A long-distance challenge event that has run for almost 50 years was put in jeopardy at the last minute when land managers told organisers they would not let participants cross their land.
The Fellsman, a 97km (60-mile) race across the high ground of the Yorkshire Dales, was first held in 1962 and has run every year since, apart from disruptions due to foot and mouth disease in 1967 and 2001.
But an 11th-hour refusal by managers in the Middle Tongue area above Yockenthwaite in Langstrothdale to allow access meant some hurried negotiations with neighbouring tenants.
Organiser Sue Carter explained that, although much of the area is open access land, organised events such as the Fellsman do not fall under the right to roam provisions of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.
“The Wednesday before last, we were told by one of the land managers you can’t cross my land, and I thought: we might not have an event here,” Sue said.
“We have managed to negotiate a new route, but it has been a bit touch and go.”
Two checkpoints, the Middle Tongue and Hell Gap positions, have had to be moved south, and an ‘exclusion zone’ imposed covering the northern area of the fell-top at Middle Tongue.
The land manager’s concern was for ground-nesting birds in the area – with up to 450 runners and walkers potentially crossing the grouse moors during the event.
Sue Carter appealed to all participants to stay off the area; otherwise the future of the Fellsman, which celebrates its half century in 2012, could be in danger.
“We have just got to make sure everyone knows. If anyone goes across the excluded land we aren’t going to have an event next year,” she added.
The Fellsman route starts at Ingleton at 9am tomorrow, Saturday, with a mass start before the runners and walkers tackle Ingleborough, Whernside, Gragareth and Great Coum, then drop down to Dent prior to tackling the high fells of Langstrothdale and Wharfedale, finishing at Threshfield near Grassington.
The event is benefiting from sponsorship by The North Face this year.
Record-holder Mark Hartell is due to run, though he is unlikely to challenge his own fastest time of 10hrs 15mins. The 11-times winner sees his greatest threat coming from 2009 winner Jez Bragg, with Nicky Spinks tipped to be fastest woman over the course.
Last year’s winner Duncan Harris is recovering from a broken fibula.
Although the fastest runners will be looking to come home in a sub-11-hour time, many walkers will be night navigating across the Dales fells more slowly, with the last back at Threshfield likely to be about 2pm on Sunday.