The Angry Corrie 55: Oct-Nov 2002
FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE might already seem like a long time ago, but it crops up in a couple of anecdotal reports published over the past while - once by implication, once with tragic directness. The first appeared in the 18 July edition of the Clitheroe Advertiser (thanks to Jeff Parr for this) and relates to Fred Mercer of Chatburn in Lancashire who died aged 74 "as he had lived, in his running clothes". Fred was mainly a cyclist during his working years (he never owned a car) but as he neared retirement "he took up the two interests that would consume the rest of his life, walking and running". He made his first circuit of the Three Peaks (Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough) aged 56 on 10 June 1983, and went on to complete the round a further 55 times.
That was dwarfed however by the work he put in on his local hill, Pendle. Within two years of taking up running ("at first he would go to the front door, peep out to ensure there was no one else about, then set off up Downham Road"), he was fit enough to run over the 557m hill: a 10km circuit from Chatburn with 450m of ascent. At the time of his death - collapsing as he re-entered the village on the way back from another ascent - he had been up the Lancashire landmark "more than 960 times".
Not surprisingly, his stated ambition had been 1000 runs to the top, and at the time of his death "he was still averaging three runs a week". Although the report doesn't mention the time lost due to FMD, it seems clear that the Keep Off period would have prevented upwards of 40 runs, and so (although he wasn't to know this at the time) it took away Fred Mercer's chance of 1000 ascents.
At least the land closure above Ribblesdale was legal (even though there was no evidence that local runners and walkers would spread the disease). Sadly the same cannot be said for events in the far north of Scotland, where a tragic incident appears to have been a direct consequence of FMD-prompted paranoia. The 2002 edition of the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal includes, in its accident list, the following report:
June 28-29  - Walker (69) had turned back from Ben Loyal on 28th because of foot-and-mouth disease notices and informed campsite owner he was going somewhere else. On same day he was seen with unleashed dog, still going up about 20 minutes from summit, by descending walkers near crags on Ben Klibreck. Cloud base was about 700m. Campsite owner recognised his car at Vagasty [sic] on 29th and reported it to police. His body was found in the afternoon by RAF Sea King and Kinloss MRT with the uninjured dog beside him. He seemed to have fallen about 150m. Assynt MRT assembled.
Perhaps this walker would still have died had he gone to Ben Loyal instead of Ben Klibreck, but most likely he wouldn't. Late June was almost two months after the Scottish Executive had published its Comeback Code, and the only way that the sign (evidently worded strongly enough to warn off walkers) could have been legal was if it related to the isolated FMD scare near Tongue in mid-April 2001. This involved Sutherland farmer Chris Shepherd who had (perhaps unwisely) visited relatives in Cumbria. He didn't move any animals, nor did he set foot on an infected farm, but he was quickly outed by the NFU with whom, it appears from subsequent reports, he had not been on the best of terms. The suspicion was very much that the NFU leapt at the chance to do some score-settling - a suspicion greatly heightened in early May 2001 when the NFU defended a union-friendly farmer above Luss who had contravened just about every FMD instruction in the book by moving livestock up from winter grazing in Ayrshire. Whereas Shepherd was pilloried and given zero support, the NFU backed the Luss farmer to the extent of describing his actions as "an honest mistake".
Whatever: Shepherd's stock was slaughtered on a precautionary basis and his premises were placed under a restricted-access order. The west-Sutherland uplands weren't closed however, and it seems almost certain that the sign seen by the walker on 28 June 2001 had no basis in law. All that can be hoped for in the aftermath of such an incident is that whoever placed the sign - and all those who placed similar signs across uninfected areas of Scotland - should now have a long hard think about the consequences of their actions. Chances are they won't, though.