Phil’s Bob Graham Round


We pored over the weather-line faxes Christine’s Mother had kindly requested. Would it be Saturday or Sunday? Christine, my entire support crew, was due in work on Saturday, however in the end we decided that the weather forecast was more favourable for Saturday, and Christine would be able to slip away from work during the morning for the Dunmail road crossing.

We were up sharp at 3:00 am and after a quick breakfast of cereal and toast left for Keswick. After a couple of photographs I left the Moot Hall at 3:36 a.m. and jogged across an empty Fitz Park towards Millbeck where I collected my bum-bag and water bottle and plodded up the steep slope of Carlside. I’m still unsure whether this route is any quicker than the traditional main drag up Skiddaw, however after 67 minutes I had bagged the first top, only 41 to go!

It was a perfect morning for the BGR, thin high cloud cover and a cool breeze. There would be no route finding problems today. Great Calva fell in 32 minutes and a slight detour took me to the top of Blencathra via Mungrisedale Common, where someone has recently built and named a cairn to mark what was previously a difficult top to locate. A couple of very keen walkers were already on the top of Blencathra (at 6:00a.m.) loaded down with heavy packs.

A twenty one minute descent of Halls Fell brought me to the scheduled rendezvous with Christine at Threlkeld Cricket Club in 2 hours 54 minutes. I was well pleased having knocked 10 minutes off my previous best time for the section.

The sun was now out and after a break of ten minutes the second section was completed without any problems. A lone runner was seen jogging up Helvellyn and another couple of runners were met heading up Fairfield from Seat Sandal, one wearing a patriotic pair of Union Jack shorts. It was Jubilee weekend after all.

Food was harder to eat at the second stop and I was starting to feel my legs. Would they last for three more sections? At about 10:30 a.m. I set off up the steep slope of Steel Fell to find out. I suspect that Bob Graham took the Greenup Edge to Low White Stones route from Calf Crag to High Raise, however I hadn’t tried that route and so followed Birks Gill up on to the High Raise plateau. Six deer calmly watched my progress up the Gill, I was already moving too slowly to worry them.

The next four tops are easily covered and as I walked down from Pike of Stickle towards Stake Pass I reckoned that in terms of tops ticked off and hopefully also height climbed and miles covered I must now be over half way. Each step would now bring me nearer to Keswick and the Moot Hall.

I started to think about why I was doing the “Bob Graham Round”. I’d first heard about it five years previously when working in Dublin. Another ex-pat Fred Smith, also working there, was training for an attempt at the Bob Graham Round. Being from the North Lake District I was intrigued by this apparently impossible challenge over the fells I knew well. On 27 June 1997 I supported Fred on his successful BGR attempt in the most atrocious weather conditions. Since then I had often thought about making an attempt but the time or fitness never seemed right. Then in April this year I was cleaning out my parents attic and found some old photographs belonging to my Grandfather. Among them was a signed photograph of Bob Graham together with a postcard showing the Bob Graham Round route. This had to be a sign. I was now 42, the same age as Bob Graham had been when he completed the 42 peaks round, apparently one top for each year. I resolved to give it a go and here I was half way round.

Had it not been for the BGR I doubt if I would ever have found the path from Rossett Pike to Bow Fell as it’s not shown on maps and the slopes look impossible from a distance.

Appearances are deceptive and the climb is far easier than many on the round, bringing you easily on to the Bow Fell ridge. This is now proper mountain country and the rough rocky tracks slow progress, not to mention the hundreds of walkers who suddenly seemed to be on every top enjoying the afternoon sunshine. Steady progress was made, however, and an hour and a half later I was heading down towards the dreaded Broad Stand. As I ran down towards Mickledore two runners stood aside on the path. I slipped into the vertical slot in the cliff face and up the rock steps, which lead up to the easier climbing above. As I climbed up I could hear the two runners trying and failing to get into the slot with their ruck-sacks on and commenting that they must have put on weight since they were last there.

After the almost 3000 foot descent of Scafell I was ready for the 20 minute break at Wasdale. England was piling on the runs against Sri Lanka, the food went down well and I was feeling good. Only the impending slope of Yewbarrow put a dampener on life. This is a hard climb when it’s the first top of the day. When it’s the thirty first it looks impossible. However I knew if I could get up Yewbarrow the BGR was there for the taking. It was my lucky day. For the first time in three attempts I found the narrow path that leads directly up to the summit. It was actually marked with a small pile of rocks, which are quite visible when you know where to look. Finding it gave me a lift, which carried me to the top. I also found a good direct route from Red Pike to Steeple and was soon descending

Pillar and climbing the shale filled gully, which leads to the top of Kirk Fell. By now I was counting down the ascents, only Gable and Dale Head of any consequence to go. The Gable to Dale Head paths are familiar from the Borrowdale fell race and I’d soon ticked off the last three tops of section 4 and jogged down into the Youth Hostel Car park at Honister slightly ahead of the 5 hour target for the section.

Once again Christine was waiting with a selection of food and drinks and a bum-bag pre-loaded with banana, apricots, raisins, nuts, jelly babies etc. I didn’t stop for long, knowing that it would shortly be dark and that it was some years since I had last done this Section. Dale Head and Hindscarth were no problem and I was on top of Robinson in an hour and a quarter, however it was now dark and I knew the descent of Robinson is tricky. Luckily the light coloured stone paths stood out in the dark and taking my time I got down the two steep rocky sections without mishap. I then had a stroke of luck, I could suddenly hear the river below and there to my right was the grassy slope that bisects the crags and leads to the path along the valley floor to Low High Snab. Once again the hand, which seemed to be guiding me to all the best paths, had come up trumps. The alternative route along the ridge would have been very slow in the dark.

A torch was waving on the road above the Chapel and Christine was there again to meet me. We walked down to Chapel Bridge together and I then took the track from Little Town to Skelgill, (not recommended in the dark) and from there walked down the road into Keswick. The Moot Hall was reached 21 hours 29 minutes and 42 seconds after leaving it the previous morning.

We returned home where a hot bath followed by fried bacon and tomato were both very welcome. By 2:30 we were in bed and it was still less than 24 hours since the alarm had woken us the previous morning. It had been a great day out in the fells, for me at least. Christine had been up for the same length of time, had done a days work, driven 250 miles and organised clothes and food all day. On this occasion being the support crew was definitely harder than doing the BGR. If there was an award for BGR back up teams Christine certainly earned it that day. Without her support I would never have completed the Round.