These Hills Are Ours – Review – St Wilfrid’s Church, Harrogate
By Nigel Armitage, July 2021
When Daniel Bye first met Boff Whalley, he was less in awe of Boff’s international music success than by the Chumbawamba star’s running accomplishments: “His 10k time was amazing and he had completed the Bob Graham Round!”
Theirs is a friendship forged in a mutual love of running, and in ninety exhilarating minutes of words and music, These Hills Are Ours explores running’s amazing capability to both widen personal horizons, and to make links to past and present issues of social justice and progress.
Kindred spirits in running they may be, but they acknowledge that they are not the same type of runner. A recurring source of humour is Boff’s gentle ribbing of Dan for his slavish devotion to all things technological. “Dan has three heart rate monitors, why? His run hasn’t happened unless he’s recorded it on Strava!” By way of contrast to Dan’s all singing and dancing sports watch, Boff’s timepiece has a pop-up sun dial. Dan remains unconvinced.
“Acknowledgement and appreciation”
Where Dan’s and Boff’s passions do align is in their appreciation of their respective locality’s hills and mountains (the difference between a hill and a mountain forming an early amusing discussion between performers and audience). Dan enthuses about how running in this terrain connects him to the mud-plugging and boundless freedoms (real and imagined) of childhood. An adventure ‘away from the sirens and supermarket queues,’ as Boff puts it in one of his always endearing, melodic songs.
We are reminded that, up until the relatively recent past, access to much of Britain’s wild and hilly terrain was not a right afforded to those not part of the stag hunting and later the grouse shooting set. Barbed wire fences and vested interest discouraged working people in the burgeoning towns and cities from experiencing what in other societies might have been considered their birth right. Dan and Boff therefore give due acknowledgement and appreciation to Benny Rothman, organiser of Kinder Scout’s 1932 mass trespass, and his important role and that of others in the long hike towards public access rights to such areas.
These rights needed fighting for and it is a struggle that continues to this day. A startling, unsettling statistic mentioned by Dan and Boff is that over half of England is owned by less than one percent of the population, and that much of that private land is the greater part of England’s moorlands and wild places.
It was with a sense of wanting to celebrate the past achievements of Rothman, and of emphasising the on-going fight for public access to wilderness, that they planned to undertake a special long run together. In fact, a very long run starting from Lancaster, and including large sections of the Pennine way, and finishing at the summit of Kinder Scout in Derbyshire. But it turned out that Boff broke his big toe on the stairs at home and Dan had to do almost all of the run alone. In March. In the ice, snow and a bitter winter wind. Boff was there in a supporting role, providing the physical and emotional warmth of the camper van at crucial moments, and hot coffee and pasta. A lot of coffee and pasta.
In turns inspiring and terrifying, their account of Dan’s near heroic (and definitely demented) run forms the performance’s main direction of travel. But, and rather like Dan’s run itself (distressingly so for him!), there are digressions aplenty to enthral and enlighten about the value of getting out there and running towards that hilly horizon.
These Hills Are Ours is ultimately a story of a great friendship, based on a shared passion, told and sang by the two friends themselves. The superb performances by Dan and Boff draw the audience into their world of running or walking in the wild and beautiful landscape that usually lies just beyond the urban edge. It is also the world beyond the margins of the digital screen we are increasingly apt to inhabit. Dan and Boff want us to share this world, because it is ours, as the hills are ours, not to own or possess, but to experience and enjoy. These Hills Are Ours is a wonderful and evocative place to visit.