07 July 2017
Author: Steve Birkinshaw
Publisher: Vertebrate Publishing
ISBN number: 978 1910240946
Every so often, someone does something spectacular.There is No Map in Hell is the first-hand account of one such feat, an endeavour which was inspired by another that occurred some 50 years before it.
Today, Alfred Wainwright is synonymous with the Lake District. In a 13-year labour of love beginning in 1952, he produced, by hand, a series of seven amazing guidebooks. They capture the essence of his favourite Lakeland mountains, with nothing else to connect them. Together the books effectively create a list of 214 fells. And where there are lists, people inevitably start to work through them and in so doing set targets for others to aim at.
In 2014 Steve Birkinshaw made an attempt to link all 214 Wainwrights on foot as quickly as possible. His schedule for completion was a few hours inside seven days, just a bit faster than the legendary fell-runner and Wasdale shepherd Joss Naylor, who had completed them all in one go some 28 years previously.
This book, which includes a foreword from 'Iron Joss', provides a fascinating insight into just what drives a person to such a goal - a lifetime of running, an unadulterated love of the fells, a sense of single-mindedness, a willingness to make huge sacrifices and the great strength of character simply required to announce an attempt on a record that many people thought would never be beaten. The book details the weeks and months of determining and then refining the optimal route and schedule, and putting together a suitable support team. And that was just to get to the starting point, the Moot Hall in Keswick.
From there Steve describes, sometimes quite graphically, the agony and ecstasy that followed. To succeed he needed to complete the equivalent of two marathons and 5,000 metres of ascent each day, over challenging and often pathless terrain, resting for only about 5 hours in any given 24 hour period.
Intertwined with Steve's narrative are the experiences and reflections of various other people – his wife, a filmmaker, his logistical support crew and a series of strangers who were drawn to the fells during Steve's attempt, simply to be able to say 'I was there'. These different perspectives provide some wonderful moments in the book, perhaps none more so than the seasoned response of a support runner when Steve confides after just 4 hours that he is feeling a bit tired!
The book also captures the camaraderie that exists within the fell-running community. Runner after runner supported Steve day and night. Others went out of their way for a fleeting glimpse and to cheer him on. Thousands more tracked his minute by minute progress via an online tracker. The book's climax is perhaps when Steve gets back in sight of Keswick for the final time and the comradeship spills out onto the hill in scenes reminiscent of a blockbuster movie. Simon Barnett