I'VE made a hash of a good few things by accident over the years, but I've now discovered a way of doing it on purpose, with a great bunch of people.
Hashing is a form of non-competitive 'hare and hounds' event – variously described as a run, walk or crawl – which began in Kuala Lumpur way back in 1938 a when a group of British colonial officials and expats (who else!) founded a running club called the Hash House Harriers.
They took their name from their meeting place, the Selangor Club, nicknamed the Hash House, and their runs were like the traditional, old-school paper chase, where a 'hare' was given a head start to blaze a trail, marking the way with shreds of paper, pursued by a shouting pack of 'harriers' intent on reaching the finish and be rewarded with lashings of cold beer.
Not much has changed!
Nowadays, a Hash will generally start and finish at a pub chosen by the hare in an interesting bit of country, or even in a town or city, with the pursuing pack following a trail marked in flour, sawdust or chalk, via checkpoints, waiting points, and – if you're lucky – an intermediate refreshment stop.
The frontrunners yell 'ON, ON' to show they are on the right track for the benefit of the slower runners, walkers and latecomers, which is very handy to cope with the inevitable false trails. Frontrunners, sometimes known as FRBs (Front Running B******s), have to locate the genuine trail, which can be in any direction, along paths, streets, back alleys, over fences, rivers and streams, through tunnels or up hills.
This allows valuable time for the rest to catch up and increase the chances of everyone reaching the end at roughly the same time, while allowing the fit fell-running types to feel good by covering twice the average five or six-mile distance.
I teamed up with the Rossendale-based Black Pudding Hashers, the self-styled Drinking Club with a Running Problem, to tackle a mystery route which took in the Healey Dell Nature Reserve, on the rural outskirts of Rochdale, in Lancashire.
My chum George, an ex-RAF man with an impish sense of humour, had blazed the trail starting from The Birches, a traditional pub in Whitworth, with orders placed for lunch on our return. Hashers inevitably have nicknames (George's is sadly unprintable) and keen FRBs included Black Pudding stalwarts Chris, known as Shaggy Plug (I didn't dare ask) and non-Spaniard Grassy A***e; along with another Chris from Manchester Hash House Harriers, an ever-smiling personal trainer known as Madam Sin . . . again, I didn't dare ask.
The route, with cunning diversions for the unwary, opened up some amazing countryside high on the hills, including hamlets and clusters of historic farms I never realised existed, with the wildlife sanctuary of Healey Dell in the valley below then revealing a wealth of industrial archaeology.
At its heart, the River Spodden has carved its way through the woodlands, creating pools and spectacular waterfalls which once powered ancient corn, wool and cotton mills and was the perfect setting for a Pooh Sticks contest.
After a surprise, and very welcome, refreshment rendezvous compliments of George's wife Angela, the route took us along a disused 1800s railway line, now a nature trail with magnificent views from a 100-foot high viaduct, sampled in daredevil (ie daft and risky) fashion by one Hasher who turned out to be a doctor, no less.
From there, is was 'ON, INN' and back to The Birches and a change out of muddy boots before a leisurely refuelling session and a light-hearted 'circle' to reward or reprimand activities on the hash, along with a raffle for prizes of questionable quality as well as beer.
As a Hash 'virgin', along with delightful IT sales exec Denise (we don't have nicknames yet), I was awarded a beer, downed in time to a traditional raucous song and with almost-empty glass duly inverted over my head.
Having made a Hash of that, and enjoyed every moment, I can't wait for the next outing.
Try it, you'll like it – there will be a group near you and you can find out all about Hashing visiting the folowing links: