Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 13th May 2019

IT was one of the most dramatic incidents I’ve covered in my long years as a reporter — and furthermore I had a bird’s eye view as events unfolded on one otherwise quiet midweek afternoon on the outskirts of Keswick.

Living just yards from the massive A66 viaduct on the northern edge of town, I was used to the constant background rumble of traffic passing over the bridge. But this particular day all went eerily quiet. I was doing some writing at home when the realisation struck me that traffic had completely stopped on the Greta viaduct and was being diverted along the old main road into Keswick.

Eventually I wandered off up the garden to take a look and what I saw shocked me. A man had climbed over the perimeter fence and was sitting on the narrow concrete parapet, legs dangling over a drop of several hundred feet. The police were keeping a respectful distance and had closed the road to traffic in both directions.

Nothing much happened in the next hour. The man retained his perilous perch and the fear must have been that, even if he didn’t voluntarily jump off, there was every chance he could accidentally fall.

But then along came a lone bobby, inching his way towards the obviously troubled person on the bridge. He managed to engage him in conversation, somehow winning his confidence, before climbing over the fence to join the person on the ledge where both sat for some time talking it over.

The police officer eventually persuaded the chap to climb back to safety, but it had been heart in mouth stuff and one could only accord the PC massive credit for his brave intervention. Interviewing him at the police station the following day he was more concerned for the welfare of the man he’d brought back from the brink than wishing to bump up the importance of his own actions.

That PC was Andrew Slattery, who was last week appointed the Cumbria force’s new assistant chief constable, a post he had held temporarily for the past year. Andrew, an ex-Keswick School student, has, as a detective, served in every rank, and has been involved in many of the biggest crime investigations in the county.

I remember him treading the streets of Keswick as a constable. It’s a welcome development to see our county force looking to its own for one of the top jobs and appointing someone with invaluable local knowledge who has been through the whole gamut of policing and has not just pitched up with a degree and a fast-track promotion with no real insight into the traditions and requirements of policing for the public.

There’s little doubt that the general public has lost some faith in the police, largely because we see so much less of them these days. The police stations, a valued focal point for local residents, have closed and, while we have to accept that the role of the police is rapidly changing as crime becomes more technology-orientated, vital personal contact has definitely been lost. As one of the small number of forces rated “good” by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate, it’s to be hoped that Cumbria never forgets the people it’s there to serve. At least it seems to be appointing the right people to ensure that happens.

MEMORIES OF A TRUE LEGEND

A LEGEND, a man you’ve looked up to as one of the greats of the sport, shuffles up alongside you at the start line and says “how do, not a bad day for it”. On another day you’ve finished a long distance race several hours behind the winner, but he wanders across as you are about to collapse in a heap on the grass and inquires if you have beaten your personal best time.

These are some of the reasons why I took up the painful sport of long distance fell running. It was men like Alan Heaton and Joss Naylor, in the early 1960s, who inspired me with their humility and their remarkable record-breaking feats.

Alan Heaton has died, aged 90. How much his name means today to the present breed of runners I can’t say. We are easily forgotten in this life. But back in the day he was the pioneer, along with a few other men like his brother Ken and Eric Beard, who began challenging the Lake District mountain running records.

The day I lined up for the Three Peaks race, Heaton, a smallish, unprepossessing dark haired middle-aged man, appeared beside me at the start. He was wearing what looked like a completely home-made set of kit, from a cut-down plastic mac to a pair of pumps. It was one of his 38 appearances in that event. He ran Ben Nevis another 30 times. He held the Lakeland fell summits record, but seeing this quiet, ordinary-looking man in the street you would never have guessed this was one of the true legends of his sport.

The first criteria for Lake District records were laid down in 1904 by Dr A. W. Wakefield who said the aim was to ascend as many peaks over 2,000ft as possible in 24 hours, while finishing at the same place you started.

Keswick guesthouse owner Bob Graham devised a plan in 1932, got a few pals together to help him, and ran and walked 42 peaks in just under 24 hours, starting and finishing at the Moot Hall. It wasn’t until 1960 that Alan Heaton came along and beat Graham’s time. Between 1962 and 1965 Heaton increased the number of summits to 60 before, in 1971, Joss Naylor raised the record even further.

Nowadays young tyros nip round Bob Graham’s route before breakfast, but Heaton’s records were the four-minute mile of fell running in their time. In 1985, just days before his 57th birthday, he ran all 214 of Wainwright’s summits, 320 miles and 120,000ft of ascent, in nine days, 16hrs and 42mins. Included was a visit to Keswick hospital with a foot injury along the way. He was annoyed that it cost him valuable time, but never thought of quitting.

Heaton was still running a little in his 70s and 80s. Sadly he had Alzheimer’s in his latter years. Local fell running clubs are booming these days. Many have followed in the footsteps of pioneers like Alan, the quiet man who only came alive when the talk was about running. A worthy legacy.

STARDUST SPRINKLED ON THE TILLS

I ENCOUNTERED Amanda Holden in the Penrith M&S food store last week. Ant and Dec were on the till next door and I’m told they sometimes have Alesha Dixon advising customers.

It seems extraordinary to me that Marks has lobbed out a reported £100 grand to each of the celebs just to record a 14-second message. Most customers when I was in seemed oblivious to the disembodied voices of the Britain’s Got Talent stars.

Nice work if you can get it, especially when it works out at £7,142 a second. M&S is sponsoring this year’s TV talent show. But it makes no difference to where or how frequently I shop and I’m sure most people feel the same, so I would prefer the company to forget the celebrity voice-overs and the inflated fees it has paid for a morning in the recording studio and just knock a few bob off my bill.

That’s unless they can guarantee me the real Amanda Holden and not just a sexy voice.

GOOD HEALTH

THERE is no amoebic dysentery rife in the Lake District, and “you can’t catch malaria in Keswick”. Who says? Judge Rinder, that’s who. I’m not too sure of the context, but it was one of his flamboyantly extravagant comments during a case heard recently on his afternoon TV show, the one where he devotes his wisdom and legal knowledge to resolving various trivial arguments.

I’m sure Cumbria Tourism is already adding these incontrovertible facts to its 2019 brochure. Even Wainwright never gave us such important information. But with climate change, who is to say we won’t be seeing tropical diseases in Britain in the not so distant future?

HOSTEL GOES POSH

YOU could pop in for a cuppa if you were passing. Fell runners especially welcome at possibly the finest hostel — barely that really, more a bothy — in the Youth Hostels’ Association’s firmament.

But even Black Sail in Ennerdale has gone posh now. The Sunday Times holiday supplement tells readers facilities may be basic, and you can forget a mobile phone signal, but a week’s break for 16 will set you back £2,793. Exclusive hire. I don’t suppose the kettle’s on for passing runners.