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A History of Hill Running
With thanks to Jamie Thin and the editor of the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal
The first recorded mountain ascent in Scotland is often thought to date from 1590, when "Mad" Colin Campbell of Glenlyon climbed Stuc `an Lochain. But long before that, running across the hills was the only way to spread an urgent message.

Michael Brander (Ref 1) has traced the history:

"In the wild and mountainous highlands, where no roads existed, and peat bogs, boulders and scree were likely to slow down or cripple even the most sure-footed horse, by far the quickest means of communication was a man running across country. The "Crann-tara" or fiery cross was the age-old method of raising the clansmen in time of need. It was made of two pieces of wood fastened together in the shape of a cross, traditionally with one end alight and the other end soaked in blood. Runners were dispatched to all points of the compass and as they ran they shouted the war cry of the clan and the place and time to assemble".

The clan chieftains began to arrange races amongst the clansmen to find the fastest man to carry the Crann-tara. The story of the first Braemar gathering (Ref 2), is also the story of the first recorded hill-race in Scotland. Malcolm Canmore (1057-1093) held this first gathering at Braemar. The race was from Braemar to the top of Craig Choinich and back. Honour was at stake, but also a prize of a purse of gold and a fine sword:

"All the challengers set off led by the favourites, the two elder Macgregor brothers, but at the last moment the third and youngest Macgregor brother joined the back of the field. The youngest brother caught his elder brothers at the top of the hill and asked "Will ye share the prize?" The reply came back "Each man for himself!". As they raced back down the hill he edged into second place and then dashed past his eldest brother. But as he passed, his eldest brother despairingly grabbed him by his kilt. But slipping out of his kilt, the younger brother still managed to win, if lacking his kilt!"

Perhaps that is why kilts are no longer (normally) worn in today’s hill races!!

For a wealth of English Fell Running history, see Bill Smith’s remarkable work, (Ref 3) which includes an account of the attempts by Lancashire County Police to stamp out nude fell racing on Whitworth Moor in the (presumably hot) summer of 1824. Attempts to revive this custom in Scotland have been thwarted by midges, wind and rain.
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