A MAN found dead in a peat bog in the Trough of Bowland is legendary fell runner Bill Smith.

Mr Smith, a member of Clayton-le-Moors Harriers for 40 years, had been running across Saddle Fell when he became submerged in the bog.

Police believe he may have been trapped for up to three weeks.

His body was discovered by a walker at the weekend, and was recovered after a five-hour operation by police and mountain rescue volunteers.

In a tribute Graham Breeze, chairman of the Fell Running Association, said: "Fell runners come and go, champions come and go, but no-one will ever be as important to the development and history of fell running as the man who died in September on the Bowland fells."

Others also expressed their shock and sadness at Mr Smith's death.

Peter Booth, chairman of the Clayton-le-Moors Harriers, said: "Bill was a well respected, almost revered, member of the Fell Runners' Association.

"Despite having to rely on public transport, Bill helped out at a huge number of races, often in the most inaccessible venues.

"He used to take photos, which he would distribute, free of charge, to the subjects and always had a cheery word for anyone who passed the time of day with him.

"A true gentleman, he will be greatly missed by all. He was an absolutely marvellous chap."

At the club's annual general meeting on August 25, Mr Smith was elected as an Honorary Member in recognition of his outstanding service to the club and to the sport of fell running.

Over the years Mr Smith had written numerous articles about fell running, runners and races, but his greatest achievement was a book about the history of the sport- 'Studmarks on the Summits - A History of Amateur Fell Racing 1861-1983'.

Published in 1986, the book sold out and copies of the "definitive guide to fell running" have recently been changing hands for more than £100 on internet auction sites.

Mr Breeze said: "Considering the masterpiece that bears his name, Bill Smith was a staggeringly modest and unassuming man.

"Only a handful of people in the world of fell running could justify the adjective 'revered'.

"Fell running has a history of great characters but as someone who has tried to write about fell running over the years the only person I ever really wanted to meet was Bill.

"I will always be humbly grateful that I was able to have met him and talked with him and corresponded with him."

Legendary athlete Ron Hill said that Mr Smith's book had been a 'bible' for future generations.

He said: "Bill was an extremely retiring sort of person but he was always willing to help and he made a real contribution to the sport.

"He had immense knowledge and was able to produce a comprehensive guide to fell running which inspired and encouraged others to take it up.

"He will truly be missed."

His friend and fellow fell runner, Ian Roberts, 60, from Lancaster, said: "He was really highly regarded in fell running circles because of his knowledge and contribution to the sport.

"It is a tremendous loss."

Mr Smith, from Liverpool, had travelled on the train from Ormskirk to Preston on September 10 but never made the return journey.

Usually he marshalled at Thieveley Pike race near Burnley in September but this year he failed to attend causing concern among racegoers.

Detectives and mountain rescuers described his death as a tragic accident.

Police were contacted at about 5.20pm on Saturday when a fell walker made the discovery in the Trough of Bowland.

It took the walker a number of hours to walk off the fell to raise the alarm as there was no phone reception in the vicinity, the police said.

Due to the remote location, a search and rescue operation was held off until the following morning so that the police and Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue Team could recover the body during daylight hours.

A police helicopter carrying the mountain rescue team leader and a senior fire officer was then sent to the scene and a plan of recovery was finalised.

It was decided that the mountain rescuers would handle the recovery of the body and the team were deployed to the hill in a 4x4 Landrover with other police officers arriving by helicopter.

Once the body had been removed from the peat bog the team of rescuers paused for a few moments to pay their respects.

The body was then loaded on to the police helicopter before being flown off the hill.

Police then launched an appeal to find Mr Smith's next of kin before he was formally identified by his elderly sister who also lives in Liverpool.

Detective Sergeant Nigel Watson said: "We have now spoken to a number of Mr Smith's friends and family and his body has been identified. Our thoughts and sympathy are with them."

Career A CHANCE meeting with Stan Bradshaw, ‘the father figure of fell running’ on the Todmorden Boundary Walk led Bill Smith to join the Clayton-le-Moors Harriers in November 1971.

In the 1970s he was training 80 to 100 miles per week and put in good performances in the Fellsman Hike in 1969, 1970 and 1971.

He attained second placings in 1973, 1976 and 1977 and quickly became a member of the prizewinning team at the Clayton Harriers.

He also took part in long-distance fell races including the lakes Mountain Trial and Wasdale Horseshoe.

And in 1973 he broke the record for the Bob Graham Round, one of the most demanding challenges in the country, with Boyd Millen.

Two years later he traversed another feat completing 55 peaks in 24 hours.

His most outstanding run was his traverse of 63 peaks in 23 hours and 55 minutes in 1976. This still stands as second to Jos Naylor's record total of 72 peaks.

Later he was better known as a marshall at events and also acted as a press officer for the Fell Running Association.