The latest news report made a brief mention of club member Tim Francis having successfully completed that famous Lakeland challenge, The Bob Graham Round. In a nutshell, the BGR involves traversing 42 fells, covering 66 miles and 26,900 feet of ascent, within a 24 hour period. Whether choosing to travel clockwise or anticlockwise, the route begins and ends at Moot Hall in Keswick.
Here, in Tim’s own words, is a very evocative account of his experience.
‘MY BOB GRAHAM’
“I decided to go anticlockwise to get some sleep beforehand, starting 6am. This leaves the ‘easier’ sections to be done at night. If you go clockwise, in order to get these ‘easier’ sections done at night you need to set off at midnight which is way past my bedtime anyway.”
“So, off I went, anticlockwise, even though only 2 of the 200-odd successful rounds from last year had been in that direction. And with not much light because it’s September as covid had delayed my planned June attempt. Oh, and I’d nearly called it off because the first big period of low pressure for the whole summer was due to engulf the lakes 2 hours before I started and lightning was due to attack the Scafell massif as we traversed it. Plus, a jolly good pacer who was down for 2 legs (sections, not actual human legs) supporting pulled out with covid the night before. Ho hum, such is life and fell running.”
Leg 1 Keswick to Threlkeld
““Who were those skinny guys jumping around like excited rabbits this morning at 5.15am?” someone was heard to say at the bunkhouse we stayed at. That will have been my first leg pacer Ben and I being organised by the rock of the round, Marion.”
“Unfathomably excited, with a “it’s finally Christmas morning” type feeling that we all remember as 6 year olds, Ben and I set off on my actual, real life, grown up Bob Graham Round. Trying to stay calm and go slow we managed to keep down to 8.45mins/mile for the road section. Climbing up Robinson, Hindscarth and Dale Head went untroubled and we dropped down into Honister.”
Leg 2 Honister to Wasdale
“It wasn’t flipping raining. It was really cloudy. But it was above us. It wasn’t very windy. Wowsers. The Bob Graham community had provided the pacer for this leg, Mark, a friend of a friend of Alex Banks, on whose round I realised I’d earned the respect of the other pacers to come out and help mine. Having never met before, we chatted away for 3hrs40mins as he skilfully helped me round. He did quite fairly curse that it was quite hard to take off his bag to remove food, water, camera or anything else I whimsically requested whilst also keeping an eye on nav and my general health. He kept having to stop, remove stuff then sprint off after me. He did it with good humour and County Durham pluck. My Mum and Dad were in Wasdale which was special. They had introduced me to the Lake District, Dad’s a Burnley boy who spent his adolescence there and he’s done the Wainwrights. Mum’s a wonderful accomplice on their continuing adventures.”
Leg 3 Wasdale to Dunmail
“Golly, going straight up Scafell from Wasdale after you’ve got 8000ft elevation and 20 odd miles in your legs is tough, particularly if you choose to go up the way people normally come down – on a scree run. This was my first low. Head down though and the top arrived. A change of plan took us down West Wall Traverse and Lord(of the Rings)’s Rake to Mickledore instead of Foxes tarn. The next few tops to Bowfell were as wonderful as I could have hoped. I deeply love that high, rocky world. Its particularly special in clag and we were lucky to get that atmospheric experience.”
“I was now in uncharted territory – I’d never run more than 50km and I was there but only half way round. Easy going to Dunmail, and miles up on schedule, I felt like a King as my servants knelt at my feet to change my socks and bring any food item my mood asked for. Annoyingly the deal is that people do this only for the duration of your round, but that alone is worth the pain. James and Tomasso had been great, experienced friends to share the ride with and they jumped off the BG express to be replaced by Graham, a stalwart BG supporter.”
Dunmail to Threlkeld
“A tale of 2 sissies. I was both. The first sissy flew up the first and hardest peaks of leg D, still in below cloud and knowing I had this nailed. I was on about 19hrs30 pace. Pride comes before a fall-in-pace-and-enjoyment-that-you-can’t-believe-til-you-experience-it. If a marathon starts at mile 20, the BG starts at mile 20+20+10 when your shins seize and moving feels like you’re banging yourself with a hammer. Thus started 7 hours of odd pain. Pain because it was painful. Odd because I knew I was going to breathe my way through it and get round. I never doubted I would finish. But it wasn’t pretty.”
Threlkeld to Keswick
“The saying “what happens on tour, stays on tour” is really a corruption of the original phrase “what happens on Skiddaw…””
“Somehow, I mindfulnessed my way through 7.5 hrs of hammer-on-shins-whenever-i-take-a-step-and-I-must-have-taken-50,000-steps-in-that-time, out of body experience. It was a beautiful and macabre thing. My wonderful pacers (I shall offer to pay for their post experience counselling) mined their bottomless humour wells, found their way in the dark, discussed nineties footballing idiosyncrasies, reminisced about their rounds and tended to the suckling child in a nearly adult size body they had volunteered to help.”
“And, eventually, 22hrs, 24minutes later, epitomising the wonderfully pointless and poignant thing about the BG, I ended up where I started that morning. Only I didn’t, because I had done a Bob Graham, and that has taken me to a new place inside myself. My wonderful parents were there at 4am as were my southern softy, gritty, kind, committed and indispensable SWAT team of pacers. All of Keswick was quiet and another oddball had completed this strange thing that now 2700 ish plus one more person has done.”
“With satisfaction, respect and gratitude.”
PS Jack Kuenzle, what the hell were you thinking doing it nearly twice as quick. Chapeau!