The Bob Graham Round – Tom Sawyer

Round date: 24 July 2021

Build Up

Having arrived at Burns Farm on Thursday afternoon, I spent almost all of Friday sorting out last minute tasks (shopping, sorting kit, cooking pizzas), discussing the attempt both with Matt (Wade, co-challenger) and the rest of our support team, and eating. At about 19:30, with four and a half hours to go until kickoff, I attempted to grab a bit of sleep in a tent that must have been over 30°C having been cooked in the sun all day. At 22:54, I preempted my alarm by one minute and got up.

A couple of trips around camp later and I was ready to go, and at 2330 we drove out to Keswick with Ross (Langley) and my parents. Nigel drove a few other members of our support crew to join us at Moot Hall, where we were surprised to be the only runners starting at midnight on a clear, warm July night with a full moon.

Leg 1 (support – Ross Langley):

The watches hit 0000 and we got going from the hall as a trio down the ginnel and over Fitz Park. No navigation issues, a good start. Having planned a 22 hour schedule we walked the majority of the hills from the gate after the A66 bridge. Ross, Matt and I have spent many hundreds of hours running together over the years and Ross had been instructed to keep the pace down in case we got a bit overexcited, which he did perfectly as we chatted our way around.

The run up to Skiddaw was reasonably clear but colder than we’d expected based on the warmth of the previous days. Luckily I’d let Matt talk me into a long sleeve. After Skiddaw we dropped off the top to hit the climb up Great Calva, mostly in darkness with the moon hidden behind the clouds.

Great Calva was summitted and we hit the line to the stile and descended the fence line to make our way across Mungrisdale Common and into the only low cloud we encountered all day which was sitting on the summit of Blencathra.

The decision had been made a few weeks prior to take the descent of Doddick Fell rather than Hall’s Fell to minimise risk in the dark, and we took a few moments to ensure we didn’t overshoot the entrance to the descent. As would become a pattern during the day I watched Matt pull away on the descent before we caught him along the wall and ran into the changeover at Threlkeld seven minutes up on schedule.

Leg 1 time: 03:34, -7 minutes.

Leg 2 (support – Michael Burgess, Hugh Beedell)

A quick three minute stop at Threlkeld to drop off bags and grab some food and we departed down the remainder of the road and marched through the tussocks to hit the long trudge up Clough Head. As Michael had described it the night before, we were on the ‘athlete’s leg’, and we ran a fair proportion of the tops from Clough Head, helped by a high moon on one side and a rising sun on the other. Hugh took some amazing photos, which somehow captured the incredible cloud and mist below us.

With no high mist or cloud we moved easily, with none of the issues finding tops Matt and I had had three weeks prior. The Dodd’s passed quickly, and we swiftly moved to Raise with the sun fully risen. The frequency of peaks and ease of running meant the leg ticked through incredibly quickly, and once we hit White Side I started to think about leg 3 and the increasing heat – I’d been running in just a t-shirt from sometime around Raise and temperatures were already rising. The two Helvellyns passed, and we spent as much time as we could admiring the views.

 We went through Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike, before skirting Grisedale Tarn to hit the Fairfield out and back, having chosen this over the Cofa Pike option. At Farfield we were up on our original schedule by 17 minutes, having been up or level on every split on the leg except for Nethermost.

Hugh and Michael had been great company throughout, and Michael’s navigation was as exemplary as we’d expected. Unfortunately I think they bore the worst of my mood as Matt kindly pointed out later in the day once I’d cheered up.

We dropped down to the climb up Seat Sandal and dropped down to Dunmail – backing off slightly after a couple of slips and near misses down the descent but still extending our gains over schedule to 27 minutes. At this point I started to believe we’d get round – I was feeling remarkably fresh for approaching eight hours on my feet, although we had the big legs still to come…

Leg 2 time: 04:02, -18 minutes

Overall time: 07:39, -27 minutes

Leg 3 (support – Simon Barnett, Fraser Wilcox)

A quick nine minute stop at Dunmail (change shirt, grab some food) and we got moving up Steel Fell. Last time we’d recced the leg we’d had awful weather and zero visibility all day, and neither of us had seen any of the peaks. This was different, the sun was fully up and getting warm. As Matt noticed my mood lifted significantly with the daylight. We saw Brian on the run from Steel Fell to Calf Crag and had a quick chat as he followed us along the top to meet us later.

Leg 3 is the long leg, described by Brian as “the meat and potatoes” so we had plenty of chances to chat to Fraser and Simon. This gave me the opportunity to test my “how many lakes are there in the Lake District?” trivia on Simon, and extol the virtues of New Zealand with Fraser. We rolled along really smoothly throughout the leg, bumping into and having a chat with Rob Jebb (“was that Rob Jebb?”) on the slopes of Great End and overtaking a couple of BG challengers out on the hills. We knew there’d been a fair number going out in the hours before us and we saw at least three groups at various points, mostly on this leg.

Simon’s experience of rounds and fell running is pretty much unmatched, and between him and Fraser they got us through with no real dramas despite the complete lack of drinkable water.

Bizarrely we hit the top of England, Scafell Pike, at midday to the second, and confused a few tourists by climbing the stairs, lapping our watches and running straight down again. Strictly business.

Dropping down, we’d chosen and recce’d Lord’s Rake as our route across to Scafell, and seeing Broad Stand in broad daylight only reinforced that we’d made the correct choice. Matt had a better go through the rake than I did, and kindly waited for me to appear from the gully onto the tops. Off Scafell we surfed down the scree, getting a bit mixed up with another BG crew, and Matt managed to get away from me again, this time on the grass drop to Wasdale. Luckily for me, Matt slowed down a bit washing in the stream at Wasdale and we joined up on the run into the carpark.

Leg 3 time: 05:39, -27 minutes

Overall time: 13:18, -54 minutes

Leg 4 (support – Alan Whelan, Tom Raftery, Claire Shelley, Hugh Beedell)

Wasdale was a hard change, it seemed a good five degrees hotter than everywhere else and with no breeze to cool us as we sorted ourselves. Another fresh t-shirt and a new pair of socks, and some cold pizza and potatoes and we cruised over the bridge trying not to look up at Yewbarrow.

Yewbarrow was a trudge, but we had our largest support team yet and everyone was happy and chatting away. Until about a third of the way up Yewbarrow where Alan pointed out that everything had gone a bit quiet. I continuously felt like I was overbalancing backwards while going up, and regretted my position at the front.

An awful lot of leg 4 passed in a bit of a blur. Claire, Hugh, Tom and Alan kept the mood high chatting throughout. I clearly remember seeing Steeple for the first time and being both impressed and a bit annoyed (“we’ve got to go over there now?”), and then trudging up Green Gable.

We met Brian again a couple of times as he zigzagged through the leg with some extra water, which was much appreciated, and before I knew it we were debating the relative merits of the summits at Grey Knotts before tipping over the edge and dropping to Honister. By now my descending had deteriorated from my normal ‘Bad’ to ‘Dangerously Poor’ and I was grateful to make it down on my feet.

Leg 4 time: 04:38, -19 minutes

Overall time: 17:56, -73 minutes

Leg 5 (support – Simon Barnett, Alan Whelan, Claire Shelley, Ross Langley, Tom Booth)

Honister was a bit warm, and there’s less than no shelter. I sat down by a knee high wall in a fruitless attempt to find some shade. A bit more pizza, some coke and we set off. At this point I’d expected to see Tom, our sole non-Tring member who was making his way across from Keswick, and was worried he’d got lost or missed us. As we got going up Dale Head he appeared, giving us a five strong final leg support crew. By this point we knew we’d get round, and in a decent time as both of us still felt good.

We ticked off Dale Head, a climb that always goes on much longer than I remember, and ran (!) round to Hindscarth to click off the penultimate peak. Somehow we still had energy to run down to the edge and take the direct line up towards Robinson, peak 42. All that remained from there was getting off the hill. We had a line picked out and recce’d, which dropped down beautifully and smoothly down to the north side of the tarn on an easy grass descent.

Unfortunately we missed that line by going off early and had to pick our way down a rocky, lumpy descent to the south of the tarn. We were cheered on briefly by some wild campers on the edge of the water and we jogged down to the road.

I kept jogging through Little Town while Matt changed shoes and we joined back up, with Fraser doubling back from earlier. After walking one climb we had a discussion about the relative merits of saving energy with less than five road miles remaining and picked up the pace. We met Dave (dad) on the corner of Derwentwater, and turned onto the bridleway to Keswick.

As Matt pointed out that he could see Booth’s in the distance we went for it, running a 7:30 mile while Ross got us across the road crossings at the foot of the high street. We were clapped all the way up to Moot Hall by our support team and strangers alike and touched the door at 20:17.

Leg 5 time: 02:21, -30 minutes

Overall time: 20:17, -103 minutes

Post Round

I can’t be certain, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a town centre high street on a Saturday night. We sat on the bench chatting for a while and had a couple of pints before all heading back. It’s hard to think of how the day could have gone better – we had perfect navigation thanks to Ross, Michael, Simon and Alan, incredible support on the legs from Hugh, Fraser, Claire, Tom and Tom, great hill support from Brian out on legs 3 and 4, and fantastic road help from Nigel, my parents, the Wades and the Langleys. I can’t thank everyone enough for their help and I look forward to supporting a few rounds in return.