> Angus Tait, a tribute from John Humble

Angus Tait

It was an honour for me to be asked by Angus’ brothers to speak about Angus’ love of running, at his funeral. Those reminiscences form the basis of this tribute to him.

So many people have come to know Angus through his running over the years. Running was such a large part of his life. Angus was sometimes referred to as Bill Tait in the fell running chronicles. He always loved the fells, particularly those on his doorstep in Northumberland, Durham and Cumbria.

He entered races at a young age and started running in 1973 to improve his fitness for football and badminton, and gradually came to enjoy it. I am told he started to train with Robert Coulson from Langley and Clarence Glendinning from Catton, well known guide’s racers, and who introduced him to fell racing with the Alwinton Show fell race. He has run this race on a regular basis since, and he became smitten by the fell racing.

Over the next few years he entered more races, including Grasmere, Ambleside, Loweswater, Coniston and Yetholm to name but a few. These races were fast and furious and usually resulted in Angus chasing home such famous names as Fred Reeves, Graham Moffat and Kenny Stuart. Although those races may have only had 10 to 15 runners, the standard was very high and they were keenly contested. The same competitors came to race like a travelling circus.

Angus ran the 3 Peaks race over Pen-Y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough as early as 1977. In 1978 he was reaching his peak. He was 12th at Skiddaw in the Lake District in 70 mins 10 secs and was 10th at the Ben Nevis race in 1 hr 36 mins and 34 secs. He’d been in second at the top, a phenomenal achievement for someone that did not live amongst, and so could not train on, the steep Lakeland or Scottish mountains. To put these results in context, in the 2009 races, those times would have placed him 3rd at Skiddaw and 4th at Ben Nevis.

Just to prove his versatility and that he was not just at home on the fells, Angus ran the Brampton to Carlisle 10 mile road race in 50 mins and 6 secs. I mention seconds in each of these results, because with Angus a time was only correct if it was to the second! The 2009 Brampton to Carlisle race was shortened, but to put this result in context, Angus’ time that year would have won the 2008 and 2007 races by 3 clear minutes, and comfortably won the two years before that by well over a minute. Such incredible versatility.

Angus also had a 2nd at the Criffel fell race, a 1st, 2nd and 3rd at the original Holm Show fell race at Newcastleton and 4th at Simonside to name again only a few.

Angus was a founder member of Tynedale Harriers and Athletics Club many years ago, and a founder member of Northumberland Fell Runners in 1997. He has been a regular competitor in many fell races, particularly in Lakeland. In every race Angus was the supreme competitor and gave his all. He had some excellent results as a regular competitor at such races as Borrowdale, Coledale, Langdale, 3 Shires, Dalehead and the Rydal Round, and the list could go on and on.

He also loved the evening races and competed on a regular basis at Blencathra, Langstrath and Latrigg in the Lakes and Tebay in the Howgills, and the rougher the terrain the better he did. Anyone who has been with Angus to an evening race will know what a joy and laugh they were. One such example of him revelling in “the rough stuff” was the Langdale fell race in October 1992, starting at the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Great Langdale. Although only 16 miles, it has 4,600 feet of climbing and negotiates from Stickle Tarn, the steep rock gulley on Pavey Arc, Thunacar Knott and then over Black Crags, Angle Tarn, Esk Pike, Bow Fell, Crinkle Crags and finally the steep, rough descent off Pike O’Blisco.

Reading from the newspaper report of that race “… this was a course suited to Angus Tait’s natural ability to negotiate steep and rocky descents quickly, particularly off Bow Fell, over the Crinkles and the descent off Pike O’Blisco”.

You must all have your own memories of races with Angus. He felt equally at home whether he was racing in the 9 Standards Fell Race in the Pennines on New Year’s Day, the long Edale skyline race in the Peak District, or the rough tussocks of the long Wadsworth Trog from Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. Perhaps most of all he loved his local races.

He won the inaugural Allendale Challenge over 25 miles of whatever there was to face on the day, and also won the first Hexhamshire Hobble race around the fells of Allendale. This race has now reached popularity of epic proportions, and was invented by Angus and Stewart Beaty 17 years ago. They organised the race for 15 years and if Angus was not running he was supporting others.

What were his qualities as a fell racer?

Firstly - he was fast, as his times indicate.

Secondly - he was a great descender, and spoken of in the same breath by the fell race orator Bill Smith, as great descenders like Colin Valentine of Keswick, of whom Angus thought so dearly and raced against so often.

Thirdly  - he was a connoisseur of the rough heather, always knowing where to put his feet, and flying down hills as if his life depended on it. He was just as much at home in the heather around the Allen Valley or on the Kielder Borderer.

Fourthly - he was a mountain goat, as I discovered when I partnered him on the first leg of the Ian Hodgson Mountain Relay, on a wet, misty day in October. He sailed over the rocks so quickly and proved in doing so not only that he was a mountain goat, but a great instinctive navigator as well. Even without a map, Angus always found his way.

Fifthly - he was a great climber, as he proved at Ben Nevis.  When out training with Angus he never walked a hill.

I would like to mention just one more race that Angus entered which epitomised all his great qualities as a fell racer. In September 1992, Angus entered the category ‘A’ Grisedale Horseshoe Race. It is one of the most testing races in the calendar, with 10 miles and 4,400 feet of climbing, the same statistics as the Ben Nevis race. Starting at Glenridding village hall it follows a route of Catstycam, Swirral Edge, Helvellyn, Nethermost, Dollywaggon Pike and finally a knee jerking descent off St. Sunday Crag. The race was on the same day as Ben Nevis. Angus ran that race in 2 hours 7 minutes and was third over 40 veteran, a remarkable achievement at that age.

He was passionate about fell racing and results. He remembered so clearly the results to the second, of others, and surprised so many fellow competitors with their race results and times, which they had long forgotten.

Whenever he went to a fell race, he was a celebrity, respected and admired. Although Angus was a talented athlete, he was modest about his achievements and like no one I have known, took such an interest in others. He was, I would say, equally modest with his compliments, but you knew if you received one, it was well earned!

Angus’ CV of fell racing goes on ad infinitum and I could relate numerous achievements in that sphere. We will always remember those.

What, however, may be closer to our hearts would be his passion and love just to be out on the fells or in the country, as he observed nature with the eye and ear of an eagle. He knew every bird and animal, by sight and sound, and anyone who has walked or run with Angus would know this so well. Walks or training runs with Angus extended one’s knowledge of wildlife, and his enthusiasm and excitement were infectious to those with him. Training runs were, with Angus, adventures into the world of nature, to new places, some so remote, they had no paths leading to them. As with results of fell races, his memory and knowledge of wildlife and nature was exceptional and second to none. He introduced us to new places and new experiences of life in the countryside and yet, at the same time, his training runs were never a jaunt.

An ideal training run for Angus and friends was over “the rough stuff”, whether it was rock or heather. He kept off paths because they were too smooth and tame, and gates slowed him down. In every season he was out training and some of you no doubt may remember a training run with Angus in mid winter on the Dodd (which along with Kilhope Law, he loved so much), when we tried to run in snow up to our thighs and then when that failed, sledged on our backsides down the hill, yes, following Angus.

Summer evenings running on the Allendale fells were “just Angus”. A ride to Allenheads and then the ascent of Kilhope, up as quickly as we can, and then a breather to survey the countryside around him, in 360 degrees of sheer paradise, and then it’s off again through the heather to the wheel in Weardale, sometimes then on to Flinty, and then back up Kilhope a second time, and back to the car at the gate at Allenheads. The most wonderful experience for many of those like me, who have had the honour to do it with not just a talented runner but a man of nature, or even part of nature. A lady in a B&B in Hebden Bridge once said to Angus, “where are you from?” He replied with his cheeky grin – “I was born in a peat bog somewhere near Allendale”. Angus was at home among nature. He then proceeded to take out his compass and pretend to navigate to his room.

There are many loved training runs of Angus, but one of his favourites was Cupola, but if anyone accepted his invitation to this one and was led to believe that it was a sedate run from the bridge below his house at Old Catton to Plankey Mill and back was working under a severe misapprehension. Yes, you may do that, but in between he would find the toughest hill climbs, of which we became accustomed to 7, until he found the 8th. He was always filled with excitement when he found the new route or the new training hill, and the rougher and steeper the better. We dared do no other than follow him.

Memories of Angus

Angus had a wonderful sense of humour and whenever you joined him on a training run, there was always a laugh, but apart from that aspect, there were moments that could only be “just Angus”. You will have many of your own. I have many, and here are just a few.

Firstly, a tale Angus relayed himself. One snowy New Year’s Eve in Nenthead, following a pub bet, he ran naked in the dark up to the top of Flinty Fell … only to be recognised sometime later by a helicopter pilot, who, by sheer coincidence the same night, had been hovering around above Nenthead in his helicopter, while working for the electricity board searching for broken power lines!

Secondly, as many of you may know, Angus’ dog Eva was his running partner for many years, and she also was a member of Northumberland Fell Runners, a paid up bona fide member.
After a hard training run up Kilhope or at Cupola, Eva could not be found. I would look at Angus in disbelief, knowing what he was thinking as he would exclaim “where is that dog? Eva!!! Eva!!! Wait till I get hold of that dog!!!!” Yes, it was back up Kilhope or back to Cupola for us, sometimes in the dark to retrieve Eva. More often than not, we could not find her, but were normally greeted by Eva waiting on Angus’ doorstep when we returned, wagging her tail.  He gave her a hug and all was well.

On another occasion, I reached Great Gable on the Borrowdale Fell Race only to see Eva at the checkpoint before me. Eva had run, Angus was supporting others that day as he was injured and back in Rosthwaite. Eva subsequently retired at Honister, led from Great Gable to Honister under the guidance of Stewart Beaty using his string and whistle as a lead. A very kind lady returned Eva to Angus at Rosthwaite in her car, while Stewart finished his race.

On another occasion after the Blake Fell Race in Lakeland, I asked Angus why he was taking his cement bucket into the village hall for prize giving. He replied quite calmly and logically – “it has my sandwiches and flask of tea in it.”

One Christmas I received a card to my house in Slaley addressed to:

John Humble (fell runner)
Somewhere in deepest Slaley

I opened it and it said “Happy Fell Running, Angus”.

May 1992 Buttermere – Sailbeck race in Lakeland. Angus and I were warming up for the race on a cold May day. Angus did not have a hat with him, which was not usual. As we were jogging towards the lake, we saw a worse for wear colourful ladies “pom pom” hat on the top of a gatepost. Just what Angus needed! He tried it on, laughed, said it fitted perfectly, and wore it for the race, and afterwards, duly returned it to its gatepost. It was on this occasion, he suggested a “warm down” after the race – and promptly led me up Red Pike!

I, like many of you, will have your own memories. By running and racing with Angus, I have learnt not just about running and racing, but have learnt more of life. Angus, to me, was an inspiration. I am absolutely sure he must have been to many of you as well.

John Humble, March 2010

(MS Word version)

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