Reporter LESLEY TATE takes part in a fell rescue training operation

IT was bad enough lying on concrete hard, wet, jagged limestone after having carefully lowered myself into place, but in my role as a practice casualty for Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue I had in fact fallen 70 feet and crash-landed onto the unforgiving surface .

Along with my fellow volunteer, team member, Phill Nelson, I had been standing at the top of Troller’s Gill, near Skyreholme, trying to see if there were any climbers, had got too close to the edge, and had toppled off.

I didn’t really like to dwell too much on just what such a nasty fall would have done to my 56 year old body, but imagining, as Phill had instructed ‘the worst pain possible’, I suspected not even the most prolonged of child births would have come close.

So, there I was, in the driving, cold rain, my face and teeth pressed against wet rock, and my legs stuck out at all angles, waiting for the rescue team to arrive, and meanwhile, trying not to think of the Troller’s Gill barghest - a large black dog with flaming red eyes, said to be the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s nightmarish Hound of the Baskervilles.

Phill had told me to make like I had severe lower back pain, with no feeling in my feet, and to answer the rescue team when spoken to, but not to offer up anything else. When asked on a scale of one to ten just how much pain I was in, I was to answer eight. Just how much I wanted to embellish my role was left to me.

A paramedic once told me it was the quiet ones in an accident you had to worry about most, not the screamers, so, apart from the occasional groan, I kept Schtum.

The team regularly carries out practice exercises; Phill had told me that a previous volunteer had spoken to his rescuers throughout in German, and seeing as none of the team could speak the language, it had been a very worthwhile and useful exercise, with much use of hand signals.

Back to the freezing cold gorge, and awfully close to the barghest’s lair, the approaching team members - immediately obvious in red jackets, shouted reassuring words, and asked if we had a dog.

I later discovered, even the most docile of Labradors can get protective of an owner in distress, so the volunteers come prepared with bags of treats. A team member will if necessary look after any dog and take it back to team headquarters in Grassington to be collected later.

So while Phill, performing well as anxious and slightly annoying partner, was taken off gently to one side, to be calmed down, I was covered with a tent, mercifully out of the rain, examined, constantly spoken to , and my breathing and pulse regularly checked. I was also given gas and air - a pain reliever also used in child birth - weirdly, although the machine was not actually switched on, I thought it was, and instantly became very relaxed. Interestingly, although I had not been lying on the stone for long, I had become very cold, what with all the rain, and had started to shiver uncontrollably, it made me think how quickly hyperthermia must kick in.

I was then gently lifted onto a specialist Bell stretcher by several pairs of hands, turned over and secured into a vacuum mattress. I was asked if I wanted my hands inside or out - good for someone like me who is slightly catastrophic - and whether I had anything in my pockets - this, I learned later was to prevent items like keys getting painfully stuck in legs. Once the casualty is secured in the mattress, the air is taken out, leaving them extremely secure, and warm.

Then, the stretcher was picked up and the carrying out of the gorge began. I knew how difficult navigating the limestone had been earlier, Phill had put me in a spot off the track, and it had been raining for some time, the surface was treacherous. I’m not sure how they managed it, but my passage out of the gorge was swift and smooth - the stretcher carriers stopped frequently, with someone up ahead looking out for the easiest route, but I never once felt in any danger of being dropped. In fact, the soothing words of the team, the imaginary gas and air, and the gentle rocking of the stretcher almost sent me off to sleep. Even being lifted over a ladder stile, difficult enough at the best of times, at the neck of the ravine was smoothly done.

Once out of the gorge, we reached an accessible spot, where I , had I been a genuine casualty, would have been taken to hospital via air ambulance, and the rescue team’s work was at an end.

My taking part as a practice casualty was all part of a peer review weekend, which on the Saturday had involved a round the table exercise at the Grassington headquarters and on the Sunday the practice rescue.

What of course could not be planned were the two actual call outs during the day. One came in just after the team had arrived to rescue me in the ravine, and which had threatened to put a stop to the whole exercise. Fortunately, a second team was dispatched to assist the mountain biker who had fallen at the top of Shortbank Road in Skipton and who had broken an ankle.

The second call, to assist a woman at Buckden Pike, came shortly after we arrived back at headquarters. I had just been given a mug of tea and was talking to Tim Cain, of Swaledale Mountain Rescue Team, and national peer review leader, when the call came in. Minutes later, and most of the team had gone, off to rescue someone else.

Before he disappeared, Tim told me so far this year, 15 peer reviews had taken place with a further two more before the end of the year. His role, he explained was not to try and catch the team out, but to hold up a mirror to members, to support the highly trained volunteers and help the team to constantly improve. Sharing good practice with other organisations was highly valuable, he pointed out, especially as different teams had different challenges.

Along with Tim, the review team included Rob Stordy, of Buxton Mountain Rescue, and Tim Radford of Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue in Wales.

The Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association has been going since 1948 and is based at ‘The Hut’ in Hebden Road, Grassington.

Its more than 80 well trained and well equipped volunteers, who come from all walks of life and scattered all over, are on call every day of the year, rescuing people and animals from the caves, mineshafts, fells and crags of Wharfedale, Nidderdale, Littondale and Mid-Airedale. More than half of rescues take place on Ilkley Moor or the area around Brimham Rocks.

It is occasionally called in to help the Cave Rescue Organisation, which looks after the area of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, and is based in Clapham.

The service is free to all who need it, day or night, and is financed entirely by donations and fundraising events, such as the annual Wharfedale Three Peaks Challenge at Kettlewell.

To find out more about Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue, and to support its work,