Remembering the Bob Graham Round

Harrison Stickle. With only the sheep to keep me company in the gloomy mist. I’ve climbed Harrison Stickle before, particularly on this very day 37 years ago. The weather was a lot clearer then. My training and Karrimor partner, Peter, and I had set off from in front of the Moot Hall in Keswick an hour or so before dawn. We were following in the footsteps of Bob Graham, a Borrowdale hotelier who in 1932 completed a circuit of 42 Lake District fells within 24 hours; his “long walk”: 72 miles with 27,000 feet of climb. That record was to stand until Alan Heaton broke it in 1960 thus creating the challenge of the Bob Graham Round. Harrison Stickle is the 21st summit on the round, so I guess we would have been about half way round.

Our plan was an early start climbing Skiddaw in the dark and finish off on Robinson at dusk. Maximising the hours of daylight running. Even back in 1979 attempts on the Bob Graham Round usually involved pacers and support. Bob Graham himself had had four pacers. Peter and I eschewed all that preferring to be self supported, carrying our own food and waterproofs and navigating ourselves – we hadn’t done any recceing just relying on our knowledge gained from fell races. But my Dad did offer to support us, so there he was waiting for us at Thelkeld after completing the Northern Fells section.

Now my Dad’s idea of support was based upon his crossing of the Lyke Wake Walk in ’68. I was 16 at the time, and with a party of 40+ from the Nottinghamshire section of the Camping Club. It was my first foray into Yorkshire hills, real hills, not the rippled White Peak of Derbyshire. We had set off from Osmotherley at midnight aiming for a sub 24 hours crossing. Breakfast at Clay Bank was a full English provided by the mothers and wives of the party. (Long distance walking was mostly a male affair). Lunch at Rosedale Head and dinner at Wheeldale Beck were each banquets. Each of these stops took well in excess of two hours hence the reason why we only just managed to get to Ravenscar before midnight. It was so frustrating being confined to the speed of the most injured, which happened to be Dad. Never again I said, next time I would do it on my own. That day was to kickstart my love of fast lightweight excursions into the hills and mountains.

Anyway so my Dad’s idea of support was a three course meal. Sorry Dad can’t stop. We grabbed what we could carry and ate on the hoof up Clough Head. At Dunmail Raise Dad had got the idea and just opened the boot and took the lids off the cake boxes. But I did feel guilty about stopping for only five minutes.

I was also concerned that Dad’s ageing Hillman Hunter might struggle tackling Wynose and Hardknott Passes. My own experience with my Mini shooting brake (the estate model with a wooden frame) over these passes was still fresh in my mind. It kept jumping out of 1st gear so I had to hold it in and pray. So I persuaded Dad to give Wasdale a miss and meet us next at Honistor.

I don’t remember much more about the day. It was clear, not too hot. At Mickledore neither Peter nor I were confident enough to climb Broad Stand without ropes. It had a reputation. So Foxes Tarn it had to be. Just after midnight Peter and I ran back into Keswick. A couple of hours or so within the 24 hour time limit. A good day on the fells.

But for those who want a more scenic photo of Harrison Stickle, better revert back to yesterday’s post.

harrison stickle map

Langdale Pikes

The dramatic Langdale Pikes. Seen from Elterwater. Loft Crag, Harrison Stickle and Pavey Ark with Pike of Stickle beyond.

Yewthwaite Lead Mine

As the Lake District joins the Taj Mahal, the Great Barrier Reef and Grand Canyon on the list of Unesco’s world heritage sites it is easy to forget that all but the high fells are largely a manmade landscape. Indeed sheep farming is probably the main reason behind this new status not that everyone agrees with it. But mining and quarrying have also dramatically altered the landscape. A 13th century document tells of gold, silver, copper and lead mines in the Newlands valley. This is thought to be Goldscope mine and the foot of the Handscarth ridge. Yewthwaite Mine is below Cat Bells, probably the most popular fell in the Lake District. Most visitors however are unaware of the mining activity that took place on its western flank. It was operational in the later half of the 19th century working on a vein of lead. There was also a vein of copper but this was not fully developed. The galena extracted was dressed on site using a crusher with power generated by a water wheel on Yewthwaite Beck.

The high peak on the far right is Causey Pike, 637m high with a southern flank giving one of the most relentless, steepest climbs I have ever done.

NY2419 map

Wasdale

A short break from watching my DoE group toil up to Windy Gap from Black Sail YH to nip across Great Gable and spend a moment’s reflection looking down on Wasdale, a perfect valley.

Buttermere and Crummock Water

Crummock Water and Buttermere, in prehistory both were once part of a single lake until the alluvial fan from the sediments coming down Sail Beck separated the two. Nicholas Size coined the name the ‘Secret Valley’ for Buttermere in his 1920’s book. It tells the story of Saxon and Norman attempts to conquer the Norse settlers of Lakeland. Before the modern road around Rannerdale Knotts was made Buttermere was hidden from view up Crummock Water. In the 1070’s Boethar the Younger chose this hidden valley as his base to defend Lakeland and to carry out guerrilla attacks against the Normans. The name Buttermere derives from Boethar’s mere.

Great Dodd and Clough Head

Late evening cirrus clouds portend a warm front on the way. Great Dodd and Clough Head, two tops at the north end of the Helvellyn ridge.

Dock Tarn

A quiet, secluded tarn on Watendlath Fell.