A "Bob Graham Round" is a fell running challenge in the Lake District. It is named after Bob Graham (1889–1966), a Keswick guest-house owner, who in June 1932 broke the Lakeland Fell record by traversing 42 fells within a 24-hour period. It has long been thought that Bob Graham chose 42 peaks to match his age at the time of the attempt but his birth certificate shows that he was actually 43 at the time of the Round. It's possible that this was the original reasoning for his attempting it in the previous year.
Bob Graham's original round included four tops that are not in what is now called the Bob Graham Round (BGR). These were:
- High White Stones (an area just to the north of High Raise)
- Hanging Knotts (a subsidiary summit of Bowfell)
- Looking Stead (a prominence on the ridge between Pillar and Black Sail Pass)
- High Snab Bank (a minor prominence on the ridge to the north of Robinson)
- White Side
- Helvellyn Lower Man
- Ill Crag
- Broad Crag
The Bob Graham Club was proposed in 1971 by Fred Rogerson and the rules for gaining club membership are simple:
- Starting at the Moot Hall in Keswick, traverse the 42 summits of the Round (or more) on foot and return to the starting point within 24 hours of the starting time.
- The visit to each summit must be witnessed by a companion and the time of that visit recorded.
- The times at each summit and names of companions are entered in the membership application form.
|The approximate route|
|Start and Finish Line||Moot Hall, Keswick|
|Road Crossing||Dunmail Raise|
|22||Pike O' Stickle|
|Road Crossing||Wasdale Campsite|
|Road Crossing||Honister Pass|
|Start and Finish Line|
Moot Hall, Keswick
I've supported many friends on their rounds (having covered all but a few of the summits doing so) but had never thought that it was something I was actually capable of doing myself - partly because I'm "rubbish" at running downhill, so thought I could never go the speed required to get round in time, and partly because I'm rather scared of the dark - and I'm bad enough at falling over when running in the daytime never mind the night! My friends Jasmin and Jim had tried to persuade me to give it a go - especially this year as I am now 42 - but I wasn't keen and so didn't take them seriously. However, when I was told that my stress fracture would probably never heal, I could just see a future of minimal running/days out in the hills stretching away from me as I got less and less fit.
|My thoughts exactly!!|
On the Thursday, I thought about it, realised that I had nothing on at the weekend, and so why not give the Round a go (as long as I could get a support crew together)? I knew I wasn't very fit so I wouldn't be trying to get round quickly (23:59 was my goal) but just really wanted a "last hurrah" of a good day out in the hills with my mates. Not having trained for it, planned it, prepared meticulously or reccied it meant that I hadn't freaked myself out or given myself time to find excuses not to go. I contacted a few good friends (secretly hoping they would all be busy), but (un)fortunately most of them were available and willing to help me. You have to register your attempt in advance and so at 5pm on Friday (once everyone had confirmed that they were good to go), I logged my plan, went shopping for food (and thank you beers/chocolate for my crew) and headed down to the Lakes. The Round is traditionally divided up into 5 legs (as there are 4 road access points and I had 1 supporter for each leg).
|How good would it feel|
to be back here ?
There's nothing like short notice to limit the time you have to spend stressing, so although it meant I had hardly slept, I met Jasmin (and dog Moss) ready to start Leg 1 (Keswick to Threlkeld) at the Moot Hall at 3am. My timing was slightly unfortunate in that it was "kicking out" time for the nightclub so there was an ambulance and a police car there, and some lovely "helpful" drunks (who offered to show us the way to parkrun or guide us up the Yorkshire 3 Peaks - I don't think geography was that man's strong point). I was paranoid that Jasmin would hate running my speed (she has the ladies' record for the round at 15hrs 24 minutes) and so kept apologising as we headed away from town and up towards the first summit (Skiddaw), but enjoyed going at a pace where we could chat all the way up. We had started wearing long sleeved tops but they were soon discarded as the night was still warm (which didn't bode too well for later....if I got that far) and almost before I knew it, I was touching my first summit. Jasmin reassured me that I needn't worry as I was actually going at a slightly faster pace than a 22 hour round.
|You'd never guess it was 4:30am|
I was worried about the descent off Skiddaw towards Great Calva (though tried to reassure myself that I'd managed it at a faster pace when supporting other people's rounds) but I actually enjoyed it, though the ground was a lot harder than I remembered it (probably due to the recent lack of rain). We'd discarded our head torches by now (I loved the fact that my t-shirt had a pocket on each side so I could stuff my torch in one and use the other to store food in -every time I asked my crew for food, I'd take some for eating and some for later so I didn't have to keep bothering them!) and dawn was breaking beautifully. I suddenly thought how lucky I was, to be up in the hills with a good friend, away from all civilisation and have the sunrise all to ourselves as most other people were still tucked up in their beds (we didn't see another person for the whole of Leg 1 except for a couple of campers near the summit of Blencathra).
|Moss keeping his watchful eye|
on my poor descending technique!
|Hall's Fell "on sight"|
There are three commonly-used descent routes from Blencathra down to the road crossing at Thelkeld - the most direct being the "Parachute Descent" and the longest being down Doddick Fell, both of which I have descended while support other people's Rounds, so I told Jasmin that I would "happily" follow whichever way she decided to go. As it turned out, her preferred route was the third option - down Hall's Fell Ridge, which was a new one for me. I had worried that I wouldn't like the "scrambliness", rockiness and openness of it, but managed to get down it OK so that was a relief. We missed a turning into a farm and ended up in a field (secretly I think Jasmin just wanted to make sure I didn't break her record!!!) but soon were down onto tarmac and heading to the agreed changeover point.
I was doing Leg 2 (Threlkeld to Dunmail Raise) with Konrad (Jasmin's husband) for support. Moss was carrying on for a second leg with us, while Baby Rowan was supervising her parents exchanging which one was looking after each of us (I'm not sure which was the harder job!!!).
It was not yet 7am and I was already overheating....as we climbed (well slogged) up Clough Head, Konrad tried to convince me that there was still time for me to change my mind and go to the pub for a bacon buttie instead of carrying on, but all I could think of was how much I wanted an ice cream (oh well....a toffee crisp would have to do for now!). Surprisingly, considering how hot and bothered I felt, we were still climbing ahead of schedule and I was really looking forward to the section along the Dodds (Great Dodd, Watson's Dodd and Stybarrow Dodd) and towards Helvellyn as it is very runnable. Leg 2 is more of a "runner's leg", as once you've climbed up to Clough Head, it's a lovely run along the ridge ticking off more summits as you go. Unfortunately, on this occasion it was not very enjoyable for me as my right shoulder was really sore and I couldn't run freely. I felt that I actually was having to hold my arm either flexed at my elbow to support the weight of it or had to use my right hand to hold onto my left bra strap (not that I really cared what I looked like).
|All 4 members of the |
Paris-Rawlik support crew!
A couple of summits were slightly dubious so Konrad made sure that I went to every possible cairn so as to make sure that I didn't accidentally miss one, and we counted them up as we went. I'm not sure I've ever gone the length of that ridge on such a clear day so the views were fantastic (and we could also see every summit rising up ahead of us, though I'm not sure whether that was a good thing or not). The good weather did have its disadvantages as I'd never descended down to Grisedale Tarn from Dollywagon Pike when the ground was so dry and hard. I had coped with the steepness of the descent on previous occasions due to the softness of the ground/dampness of the grass providing some softness and grip underfoot, but this time it just plain hurt....and I could see how far I had to go/how far Konrad was ahead of me.
I'd also never actually seen the climb up Fairfield...and it certainly looked long and steep. Konrad was trying to be encouraging by telling me how well I was climbing, but it was actually the descent I was more scared of - as we had to retrace our steps and the path consists of a lot of small loose rocks and stability/traction/surefootedness aren't my fortes. Still, I managed to get down in 1 piece (Moss had the right idea by refusing to go all the way up to the summit) and then finished off my water and food on the last climb of the leg - up Seat Sandal.
|My "happy place" - sitting, chatting, |
eating and drinking :-)
I knew that everyone would be able to see my "mincing" descent down to Dunmail (having made sure I took a comfort break out of sight of the road below), but I didn't care as the fact that they were there would mean I could get some more food, drink, and some painkillers for my shoulder. Jasmin had been for a shower and was now back to pick up Konrad and Moss looking clean and refreshed whereas I just felt rather hot and sweaty. Neil was doing road support for me from there on and so made me sit down on the passenger seat of the car and handed me everything I asked for (redbull as it was too hot for coffee, bircher muesli that I'd made the night before, water and a painrelief....though they did all joke that if I was already onto the codeine, they wondered what I'd be taking by the end).
|Setting off on Leg 3 with Tim|
If I'm honest, I didn't get everything I'd asked for as there was no ice cream....but luckily that meant I didn't have to come good on my promise to Konrad earlier (saying I would pledge undying love to anyone who gave me an icecream at Dunmail!!). I picked up a savoury wrap, thanked my crew (Jas, Konrad, Rowan and Moss were heading back to Edinburgh, while Neil was heading off to pick up Kim who was due to support me on Leg 4), and set off on Leg 3 (Dunmail to Wasdale) with Tim as my new trusty companion.
|Showing the climb up Steel Fell|
Leg 3 starts with a bang as you have a steep, hands-on-knees climb up Steel Fell, but once you're up there, world opens up to you again. Tim had looked at a weather forecast which suggested it was going to close in and rain on us at some point on this leg, but although the clouds were gathering in the skies, it looked like we might be going to escape the dire storm predictions. It was rather close and humid so at least the clouds gave a bit of respite from the strong sunshine. I managed to finish off the food I was carrying in order to start running once the gradient slackened off, but we were going at a nice civilised pace so that we could also chat and "put the world to rights".
I'd supported the first half of this Leg on another round and run most of the second half before, which was probably a good thing, as although Tim had downloaded a GPX file (in case he needed it), he hadn't actually ever run this whole leg before. I recognised most of it, and although we might not have quite found the best (speediest) lines, it wasn't a race and we were ticking off the summits nicely (again, making sure I went to every cairns on the top of the peaks to ensure nothing was missed).
|The lovely (NOT!) rocky stuff!!|
Some spots of rain on the Langdale Pikes didn't really amount to much so we didn't even bother getting waterproofs out, but it meant that the long climb up Bowfell felt a bit better (as we'd been getting through water rather quickly on the first half of the leg). I had built in a delay on possible timings for the second half of the leg (a good function on the schedule calculator) as it was much less runnable and very rough and rocky, especially around Ill Crag and Broad Crag. Luckily Tim's wife isn't a fan of descending and doesn't like the rocky stuff either, so he was used to looking ahead and picking routes out that would suit her (and hence me) better. The cloud had also closed in on us by now so I couldn't scare myself by seeing what I had to get up and down.
|Descending to the start of the|
Scafell Pike climb
Not having anyone for rope support, I wasn't going to go up Scafell via Broad Stand and it looked like a gratuitous extra descent and ascent to go via Foxes Tarn so I elected to climb it via Lord's Rake (Tim had only ever been up via Foxes Tarn so this was new for him...and a good recce for when he does the Round himself). This was probably the section that I'd been dreading the as the last time I'd been up Scafell, I'd slipped, come off the path and fallen down a little cliff completely jarring my shoulder and scaring myself witless about what might've happened. I'd been alone on that occasion, and I felt so much happier with company, even on the horrible exposed loose scree path down from Mickledore to the bottom of Lord's Rake. People have described Lord's Rake in the wet as resembling a waterfall, but it was so dry that all the rocks were incredibly loose and it was like trying to climb up a near vertical scree. The best way to manage it was to partially rockclimb/partially scramble using the fixed cliff-like edges of the gully.
|On Scafell...note the lovely views|
We made it to the summit (which felt strangely isolated as very few people venture from Scafell Pike over to Scafell), and from there it was "just" a long descent down to Wasdale (joy - another descent!!). I had been warned about the scree (well lots of people talked about having to get stones out of their shoes and socks...or even changing shoes at Wasdale), but I thought the path seemed a lot better than others we'd already been on, though it was a bit loose and slippy. It turned out that this wasn't the aforementioned scree - that came later, after a grassy patch which lulled you into a false sense of security.
The scree was actually one of the most fun bits of the descent as it was so loose you could "run" down it, whereas when there are several "fixed" rocks, you have to be much more wary and are much more likely to fall. When we hit the path at the bottom, Tim ran ahead to the car with my requests (exactly the same as at the last road crossing) and I meandered in on my own (meandered being the word for it as I think I approached Neil from a slightly different direction to the one in which he was looking for me) to enjoy another sit down in the car (to eat/drink/chat and although I stuck with my trusty shoes, I did change my socks as I had collected a large number of stones from the scree in them).
I'd slowed down a bit but was still on time for my planned arrival in Wasdale. This meeting was really the one that the Round had to be scheduled around as I didn't want to get there before Kim who was due to support me on Leg 4. He had been racing that morning and so could only get there for a certain time (in fact, he'd won his race but left before prize-giving in order to help me), and even though Tim had said that he would carry on if necessary so I wasn't on my own, I didn't want to have to rely on this as he was pretty knackered at the end of Leg 3. On the other hand, I didn't want to get there too late and so have to do more in the dark later (including rough descents)...but as it was, the timing couldn't have been better......there'd been a wee bit of rain on Scafell Pike/Scafell but hardly anything and although the heavens opened and it poured down for about 10 minutes, that was exactly when I was sitting in Neil's car in Wasdale carpark changing my socks, eating and drinking :-)
|Climbing Yewbarrow = breaking the back of it!|
I knew it was a tough climb up Yewbarrow, but let's face it, there's no easy way out of Wasdale is there? I was determined to just get my head down and get on with it, as I think that a lot of the BGR is a mental challenge more than a physical one, and so you've essentially "cracked it" once you're up Yewbarrow. I have seen many runners (many that are "better" than me) give up at Wasdale, and, as the painkillers were helping my shoulder and my leg was coping, I didn't want to be one of them! I hadn't seen and caught up with Kim properly for ages so the chat made the climb pass more quickly and almost before I knew it, I was up and out of the valley and back in the hills.
|Dragging myself up Great Gable |
in the fading light
It had been a long time since I supported on Leg 4 and I admit I'd forgotten about most of the climbs bar the first one, so Kim had to break it to me gently that I had several more tough drags ahead of me. I think that the summits on Leg 4 are some of the most majestic in the Lakes due to their positioning, ie their separation, but then again it means you have quite a lot of descending and ascending to do as you travel between them. I was definitely feeling my "less than ideal fitness" by this stage - having already been out for about 15 hours and knowing I still had several more to go, I wondered at the mentality of 24 hour runners - how on earth do they keep going (and pushing) for that length of time? More to the point, how do they do that running round and round a running track as the fantastic views and gorgeous sunset/evening light kept me going?
Kim was also starting to fade so I got him to tuck into my food and drink as I thought he'd appreciate (and need) it more than me (whereas I just needed him to get me to the end of the Leg). I have total respect for these "proper" fell runners who can go out and race hard and then still help a friend out (albeit at a lower speed - maybe the slower speed is more frustrating?). It must have been weird for him to be retracing some of his race route in reverse, but it was interesting to hear how it had unfolded for him at different points on the course as we passed them.
|You can't beat a fabulous |
sunset in the mountains!!
The rocks became more and more red as the sun sunk lower and lower and I started to worry that I wouldn't make the descent to the next road crossing before dark. I descended Great Gable as fast as the terrain would let me and powered up Green Gable, knowing that the last 2 summits were more runnable. It was almost as if I had a new lease of life....but that might just have been relative to Kim's levels of exhaustion as I was now running faster and getting ahead of him on stretches so that I clambered up rocks and cairns to touch the summits on my own. As we started running down towards the mines at Conister, I relaxed as I knew we'd make it without the need for headtorches (and promptly had to refocus as I kept nearly rolling my ankles on tussocks) and it was lovely to see Neil waiting with the car (mmmm....coffee and sandwiches) having picked up Steve (my support for the next section) - and I was also cheered in by name by a total stranger (though it turned out that he was Kim's friend and had come to meet him).
I think I must have looked like I was settling into the car for good, chatting, eating and drinking as all too soon Neil was suggesting that I really did need to get going if I was going to make it round. It was still not quite dark yet so I decided to hold off on using my headtorch for as long as possible (as when I wear it, I feel that the world closes into to become that little circle of light and everything outside of that just gets darker!) - Steve actually put mine on his head and his round his neck for ease of access. Unfortunately Steve's backpack did not have any side pockets, so whenever I asked him for a drink (I wasn't that keen on much food by this point but had more liquid calories instead, though clearly I managed some chocolate bars!!!) we had to stop as he had to take his pack off, unzip it and get a bottle or whatever out of it.
As we came off Dale Head and headed for Hindscarth we found ourselves clambering down over rocks in the dwindling light and Steve commented that he might not have chosen the best route, but we were soon running up and along towards my penultimate summit. I found it difficult to be sure of my footing on the descent from Hindscarth round towards the climb up Robinson but made it there safely before asking for my headtorch once I'd reached the summit as I knew the final stretch down to Littletown involved rocky sections that needed to be downclimbed/scrambled followed by a very steep grassy slope. This caused another slight delay as Steve decided to switch his own headtorch for a better one that he had in his pack but the time didn't seem to really matter by now, as unless I fell I knew that I was going to make it, even it I had to walk the whole of the road section at the end. We didn't go hell for leather on the descent as Steve was careful to get the route right, thinking it all looked rather different in the dark, and I found the that our headtorches reflecting back off the grass was rather spooky and magical all at once.
There was a decent run out of the valley along a rough track to where we hit the tarmac and Steve kindly sprinted ahead to open every gate for me - I knew people "expected" me to pick up the pace on this last section but I didn't think my legs would be having any of that, as I'd already been out for a longer time than I'd ever "run" before, never mind the previous 6 months of minimal running, nor all the climbing and descending I'd just done! Neil was waiting with the car at the end of the road as he was going to give Steve a lift home and I was going to run the road section alone (as I no longer had any more summits that needed to be witnessed).....and he had my road shoes with him. I couldn't really be bothered to change my shoes as I thought that it wouldn't make much difference to me, and worried that if I sat down then I might not get up again. However, the guys had other ideas - they sat my down on the back seat of the car and each of them removed one of my shoes (poor them) and tried to force my feet into my road shoes (Cinderella has nothing on me). As they were putting in the effort for me, I reckoned I might as well pull them on myself, get up and start running....and it was bliss...it felt like I was wearing slippers - dry fells are great in the sense that you don't spend the day with wet feet, but less great in the sense that they were so hard that the soles of my feet felt as if they were burning (and I've since lost a whole layer of skin from there)!!
Neil had looked at the time and said that he thought there was no point me trying to push hard on the road, especially with my poorly leg, as I was likely to finish in about 22:10 or 22:15, and injure myself more. Sensible advice, but I did feel good running downhill staying ahead of the car until they passed me near Newlands church. I was all alone with my thoughts in the dark after they drove off, the light rain was reflecting in my headlamp, I was tired and I was going uphill (again). It was well after midnight so there was no-one about and I couldn't even be bothered to "hide" away from the road for a toilet stop. Strange as it may seem, that bladder break changed my mindset....I had actually given myself a secondary target for the conclusion of the Round if I didn't make it within 24 hours. As long as I made it back within 25 hours, I would be there before the cockerel crowed to mark the start of this year's Comrades Ultramarathon in South Africa. I have run every step of my 4 Comrades runs, including the dreaded final climb of Polly Shortts, and if I could do that, then I certainly shouldn't be walking up the (much more gentle) climb through the village of Stair.
|A very happy (tired) me!!|
|The classical "Finisher's Pose"!!|
That was it - my head was back in the game - and I started running. Even though I've supported a speedster like Jasmin on Leg 5, I've never run it all before, but I felt like I was flying. A couple of cars passed me as they drove out from Keswick and Portinscale - I moved to the side but didn't let my pace falter. Neil came back out to make sure that I hadn't taken any wrong turnings, but almost as soon as he'd appeared he had to leave to get back to Keswick as the road route in is longer than the running route. I've finished several races in Portinscale (although not in the middle of the night) so being tired along that stretch was a very familiar feeling for me. I crossed the footbridge and found the back lane towards Keswick, managing to negotiate both the kissing gate and several drunken walkers staggering home from the local pubs/festival. It was almost an anticlimax to be running as fast as my legs would let me along an almost deserted street past empty market stalls towards the Moot Hall. Just before I reached it, Neil appeared out from the alleyway from the carpark and filmed me passing him. I reached the steps, touched the stonework and looked at my watch.....21:57....and bent over trying to catch my breath and not cry (though I admit that I did actually find myself suddenly flooding with tears as I drove home later)
|The calorie burn is the bit that impresses me most.....|
though I'm sure I consumed way more than that!
I'd succeeded not only in doing something that I didn't think I was capable of, but I did it much faster than I thought I could, and probably ran one of the quickest final sections along the road....but mainly I'd achieved my goal of having an amazing day out in the hills with my friends, and I cannot thank them enough for believing in me much more than I did in myself, and being prepared to drop everything last minute to come and support me. Thanks to Jasmin Paris for Leg 1, Konrad Rawlik for Leg 2 (Rowan Rawlik for overseeing the first road crossing), Moss for Legs 1 & 2, Tim Budd for Leg 3, Kim Collison for Leg 4, Steve Birkenshaw for Leg 5 and Neil Talbott for road support and shuttling everyone around (and to Jasmin, Tim, Kim and Neil for the pictures - what memories!!).