(by Denis Rankin, from the IMC Journal 1984-85)
An account of the first Northern Irish attempt on the Bob Graham Round.
Jim Patterson and Denis Rankin were the 130th and 131st recorded rounds and they were completed in 23 hours 10 minutes and 23 hours 22 minutes respectively.
It was a relief when nine o’clock in the morning finally arrived and the long cavalcade of Dark Peak Fell Runners jogged out of Keswick and South-West onto the delightful lakeland lanes that lead to the Derwent Fells. I immediately felt uncomfortable and ‘breathy’ and began to doubt the wisdom of my policy of maximum relaxation and ‘tapering off’ in the period leading up to such a serious undertaking. Jim Patterson and myself were delighted that the Dark Peak should give us the opportunity of joining their attempt on the traditional circuit of 42 Lake District peaks in 24 hours and we were soon to appreciate the excellence of their Organisation.
I began to feel better as soon as we hit the fells and started clambering up the slopes of Robinson, peak number 1, in hot pursuit of Ros Coates on her way to the ladies record. At this stage, it was difficult to differentiate between the real triers and the pacemakers: I think there were twelve of us with serious intentions, of whom six finally made it. From Robinson, we jogged round to Hindscarth, and the descent to Dale Head was ecstasy.
We were five minutes down at Honister which is the end of the first section and I spent all of the ten minutes resting time changing my footwear from ripples into my clapped out Nikes, which was to prove a very good move. Then we were off, with Martin Hudson taking over as pacer. The party went southwards over Grey Knotts, Brandreth and Green Gable to Great Gable but began to split up on the screes descending from the latter. Jim and I became most anxious as we waited on Kirkfell for the stragglers to catch up but contented ourselves with the fact that timekeeping was the pacer’s responsibility. In the circumstances, they had a difficult job trying to keep the party together while still sticking to the schedule. Ascending Pillar, Martin Hudson and the stronger runners amongst us threatened to break away. The traverse to Steeple, Scoat Fell and the descent from Red Pike was one of the most enjoyable stretches of the whole day with the sun threatening to break through. Tearing down the screes of Yewbarrow, I felt sufficiently relaxed to request JP to pose for an all action camera shot of scree-running.
We breezed into Wasdale campsite fifteen minutes up on schedule but with six hours and only twelve peaks behind us, there was no cause for optimism and we were eager to take only the statutory fifteen minutes rest. We took some sustenance in the company of the many Dark Peak supporters that had gathered.
Half an hour later, we were toiling up the long ascent to Scafell with the same pacers: a solid hour’s grind. A rope was in position for the difficult step on Broad Stand and I was at first reluctant to have recourse to such an unethical aid. After the top of Scafell Pikes there is a long, mostly level section which provided a really enjoyable run over the roof of England; Broad and Ill Crag, Great End, Esk Pike to Bowfell. A diagonal descending traverse took us through the cliffs of Bowfell and westward. After Rossett Pike, the party began to show visible signs of weariness. A breather was taken at a stream and in between the two Langdale Pikes, Martin Hudson was seen to ply himself with secret goodies taken from his rucsac. He had been suffering from a stomach upset and diarrhoea and was in a visibly weakened condition. It is to his credit that he struggled on to complete the pacing of two of the most strenuous sections in the scheduled time. Towards the end of this section, Jim and myself, paced by Andy Collinson, broke away and covered the miles to Calf Crag and Steel Fell, which involves much downhill running, at a steady gallop. And so to Dunmail, halfway along the main Keswick to Ambleside road, eight minutes up on schedule, twelve hours after setting out from Keswick.
Here Martin Stone had the burners going in the back of a minivan and a feast of carbohydrates was awaiting us; hot creamed rice with apricots washed down with mugs of tea. Much of my own carefully prepared fruit, nuts and home-made cake which was waiting for me at all the resting stations was completely superfluous.
The pacing role was now assumed by Mike Hayes and he was already charging up Seat Sandal when I was shoeless: a change into studs proved a mistake, because, while they are suitable for grassy terrain, they tend to be uncomfortable over the longer distance. By the top of Fairfield it was pitch dark and on the descent, a battery of torch lights revealed many Bob Graham attempts to be in the vicinity. This was to be the most testing section of the whole round and with mist constantly shrouding the tops, there could be no latitude for navigational error.
In this respect, we were fortunate to have the services of Mike Hayes whose compass work and ability to keep the party together as one by one we all went through bad patches, was first class. The attempt had now been reduced to six bodies who finally completed the round, including Jim and myself. The descent from the last top of this section, Clough Head, was tedious and the route finding was confused by the lights on the valley floor below, but we managed to stumble into the feeding station at Threlkeld at twenty past three.
Once again we were plied with all sorts of appetising goodies, and I managed to pull a fast one over Jim by locating a supply of apple tarts which had escaped his attention. The Organisation continued to excel and even those who had been forced to drop out of the attempt earlier on were there to support us and boost our confidence for one more section. My Nikes had been mislaid overnight and I had hardly time to realise my predicament before an almost brand new pair of the right size appeared before my eyes – a further indication of the tremendous team spirit which underlay the hole occasion.
On the final loop, north of Keswick, the ascent of Blencathra took a good hour in the brightening dawn, most of us grinding up the zig- zags in our own good time. On the far side of Blencathra the never- ending Mungrisdale Common required constant attention to the compass. This section was completely out of character with the rest of the Lakes: deep heather and long grass reminded one of the calf tearing Irish moors. After Great Calva the party became really spread out, Jim Patterson went storming on ahead going up Skiddaw and, in an attempt to hold the arty together I placed myself, judiciously I thought, between him and those behind. I gritted my teeth and tried to keep him in sight, but he soon disappeared into the mist and I found myself alone near the summit of Skiddaw.
As a result of the mix-up at the Threlkeld feeding station I did not have any map with me. I felt completely lost in an area unfamiliar to me and, realising that time was slipping by, I nearly panicked. I turned right at a fence but this lost me height so I retraced my steps. Fortunately I made contact again with a pacer who had been despatched to look for me and we were soon at the top of Skiddaw, albeit half an hour behind schedule. I set off down the tourist track in hot pursuit of the others. In Keswick I asked the first Sunday morning pedestrian I came across for the way to the town centre. The schedule had allowed an hours leeway so, although down on schedule, I touched the Moot Hall thirty eight minutes inside the alloted twenty four hours.
There were many people gathered there including pacers for the double Bob Graham attempt which was about to complete another section. In time, we were offered a lift back to our campsite at Threlkeld, and without making any conscious attempt to do so, we nibbled and dosed off in our bags and remained there for much of the day.