Making a Right Hash of it!

A Quite Unusual New Running Experience

For many years I have noticed runners with ‘Hash House Harriers’ on their running vests prefixed with nationwide locations to their name. Bizarrely, despite having an occasional momentary wonder about the meaning of the name, I had never yet discovered it…….until……

The hashing ‘hounds’ hareing off “On On” the trail…

A spontaneous visit to Tamar Valley’s weekly ParkRun which was having a takeover week by the Tamar Valley Hash House Harriers resulted in, not only my premier ParkRun experience, but also an invite to join the ‘hashers’ for their next weekly ‘hash’ ….I had it on good authority that the ‘hares’ this week were particularly excellent – a bit worrying as I mostly follow a vegetarian diet!

Be sure to give the ‘Chalk Talk” your full attention!

To clarify my confusion a little the enthusiastic Harrier recruiters explained some background. The Hash House Harriers (which from here on I will refer to as HHH or H3 in an effort to avoid repetitive strain injury from all the additional typing) is an international group of non-competitive running social clubs, with a strong emphasis on the social. So social in fact it is jokingly said that they are a drinking club with a running problem! ( I say ‘jokingly’ πŸ€”?!) An event organized by a club is known as a hash, hash run or simply, hashing, with participants calling themselves hashers or hares and hounds. The important thing to understand is that these are merely titles and there are no actual animals or indeed ‘hash’ involved!

A Dark Disappearance into the Depths of Dartmoor

It was all originally formed in Malaysia in 1938 when groups of British Military Officers and ex-pats began meeting on Mondays to run in the style of a British ‘paper chase’ in an effort to run off the indulgent excesses of the weekend. After fading away during World War II it restarted during the late 1940’s and in the 1970’s did the equivalent of modern day ‘going viral’ and gaining huge popularity.

Back in the day setting up a group constitution it was stated :-

Apart from the excitement of chasing the hare and finding the trail, harriers reaching the end of the trail would partake of beer, ginger beer and cigarettes.

Perhaps NOT the best healthy lifestyle advice, though the objectives of the Hash House Harriers as recorded on the club registration card dated 1950 were :

  • To promote physical fitness among our members
  • To get rid of weekend hangovers
  • To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
  • To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

There are now over 2000 3H groups globally so a member can get their fix wherever life takes them.

The Tamar Valley Hash House Harriers ready for the off!

So… how do you hash?

The best thing is you don’t have to have a clue what goes on the first time you show up, just follow the madness and soon you will be picking up the meaning of the flour symbols scattered around what seems to be a ridiculously erratic course, understanding the loud cries of ” On On”, probably getting poked in the eye by an errant tree branch and before you know it, sitting in the pub looking dazed and confused and wondering what on earth just happened! A fundamental point of the hash is to be fun and to never be taken seriously. There are zero cares for PB’s or Split times on this run. But they are certainly getting something right as some of the Tamar Valley H3 members I spoke to had been hashing for over 30 years.

Always expect to get your feet wet….and possibly your hair!

A word of jovial warning – levels of ‘wildness’ can vary from group to group with some groups considering themselves “one of the tame ones”. If you are of a more sensitive disposition it might be prudent to find a tamer group for your first experience to avoid potentially being traumatised for life. The course is often no holds barred and forget about sticking to paths – crawling under low overhanging trees through woodland is deemed fair game and watercourses and rivers perhaps just cause for a mere, momentary pause, simply to confirm the route you understand – no one cares about looking for a bridge! I got lucky this first time, returning safely back with ( relatively) dry feet and all my limbs still attached, an outcome that is not entirely guaranteed.

Getting a bit side-tracked on the annual ‘red run’ – and this is BEFORE the pub!

A couple of people whom, it may be insinuated, have slightly sadistic tendencies will volunteer as the ‘hares’ – their job being to lay the trail for the group to decifer and follow. Symbols with various meaning are made on the ground with flour, sawdust or chalk. Then the whole group dart off chasing this trail of floury ‘breadcrumbs’ shouting fairly indeciferable instructions in code back to the rest of the group. . If i had remembered amid all the excitement to start my Strava recording I have no doubt the route would have looked something like this….

As clear as a ball of string!

However, within this madness true genius lies for the creation of the course enables everyone to participate, from super fast cross country sprinters all pepped up on sugar to ambling walkers stopping off for a nice cup of tea along the way. The course plays out so that the speedy spurters get sent off around a big old loop to meet back with the steady shufflers who were on a more direct trajectory. False trails are laid to further fox the eager beavers and give tentative trotters a chance to catch up thus ensuring the whole group stay relatively close together for the duration. Furthermore, though there is some very basic and extremely minimal guidance to hash etiquette normal race rules do not apply and shortcutting , far from being punished, is highly encouraged, though may receive some additional ribbing in the pub if it becomes a common and, more annoyingly, successfully tactical habit. To give you an idea, an example from the Tamar Valley H3 ‘rulebook’ reads as :-

Always try to keep at least one hasher between you and anything which looks at all fierce such as bulls, pit-bull terriers, landed gentry, geese and pigs.

In the interests of safety a ‘scribe’ is elected to act as mother hen, noting all hashers and checking them all safely back in at the end of the hash . H3’s NEVER leave a hasher behind! However, if you do intend to join the group at the pub afterwards you are then on your own so be sure to plan ahead.

Hash House Harriers : Never to be taken seriously!

There is also some unique hash code lingo to get to grips with. As a “Virgin” or “Just John” who doesn’t know their “shiggy” from their “dead trails” listen up to the “chalk talk” before the off, so you can correctly negotiate a “check”, avoid a “check back”, respond appropriately to an “RU” and most importantly keep “On On” to “On home” so you may go “on down” to the “circle” where there may be a “down down” afterwards. Easy for me to say,

Nothing better than a bit of a sing song and a beer after your daily run!

Remember, it is all a bit tongue in cheek and regulars are known by cheeky ‘hash names’ which can be a bit risque to say the least – likely harking back to hashings’ beginnings in a more politically incorrect time. Hashing newbies cannot name themselves but will earn an appropriate name by some head nodding achievement or wild stupidity demonstrated along the trail. Indeed, new hashers should beware of trying to influence their own hash name for risk of being re- christened with a more offensive or inappropriate name. In contrast, any rebels trying to gain a shocking monica will more likely be awarded a softie hash name such as “Twinkle”.

A tea ‘naming’ ceremony?

The highly prestigious Toilet Seat Award for some well sustained hash longevity

Personally, the elements that I enjoyed most about the hash ( aside from “on down” at the pub after ) was being able to run around after dark with no concerns about navigating or worrying where I was, just following the group ; the stop/start nature of the run and the fact that there was so much to focus on that there was none of the ‘this is hard work’ feeling which often accompanies a more convential run ; and that it was just pure, childlike, adventurous, fun!

Hashing chapters also don’t confine themselves to just two feet. Following roughly the same principles you can join a group Hashing by Bike or even Snorkel Hashing – I would be VERY wary of this latter malarkey!

It was lovely to see Charlotte , aka “Footloose” receive her tea pot celebrating 100 hash’s

I can absolutely and heartily recommend visiting one of these fun, mad, highly social events. Look up your local H3 chapter, leave any inhibitions at home and go along and have a fantastic “virgin hash”. If you have been a little alarmed by what you have read here don’t loose hope as there do exist many levels of H3 and very ‘family friendly’ groups are out there if you would rather avoid too much innuendo strewn banter. Checking out a charters website and having a read of one of their hash mags will give you a full ‘heads up’ of where they sit on the scale of Carry On style cheekiness.

See you at the ‘On Down’ πŸ‘πŸ»

Huge thanks to the Tamar Valley Hash House Harriers for making me so welcome and introducing me to this zany pastime as well as their very kind donation to the Running the Summits fundraising for Mountain Rescue England and Wales, the Mountain Rescue Search Dogs and Fix the Fells.

βŠ™Photos (mostly) courtesy of Tamar Valley Hash House Harriers. Small disclaimer : apologies for any slightly risque double entendre phrasing in this blog – I can only put it down to the bad influence I have been under. (Ooo’err)

Not every Marilyn is a Munro

Many people have compiled lists of the hills and mountains of the British Isles over the last 130 years, so much so it has become a British hill-walking sport to tick off the various collections, a pastime known as ‘Hill-Bagging’ or ‘Peak Bagging’. In my #RunningtheSummits 1000 Mountain challenge I will need to become a fairly obsessive participant of this activity but there is no definitive 1000 mountains collection so how do I go about compiling such a lengthy list of my own for this challenge?

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Mike Knipe has a very amusing detailed blog delving further into this bizarre British pastime featured on the UKHillwalking website.
20180607_091304Standing on the ‘pointy bit’. CAUTION : always bear in mind, getting down is much tricker than getting up!

It started, as these things do, with the question over a pint or two “What makes a mountain a mountain?”……some time later and after much debate, disagreement and admittedly a little drunkenness, the question had not been adequately answered so I later turned to that font of all knowledge- the modern, universal library……Google!

20180607_150548Some baffling trigonometry behind measuring a mountains height – points deducted for not showing my workings out!

There seemed to be a consensus of agreement that to constitute ‘mountain’ status in Britain a peak needed to be 2000ft (609.6metres) or higher. Question simply answered you might think…..well, no. This was where the clear black and white line ended. Because there are many humps and bumps along a ridgeline for example that can easily be argued to be part of the main summit as opposed to mountains in their own right. In order to make some sense of this jumble of peaks, ridges, bumpy shoulders (technical term!), crags and outcrops various lists began to be compiled to categorise the peaks into orderly groups of hills that could be qualified, quantified and best of all, ‘bagged’. How we British love lists. I am a dedicated list maker myself so this particular, logistical part of the challenge really got me keenly reaching for the coloured marker pens.

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My Multi Coloured Map of English Mountains and hillsΒ  – happy hours of plotting on the Viewranger App!

Now if a person wanted to climb a large number of the highest mountains in Britain they really need not look much further than Scotland which hosts way more than its fair share of fabulous high and wild places. But my objective with the Running the Summits challenge was to showcase a broader selection of peaks throughout the Isles and to highlight the fact that Yes, we DO have mountains in England.

Screenshot_20180605-204556Some fairly ‘mountainy’ looking peaks in Britain

So the first list that I decided to use for my 1000 mountains compilation is the ‘Hewitt’s’ , an anacronym of sorts…Hills of England, Wales and Ireland over Two Thousand feet. This list was compiled by Alan Dawson and the contenders were originally quite aptly called ‘Sweats’. The additional criteria that secures a peaks place on the Hewitt list is a topographical prominence of 100ft (30’ish metres). In simpler terms that’s basically the amount of height the summit has over the surrounding ground, i.e. the ‘pointy’ bit that makes it stand out! There are over 500 Hewitts spread out across England, Wales and Ireland so my 1000 mountain list was immediately half full.

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I then added ‘Nuttalls’, named after John and Anne Nuttall who compiled the list published in their books ‘The Mountains of England and Wales’ – all of which also qualify for mountain status by height, but these peaks only need 50ft (15m) of ‘pointy bit’ at the top to qualify as a Nuttall. Whilst all Hewitts are also Nuttalls, the full Nuttall list of 444 mountains adds a further 126 summits to my compilation.

20170327_001431Ingleborough – one of the highest peaks in Yorkshire and part of the popular Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge, an all round top day out followed by cake and a pint of tea at the Pen y Ghent Cafe in Horton-in-Ribblesdale – just get round before they close!

During my research I also came across an opinion that as well as peaks over 2000ft, a peak over 1000ft, if it had considerable topographical prominance, i.e. stuck out like a sore thumb, totally dominating its surroundings, it could, loosely, in some circles be considered a mountain. I have since misplaced my reference for this argument but I am sure it was hidden somewhere in the pages of the mountainguide.co.uk which, incidentaly lists 10,000 peaks throughout the British Isles and is a fabulous source of reference and hill-shaped vital statistics, if you like that sort of thing. One list that would include such attention grabbing peaks is the ‘Marilyns’ (the name a pun to the Scottish ‘Munro’s’ – there is no such list as ‘the Mansons’!)Β  This extremely voluptuous list of 2010 peaks in the British Isles, also compiled by Alan Dawson includes all hills with a prominence of at least 500ft (152m) (i.e. ones with extremely outstanding ‘pointy bits’) regardless of their overall height. I felt some of these peaks deserved a place in my list, after all – my challenge, my rules!

received_10160169254685234Pen y Ghent lost in the clag – a Hewitt, Nuttall AND Marilyn all in one!

All the Marilyns of England, Wales and Ireland above 2000ft are by default also Hewitts, but for the purposes of my list of 1000 I will be including an additional number that stand between 1000ft and 2000ft in England and Wales qualifying as ‘Mini Mountains’. This classification group also gives me the chance to travel a little more widely around England too as all of the 2000ft+ mountains bar two are situated in the National Parks of northern England.

20180607_093550They might not be mountains but Chrome and Parkhouse Hills are as pointy as a witches hat.

I’m not sure exactly how many Marilyns I will include yet as I am still scoping out the illegal ones – those hanging out on private land – which I will probably be avoiding, not least because carrying bolt cutters would heavily encroach upon my ‘fast and light’ policy.

Then of course when we look to the Lake District which hosts by far the majority of English mountains we have that wonderful list, the ‘Wainwrights’, which just brings a romantic sigh from the mouths of hill walkers everywhere – a list of 214 Lakeland peaks, just to confuse matters further, locally known as ‘fells’. These 214 fell tops are a definitive group with no statistical criteria. They were illustrated and written about by Alfred Wainwright in his collection of guides to the lakeland fells for no more than aesthetic reasons and constitute some of the most beloved mountains and hills of the region.

20180606_205528The view from Haystacks – Alfred Wainwright’s favourite fell

Wainwright bagging is also a very popular activity, which would probably have been much to the chagrin of the mild mannered, shy man himself who cared little for any form of rushing around in the hills, list ticking or bagging. I have long admired his simple, uncomplicated lifestyle and love and knowledge of the Lake District fells so it seemed fitting to finally reach the summits of all of these places that I have previously only dipped into, as a part of this challenge.

20180606_205705Kirk Fell looking non too inviting…

Many of the Wainwrights fall into other categories – Hewitts or Nuttalls giving them full mountain status for the purposes of my list. Some are also Marilyns, classing them as ‘Mini Mountains’ and a few aren’t on any other list but I have chosen to include them, adding another 62 (dubiously classed) mountains to my list. All the Wainwrights stand above 1000ft bar one, Castle Crag, which I intend to summit to fully complete the Wainwrights ( i’m sure the idea of leaving just one hill on any list un-bagged would surely send an ardent peak bagger into a state of incomprehensible shock) but Castle Crag will not count officially towards my 1000 Mountains.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0853.JPGSmall but beautiful – Neither a mountain nor a mini mountain by the criteria but Arthur’s Seat surveying Edinburgh is a firm favourite running hill.

So that’s alot of peaks already throughout England, Wales, all of Ireland and the Isle of Man. But no journey around the Mountains of the British Isles would be complete without a hefty dose ofΒ  Scottish mountain magic. In fact, if I just wanted to reach the sublime total of 1000 Mountain summits, more than enough contenders –Β  around 2100,Β  could be found in Scotland alone.

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Scotland has a whole other set of list for fervent hill-baggers. The mightiest of all the mountains here are those that reach the lofty status of ‘Munro’ , named after Sir Hugh Munro who produced the first list of such mountains in 1891. A ‘Munro’ is a peak of 3000ft or more regardless of relative elevation. Despite much debate about the ‘true’ peaks and subsidiary tops and re-surveys over the years with more accurate equipment there are now 282 Munros and 227 subsidiary tops.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1131.JPGAs a break from the mind boggling lists and numbers – a gratuitous pic of Patch on Christmas morning brewing up on the summit of Stob Mhic Mhartuin ……………..now back to the numbers

‘Corbetts’ of which there are a nice round 222, are mountains between 2500 and 3000ft with the added criteria of 500ft (152m) of prominence. Then there are ‘Grahams’, named for Fiona Graham and often referred to as lesser Corbetts, standing between 2000 and 2500ft with the same relative prominence of 500ft, of which there are 224.

20180606_211314Just a glimpse of the poetic Ben Lomond overlooking the waters of Loch Lomond

The final chunk of my 1000 Mountains list will consist of a wonderful selection of the most well known, favourite, legally accessible! and best suited to hill-running mountains from the lists of Munros, Corbetts and Grahams.

20180606_212428A drizzly day cannot detract from the unmistakably dramatic silhouette of Suilven

Even after all that I still have some spaces dedicated to iconic little peaks which are much beloved by local standards but fail to make any list. This was inspired by my recent discovery of a diminuitive but attention grabbing peak called Roseberry Topping on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. Known locally as the Yorkshire Matterhorn this little peak caught my eye driving south from Northumberland to the Yorkshire Coast to meet friends for Sunday lunch. From a distance it looked like a huge mountain, totally dominating its surroundings and I had something of a ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ moment as I became totally entranced by this peak and in danger of hypnotically sculpting it out of mashed potato during Sunday dinner to the, no doubt, bemused confusion of my friends. (this reference won’t make any sense at all if you haven’t seen the classic 80’s film which was actually in 1977!)

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As the road took me closer and closer I had to stop to make a detour run to its summit – just because you do! Roseberry Topping, aside from having a great name stands over 1000 feet and I was sure it must be a Marilyn but its prominence must fall short by a few metres because it doesn’t make the list – harsh judgement! I know there are other local ‘Matterhorns’ around the country and I think it is a shame to miss out on them just because they don’t quite meet the box ticking statistics. Such aesthetically pleasing peaks will always be firm favourites among anyone who loves the outdoors even to those who are content to only admire them from the bottom. So – my challenge, my rules – a handful of such peaks will make it onto my list of 1000. I am already aware of a few of these special places but if you happen to have a mini-matterhorn overlooking your back yard please get in touch and let me know!

20180605_201638The ‘Yorkshire Matterhorn’

Incredibly, the lists still go on, probably enough to keep the fanatical bagger occupied for several lifetimes over, scaling Simms, Donalds, Deweys, Hardys, HuMPs, TuMPs, Lumps and Bumps (the last two I just made up!) but for me it is time to put my tired feet up and enjoy the views.

Screenshot_20180605-204418.jpgOverlooking the Miner’s TrackΒ  from the PYG path on the flanks of Snowdon

disclaimers :

some of my feet to metre measurement conversions might be not entirely accurate to the centimetre but are rounded to a more….well…..rounded number for the purposes of this piece. Some, though, are entirely accurate to the fourth decimal place, just to keep you on your toes.

This is also designed to be a gentle overview when it comes to these classifications in order that most readers should retain consciousness. If you are a list ticking, stats devouring fanatic on the other hand there is literally a figurative mountain of info on the subject on that highly reliable source Wikipedia!

Finally, my use of the term ‘pointy bits’ is probably over selling many mountain tops but ’rounded hump’ did not sound quite so enticing.

My #RunningtheSummits 1000 Mountains in 365 days challenge is not just entirely for my own amusement or merely just some perverse attempt to torture my knees but also has a goal to raise a mountain of cash to support our Mountain Rescue Teams, Search and Rescue Dogs and Fix the Fells, all incredible volunteer manned charities that are the real heroes of the high places.Β 

Please donate a little if you canΒ  – just click on the big heart below to donate…..thank you πŸ˜ŠπŸ‘£β€

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