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back to Book Reviews

Light on the Fell
Langdale Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team: the first forty years
ISBN: 978-0-9566433-0-8
Published by Langdale Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team

Light on the Fell‘1 February 12.30 pm. A dental nurse, eighteen years, slipped some twenty feet on Scout Crag, Great Langdale. Sustained back injuries.’ This was the report from the Incident Officer of the first rescue by LAMRT in 1970. There have been over 2,000 since.

This engrossing publication marks the fortieth anniversary of the Langdale Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team. This was formed by Sid Cross MBE, who had set up the Langdale Team in 1965, and Stewart Hulse and Peter Bell who, in 1969, had established the Ambleside Team. The teams, already working in close collaboration, merged in 1970.

It is explained in the book’s introduction that ‘rescues’ had taken place long before the formation of official rescue teams, citing 1783 when Frank Castlehow, a Hawkshead stone-waller, retrieved one of Wordsworth’s school-friends who was cragfast on Yewdale Crags. One of the earliest detailed reports was by Dorothy Wordsworth concerning the unsuccessful search for George and Sarah Green who failed to return to their home in Grasmere, leaving eight orphaned children.

Rescues continued to be carried out by farmers, shepherds and mountaineers; St John’s Ambulance Service became involved as early as the 1930s. Recalling the early days of rescuing (‘we had hardly any equipment; a stretcher, a few ropes and a first aid sack containing a few splints and bandages’), the book is generously illustrated by photographs from the Team’s archives. Notable milestones are chronicled: the first search dog, Jan, an Irish Setter, was graded (available for call out) in 1973; the first helicopter rescue took place in 1974 on Gimmer Crag; Peter Bell developed the design for a new stretcher and, by 1975, ‘Bell Stretchers’ were widely used as far afield as the Andes, Jamaica and South Africa. You can read about the use of the Team’s first defibrillator, message pager, GPS unit and ice rescue sledge.

While MRTs are recognised mainly for their work on the fells, their involvement in other types of incident is less well known and this is chronicled in words and pictures. There are reports of the Lockerbie air disaster in 1988, when rescue dogs found 120 bodies on the night of the crash, of the Morecambe Bay cocklers tragedy, the Grayrigg train crash and, most recently, the terrible Cumbrian floods in late 2009. This book is highly recommended to those interested in the development of Mountain Rescue: an additional incentive to purchase it is the knowledge that profits go to MRT funds, hugely worthwhile as the teams are entirely voluntary organisations with no government financial support.

reviewed by John Bewick - Member No. 225