In 2003 Fellsman stalwart John Dally submitted the following article for the handbook of the 41st Fellsman; an honest and amusing insight into Fellsman practices of old…
Before the start of last year’s Fellsman [the 40th in 2002], a cheer went up when it was announced that the rumour being spread that this was going to be the last one was totally unfounded and that the Hike would continue as long as we walkers kept coming to it. Anyone who heard that cheer would have known that the Fellsman is not just any walk, it is something special.
I have taken part in every Fellsman since 1976, completing 25 out of the 26. Some years it has been the only walk I have done in the entire year and yet there is no way I would miss it. To me it is not just a walk, it is a chance to meet up with friends from previous Hikes and exchange news and discuss the latest theories on how to tame this monster of a walk. Since my first Fellsman the route has remained basically unaltered apart from the finish from Capplestone Gate and now having to summit Blea Moor.
The Ingleton kit check is another time honoured ritual and was a lot stricter 20 years ago. If you think you have problems today, you should have been there standing eyeball to eyeball – trying not to blink – with someone who insisted your trousers were not thick enough and your non- breathable nylon waterproofs not waterproof or colourful enough. It also seemed that boots (no trainers then) had to have at least half-inch deep treads and shouldn’t be scuffed. Somehow though, all was resolved without resorting to lawyers and everyone managed to get to the start.
I remember one year when walkers who’s waterproofs were deemed by the powers to be not bright enough, had to suffer the indignity of high visibility go-faster stripes being stuck on them. Another time plastic studs were fixed to walking trousers to denote if they were up substantial enough. One stud signified they were ok and two meant that you had to wear your waterproofs over them during the night. It took a microsecond for us to realise that to avoid this indignity and discomfort, all one had to do was cut off one of the studs. The Hike Committee hadn’t thought of that one.
Navigation on Middle Tongue at night was always a fun time. It has, without doubt, become easier as nowadays the boundary fence leads all the way up to and beyond the checkpoint. Old timers will well remember the many happy hours spent up there among the peat groughs, chasing what appeared to be a moveable checkpoint and the calm discussions spent trying to ascertain just where they had gone wrong. Many’s the group, when walking on a dead reckoning from the finger stone, that sailed merrily past the checkpoint in the mist before turning back to try again. Personally, I always used the channel approach to Middle Tongue and only once had any real difficulty in locating it – but what fun it was.
The best comment I ever heard on any walk was at Cray when a particularly bedraggled group staggered in claiming they’d have been better off with Moses leading them.
There is nothing like a Fellsman checkpoint in the dark, cold and often wet early hours. It can sometime seem like a scene from the First World War trenches with peat spattered bodies strewn all over the tent, tending to their wounds and trying to find something they can eat and keep down. All it needs is for the checkpoint officer to whip out a harmonica and play a few bars of ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ to complete the scene.
Compare these dishevelled survivors to the horde of happy little bunnies that set out bright eyed and bushy tailed from Ingleton the previous day. Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow comes to mind. The overriding feeling, however, has always been one of everyone being in the same mess together and good (often black) humour abounds. There is no doubt that everyone connected with the Fellsman, both organisers and walkers, do everything they can to encourage everyone to finish.
In some years I have had little difficulty in finishing. In others I have come so close to saying enough is enough that it has only been the encouragement of others that has kept me going. Three years ago I was having a particularly rough time coming off Middle Tongue and was seriously contemplating dropping out at Cray as I didn’t think I would reach Park Rash before the cut-off. However, my companions jeopardised their own chances and insisted I carry on and we made Park rash with two minutes to spare. I recovered, and in the end, finished quite comfortably.
Why keep doing it? Easy – the Fellsman is never the same from one year to the next and every year there are fresh challenges to be overcome and new friends to be made. Some said that the 2001 Fellsman was a pussycat compared to the previous three. Was it? Try telling that to those who came down with heat stroke in the early stages of the walk.
Having said that, time marches on and I know that I have fewer Fellsmans in front of me than behind me. My target is to enter and finish the 50th Fellsman. For my part I need to keep both my fitness and insanity in order to achieve this. I also need all of you reading this (and any friends you can con into it) to keep turning up year after year to keep this wonderfully masochistic ramble in the Yorkshire Dales on the go. Otherwise, I and my daughter’s grandmother knitted Brownie doll will have no choice other than to step down to the LDWA 100. Watch the letter pages in a future issue of Strider for the furore that comment will cause.
Oh yes! Sarah E Tinker. She is the young lady who at Fleet Moss in 1976, when many in our group decided we hadn’t enough time to make Cray, decided she was going to finish the Fellsman come Hell or high water. She set of for Cray with me and a friend in tow at a rate of knots which I have never been able to achieve since and it is purely down to her that I finished my first Fellsman, thus starting my yearly pilgrimage. If anyone out there knows where she is, I’d love to hear she’s well.
See you all in Ingleton
John Dally (Hiker 47)