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back to Book Reviews

Joss by Keith Richardson

Published by River Greta Writer
ISBN: 9-780955-964015

Joss Naylor – Iron Man DVD Produced by Striding Edge

JossMy first encounter with Joss Naylor was in September 1973 when he won the inaugural fell race in Langdale. I was with friends from my local Scout Group and we climbed Harrison Stickle then walked over to Pike o’Stickle; en route we were passed by some of the runners who had started 1½ hours after us. The runner in the lead came haring past us. In fact, we all received somewhat of a shock – he was so light-footed that we never heard him coming up behind us. We descended to the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel whilst the runners went on to traverse Bowfell, Crinkle Crags and Pike o’Blisco before descending to Langdale.

We had not been back long when the first runner came into sight. It was The Gazelle as one of our party termed him. I then discovered that his name was Joss Naylor and that he was a farmer and shepherd from Wasdale. He was thirty-nine at the time and in his prime as a fellrunner.

Over succeeding years, I followed Joss’s progress at various fell races I went to – the Yorkshire 3 Peaks, the Wasdale Head Fell Race and the Ennerdale Horseshoe Race to name but a few. He won most of these, including the Ennerdale Horseshoe in nine successive years from 1968 to 1976. He also won the Lake District 30-kilometre mountain trial ten times, including six straight wins in the early 1970s. I also saw him during his run when he completed the ascent of 72 Lakeland peaks in twenty-four hours in 1975. A remarkable athlete indeed! And then, in 1984 to celebrate his 50th birthday, he ran all the 214 fells in AW’s seven Pictorial Guides in seven days, one hour and twenty-five minutes. When I asked him about tackling this he simply replied, ‘I aimed to do one book a day.’ Not so long ago, he was listed as one of Britain’s top 100 sporting heroes alongside George Best, Geoffrey Boycott and Gareth Edwards.

A book about Joss’s life and achievements has been written by Keith Richardson who won The Lakeland Book of the Year Award for 2009 for his book Ivver Sven: this told about the people of Cumbria who have lived and worked the land over the years and who cling on to their fell-farming heritage to this day. Joss Naylor certainly falls into this category and it was when the author was interviewing Joss for Ivver Sven that he came up with the idea of writing a biography.

The book takes the reader from Joss’s early childhood at Middle Row Farm in Wasdale, through his youth when he sustained a severe back injury, and onto the time when he started competing in fell races, later setting many records for endurance running on the fells. As well as the ones mentioned above, Joss completed the Pennine Way in 3 days, 4 hours and 36 minutes in June 1974, and the Coast to Coast in 40 hours in June 1976.

One chapter in the book is devoted to the 3 Peaks run in 1971 when he set off from sea level at Fort William and 11 hours 54 minutes later put his feet in the water at Caernarfon having run up Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in the meantime. He ascended Ben Nevis in an hour and was back down to the car in 31 minutes; the ascent of Scafell Pike took him an hour from Seathwaite and the descent to the Old Dudgeon Ghyll Hotel was 55 minutes whilst Snowdon was ascended in 44 minutes from Llanberris and descended in 21 minutes.

The final chapter of the book concerns the challenge Joss set himself on 21 June 2008 which is also the subject of the Iron Man DVD. This DVD is the film of a unique physical challenge. Joss wanted to celebrate his fifty years of competitive fell running, so on the longest day of the year in 2008 he set off from Mungrisdale in the northern fells to run home to Greendale in the Wasdale valley – a run of 35 miles, with 16,000 feet of ascent and crossing the summits of twenty of his favourite Lakeland fells including the giants of Blencathra, Skiddaw, Grisedale Pike, Great Gable and Pillar. And all this at the age of 73 and a bit. Despite problems with cramp and back spasms, he completed the run in just over fourteen hours. The DVD contains superb filming by Striding Edge Productions.

Joss Naylor is a unique man whose life is brilliantly covered by Keith Richardson in the book, and it is illustrated with superb photographs by Val Corbett . If you have any interest in fell running whatsoever, this is definitely a book and DVD for your collection.

reviewed by John Burland - Member No. 2