This report is reproduced by kind permission of Scottish Hill Runners, from the SHR 2014 Journal.
It was 7am on Saturday 21 June, 2014, and a group of Fife AC women were loitering around the Moot Hall in Keswick. The tops of the hills were covered in early morning mist but the weather forecast was favourable and so there was nothing to delay the start. We were attempting the Billy Bland Challenge - the Bob Graham Round (BGR) for relay teams. The BGR is a 67 mile (approximately) circular route over 42 Lake District summits taken by Bob Graham in 1932. The route is divided into five sections by road crossings which provide convenient changeover points. A few years ago Dallam AC started the Billy Bland Challenge for relay teams of 10 runners (5 pairs) undertaking the BGR in June. Billy Bland holds the record for the BGR – 13 hrs 53 mins set in 1982. Our team consisted of Ally Malcolm-Smith, Anita Laidlaw, Caroline Pollard (now Wharfedale Harriers), Cathy Sinclair, Charlotte Kirby, Julia Neufeind, Liz Killean, Louise Provan (now HBT), Moira Grainger and me. We also had three supporters; Adrian Dixon (a veteran of the Lakeland Long Classics), Bill Fairmaner (BGR 24 hour club member) and Graham Kirby (serial mountain marathoner). They each ran a leg with the team as additional safety cover and because they also wanted a run in the hills.
At 7:05am Louise and Julia set off, with Caroline leading them through Keswick to Portinscale – unlike most teams, we were going anti-clockwise. Louise and Julia found their way to Newlands Church to meet Bill and then all three headed over the hills to Honister Pass. By now, the mist had burnt off and it was turning into a glorious summer day. On Dale Head, they caught up with a sponsored walking event but were easy to spot hurtling down to the changeover at the slate mine (whose café is a welcome amenity for waiting runners). Caroline and I then took possession of the porridge spurtle we were using as a baton and headed up Grey Knotts. We were accompanied by Adrian Dixon as we found our way up and down the scrambles over Great Gable, Kirkfell and Steeple. On a recce weekend we had failed to find the trod off Yewbarrow into Wasdale and had a very slow descent over scree and heather until we spied walkers heading up on a path. Caroline had since reccied the route and so we had no such problems on the day. Anita, Liz and Bill were waiting for us in the National Trust carpark and, at 13:46, forty-six minutes ahead of schedule, they set off for the long climb to Scafell. They had decided not to descend Broad Stand (a grade 3 scramble) coming off Scafell but instead, go round via Foxes Tarn to Scafell Pike. They made good progress over Bowfell, Langdale Pikes and High Raise, finishing on Steel Fell, right above the changeover at Dunmail Raise. At 8:15pm, having gained a further fifty minutes on the schedule, they handed the spurtle to Cathy and Moira (with me in tow). The time in hand was invaluable as injury meant the next leg would be done at walking pace. Regardless, it was a beautiful evening to be on the hills and we reached the summit of Helvellyn at 11pm. As we made our way north along the ridge, our head torches lighting the way as it was now properly dark, we were surprised by the number of people that were camping and bivvying on the tops to see in the summer solstice. The rocky ridge gave way to the wide grassy plateau of the Dodds and trying to find small cairns on flattish tops in the pitch black was tricky. The week before I had reccied the descent to Threlkeld and it had seemed straightforward but at night it was a different story and we nearly overshot the gate at the end of the lane leading to Threlkeld. At the edge of the village we handed over to Ally, Charlotte and Graham. They were on the final leg, over Blencathra, Great Calva and Skiddaw. Though they started in darkness, the daylight returned during the steep climb up Blencathra, where they were greeted by a magnificent sunrise. Coming off Skiddaw, they were met by Caroline and Julia, who escorted them back to the Moot Hall. Hooray! We finished in 24 hours and 6 minutes and celebrated with a well-deserved breakfast.
We had expected to finish in around 26 hours and so a finish in just over 24 hours was fantastic. However, the discussion soon developed a theme of “if only we’d … ”. The lesson being that seconds count. Nevertheless, it was the highlight of my year and I would like to say thank you to everyone involved for their support. In particular, thanks to Julia for standing in at the last minute to make up a team of 10 women; Louise for being completely mad and driving from Aberdeen for dinner, half a night’s sleep and a 2hr 35 min run on the hills before driving back to Aberdeen; Liz for arranging the accommodation and not balking at the idea of doing the longest leg; Cathy and Bill for hiking up Scafell with climbing gear and setting up a pitch so I could try out Broad Stand on one of the recce weekends; Anita and Caroline for saying yes immediately when I mentioned the idea to them, which gave me hope that we could muster a team; Moira for encouraging me in the first place; Ally and Charlotte for smiling even though they knew they had to head up a steep narrow ridge in the dark; Graham for carefully reading my route descriptions and finding the mistakes; Adrian for being so patient and leading us safely up and down rocky gullies and finally to Misty and Maya for being well-behaved dogs (OK, I will overlook Misty running off to walk up the main path to Scafell instead of whacking straight up the steep grassy hillside to the summit – but that’s the BGR for you).
The statistics of the route and our team are as follows (supporters on each leg in brackets). Distances and ascents are approximate.
|Leg||Start location||Distance (km)||Ascent (metres)||Runners||Start time||Time taken (HH:MM)|
|1||Moot Hall, Keswick||19||960||Louise Provan & Julia Neufeind (Caroline Pollard/Bill Fairmaner)||7:05am||2:35|
|2||Honister Pass||19||1780||Caroline Pollard & Louise Burt (Adrian Dixon)||9:40am||4:06|
|3||Wasdale||25||2300||Anita Laidlaw & Liz Killean (Bill Fairmaner)||1:46pm||6:27|
|4||Dunmail Raise||22||1600||Cathy Sinclair & Moira Grainger (Louise Burt)||8:13pm||6:12|
|5||Threlkeld||21||1400||Charlotte Kirby & Ally Malcolm-Smith (Graham Kirby)||2:25am||4:46|