Drove up to the Lakes District on Mon 25 June for what was supposed to be my second recce of the Bob Graham Round route. It’s a looped circuit covering 42 fells (up to 900m) and 72miles starting and finishing in the town of Keswick. Quite a popular challenge amongst seasoned fell runners.
The route is broken into five sections. On my last trip I had to cut short my recce of section 1 (Keswick-Threlkeld) and 2 (Threlkeld-Dunmail Raise) due to 70mph wind over the summits. As I said in a previous blog I was on all fours up Helvellyn Lower Man and literally blown off my feet on the approach to Skiddaw. I did however manage to complete the whole of the (easier) section 5 from Honnister slate mine back to Keswick.
Up until I drove up to the lakes the plan was to recce sections 2 to 3 (Dunmail Raise to Honnister) and check out Priest’s Hole (a cave 750m up on the side of Dove Crag, and 1.5miles east of Fairfield), but I then got a bit over-confident and decided to do the whole thing solo. I had all my gear planned and kept weight to a minimum.
I started at 6pm from Threlkeld with the BGR Harveys map in one hand and my garmin 310xt following a course tracker. In normal conditions this was all I would need from a navigational point of view. However, for some reason the mist/altitude didn’t fall favourably with the watch. More on that later. My approach to Skiddaw at 930m was a deliberate balance of mostly walking and light running, so I was quite pleased to reach the summit in 1hr20 (22hr BGR pace) having stopped to take pictures and generally enjoy the scenery while I had the chance. It’s an awesome part of the country .
At 700m I ascended into increasing heavy rain, and mist. It was quite thick, just like last year and about 20m visibility. Normally this wouldn’t bother me, but with the 310XT on the blink I now had to use the map and judgement to find some quad tracks off the east of the summit. 5mins lost which wasn’t too bad and happy to get back into some running. Unfortunately this didn’t last long as I hit the marshes of Candleseaves Bog.
The climb up to and over Great Calva (690m) was not a problem but there followed a steep drop to Wiley Gill and it was from here I started having problems. My tracker went a different direction, so I decided to follow the official route on the map and a note on it that told me to cross the gill and river. Only problem was there was no easy way across. The gill had a loose fence which I managed to get across, but then followed about 200m of wading through waist high ferns and bracken. I noticed some small leeches on my legs and was a little concerned about picking up ticks. Apparently they come out early summer in the Lakes and are difficult to remove safely (1 in 3 carry Lymes Disease). Once I was clear I checked my legs just in case and wished I’d brought my tick-twister afterall.
I then came upon the River Caldew. Once again there was no easy way across the river. I spotted a piece of wire which looked like the remains of a fence. I could try to pull myself along that, or simply wade through. I took the quicker option. For the first time I thought back to the Bear Grylls series and his recommendation of using a stick for balance. Unfortunately I had nothing but Sheep nearby, and I don’t think they’d appreciate being dipped head first in a river. A few wobbles in the thigh-high river but made a lunge for the bank and crawled over the top, job done.
The watch was now pretty useless so had to make a judgement on my direction up to Marstang Common at 630m. It was quite boggy underfoot and at one point I sank up to my waist in bog pit. Again I thought back to Bear Grylls and the time he was totally submerged in a swamp, and so watched my step from that point on. I had no idea of my direction and it wasn’t until I found myself going down a steep slope that I took some grid refs on the watch and matched up with the map. It seemed I dropped to the north side of Sharp Edge (below Blencathra). This was 1mile off my course. I had no choice but to head back up and hope I could find my way around the summit and back on route.
The watch came back to life just in time to realise I’d found my way to the summit of Blencathra, and the start of Halls Fell ridge. I found out later that this was a tricky climb during the day (and most people avoid it) let alone at night. I was all alone (and had been since the start) on wet rock, with 30m visibility and it was now 10:30pm. Not the best position to be in. I dropped about 50m clinging on to rocks as I went. The mist probably did me a favour as I couldn’t see the chasms either side. I then reached a section where I was sliding over wet rock and decided it was just too dangerous and crawled back up again. It was now past 11pm and I had to get off the hill and out of the mist as quickly as possible, so I headed SW along the ridge and dropped down to the woods before heading east into Threlkeld.
It was now approaching 12am, I was wet and a little more tired (from scrambling) than I should have been. I took a 15min break to change clothes (I’d intended on doing this later in the night) and to consider my next move. I gave Yve a call to get a second opinion (not a good move as she wanted me to stop) and then decided to call it quits, get a ‘good’ nights sleep and do something the next day. At 1:30am I finally reached the campsite having followed a disused railway from Threlkeld to Keswick. A freezing cold shower but a nice warm sleeping bag.
The next day I drove out to Dunmail raise and did a 20mile loop covering Helvellyn, Fairfield, Dove Crag and back to the car down Raise Beck picking up the caches as I went. The weather was no better (I’ve not had a decent day in the Lakes yet) and despite a lot of scrambling on the side of Dove Crag I just couldn’t find Priest’s Hole. At least I know the effort required to get to and from Priests Hole from Fairfield/BGR is not worth the effort. In the dark it would be quite dangerous.
Overall I loved the adventure. Disappointed I once again didn’t get the chance to cover sections 3 and 4 but I will leave this for later in the year (September). It provided some great training for the Cotswold Way record attempt (CWR) and I soaked up some fantastic scenery.
My CWR attempt will take place on Sat 21 July, starting from Bath Abbey at 1pm and finishing in Chipping Campden at 7-11am. I have an official time-keeper and pacers/verifiers for the whole route. Really looking forward to this and will try to get a blog out next week in advance.