Date: Saturday 22nd March 2003

Death of legendary fell runner and stonemason

LEGENDARY fell runner Chris Bland was this week found dead in a car park in the Borrowdale Valley, near Keswick.

His body was discovered on Monday by two walkers at the car park near the well-known Bowderstone landmark.

An inquest, which opened in Whitehaven yesterday, was told that Mr. Bland, who was 62, was found hanging. He was identified by his wife, Sheila.

Chris Bland was one of the pioneers of Keswick Athletic Club and it was largely through his efforts, and the support of Borrowdale hotelier Miles Jessop, that the Borrowdale fell race, one of Cumbria’s most famous fell endurance events, was inaugurated 30 years ago.

Mr. Jessop was devastated by the news and said: “This is a real tragedy. Chris has done so much for so many people in the valley over the years. He always gave 110 per cent. of himself to help others and this is found in so few people nowadays.”

Mr. Jessop was cycling past the Bowderstone car park on Monday when he saw the police cars but had no idea the incident involved his own friend.

He added: “We not only set up the fell race together, but he also built the extension on my home in Grasmere and became a very close family friend. My heart goes out to all his family.”

Mr. Bland, who lived at Stonethwaite, was a keen sportsman in his younger days when he played cricket for Braithwaite and he took up fell running when the new Keswick Athletic Club became established.

It was the start of a remarkable family association with the traditional Lakeland sport because his brother, Anthony, and cousins, Billy, Stuart and David, all regularly appeared alongside him on entry sheets for the major events.

When he retired from the fell running scene, he became involved in orienteering.

Ross Brewster, who was chairman of Keswick AC when Mr. Bland first became involved with the sport, said: “We had some happy days on the fells.

“Chris was a great enthusiast and although it was the other members of the Bland clan who achieved the most success in competition, he always gave his best and was a genuine sportsman through and through.


“It was his dream to have a fell race in his native valley and I well remember how he arranged a meeting with Miles Jessop, who owned hotels in Borrowdale and Langdale, at which we formulated the idea for the Borrowdale race which has now become something of a classic on the events calendar.”

Mr. Bland attended Lairthwaite Secondary School in Keswick and his first job was in the stockroom of the town’s Woolworths store.

He cycled to work every day. He later left to work at Honister Quarry and, in the 1970s, set up his own business in the valley as a stonemason.

A talented craftsman, he built his own house at Stonethwaite and evidence of his skill can be seen all over the Borrowdale valley in the stone-faced properties and walls he built.

He was devoted to Borrowdale church, serving on the Parochial Church Council at various times and being a church warden for 20 years.

Mr. Bland was a great supporter of local people and understood some of the difficulties involved in obtaining housing and employment. He spoke articulately about these needs at planning inquiries. He was also a governor at Borrowdale School.

Villager Sam Hicks said: “He was a lovely man and so well-known in the valley through his running and his excellent work as a builder and a stonemason.

He also has the distinction of being one of the last people to be born actually in Borrowdale at the family home in Stonethwaite.”

A couple of years ago Mr. Bland recorded an interview for the BBC television program Songs of Praise, during which he spoke about his love of the Borrowdale area.

He and wife, Sheila, had been married for 30 years and, last March, they recalled travelling on the last train out of Keswick station prior to the closure of the railway link with Penrith on the day of their wedding and honeymoon.

Mr. Bland is survived by his wife; his daughter, Emma; and sons, Christopher, who is in the Army and is flying back from Cyprus, and Ben.

His funeral service is at Borrowdale Church on Monday at 11am, followed by burial in the churchyard.