“It’s not my record, it’s our record”

I recently blogged about my experiences of a long-weekend tour of 3 classic fell races – Burnsall, Grasmere and Kilnsey. To follow this up, I wanted to make some observations about something I have zero personal experience of, namely the record-breaking, elite end of fellrunning.

Take a look at the current records for these 3 famous races, plus a fourth, the Ben Nevis race, which always takes place at the end of the same week:

  Record-holder Year Time Record-holder Year Time
Burnsall Victoria Wilkinson 2018 15.58 John Wild 1983 12.48
Grasmere Victoria Wilkinson 2017 15.05 Fred Reeves* 1978 12.21
Kilnsey Victoria Wilkinson 2017 9.39 Mick Hawkins 1982 7.35
Ben Nevis Victoria Wilkinson 2018 1.43.01 Kenny Stuart** 1984 1.25.34

* Kenny Stuart ran 12.01 over the same course in a separate race in 1985

** John Wild ran Ben Nevis 1 second slower – 1.25.35 – in 1983

Two obvious things stand out from the table. Firstly, Victoria’s performances over the last year or two have been pretty extraordinary, and many congratulations to her. She is giving the strong impression of being a “once in a generation” athlete, with a couple of the records (Burnsall and Ben Nevis) having previously dated to the 1980s. It’s a great privilege to stand on the same start line as her (before seeing her disappear rapidly into the distance).

By comparison, the Male records remain stuck in that whole previous era of fellrunning. Why is that? Is it because there just hasn’t been a male “Vic” in the intervening period? Or are fellrunners generally not as focused on these races as once before? Or was there something in the water in the late ’70s/early ’80s? Or something else?

Fortunately (as many will already know), there’s a good book to hand that takes an in-depth look at the top-end of male fellrunning in this period. Steve Chilton’s “Running Hard – the story of a rivalry” focuses on the intense (but friendly) competition between John Wild and Kenny Stuart in the 1983 season. The names Wild and Stuart feature strongly in my table above. The strong implication reading the book is that there was something special about that period, and that perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that so many records date from it. A combination of exceptional athletes, bringing the best out of each other, in a focused race timetable. I also referred to the daredevil descents in my previous blog, and Wild – a former Commonwealth Games steeplechaser – reveals that he hurdled the famous wall at Burnsall. Mind boggling!

No doubt the 1983 fellrunning season passed most people by at the time, so over the last year or so it’s been great to see “Running Hard” on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. It’s certainly a tale worth telling, and like Steve’s previous books, it’s one all fellrunners will want to read. Get hold of a copy here

DSC04462The importance of “friendly rivalry” is emphasised by the well-known story behind one of the other records in the table, Fred Reeves’ Grasmere record. Prior to his 1978 time was a decade of incremental improvements by himself and his friend/rival Tommy Sedgwick. Indeed, the quote attributed to Fred – “It’s not my record, it’s our record” remains my favourite sporting quote, demonstrating as it does the gratitude we should show to our close rivals for bringing the best out of us, rather than any bitterness or resentment. Which only makes Victoria’s recent exploits seem the more remarkable, as she’s set her records without an obvious rival pushing her all the way.

Meanwhile, as they say, “records are made to be broken”, and – following Victoria’s example – it would be great to see some of the male records go the same way in the next few years. I’ll still be just coming round the cairn as you guys cross the line, of course….

Stac Pollaidh

One of Scotland’s most renowned mountains is Stac Pollaidh (often Anglicised to Stac Polly), located in Assynt, around 70 miles north-west of Inverness. Famous for its extraordinary rock scenery, it is easily accessible, being relatively low in height (just over 2000ft) and close to a public road. Having visited for the first time last week, I felt it was worth sharing my impressions – this is a treat not be missed but, saying that, not without its obvious risks.

Driving north from the small town of Ullapool, after about 10 miles Stac Pollaidh first becomes visible to the west, its unique fin-like shape irresistibly drawing the eye:DSC04451Turning left on a side road, an additional 5-mile drive brings you to the car park at the foot of the mountain (note there’s only room for about 10 cars so on busy days you might want to try and arrive early). From here you get a better impression of the challenge ahead: DSC04444The first objective is the low point on the ridge, about three quarters along to the right. In days gone by, you took a beeline to it from the car park, but heavy erosion of the path (on a mountain that nature is rapidly eroding anyway) led to the construction of a sensible alternative. So now, the path circuits the mountain, and you arrive on the ridge from the rear. I chose to travel anti-clockwise, ie climbing to the right of the photo. (Later – while it was satisfying to complete the circuit – I found the descent route to be pretty boggy by comparison; thus you might consider climbing and returning on the same, drier, route).

The climb to the ridge provides no technical difficulties and moderately fit walkers should be able to do it in an hour or so (you also get the bonus of fantastic views over miles of wild Assynt landscape). However, from this point on things become rather different. The situation is tremendous, with the mountain plummeting away almost sheer from your feet. And all around, bizarre rock towers and pinnacles overwhelm the senses. Many will feel that at this point they will have come far enough. DSC04448.JPGBraver souls may consider a traverse west along the ridge. Well, the reward is increasingly improbable outcrops of sandstone, sculpted into precariously-balanced pillars, and increasingly sensational situations, with severe levels of exposure:

DSC04445DSC04446The flip side is that at several points progress is impossible without a very good head for heights, and the ability to climb and circumvent various rocky obstacles. Having managed to scramble up a steep gully, and then skirt an awkward jutting-out rock, I baulked at “the crux” of the ridge – a 10ft rock tower with a sheer drop of 2000ft on either side. That would have been a step too far for me.

Overall then, Stac Pollaidh provides a pretty stark example of the balance between interest and risk that comes with mountain exploration. Proceed along the ridge with caution, and know your reasonable limits. Reports of a recent fatality on the mountain only underline this point.  Incidentally, I was travelling pretty lightweight, in fellrunning shoes and with a light pack, and this helped on the scrambling sections.

Coming home, I found this spectacular drone footage of the mountain, which says it all really. Blimey, did I really go up there?

Tackling waste with Revive Leeds

After 5 months I’ve just finished working at the Revive Leeds re-use shop in Seacroft, and I wanted to pay credit to the work of this organisation, operating as it does – in my view – in very challenging circumstances.

Back in 2011, Leeds City Council refurbished the Seacroft Tip – rebranding it the East Leeds Household Waste Sorting Site – and as part of the refurbishment included the shell of a dedicated re-use shop. It then let a contract to find a third sector organisation to operate the shop. In response to this, 3 local charities – SLATE, St Vincent’s and Emmaus – jointly created a dedicated trading company with social aims, Revive Leeds CIC, and made a successful bid. In 2016, Revive won a similar contract at the refurbished Kirkstall waste site. With Emmaus pulling out shortly after, Revive now operates the 2 shops at Seacroft and Kirkstall, with any trading surplus divided equally between SLATE and St Vincent’s.

At both Seacroft and Kirkstall there is a dedicated car park with a Donations Point where the general public can drop off items directly at the shop. A wide range of items are accepted – furniture, electrical items, clothes, bric a brac, books, CDs/DVDs and more:


Donations Point at Seacroft

My role at Seacroft, however, has been to complement the Donations Point by intercepting any re-usable items brought to the adjoining waste site, then transporting them to the shop.  This has involved working closely with Council staff at the waste site, which became a key part of my job.


Another load of re-usable items intercepted at the waste site ready to be transported to the shop

Items brought to the shop by these 2 methods are then assessed, with those deemed suitable for re-sale going on the shop floor, and the remaining items disposed of in the most suitable skip at the waste site.

It’s worth highlighting the many benefits that arise from Revive’s work:

  • It is estimated that Revive diverts from disposal over 500 tonnes of items brought to the 2 waste sites per annum
  • It provides a convenient service for members of the public wishing to donate items for re-use. Where else in Leeds can you park so close and drop off such a wide range of items?
  • Numerous volunteering and employment opportunities are created.
  • Goods are made available for sale to the public at low cost.
  • Revive divides its tradings surplus equally between 2 local charities.

I feel it is also worth highlighting that these benefits arise despite Revive operating in a particularly challenging environment. Firstly, it is an entirely commercial environment, with Revive seeking to realise the greatest possible value from its stock in order to maximise the surplus for the 2 charities. All other costs, including rent and other charges to the Council, plus its own staffing costs, have to be covered first.

Secondly, the volume of donations is simply overwhelming. You give the general public the chance to easily get rid of stuff and they will bring it to you. But there is only limited space for it all to go, only a limited number of staff to deal with it all. Although Revive advertises a list of items it can’t accept (eg printers), there is still an overriding expectation from the public that Revive will accept pretty much anything. Some of the most difficult moments I found working there were telling people that we couldn’t accept their item – whether it was in good condition or not – simply on the grounds that it wouldn’t sell in the shop. No one wants to buy a plastic Christmas Tree in July, for example.

Sadly, and rather ironically, one of the symptoms of all this is that a regrettably large amount of perfectly re-usable, but lower value, items have to be disposed of. But somewhere like Revive can only do so much to address society’s ills. Perhaps one of Revive’s major, but unrecognised, benefits is that it does at least make people think twice about what they’re getting rid of, and what new stuff they’re buying in the first place. Ultimately, the responsibility for the amount of household waste out there falls on us, the consumer (and thus producers of waste), rather than the organisations that have to deal with it.

I am grateful to Revive Leeds for the opportunity to have worked for them, and spare a thought for my ex-colleagues who in the most part retain their good humour in the face of constant pressure. They provide a valuable service to residents of Leeds – shop customers and donators of items alike. Best of luck to Revive for the future.