senior men's British championship 7 times. Their website is located at www.borrowdalefellrunners.co.uk
The Cumberland Fell Runners Association run three races each year: Wasdale, Ennerdale and Scafell Pike.
Details are at www.cfra.co.uk
Photos courtesy of Brian Clarke
© 1997 The Cumbria Directory. Reproduction of this work in whole or in part, including images, and reproduction in electronic media, without documented permission from The Cumbria Directory is prohibited.