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Spring 2020 in the UK will be remembered by many for the unusually warm and dry days of April, May and June. It will also be remembered for the Covid-19 lockdown, and during those fine weather months, we were confined to hiking on our own patch (see posts #275 and #276). I shouldn’t complain – there are folk who would drive for miles to get to the northern end of the Clwydian Hills, but when the restrictions were lifted it was good to branch out a bit further to Cwm Idwal (see post #277).
It was mid-July before we ventured out of Wales for a short stay in the Northern Lake District. Our first day out to Castlerigg Stone Circle (see post #278) had been mizzly and damp, but Day 2 was forecast to be better. Sure enough, the rain stopped but the cloud base was still low, and the planned trip over Bleaberry Fell and High Seat looked like being nothing more than good navigation practice in the mist. Ever optimistic, Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course) decided to give it a go.
‘Mist’ (the dog that is) is a welcome addition to any hike, but me missus does like to see where we are going, and the ‘other mist’ rolled in and out as we set out from Castlerigg. By the time we reached the top of Walla Crag it looked as though things might clear up a bit, and there were views over Derwent Water and the surrounding country, though there was still a big grey cap over the hills around Borrowdale.
So, a compromise was reached – we would take the lower track to Ashness Bridge and see how things looked when we arrived there. I like to head for the summits as a rule, and it’s easy to forget that there are some cracking views on lower ground, so we enjoyed the constantly changing views over the lake and Borrowdale as we dropped down to Ashness for a lunch break. The tops were still murky and misty, and before long we hit on an alternative plan.
One of the objects of the trip had been to find the cairn built to commemorate Bob Graham. This was harder than expected due to the size of the cairn (small) and the height of the surrounding grass (high) – persistence paid off, and after some searching, we located the memorial. In June 1932, Bob Graham completed a circuit of 42 Lakeland fells in 24 hrs, covering 66 miles (106 km) with a height gain of 26,900 feet (8,200 m) – the most remarkable thing about this achievement was that it would be 28 years before anyone repeated it!
In my 30’s and 40’s I acted as pacer/navigator on several Bob Graham rounds done by other runners (my usual patch was the stretch from Dunmail to Threlkeld over Fairfield, Helvellyn and the Dodds) but to my regret, I never got round to attempting the whole thing myself. It’s a tough test, but one that continues to attract mountaineers and club runners, and by the end of 2019 there had been more than 2300 successful rounds in summer conditions.
We celebrated Bob Graham’s achievement with a brew of coffee before finally admitting that the high-level route was going to be a boring wander in the clouds. Then inspiration struck – in all the years I’ve been walking and rock climbing in Borrowdale, I had never walked along the lakeside path by Derwent Water. So, we headed down through the woods passing Barrow House, which Bob Graham had run as a guest house from 1943 to 1961.
Down by the lakeshore, the views were familiar but different, giving a different angle to the usual panorama from higher up. One of the highlights was the view back to Walla Crag, emphasising the vertical distance down to the valley from the summit rocks, where we had earlier watched hikers wandering around, totally oblivious to the drop below. The main highlight for ‘Mist’ was meeting up with a young male Collie, who could almost have been a twin.
On the way back to Castlerigg, we headed for the top of Castle Head, a mere 161 metres in altitude, but with a surprising view into Borrowdale – over the years, I must have driven past there several hundred times without ever setting foot on the hill! Then it was back to the Crag Bar at the Heights Hotel, where the landlord usually has music from the 1970’s playing (Tubular Bells on our visit) – a nice, cold cider was our extra reward on top of what had already been a rewarding day.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock except for the map of the Bob Graham Round, which is reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence