By Simon Barnett
Although the Tea Round was never quite on my to-do list, when Ross became the second member of TRC to proposition me this year, I figured I may as well accept his kind invitation.
We laid plans for mid-October, which almost came undone as the COVID-19 restrictions ramped up, with the aim to become the first TRC completers.
Conditions looked interesting as we drove past Tebay, with the Howgills shrouded in cloud, where TRC should have been competing against the best of British in the annual fell relays. Instead, Ross and I were undertaking a 30ish mile Lakeland route starting and finishing at the doors of George Fisher in Keswick, visiting all the tops that are visible from their café window.
Strictly speaking, when we started only about 3 of the tops were visible, but it seemed a little churlish not to visit the rest.
We had opted to go clockwise. From what we had read, the descents were easier clockwise, and it meant finishing over Cat Bells rather than enduring a bit of a road run for the last few miles.
Ross and I have paired with each other a few times (most notably when ‘I pushed him off a path’ and we ended up in Penrith minor accident unit) and one or the other of us is invariably stronger than the other. One day we will run and be evenly matched. This turned out to be a time when Ross had to work hard, which made it all the more enjoyable for me.
The vast majority of hills were new to Ross and I only had limited knowledge of much of the route. There were going to be lots of new lines that I had not run before, including the long, relatively gentle climb to the first top, Barrow, which must have tested me a little as I tripped on the following descent.
Most of the route is on paths of one sort or another, but we were off-piste on the climb to Rowling End and then had a spell of 10 minutes through heather, one of Ross’ least favourite running surfaces, which was made worse when he discovered that for 8 of those 10 minutes we had been moving parallel to a path that was about 50 metres further on.
We went into the cloud on the ascent to Causey Pike, and that was it for views through the north-western fells, until we descended to Buttermere and avoided the temptations of ice-cream, pub lunches and the like. The navigation had been fine, with an occasional stop to make sure the ridge line we were about to run down was pointing in the right direction.
I was looking forward to the next bit. I’d not done the climb to Red Pike from Buttermere before, and for most of it we had good views and chowed down on some lunch. We passed someone we had seen near George Fisher who was going round the other way. He and many other walkers were cursing the stepped rocky descent that we were climbing. “Glad we don’t have to come down here,” Ross and I both said to each other. 45 minutes later, having not got the compass out at the top of High Stile, Ross and I were sheepishly making our way back down said steps.
With hindsight, this hiccup didn’t turn out too badly. The steps weren’t as bad as they looked, and we were able to enjoy a steady waterside run alongside Buttermere which, as luck had it, brought us out directly at the bottom of the climb up Robinson.
The clockwise descent of Robinson had been one of the main reasons we had chosen to go anticlockwise. It turned out that there was only one thing that could prepare you for the climb we were about to undertake. As luck would have it for me, that thing was interminable reps of Incombe Hole. It was brutally steep for 25 mins or so (imagine Incombe Hole with no respite). We were both glad to reach the top, although it was starting to get cold.
The familiar run down the Newlands Valley came and went and the final protracted climb up Cat Bells was made brighter by some llamas being taken for a walk. The things people do for fun(!). Ross found his running legs as we headed for Keswick, pacing us back in a time just under 7h30m. I had to concentrate hard to stay in touching distance of his heels.
Mission accomplished then, except that we had been pipped to the post by Rich Bedlow, who had gone round clockwise the previous day – complete with an extended pub lunch in Buttermere. Henry Keighley-Elstub, the first to proposition me, successfully completed the round alone the following week.
The webpages have just been updated, complete with what looks to be a rebrand to George Fisher’s Tea Round, and include an informative video based on a clockwise round which Ross should have a look at so he can see where we went!