WHEN Chris Baker joined the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association, he could never have envisaged that he would still be in the team 61 years later - and is, in fact, considered to be the longest-ever serving member of a mountain rescue team in the country.

Chris, from Grassington, joined in 1953 and had it not been for getting his call-up papers for National Service in the Army just as he was about to start training, he would have had a further two years' service. He went from basic army training straight out to Egypt at the height of the Suez Crisis.

The team had planned a celebration dinner to mark his 60 years of service, but it took over a year to pin him down to a date due to his many other Dales activities and global travel adventures.

For as well as his remarkable UWFRA service, he has been an active member of Wharfedale Rugby Union Club as a player and official for 65 years as well as the local church choir, including 26 years as churchwarden.

The celebration event eventually took place at the Gamekeeper’s Inn, Long Ashes, Threshfield where 60 members and retired members saw National Mountain Rescue England and Wales president Peter Bell present Chris with a specially produced 60-year certificate.

In his address, Mr Bell, a founder member of the Langdale and Ambleside Team and inventor of the renowned Bell lightweight mountain rescue stretcher, thanked Chris for his outstanding service.

A further presentation was made by the North Yorkshire Police.

During his time UWFRA, Chris has served as team secretary, chairman, operations controller and currently holds the title of company secretary and assistant treasurer.

He has seen many changes, having joined the team in its infancy with a handful of volunteers, a stretcher, some hemp ropes and a first aid kit to a team with 80 highly-trained members using state-of-the-art equipment.

When asked why he joined, Chris, the most modest of men, said he was fortunate to live in the countryside and belonging to a volunteer rescue team was a way of putting something back.

"There are many highs and lows of course and even after all our experiences nothing still prepares us for the tragedies we have to face, be it people or animals. The highs are the many, successful rescues and the great camaraderie and friendships you cannot buy. Everything is a team effort and even when we are not out on a rescue, we practise, walk together and socialise," he said.