Occasional Limericks Only #49

King Of The Fells

During my youth and early adulthood, five names stood out in the pantheon of Cumbrian fell runners. Kenny Stuart and Billy Bland were certainly renowned, but the three that captivated me were Tommy Sedgwick, Fred Reeves and the ‘king’ of the fells, Joss Naylor.

Sedgwick and Reeves were renowned for their battles in the Grasmere Senior Guides race and their hair-raising descents of precipitous hillsides in those shorter disciplines. Throughout the 1970s, Sedgwick and Reeves had a terrific rivalry notwithstanding a strong friendship.

In 1976 Sedgwick set the Grasmere record of 12 minutes and 24 seconds over the 1.2 mile course, including an ascent of 870 feet (it was Sedgwick’s descents that saw him described as ‘brainless and brakeless”). Reeves broke the record two years later in a time of 12 minutes and 21 seconds; a record that still stands. I wonder if it was their rivalry that pushed them to such performances. Incidentally, Reeves also holds an unbroken record for the Ambleside Senior Guides race set in 1976. This will never be bettered as course changes circa 2016 resulted in a slightly longer course.

Such relative ‘sprints’ were not the forte of Joss Naylor. He was an out and out endurance man. A hill farmer based in Wasdale, Naylor’s achievements almost defy belief.

Descending screes in Wales. Picture taken from Keith Richardson’s biography, ‘Joss’, an oil painting by Jonathon Trotman based on a photograph by John Cleare.
According to Wikipedia, he felt his greatest achievement was his 1975 Lakeland circuit comprising “72 peaks, claimed to involve over 100 miles and about 38,000 feet of ascent in 23 hours and 29 minutes”. (Actually the distance covered was 108 miles). Chris Brasher who paced Roger Bannister to break the four minute mile barrier, who won gold in the 1956 Olympic 3000 metres steeple chase and who co-founded the London Marathon, agreed, calling Naylor “The greatest of them all”.

Naylor did not train according to the ‘scientific’, nutritional and spreadsheet methods of those who subsequently broke his records (and who often awaited optimal weather conditions). Naylor just ran. He ran with support, but only of the basic kind. Aged 70 he completed a Lakeland circuit of 70 peaks over 50 miles ascending more than 25,000 feet in less than 21 hours. Astonishing!

Sadly, Naylor has just died at the age of 88. Here’s my limerick-as-eulogy…

From Wasdale’s abrupt mountainside
And the peaks that he’d take in his stride,
O’er the hush of the fells
Rang the peal of the bells
On the day that Joss Naylor died.

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😎 Former scientist, now graduated to a life of leisure; Family man (which may surprise the family - it certainly surprises him); Likes cycling and old-fashioned B&W film photography; Dislikes greasy-pole-climbing 'yes men'; Thinks Afterlife (previously known as Thea Gilmore) should be much better known than she is; Values decency over achievement.

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