On Pendle’s Big End

I don’t normally do people but I met someone yesterday climbing Pendle Hill in Lancashire with his grandson. Harry Walker was one of the stars of the sport of fell racing in the 70/80s and one of those I aspired to during my first tentative years in the sport.

We had left a sunny Yorkshire and crossed the border into a wet Lancashire so the young scion could do the Pendle Fell Race. Pendle Hill, in the heart of the Lancashire Witch country, is a huge domed 557m high fell which dominates the area when it is not shrouded in cloud. The Pendle Fell Race up it has a long history. The inaugural race was held in 1956 but in 1974 a new route was devised from the village of Barley. Although shorter at 4¾ miles it was a bit contrived to include an ascent via Pendle’s notorious Big End, 150 metres of climb in 250 metres, a gradient of over 30º. Bill Smith’s 1985 book “Stud Marks on the Summit” (pp299) gives a comprehensive history of the race.

It was appropriate that I met Harry climbing the Big End. The Blackburn Harrier had acquired the reputation of being able to keep running the whole way up. Some feat. Harry won the 1974 race in 30:29, a record which was to stand for seven years. Bill Smith records it as the first of seven victories. Considering yesterday’s winning time was 33 minutes Harry’s time was remarkable. Away from his home fell Harry’s achievements are endless. Wins in the Wasdale, Three Peaks, Ben Nevis to name but three. Fell Runner of the Year in ’73. Victory in the Karrimor Mountain Marathon with partner Stig Berge. Again Smith’s book has a full profile (pp460-3). We reminisced about old races and old faces, and bemoaned about changes to our beloved hills, litter, dog poo bags and shrines. Two old men dreaming of times past. About half way Harry and his grandson turned round and headed back to his marshalling position at the foot of the Big End and i continued up.

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