After emerging unscathed (and just a little bit weary) from the Lakeland Trails Marathon, I had the rest of the week to focus my athletic endeavours on the Bob Graham round. Not doing it, of course, but running the rule over various sections of the 60-odd mile route – and ultimately deciding whether such an undertaking is within my capabilities.
I started proceedings by finally purchasing the Harvey map of the round. I swiftly became extremely attached to this map: the smell (not quite like an old man, but something I can’t put my finger on); the no-nonsense advice (‘if time is tight, don’t stop’) and even the spelling gaffes (referring to Richard Askwith, he of Feet in the Clouds fame, as ‘Asquith’ is my favourite). I therefore spent an inordinate amount of time staring at this map, entranced by the fluorescent yellow line that marches over the tops, showing the way. It almost makes the Bob Graham seem easy.
Almost. Because when I was grinding up Clough Head from Thelkeld on a reconnaissance of leg two, I wished I’d never bought the bloody map. I cursed that Bob Graham, cursed the day that a passing interest became a compulsion. The climb was very hard-going, boggy at first, steep at end. I was elated to summit, some 45 minutes after leaving the A66.
And so onward – Great Dodd, Watson’s Dodd (a Wainwright, really?), Stybarrow Dodd, Raise, White Side and Helvellyn Lower Man (not a Wainwright). Bob Graham folk know the routine all too well. I paused on Helvellyn, England’s third highest lump of rock, to eat jelly babies and chat to a DoE assessor, before plunging downhill towards Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike.
Here on, things became a little tricky. Problem one: I overshot Dollywaggon Pike, forcing me to retrace my steps – no disaster, but nevertheless frustrating when you’ve been on the go for almost three hours. Problem two: I descended to the outflow of Grisedale Tarn, rather than heading directly to Grisedale Hause. This decision taken, I was committed to a longer, harder and steeper (arguably) ascent of that brute of a mountain, Fairfield. Yet for all its brutishness, the top was an anticlimax – no soaring peak, just a bouldery plateau. Such landscapes complicate navigation, especially when you don’t bother to look at the map. That will be the reason why I descended south for half-a-mile, before realising that I was very much going the wrong way. I turned around, cursing myself this time.
Problem three: after gaining Seat Sandal, I saw it as a personal challenge to culminate the end of the leg – at Dunmail Raise – in under four hours. I began a needless race against no-one, only my watch. In my rush, I took what I deemed to be the fastest way down, rather than considering what might actually be the fastest way down, which, needless to say, wasn’t the way I had chosen. I floundered through a boulder field overgrown with bracken, which slowed progress markedly. The minutes were ticking by. Upon reaching Dunmail Raise, I looked back to see an obvious track leading runners off Seat Sandal – one that in my haste I had been oblivious to. I stopped my watch: four hours and four minutes.
Looking across Dunmail Raise, I gazed upwards to Steel Fell, contemplating its steep eastern haunch (a ‘hands on knees climb’, according to the Harvey map). I imagined arriving here in the real thing, seven hours into the round (much of it in darkness), with possibly 17 hours to go, Scafell Pike, Yewbarrow, Great Gable and the rest ahead. Who wouldn’t feel daunted?