Thursday 29th June
22.30 It’s well known that the weather can make or break a Bob Graham attempt. The forecast had never looked great for my chosen date but it had steadily improved over the week and crucially, there was the faint promise of ‘some sunny spells’ on Friday afternoon. I tried to remain optimistic.
Roger Laycock, my Leg 1 supporter, drove us both up to Threlkeld where we were met by my road crew, old school friend Shane and his partner Jane, to take us to the start in Keswick in their van. It was getting dark and gloomy now and we pretended that the clouds hovering over Blencathra weren’t quite as low as they were.
I had foolishly neglected to recce the start of Leg 1 so a quick detour past the leisure centre in Keswick was in order before parking up for a brew and a couple of jaffa cakes, eaten more through nerves than need, before the start.
23.55 Apprehensive and shifty we hung around by the Moot Hall. It was remarkably quiet on the Market Square, perhaps there should be more people here? I was in luck. Some Irish tourists spotted us loitering with intent and asked what was going on. A brief explanation from Shane and they wished us luck promising to return tomorrow evening. It sounded like a long time away.
Friday 30th June
00.00 And we’re off! Adrenaline pumping Roger and I shot out of the town square and down our recently reccied path and onto the fantastically named Spoonygreen Lane. A steady climb, then through the fell gate for the ascent of Skiddaw. The lights of Keswick were twinkling below us but soon became lost in the mist as we gained height. Mist turned to rain as we neared the summit and I was briefly worried we’d miss the trig point in the clag. Finally, it appeared and the first peak claimed! Only 41 to go…
I had been dreading the next section. A steady trot down to Hare Crag was pretty straightforward but then the trod became boggy, then indistinct and finally disappeared into the heather. I made for what looked like a grassy patch but it turned out to be more heather shining bright green in the light of my headtorch. After desperately looking for our lost path it became clear there was nothing for it but to pick a direction and keep going until we hit the Cumbria Way somewhere in front of us. Time was lost and energy expended as we hacked our way through the heather. It took me all of the climb up Great Calva to calm down. Roger, perhaps wisely, giving me a bit of space!
I had been concerned that the River Caldew would be in spate after the recent rain but it was little more than knee deep. Roger and I crossed it without incident and made our way up Mungrisdale Common. A dull climb in the day and by night, with additional hill fog, interminable. We missed the faint trod to Blencathra’s summit and made a short detour onto Foule Crag. Quickly rectified, Blencathra’s summit was reached. Doddick Fell was the designated descent due to the wet conditions, its ‘runnable’ surface preferred to Hall’s Fell’s shorter but greasier rock scramble. However it was not without its own problems. Shortly after starting the descent, a mix of shale and slippery rock, my foot slipped out in front of me and I landed heavily on my thigh. Winded and dead legged I heard Roger enquire after my health. I turned round just in time to see him fall in precisely the same spot! A quick once over and with everything appearing to be connected I hobbled down behind Roger to the car park, relieved to be in one piece and still on schedule.
03.48 After a quick pie stop and changeover at Threlkeld, I was now accompanied by Andy Gibbons and Rachel Hill. Experienced BGers, I was swiftly berated for going too fast. “Get ahead of me again and I’ll punch you.” was Andy’s sage advice. Progress now at a more sustainable pace we flogged our way up the relentless Clough Head while the sky became not exactly brighter, but certainly less dark as we ascended back into the mist.
The Dodds came and went and we were soon trotting along the Helvellyn Ridge ticking off summits, Rachel handing me food as soon as I’d finished chewing the last bit she’d given me. This was my third visit to Dollywagon Pike this year and still I was denied a view. Andy located the famous solitary post which marks the start of the steep descent to Grisedale Tarn so we headed down and hit the stiff out and back to the summit of Fairfield.
A short climb up Seat Sandal and I was amazed to realise we’d nearly finished Leg 2. Dropping down to Dunmail Raise we came out of the clouds and could see Shane and Jane’s van waiting for us. I was feeling pretty good!
08.12 I had a good feed at Dunmail. Up on schedule I allowed myself an extra 5 minutes to eat some more baked beans and change my top and shoes. Alex Pilkington was now my navigator and I knew I was in safe hands as we climbed yet again into the mist up Steel Fell. Alex set a brisk pace across the tops on the way to Calf Crag and I began to regret my decision of extra beans. My stomach was churning and I was struggling to eat anything. My mind was leaping ahead to the climbs to come and doubts were setting in. If I felt like this now, how would I feel in three or four hours? I told myself to focus and take things as they came. This seemed to work and before I knew it we were nearly at the top of Bowfell. This is technically the halfway point and a good morale booster although I was still finding it difficult to get food down me. “Finished that Clif Bar yet?” asked Alex. I chewed on grimly.
It was slow but steady over the Scafell massif. Big chunky boulders still slippery in the wet impeded progress and coming off Broad Crag my foot slipped and became wedged between two rocks. Somewhat comically my foot refused to come out and it was a good 30 seconds or so before I managed to wriggle it free.
A brief climb and we were on the roof of England! Nothing to see here however so we pushed on to Mickledore and my chosen route up to Scafell, Lords Rake. A grotty scramble through loose gravel it isn’t pleasant at first, but becomes easier by branching left onto the West Wall Traverse. The swirling mist around us made for a spooky yet exhilarating experience.
As we popped out onto the summit plateau the sun began to penetrate and the clouds lifted. Was that a view? Jackets removed for the first time, we headed down to Wasdale taking advantage of a strip of scree that provided another frisson of excitement. I think I might be having fun…
14.05 The road team had set up perfectly again and had put out a fine array of delicacies for the discerning runner. Unfortunately, conscious of the climb ahead and, after last time, careful not to eat too much I couldn’t take full advantage of the smorgasboard in front of me. A change of socks and, after a few mouthfuls of soup and potatoes (and possibly some pie), we made our way towards the base of Yewbarrow. Alex and I were now joined by Brian ‘Stolly’ Stallwood who quickly assumed navigational duties and shot off into the distance. The climb up Yewbarrow is brutally steep and concentration is required not to let your feet slip backwards on some sections. Nevertheless, Alex and I chatted away and 40 minutes later we caught up with Brian casually sitting astride a boulder and taking photos making use of the clear skies.
We ambled our way over the rest of the Mosedale summits. The mist reappeared and Alex and Brian began discussing pension plans as we skirted under Black Crag. Since the foot wedging incident earlier my ankle had been niggling for a little while and was now becoming uncomfortable. Coming off Pillar, it began to hurt in earnest. Uphill seemed OK so I was quite glad to start the climb up Red Gully to Kirk Fell. Alex, having had a busy week, decided to miss this one out and said he’d meet us later. My ankle was definitely in trouble as Brian and I picked our way down to Beckhead Tarn at the base of Great Gable. As we began the ascent Alex appeared out of the mist and joined us. I never thought I’d be glad to be climbing Gable at this point, but scrambling up the boulders was infinitely preferable to the pain I was getting on the downhills. Gable is the last big climb of the round and soon we were making our way over Green Gable towards Honister.
After Brandreth I sent Brian off to alert Shane and Jane of our arrival and to get painkillers and coffee ready. Descending off Grey Knotts was both literally and metaphorically painfully slow. I wasn’t going to give up now though and hobbled into the car park.
18.39 The final leg! A quick stop, coffee, painkillers, food and we were good to go. I was now joined by Simon Oxley, Spencer Riley and Sandy Lockett. Sandy had completed his BG in April so had a pretty good idea of how I was feeling and began passing me bite size pieces of Snickers bars every 5 minutes or so on the way up Dale Head. Dale Head is not particularly steep but does go on a bit and has at least three false summits. Hindscarth isn’t too bad either and this facilitated a welcome distraction of general chat and I was soon swept along to the final climb of Robinson. The false flat of Robinson’s summit seemed to drag on for ages but finally the cairn marking my 42nd and final peak came into view. A quick summit selfie and all I had to do now was get back to Keswick.
Easier said than done. Coming down a steep rocky path I found I couldn’t trust my grip on the smooth rock. Sandy had scampered down easily but I just couldn’t do it and I really didn’t want to be taking any risks now. Simon and Spencer appeared below me having taken a detour around the impasse and I backtracked to find it. Down safely we jogged down to find the track which lead to Little Town where the van was waiting. Drinks, gels and a quick shoe change later we hit the road to Keswick.
Buoyed up by sugar and adrenaline this felt like an evening club run and we made good progress as the light began to fade. It seemed to take forever to get through the outskirts of Keswick but finally we were on the High Street and I made an attempt at a sprint finish. Shouts and applause were coming from somewhere as I raced up the steps of the Moot Hall.
21.25 All done. Photos were taken and Tanya produced a bottle of champagne. Various bystanders including the Irish tourists who had seen me off came over to congratulate me. All very surreal, particularly the chap who was on an Alan Partridge themed stag do wearing a dressing gown! Farewells were bid with the remainder adjourning to the Dog and Gun for a well earned pint.
A massive thank you to support runners Roger Laycock, Andy Gibbons, Rachel Hill, Alex Pilkington, Brian Stallwood, Sandy Lockett, Simon Oxley and Spencer Riley. Extra special thanks to Shane Rothwell and Jane Pye who provided 24 hours of support par excellence and without whose dedication this would not have been possible. Most importantly, thanks must go to Tanya, for feeding me, putting up with me disappearing every weekend and leaving smelly socks in the utility room sink.