LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

Feet in the Clouds: a Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession


by Richard Askwith.

Richard Askwith introduces us to not only fell running, but also fell runners, fell races and long-distance challenges, and the remarkable story of fell-running history – all interwoven with details of the contemporary fell-running year as it passes month by month. Also interwoven is Askwith’s struggle, to complete the 72-miles and 48-peaks of the Bob Graham Round (of Lakeland fells) in under 24h, much of which is in his head.

He tells us about Ernest Dalzell, whose 12m 59.8s record in the Burnsall race stood for 67 years (including the detail that Dalzell’s 900′ descent took only 2m 42s). He tells us about Kenny Stuart, Bill Teasdale, Billy Bland, and Joss Naylor, and a whole host of other remarkable people who consider themselves anything but remarkable. This includes Helen Diamantides who, together with Martin Stone, won the 5-day 220-mile Dragon’s Back race in a running time of 38h 38m beating an elite field of other ultra long-distance teams (many of which dropped out). There are many more stories like this, astonishing and inspiring in equal measure.

The book is full times and records and placings, both contemporary and historical, but Askwith draws in his readers so deeply – enveloping us in the lives of these runners – that these are details you come to care about. But he also manages to impart fell runners’ love of the mountains and their support of each other, as well as the sport’s acknowledgement of danger (he talks a lot about pain), and the individual need to accept personal responsibility. 

I loved this book – at times it brought goosebumps to my arms and tears to my eyes (and not because of cramp). An easy 5 stars.


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