In 1983, the legendary Joss Naylor completed the little-known 105-mile Lakes, Meres and Waters route in a staggering 19hr 14min. This Cicerone book, written by Vivienne Crow, interweaves tales of past and present as Naylor regales his epic achievement on a re-walk 37 years later.
Lakeland’s high fells are still slumbering beneath a light summer blanket of cloud as the lithe Wasdale farmer leaps from the car and walks down to the shores of Loweswater. It’s five o’clock in the morning – that soft, slightly sombre time, just before the sun reaches the valley bottoms, but there’s already a sense of promise in the air.
This will be a special day. The grazing sheep don’t realise this; they don’t even look up as the man passes through their meadow and crouches to touch the water. How would they know? There’s no fanfare. Not even a photographer from the local newspaper to capture the moment when legendary fell-runner Joss Naylor embarks on his attempt to break yet another long-distance record.
Yet this is a day that will live on in fell-running lore, and one that Joss himself will remember as among the finest in his life…
Joss Naylor's Lakes, Meres and Waters of the Lake District
Loweswater to Over Water: 105 miles in the footsteps of a legend
In 1983, the legendary Joss Naylor completed the little-known 105-mile Lakes, Meres and Waters route in a staggering 19hr 14min. This book interweaves tales of past and present as Naylor regales his 1983 epic on a re-walk 37 years later. Sure to inspire, it includes practical information for those looking to complete the route themselves.More information
The day was 25 June 1983, and Loweswater was the starting point for a 105-mile (169km) journey, with almost 20,000ft (6098m) of ascent, that would see Joss visit 27 of Lakeland’s largest bodies of water, the so-called Lakes, Meres and Waters (LMW), in 19hr 14min.
‘It’s a lot tougher than people are aware,’ Joss explains as we retrace his steps almost exactly 37 years later. ‘The shorter course – without doing Kentmere twice – there’s only a dozen done it, if that. I don’t know why, because it’s a beautiful thing to do. I took a lot in that day and, when I finished, I felt I’d achieved summat very special. Maybe it’s just beyond the ordinary runner – it’s a big step up from the Bob Graham; all that extra mileage.’
As we set off on 24 June 2020, the sheep seem just as uninterested as they did in 1983. With the heat already building, Joss – wearing shorts, baseball cap and sunglasses – notes that the weather conditions are also similar to those of 37 years earlier.
Aside from the early fell-top mist, some disorientating low cloud near Haycock and a spot of drizzle late in the day at Keswick, it had been a warm, sunny day with temperatures getting up to about 20°C. Joss, having touched the water, turns his back on Loweswater and we’re off, making our way through the western valleys at a fast walking pace.
Whiteside’s scree slopes and the dramatic, gully-ridden western face of Grasmoor dominate the scene ahead, while dark Mellbreak stands aloof to the south. The next lake, Crummock Water, puts in an appearance too as we stand beside the village hall, watching house martins dart in and out of its porch.
‘It’s good to see the swallows and house martins,’ says Joss. ‘There’s two house martins landed at ours about 10 days ago. They built a nest. They’re late coming this year – about two or three weeks behind – but the swallows were early.’ He tells of how one neighbour, several years ago, had about 20 nests removed because the birds were leaving their droppings on his window ledges. ‘Summat like that nettles me; the birds were doing no harm.’
The driver of a United Utilities van pulls up and winds his window down to say hello. It turns out to be Carl Bell, of Keswick Athletic Club, the current British and English men’s fell-running champion.
‘They’re like London buses,’ laughs photographer Stephen Wilson. ‘You go out with one fell-running legend and another turns up out of the blue.’ This is the first of dozens of similar encounters throughout the Lakes over the course of the summer where we bump into Joss’s friends, acquaintances and admirers.
Fell-runners, walkers, farmers, forestry workers…many want to stop and chat, and Joss, always generous, has time for them all. A spark of friendly recognition in the eyes of others – sometimes shy, sometimes uncertain – confirms we’re in the presence of Lakeland royalty: the King of the Fells.
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