What’s with all these clubs huh?! What even is a club?? Fell-running’s got its fair share right? What are they? Where are they? And are they any good? Who’s the best? Who’s the worst? Who even cares?!………….me. I do. So, below are all the ‘big’ name clubs in the UK in a sort of quasi-Merlin-football-sticker-top-trumps-stack type order (like that old horse racing dude who died the other year would have done, naturally).
First of all, where to start? Is the ‘best’ club in the UK the one who won the FRA British Relay Championships? Or are they the ones who won the Hodgson Brothers Relay? The answer seems obvious right? It all depends on opinion. Unfortunately for you, you’re stuck with mine. And because I’ve just joined them, that means that the Hodgson Bros are the definitive relays for deciding the prime cuts of meat. Top of the list then……(the rest’ll follow in a rough, geographical order – complete with wildly speculative and generalised statements on their respective idiosyncrasies)….
Lakes: Home of the ‘Spirit of Fell-running’
Lakeland clubs tend to favour the ‘rough stuff’. No, not a bit of slap and tickle replete with apples in mouths and stilettos on ‘yer Johnson’. I mean rocky, techy, muddy, boggy and STEEP. The steeper the better else the dudes from south and east a bit will run rings around us. There’s pretty much a club per valley….except Wasdale and Eskdale I guess, oh, and Duddon. And Langdale. So really it’s kinda just Borrowdale.
Keswick AC – current Hodgson Brothers Relay champions (oh, did I already mention that??). Got two of the top-three best British Fell runners of 2017. They’ve miles and miles of fell right on the doorstep.
Colours: Yellow with a green hoop across the chest.
Pedigree: Well only Kenny ‘Big Balls’ Stuart. Ring any bells?!? (NB: that may, or may not, be his real nickname).
Preferred ‘going’: Rough and steep.
Current form: See ‘intro’. Add to that, 3rd at the British Relays the other weekend. Good on all courses, long, short, steep or flat. All about the depth.
Borrowdale FR – rumour has it they were formed after an argument between King Billy Bland and Keswick AC. Actually, not a rumour at all. It’s a fact…..I think. Anyway, they did one, formed their own club and never looked back.
Colours: Purple (they don’t piss about).
Pedigree: Oh, only King Billy Bland. FFS.
Preferred ‘going’: Long, rough and long again. They’re all old as dick with the endurance of Hugh Heffner (not the best example but he had a good innings given all the shagging he was doing).
Current form: Dropped their Hodgson crown to ‘bitter’ rivals at the bottom of the valley.
Ambleside AC – ahhhh the Central Lakes’ finest. Too many good runners to name names. Exciting times for their future clashes with Keswick. In my head they’re two sleeping heavyweights.
Colours: Navy blue with a green band across the chest.
Pedigree: The Wright family dynasty. Big Bad Ben Abdelnoor.
Preferred ‘going’: Anything goes these days, as long as it’s in the Lakes.
Current form: Slightly disappointing Hodgson’s and British Relays, but only given the stock. Smashing it in the Lakeland Classics. The Ladies team are killing it, namely with a cheeky Hodgson’s win this year.
Helm Hill Runners – Kendal’s young upstarts have stolen the show down that way of late. But then, just as quickly as they surfaced they went again….or did they? Tom! Are you there?!? The women are starting to look super strong.
Colours: Turquoise (?!?) with thin black hoops on the chest.
Pedigree: Young’uns….but the Addison’s are decent eh? Adam Perry anyone?
Preferred ‘going’: If it’s runnable it’s getting done.
Current form: Like I said, where are they now? (Turns out the blokes have been doing the business fairly recently, though 2017 has been a season of always the bridesmaids, never the bride…..happy now???). The Ladies are the ones to watch.
Yorkshire: Home of the ‘Harriers’
Yorkshire, like their bezzies Lancashire, and the Peak District clubs further down, tend to perform best on the flatter stuff. Partly because all the smog and industry stunts the development of significant musculature in the quads for all the uphill running in Cumbria. What they lack in balls for charging down rough fellsides they more than make up for with a turn of speed to rival Mr. Bolt (albeit an older, arthritic Bolt….no-ones that fast).
Calder Valley FR – they look like a sweet wrapper from the 80s. Nuff said.
Colours: Cherry and white hoops (designed by Mr. Bassett himself).
Pedigree: Ben Mounsey and Karl Gray. Kinda big deals.
Preferred ‘going’: Flatter = faster, dummy. Can still mix it on the short, steep stuff for sure.
Current form: That 2017 ‘lull’ that everyone’s (no-one’s) going on about.
Pudsey and Bramley AC – if Sid Vicious and Kenny Stuart had a child they’d probably run for P&B. And if Sid Vicious used a vest to wipe up his morning sickness (yeah, Sid would be the female in that relationship) then you’d have their infamous colour scheme. They’ve now got merch’ to rival Carnethy.
Colours: Maroon with a yellow diagonal band.
Pedigree: Dunno. Heard the phrase that ends ‘….you got Bob Hope and No Hope’? Well, they’ve got Rob Hope and Danny Hope.
Preferred ‘going’: Anywhere there’s a pint, am’i’right?!? They’re Leeds based aren’t they? Flat then. Next?!
Current form: Got a couple of ‘bright young things’ (which I will incorrectly quote as being coined by Winston Churchill) in the pipeline (and no, that’s not a euphemism).
Bingley Harriers – ahhhhhhhh Jebby. Ahhhhhhh Queen Vic. Ahhhhhhh The Brownlee Brothers. Now I’m not one to jump to conclusions and state fiction as fact but they’re all super successful athletes in their chosen disciplines. All champions in fact. All from the same club. Coincidence??? (NB: I AM NOT INSINUATING ANY FOUL PLAY. Just so we’re clear. I’m teasing. DO NOT SUE ME).
Colours: Blue and white hoops.
Pedigree: See above. Clue: it involves Olympic gold medals.
Preferred ‘going’: Bucking the norm for Yorkshire clubs i.e. ANYTHING. Be it steep, flat, rough or fast. In Jebby’s case, as long as it’s uphill.
Current form: Can’t really look much past Queen Vic for any other serious contender’s for the Ladies English/British Champion.
Ilkley Harriers – those in Yorkshire will know them, those outside, maybe not so much. In recent years they’ve made up a solid core of the Yorkshire (read: England) running team. Never seen them north of Morecombe though??
Colours: Red with green hoop round the chest (disproving that ‘red and green should never be seen’).
Pedigree: Errrrrmmmm probably but I only really know of Tom Adams and Jack Woods. And they’re both pretty current!
Preferred ‘going’: Anyone ever been to Ilkley? It’s a beautiful town with a barren moor plonked next to it. Once you’re up, you’re up.
Current form: Team ‘Yakshure’ pretty much….ish.
Wharfedale Harriers – one of the proper Dale teams to come out of Yorkshire. Rough as a badger’s arse and, being as relatively isolated as they are down there, probably as likely to come a cropper crossing any roads. Short and steep seems to be where they do best for some reason. Correct me if I’m wrong.
Colours: Mainly white with blue and red vertical stripes down the sides (snazzy).
Pedigree: Perhaps this quote from smallholderseries.co.uk sums them up best…..”The breed is indigenous to the upper reaches of the Yorkshire Dales, but stretching into southern Lakeland, and throughout the Dales, although these sheep are appreciated over a much wider area, particularly for crossbreeding to produce Mashams and Mules”.
Preferred ‘going’: Short and steep. BOFRA territory!
Current form: Dodgy, pikey-looking leather jackets spotted at the FRA Relays notwithstanding, they’re pretty damn good at what they do good at.
Lancashire: Home of the ‘One True Rose’
Centuries of racing greyhounds, including a youth development program whereby budding fell stars take laps down the track as the ‘lure’, has bred similar runners to them in Yorkshire. Bowland is a vast, boggy kingdom of, well, vast bogs. Clayton is Big Ron’s club. As for Horwich? I’ve just assumed it’s in Lancashire.
Horwich RMI Harriers – transplant of one of the ‘Hope’ brothers (making the above waffle on P&B now null and void, cheers). Their kit looks fast and must add 5% speed because there’s a train rolling in from the west…….(what?!?). Moving on…..RMI stands for ‘Railway Mechanic Institute’.
Colours: Red with two black ‘right-way-up’ ‘V’ motifs.
Pedigree: They’ve been at it since 1924 apparently. Mike Short was British Champion a couple of times in the 70s/80s (?).
Preferred ‘going’: Faster courses without much of that uphill/downhill stuff. They can still mix it though.
Current form: There or thereabouts in a lot of races (my way of saying, meh).
Clayton-le-Moors Harriers – the home of the ‘Tough of the Track’ and a stalwart of the English club scene for all the right reasons. Faded glory sees a big old resurgence looming (‘loom’ reference intended…….do I have to explain??……okay, looms are used in mills and factories to weave cloth…….you know, a fairly big industry in that part of the UK back in the 1800s……cue applause for ingenious cultural references……..merci).
Colours: White with orange and black lined hoop across the chest (iconic).
Pedigree: Honestly?! RON HILL anybody??? WENDY DODDS??? If you haven’t heard of them then go give your fell shoes to a charity shop and move to central London.
Preferred ‘going’: The long stuff.
Current form: They’ve got a dude with a dodgy ‘tache and a penchant for knee high socks like some extra from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. He’s El Rapido though, so if it works, it works!
Bowland FR – bright kit to spruce up an otherwise bleak breeding ground. The ‘Trough of Bowland’ is the most aptly named land feature in the whole of the UK, save for perhaps ‘The Bog’ at the top of Wythburn. A ‘trough’ it is ladies and gentlemen.
Colours: Bright orange on top of lime green.
Pedigree: Wynn and Steve…..everyone knows them (they probably have no idea who I am though….life’s strange like that)!
Preferred ‘going’: Boggier the better, naturally.
Current form: Got some runners coming out of the bog-work and doing their thing in the big league. What does that mean?? Well, they’re coming on strong of course.
Rossendale Harriers – bit of a ‘one-man show’ dare I say it? (Yes, I dare). What a show though. English Champion the past couple of years, right?
Colours: Light blue with horizontal navy and white stripe (classy).
Pedigree: Sums it up.
Preferred ‘going’: If it goes, it’s going. Everything in other words…..as long as it’s over 2 miles.
Current form: 3rd in a row??
Peak District: Home of the ‘Don’t Like The Techy Stuff’
Like their mates higher up they seem to do best on the simpler routes, with a couple of notable exceptions. How are these guys so fast? Well, I’ll tell you. The Peak, once out of Sheffield, is pretty much a plateau. Quid pro quo, you can’t wait to get the funk outta dodge (Sheffield) so you run at the speed of a thousand gazelles up the hill then keep on plugging away across the pancake-like moors. Simples.
Dark Peak FR – joint winners of the ‘nattiest running vest’ competition with……..Bowland. Hailing from the Steel City itself and ‘big in Japan’. Current holders of the British Relay crown, as they have done for the past 5/6 years pretty much. Not just ‘a bunch of orienteers’, but, to contradict slightly, a bunch of orienteers who can run pretty damn quick.
Colours: ‘Peat’ brown with yellow and purple horizontal stripe across the chest (jury’s out).
Pedigree: There’s GOT to be some but my mind’s gone blank…….ah yeah, Nicky Spinks (DOUBLE BG) and Roger Baumeister.
Preferred ‘going’: Fast and flat you’d think but they’ve a couple who are good at the rough stuff too. My experience shows they can’t do techy descents for shit #justsaying.
Current form: RFR (who has almost as many initials at the club) is storming about taking scalps…..or he was a few months back. They’ve just won the British Relays and, unless any other clubs can get some world-class orienteers, they’ll do so again next year.
Midlands: Home of ‘One Significant Hill’
As a few of you found out in the Champs races this year, it’s quite a flippin’ hill. Or series of hills. Church Stretton sounds like some village off Heartbeat but scratch away a bit and the Long Mynd rears its head to reveal the summer vacation stop-over of The Man With The Hammer.
Mercia FR – they attract some of the best talent in the area (mostly Welsh) and aren’t afraid to be seen as the under-dogs by the looks of it. Beware though, the hills are a lot tougher than you’d think down that way. Imagine Sedbergh or the hills around Durisdeer…..but steeper.
Pedigree: The ever young Si Bailey and Pete Vale.
Preferred ‘going’: Grassy, steep and runnable. Or everything if your name’s Simon.
Current form: Well, they’ve a few current members of the GB mountain team (step forward Gareth), as well as the King of BOFRA (stay forward Si). Got DQ’d at the British Relays though…..awkward.
Isle of Man: Home of ‘Three-legged Bodies’
It ain’t the biggest island in the whole wide world but it’s got a fell club. They’re good. Sticking it in there like Burton Albion in the FA Cup. They often come away with a result against expectations.
Colours: Yellow with a thick red stripe down the sides.
Pedigree: I think Lloyd Taggart still runs for them? He used to anyway. I think….??
Preferred ‘going’: Never been to IoM so no idea. Hilly??
Current form: Buhhhh…..open to suggestions. Lloyd?
Wales: Home of a ‘Poop-ton of Hills’
I just don’t know where to start. I mean fuck knows how to say anything in this country. It’s like a smaller version of the Lakes. Similar mindset and similar runners….except they speak funny. Probably so fast due to chasing sheep everywhere. Yup, I went there.
Eryri Harriers – the second claim of many of Mercia FR and the remainder of England’s clubs due to the greater depth of competition outside the North part of Dragon country (about the only serious thing I’ve said so far). Sad but true. A mega club nonetheless.
Colours: Green with a red band across the chest (think Ilkley Harriers in reverse).
Pedigree: They’ve got that dude who seems to be everywhere on the North Wales scene. Dunno his name but he must have been good back in the day.
Preferred ‘going’: Come on, this is North Wales. They eat mountains for breakfast, dinner and tea. Anything with the words ‘steep’ and ‘rocky’ in front of them.
Current form: Good domestically but can they travel?
Mynydd Du – second of this trio of ‘unpronounceables’. They’re obviously Welsh but that’s as far as my research has taken me. You may have noticed but this post has become a bit of an epic and I’m slowly losing the will to live. What’re on now, Day 3?! Shit me. Oh. I’m still typing all of this. 56th overall in the British Relays.
Colours: White with two thin black stripes across the chest.
Pedigree: Who fucking
Preferred ‘going’: Anywhere between coastal paths and steep, rocky cragsides. Depends where they’re from.
Current form: 56th in the British Relays. Say no more.
Mynyddwyr de Cymru – first off, good luck saying that with your teeth in! It’s melted my mind just spelling the thing. Never heard of them before this weekend past. Soz and all. Fast bunch though. Extensive research shows they’re from south Wales.
Colours: No idea, can’t find any pictures of them. From memory it was either a purple and gold David Bowie-esque lightening strike design or white with red and green side stripes.
Pedigree: Not. A. Clue. Sorry…..
Preferred ‘going’: They train on the Brecon Beacons where them dudes with duct tape over their eyes train. Fast, grassy and steep I suppose.
Current form: A solid 15th at the British Relay Championships….aside from that?? Probably pretty good locally though right?
Scotland: Home of ‘More Than a Poop-ton of Hills’
Everything’s massive. Everything’s miles away. You get to Inverness and you’re barely only half way up the country. People forget that……which is probably why you have no reason to go any further north of Inverness as there’s nothing even up there. Except acres and acres and acres and acres and acres (ad infinitum) of mega-hills. The world’s biggest playground. This country, better than anywhere, highlights the ‘city vs country’ divide. Lochaber, HHR and Deeside can run all day over all terrain at a diesel engined pace. The ‘townies’, Shettleston, HBT and DHH seem to excel at the faster, flatter stuff (with exceptions). Ochil and Carnethy are a happy medium, having hills galore next to a large built-up area.
Lochaber AC – quick story for ya. I was doing the Arrochar Alps race a few years back. Still the hardest race I think I’ve ever done. I set off like a greyhound, not knowing just how brutal the course was and at the time I was pretty darned fast at descending….or so I thought. I got passed coming off Ben Vorlich (the first hill) by what can only be described as a FUCKING ROCKET SHIP. True exponents of the ‘rough stuff’.
Colours: White with two thin blue stripes across the chest.
Pedigree: Fin Wild. A ga-gillion Ben race wins, FKT (I hate that moniker) on the Cuillin Ridge traverse. Jon Gay (first Winter CRR…..beasssssst).
Preferred ‘going’: Rough as your Dad in his leathers.
Current form: Well, the Ben race is practically untouchable. The British Championship was untouchable a few years back too.
Deeside Hill Runners – equally as high up the country but dominating the ‘other’ hills in the East. I’m pretty sure they all work on the same deer estate in the Cairngorms…….nah, I made that one up.
Colours: (In annoying Yank accent) I wanna say ‘green’?
Pedigree: Big Alan Smith. I could say what I want about him on here because I’m damn near certain he hasn’t got a computer. But I won’t cos he’d kick my teeth out through my neck.
Preferred ‘going’: Deceptively rough and rocky but a good mix of the Sedbergh stuff too.
Current form: Dominate the North-East of Scotland and had a few recent members of the Scottish team too.
Dundee Hawkhill Harriers – give it up for my old club!! Not really hill runners but stuck them in here for posterities sake. Snazzy kit too.
Shettleston Harriers – eat-bricks-do-drugs-die-young-but-who-cares-huh-all-about-the-craic-shut-yer-hole-bacon-sarnie-and-chips-what-you-lookin-at-ya-mug. They’re from Glasgow. They run. As all in Glasgow are encouraged to do. Be it from the police, from each other or from the dude chasing them trying to get his telly back.
Colours: Blue with a yellow hoop along the chest.
Pedigree: Have a seat. Deep breath. Jethro Lennox. Joe Symonds. Tom Owens. Kenny Richmond. Malcolm Patterson. Peter Mackie. Lucas Cheskin. Wegene Tafese (I think?)
Preferred ‘going’: Fucking anything mate.
Current form: You read the ‘pedigree’ bit right?? You ain’t gotta be a brain surgeon to see that they’re gonna be doing ‘alright’ for a wee (Scottish for ‘small’) while.
Hunters Bog Trotters – they claim to not care at all and act all cool about it but it’s a facade. It’s like someone who gives themselves their own nickname. You’re trying waaayyy too hard big shag. Also, home of the most irritating pre-race ritual going….shouting ‘H. B. Ttttttttt’ just before the claxon. Shut. Up.
Colours: Brown (like a bog I ‘spose).
Pedigree: Joe Symonds used to run for them when he was knocking about in Edinburgh.
Preferred ‘going’: Firm under foot, belying the name that the club is, ermm, named after (done myself there with the syntax bullet but it’s too late to change so just go with it).
Current form: Always a very strong showing. They’re a classy bunch of athletes given that they’re too cool to train hard (but they secretly do).
Carnethy – or as I like to call them…..’McDonalds’. Think about it. Same colour scheme. Scottish-sounding (they’re from Edinburgh so plastic Scots). Big business. Capital city based. No-one really knows what they’re made of but boy do they taste good! Okay so the last one was the most tenuous of the lot. They’re flippin’ good at what they do though.
Colours: Red with a yellow band across the chest.
Pedigree: Oh I dunno….Jasmin Paris and Andy Fallas anyone?? I’ll just leave them there…..
Preferred ‘going’: If the Pentlands are anything to go by then we’d be forgiven for sticking them in the ‘Sedbergh’ box. Then again they’re good everywhere.
Current form: They swarm races and usually come away with the goods.
Ochil HR – the last of the ‘big yins’ north of the wall. I lived under the (frequent) shadow of the Ochils for 4 years and barely touched the surface of them. They’re awesome. And so’s the club.
Colours: Purple with green lettering.
Pedigree: Al Anthony and Graham Gristwood seem to be the dudes of the hour.
Preferred ‘going’: Ochils = Sedbergh.
Current form: Killed it at the British Relays and have some key players in the Scotland team.
Northern Ireland: Home of ‘Constant Shitey Weather’
You’re a real fell runner if you’re from N.I. at least for the weather factor alone. There’s only really the Mournes to go a-running on so it’d be a bit boring, but, erhh, fuck it. I’ve stuck them in this list because I went over for the Donard Challenge the other year when it was a Brit Champs race and had a great time. End. Of.
Newcastle AC – from the little research I’ve done I can confirm to you that they’re not based in the North-East of England but do in fact conduct training and club runs from Northern Ireland. Apart from that *blank*.
Colours: Red with thick yellow stripe down the side.
Pedigree: Bay Bailey and Zak Hanna. And some other guy whose name escapes me……….Will McKee maybe? Nah, not him. There was another guy who ran well at the Donard Challenge in 2014. Ah. Alan. Bogle. Just checked and he doesn’t even run for Newcastle!
Preferred ‘going’: Anything when they can see where they’re ‘going’.
Current form: Pretty much are the N.I. squad.
Phew! I kinda lost the will to live writing all that out and trying to make up increasingly spurious factoids about stuff I clearly know nothing about. Congrats for getting this far. It’s done now, you can go get on with whatever it was you were meant to be doing.