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Traceless – Exploring the spirit of fell running

Traceless – Exploring the spirit of fell running By Geoff Cox and Heather Dawe This charming little book became a tiny bit more magical because we read one of each of its twelve chapters on each of the days of Christmas. Traceless is not just a book about the sport of fell running. The skeletal theme is the Gerry Charnley Round, a long distance route in the English Lake District, but in a slim volume Traceless provides an interesting confection of prose, poetry and artwork. Most people remember where they were when they heard that about the death of Princess Diana, and older people might even remember the death of President Kennedy. Psychologists call these events flashbulb memories. For me the name ‘Gerry Charnley’ ignites one of these vivid memories. I was at the Kendall Mountain Festival and I watched Geoff Cox’s excellent film Trailpike Rake. There are three long distance fell running challenges included in the film. The legendary Bob Graham Round, which I understood was for fell running Gods or whippets in human form. The lesser known Joss Naylor Challenge, which was for ageing Gods and human whippets who were approaching retirement from top flight fell running. And, then there was this other route called the Gerry Charnley Round. At 38 miles the Gerry Charnley Round is a bit shorter than the other two rounds. I pondered… Would an ordinary mortal fella like me stand a chance of completing the Gerry Charnley Round? By the end of the film I was mesmerized. Two days later I was back in the cinema at the second screening. Someone suggested watching the film with your eyes shut to avoid visual distraction. I closed my eyes and let the poetry of the script, and the rhythm of the three runs, wash over me. I was transported back to my boyhood. I had opened a birthday card from a kindly old uncle that contained a postal order. But was I going to cash in this gift? The Gerry Charnley Round slid its way onto my tick list. The next summer, as Ringo would say, with a little help from my friends I completed the Gerry Charnley Round. Traceless takes its inspiration from the Gerry Charnley Round and its journey over the Lakeland fells. Although he was a prolific fell runner, orienteer and climber, Gerry Charnley is little remembered. He founded the Karrimor International Mountain Marathon (KIMM), a forerunner to contemporary adventure races, which has evolved into the current Original Mountain Marathon (OMM). Gerry died tragically in his early fifties, and in commemoration his friends established the round. Through a combination of text, verse and artwork Traceless takes the reader on a parallel journey along the route. The short chapters usually led to us pouring over the excellent 1:40,000 Harvey Map of the route. Forefingers tracing descents from checkpoints into valleys and across becks. The concept of Tracelessness runs through the text. We are increasingly aware of the importance of reducing impact, and the especially urgent requirement to decrease carbon emissions. The British elite runner Damian Hall recently broke the record for the Welsh Paddy Buckley Round in an environmentally-friendly fashion. In addition to stimulating our thinking about the ethics of traceless movement in the mountains, the book also prompts us to think about the less obvious trace left by our digital footprints. As a book Traceless is a quite beautiful artefact. I often joke that “a hillwalking map or guidebook that is falling apart is usually owned by someone who isn’t”. Many of my guidebooks are shabby, and have pages folded over, sections underlined and notes written in the margins. But Traceless seems too attractive a book to be scribbled in. My advice to anyone planning a Gerry Charnley Round would be to buy two copies. Like handkerchiefs in your suit jacket have ‘one for show and another for blow’. Vernon Gayle January 2021

Reviewed by Vernon Gayle on Jan. 7, 2021, 10:08 a.m. | Permalink

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