Bradbury House resident Joss Naylor, a celebrated record-breaking fell runner, recently spoke to us about his running feats, books, and living at Abbeyfield. 

“I’ve lived in the area all my life and grew up working on a farm in Wasdale Head [a hamlet in the Lake District near to Wastwater and Scafell, not far from Gosforth]. It was, as you can imagine, quite labour intensive, so I think it set me up well to become an athlete. I was a wiry lad and a fair turn of speed, so I was quite lucky in that respect.

“My legs were good and I was a fair climber, so fell running came quite naturally to me. My first competitive event was the Mountain Trial in 1962. I eventually won the Trial in 1966. It turned out to be a favourite of mine and I won it a further nine times between then and 1979, including seven on the trot from 1971-77.

“I went around the Lake District a bit, entering as many events as I could. Peak bagging [reaching as many peaks as possible in a set time period] was my speciality and extending the Bob Graham Round, a 24-hour challenge, was where I got my first record of 61 peaks in 1971. I went on to break that record two more times. The last time, in 1975, I managed 72 peaks, which involved running over 100 miles and ascending and descending over 38,000 feet, in 23 hours and 20 minutes. It’s probably one of the achievements I am most proud of, and the record stood for 13 years. In 1983 I also visited every Lake, Mere and Water in the Lake District in just over 19 hours, a round that I repeated in 2020. I made a book of the time, which won a prize for its illustrations and presentation and provides a donation to charity for every book sold.

“I also travelled a bit further afield, completing the Three Peaks Challenge in a little under 12 hours in 1971, and the coast-to-coast Robin Hood’s Bay to St Bees in 41 hours in 1976. I managed to break a number of other records: the Welsh 3000s [the 14 peaks of Snowdonia], the Pennine Way, the Lyke Wake Walk and the 214 Wainwrights in just over seven days.

“But I don’t let it go to my head. People have called me ‘King of the Fells’ and ‘The Iron Man’, but I don’t listen to that too much. I consider myself quite lucky with all the records and wins over the years. The conditions and your body have got to be alright on the day, so I was fortunate I was able to perform at the right times. It was particularly difficult to keep going during the heatwaves, but I received a lot of support from friends, family and the fell-running community.

“There are a lot of good people involved in the sport. In my opinion, they’re the greatest people on this earth and I’m very proud to be associated with them. We all like to club together and a number of the challenges I’ve mentioned are often run to raise money for various charities. I was lucky enough to be recognised for my charity work and running achievements with an MBE.

“I’m also very proud of the Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge – a run from Pooley Bridge to Greendale Bridge (where I used to live and that I first ran at the age of 50), which is exclusively for participants over 50. I believe that anyone can get involved in running, and getting involved in sport of any kind is something special. It’s all about challenging yourself and reaching your goals, and keeping fit and active is particularly important as you get older. I realise I’m lucky to still be here after suffering several strokes, and being fit helped me through.

“I’ve been living at Bradbury House for a few months and once again I’m surrounded by a great team of people. The staff are so giving and so kind, and when you spend time with them like I have you really realise what they do. I’ve got to know most of the other residents too and I’ll chat to anyone. “

If you want to know more about Joss’s life you might like to read a copy of his 2009 published biography Joss: The Life and Times of the Legendary Lake District Fell Runner Joss Naylor.

Joss’s latest book, Joss Naylor’s Lakes, Meres and Waters of the Lake District, is available to buy for £19.95 with proceeds going to the Brathay Trust, a charity turning young people’s lives around through outdoor education.

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