Just over a year ago, my dad, Alistair Patten, died suddenly from a heart attack whilst driving home after a pleasant walk with his wife Marion. He calmly pulled over, parked the car on the grass verge, stopped the engine, said ‘funny do’ and fell silent.
This was a big shock for all of us. His funeral took place on 9th December 2021, which would have been his 88th birthday.
It’s fair to say my dad lived a full life. Sport and the natural environment at the centre of everything. First as a cyclist with the Clarion club in Clitheroe, where he met my mum. Then running with his beloved Clayton le Moors Harriers. He was one of the early fell running and orienteering pioneers. Bob Graham Club member 22.
Dad in his favourite running vest
Together with close friends, Gerry Charnley and Ken Turner, in 1963, they organised the UK’s first orienteering event at Whitewell in the Ribble Valley, the year after I was born. They also collaborated on the first two day mountain marathon, formerly the KIMM, now TheOMM.
Dad helped set up Pendle Forest Orienteers and took part in the very first World Orienteering Championships in Finland in 1966, finishing first Brit, ahead of Olympian and GB team mate, Gordon Pirie.
Dad’s original map of the 1966 World Orienteering Championships in Finland – looks well hard!
He ran 21 consecutive Three Peak Races; climbed all the Scottish Munros; set up the Ribble Way walking route. Dad also organised lots of events too – fell races, road races, orienteering events, even the UK’s very first triathlon, the Ribble Valley Triathlon. One of his road races, the Ribble Valley 10K, is still going strong some 45 years later!
So it’s thanks to dad that my eyes were opened from a young age to sports in general, event organising in particular and the wonders of our natural world. I’ve certainly inherited his love of maps and finding my own way.
Fly fishing was another big passion for my dad – here he is with a whopper salmon
Dad always kept himself busy, preferring the outside world to being indoors. Of course, all these achievements and time away from the family came at a cost. No-one’s perfect. It takes a while coming to terms with all the mixed up emotions a close family bereavement stirs up.
Twenty years ago, when I turned 40, bored with my professional life as an Optometrist, I found myself following in his footsteps.
Running on the Derwentwater Trail (Back to Front)
I’ve always loved the glitz and glamour, the hype, colour, noise and sheer professional spectacle of European mountain trail races such as Sierre-Zinal in Switzerland. So I started the Lakeland Trails events in 2004, here where I live in the Lake District, essentially bringing a new model and the sport of trail running to the UK.
Lakeland Trails in Keswick
Three years ago, in preparation for a pre-Brexit family move to France, after 100 Lakeland Trails events involving over 150,000 competitors, I passed the flag over to our event manager, Phil Blaylock. Satisfied I’d left them in safe hands, we packed our bags for sunnier climes, then … COVID-19, Lockdown and we missed that window of opportunity.
Dad mountaineering in Scotland
Dad passed away over a year ago and my brother Andrew couldn’t travel for the funeral from his home in Australia due to COVID restrictions. He eventually managed to fly back in September 2022 and along with my older sister Suzan, we climbed one of dad’s favourite mountains, Pen-Y-Ghent, for sunrise, spreading his ashes high into the cold morning air.
On the summit of Pen-Y-Ghent for sunrise with my brother Andrew, and sister Suzan
Returning to orienteering five or six years ago was an eye-opener. The sport hasn’t changed much in the 30 years since last competing regularly. Initially, I just wanted to try and inspire Ash with having a go at the map reading ‘survival skills’ of navigation, taking part as a family.
Ash orienteering in Europe in 2018
We lived for a year in France in 2017-18, joining a lovely French club, PSNO. Even my non-running partner Claire enjoyed taking part in the glitzy French orienteering events. Or maybe she just liked wearing the fetching pink and blue maillot festooned with the club’s sponsors?
Returning to the UK, we noticed much more how low-key, niche and off-the-radar the sport actually is. Not as family friendly as the French events. An ageing profile with a dearth of youngsters. Certainly not much glitz and glamour anywhere. Ash and Claire don’t enjoy orienteering much anymore and have pretty much given up.
Our time in France impressed us with how vibrant, young, inclusive and exciting orienteering could be, even using town centres, villages and parkland.
2022 World Masters Orienteering Champion
This year I’ve been honing my own orienteering skills, and was delighted to win Gold in the World Masters Orienteering Championships in Italy during the summer.
I’ve also been thinking a lot, now I’ve got time on my hands. Wondering if a European approach may work here in the UK, on the totally different sport of orienteering? Attempt to bring in some much needed new blood. Try another way. My mantra has always been, ‘make it fun and the kids will come’. It certainly works with Lakeland Trails and Phil is still doing a great job, working hard to keep that flag flying high, the events as popular as ever.
European orienteering, Italian style
Dad left some inheritance money and I could think of no better use than using mine to underwrite something new with his favourite sport of orienteering. My brother Andrew and sisters Suzan and Carole think so too.
A tribute to my dad
It’s been exciting creating something different and unique. I’ve always loved big ideas that inspire others, especially young people. So I’ve come up with a totally new event concept, for those who want to learn some navigation skills in a fun and family friendly environment. A stepping stone into the world of orienteering. Maybe a more achievable option.
Just as Lakeland Trails was set up to encourage normal, everyday people to step off the roads and onto the trails, this new event is going to help people learn to practice navigation skills, so they too can safely step off the trails and into the natural world, the home of our native wild fox. So, I’ve simply called the event Wild Fox Trails.
We’re planning to launch the first event in the Lake District sometime this year.
With luck, we hope to make it a fitting tribute to my dad!
I very much hope to see you there.
7th January 2023
Founder – Lakeland Trails
World Masters Orienteering Champion 2022