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The Hash House Harriers

The Hash House what…?
“Running?…. Beer?…. Beer and running?… I’m not sure if I like that!” This is the normal reaction of people when I try to tell them about the Hash House Harriers – a movement of non-competitive “sports” clubs which boasts over 100,000 participants world-wide and around 1500 chapters.

The “hash” – as it is more commonly called by its devotees is often described as “a club for drinkers with a running problem.”

What is Hashing?
The “sport” of Hashing is very similar to the “Hares and Hounds” type paper-chases which were popular in Victorian England. The precise details of what happens during a hash run vary from chapter to chapter however the general principles are more or less the same.

On each run, one or more members are designated as “hares”. The hares have two very important jobs:

  • To set a trail
  • To provide refreshments/entertainment for the “runners”

The hares set a trail by using flour, paper confetti, sugar, sawdust etc to make markings which the runners (often referred to as “the pack” or “hounds”) have to find and follow. As well as “blobs” to mark the path, the hares can also make special markings e.g.:

  • A circle denotes a check – meaning the hounds have to find the next bit of the trail. The rule is that you shout “checking” on encountering a check, and “on-on” on finding the trail.
  • The letter F means false trail – go back and look again
  • BN means “Beer Near” – a supply of beer and soda is available for consumption

The hounds will then navigate the trail at whatever pace suits them. The hash attracts people of all levels of fitness and running ability – from marathon runners to people out for a stroll. The idea of the special markings is to slow down the faster runners and therefore keep the pack together.

Most often, the hares will pre-lay the trail before the hounds arrive at the start, and will accompany the pack around the trail. Sometimes, the hares will give themselves a few minutes head-start and throw flour down and the pack will give chase. This is known as a “live hare” and is generally reserved for when it is raining and a pre-laid trail is at risk of being washed away.

At the end of the run (referred to as the “On-Inn“), the hares will provide beer, water and soda to quench the thirst worked up on the run. There is then a little fraternity business known as “The Circle” where “down-downs” (a beer or other beverage to be drunk in one go) are awarded to virgin hashers, and on significant occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries and also to those who have committed infractions (usually any trumped-up excuse).

The hares will also have provided for food – this could be anything from a big pan of chili or a barbie at the hare’s hutch to eating at a cheap and cheerful restaurant somewhere.

What do I need to become a hasher?
The most important thing you will need is a sense of humour. Everything on the hash is done with British-style tongue-in-cheek. The more you put into the hash in terms or participation, the more you will get out of it.

The only other thing is to turn up at a run. You don’t have to be a runner, and you don’t have to drink beer! The social aspect is far more important than the sporting aspect. The hash welcomes all races, genders, creeds, nationalities and species. We get folk of all ages – from babes in arms to people in their nineties. We’ve even had one person show up in a wheelchair!

What does it cost?
Runners are asked to pay a nominal fee to the treasurer – “The Hash Cash” – to reimburse the hares for the refreshments and for things like flour and so on. The Hash Cash will also retain a small amount for the club fund and this is mostly used to provide deposits for away weekends etc.

Some hashes charge the same flat fee every week. Others will vary the fee according to what the hares have provided – more if the hares have prepared food, less if the venue is a restaurant.

Can I Hash in Basel?
The Basel Stadt Hash House Harriers (BSH3 for short) has been established since 1996 and runs the second Saturday of every month. The list of forthcoming runs (known as the “receding hareline”) can be viewed on our website. The runs are mostly set in the Basel area and we always endeavour to start and finish runs close to public transport – so you don’t have to worry about driving home having had a few beers.

In Basel, the turnout depends very much on the weather and the time of year, however we get anything between 6 and 25 runners. This varies from chapter to chapter – for example the TNT Hash in Edinburgh averages 50 people per run on a Wednesday night which is good news for whichever pub they use for the On-Inn.

Hashing in Exotic Places
There are hashes in just about every part of the world.

In Switzerland, there are hashes in Geneva, Zuerich, Bern and Luzerne. Very often, hashes will organise away-weekend events – for example the 2003 Swiss Nash Hash took place during the last weekend of July in Cernay over in France and we entertained hashers from all over the world.

Every two years there is a “World Interhash”. Previous Interhashes have been in Thailand, New Zealand, Cyprus, Australia, India. There are other regular events such as EuroHash, the Africas Interhash (I went to the last one in Mombasa). Very often on such an event, you will get to see and experience aspects of these countries which might not be accessible to you if you visited as a normal tourist.

In the case of the Africas Interhash, I was able to meet people from all over Africa (in my opinion some of the friendliest folk in the world) – over a beer of course – and also gain an insight into the grinding poverty that so many people from that continent have to endure.

Hash History
A very good (and amusingly written) history of the hash can be found at the Global Trash Hash Bible.

The person credited with founding the hash was one Captain A. S. Gispert who got together with other ex-pats in Kuala Lumpur in 1938 to form a “paper-chase” club. Trails were laid using newspaper cuttings and attendance was about a dozen per run.

The original hashers were all members of the Selangor Club Chambers, which owing to the rather uninteresting food served there was known as the Hash House – hence the name

Hash activity in Malaysia was curtailed by World War II and sadly A. S. Gispert was killed in the Battle of Singapore in 1942. After the war, one of the surviving hashers – “Torch” Bennett – restarted the hash and managed to obtain war reparations for 24 enamel mugs, an old galvanized tin bath (for keeping the beer on ice) and two old bags.

The hash remained confined to the Far East for many years. The second hash in the world was the Royal Milan and Bordighera Hash established in 1947.

More hashes began to be established over the years and by 1973 the number had reached thirty five. During the 1980s, hashes began to establish themselves by the hundreds and today there are over 1500 chapters.

Are You….
Interested? Feel free to join us. Don’t forget, “if you’ve half a mind to join the hash, that’s all you’ll need.” (attributed to Phil Kirkland, Hong Kong hasher).


Nick Steven, 2003-07-02 16:45:17

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