Cambridge Underground 1989 pp 33-36

The History of Silly Walks

by David Gibson
with contributions from Andy Connolly and Mike Perryman.

walking, it was commented recently, is very similar to caving 'from the legs downwards'. Even so, there have been enough differences to lure ExCS members from the caves to the hills. It has been a gradual process, but the Munros of Scotland, as well as the hills of the Lake District and North Wales, have become more popular in recent years.

One of the first 'silly walks' of recent times was the Welsh 3000s which is a traverse of the 14 or so (depending on which map you use) peaks in North Wales that are over 3000 ft high. Several attempts on this were made over the years, including completions by John Bowers, Andy Connolly, Nicky Davies and Mike Perryman. Several attempts were defeated by bad weather. Leaving at the crack of dawn, the team would get as far as the first summit only to be forced to retreat back to Dave Harrison's car, where he would be discovered still sound asleep. In 1986, having exhausted the various 'horseshoes' in the Lakes, John Bowers, Nicky Davies and Mike Perrnan decided to have a go at the Lakes 3000s. There are only four peaks over 3000 ft in the Lake District - Skiddaw, Helvellyn, Sea Fell and Seafell Pike - but they are at opposite corners so the walk is over 40 miles long, with two long road sections.

The walk is straightforward. You start off in Keswick, nip up Skiddaw and back. Walk down to Seathwaite, up the corridor route to Scafell Pike, divert to Sca Fell, down to Angle Tarn, over to High Raise, down to the road, nip up Helvellyn and back along the road to Keswick. Nicky, John, Mike and Nicky's brother Andrew completed the walk in June '86 in just over 18 hours, exhausted, with painfully sore feet, and having obtained motivation from the knowledge that Andrew Nichols had previously completed the circuit, (in 1982 with Andy Connolly and John Vaughan). Not content with a Lakes 3000s, Mike Penynan went on to complete his first Welsh 3000s later the same week, together with Nicky who had done it before. The difficulty of the Lakes 3000s had aroused interest in a longer one - the Bob Graham Round.

The Lakes 3000s is a silly walk because there is no logic to the route. The BG is more sensible (but not by much) because, whilst it broadly follows the same route, it keeps to the hills rather than including stretches of road walking. Bob Graham's walk of 42 peaks (one for each year of his life) started on June 13th 1932 at 1 a.m. and took him 23 hours 39 minutes to complete the 72 miles and 27,000 feet of ascent. 59 miles and 25,000 feet are sometimes quoted as the 'map' figures, but whatever the figures, it is an extremely tough walk. Bob Graham's record stood for 28 years. Mike, having obtained information about the walk, and about the Bob Graham 24 Hour Club, swore us to secrecy. No one was to let on that the BG Club or the book existed, lest Andrew Nichols found out and beat Mike to it!.

In June '87 Mike and Nicky did a feasibility study of the route. Mike had produced an analysis of the terrain and had estimated times for the various sections. The walk was done clockwise over two days with food dumps prepared in advance and left at Threlkeld, below Dunmail Raise (on the central reservation of the A591), and at Honister Pass. Mike, Nicky and Dave Gibson set off at 3 a.m. to do Skiddaw. Mike and Nicky to carry on to Great Calva and Dave to return to Keswick and continue on another Lakes 3000s attempt (which was another failure). Mike says that the walk was done "at our normal walking pace, so that our own schedule could be established", so it wasn't long before Dave lost sight of them. They stayed the night in a B&B at Wasdale Head and completed the round in a total walking time of 26 hours. As Mike stood on Scafell Pike he remembers looking across to the peaks of Yewbarrow and Great Gable at 7pm and thinking the round was, for him at least, impossible.

Mike had discussed his forthcoming plans in the pub with Tony Malcolm and Andy Connolly the week before, and at the time it was believed that Andy thought the thing impossible and pointless. However, the seeds had been sown, and before long we realised that Andy was secretly training around the parks and backstreets of West London having been revived by a holiday in the Pyrenees with plenty of good food and wine. Andy writes: "An evening's drinking with John Vaughan of CSS (and sometime member of other more or less reputable caving clubs) led to a focussing of interest, which was further sharpened by a chat with Tony Creswell, warden of Buttermere Youth Hostel. "'The best day on the fells you'll ever have' was his verdict, and coming from a veteran of three successful attempts the spark of enthusiasm was fanned into flame."

Meanwhile Mike and Nicky had another trial run in September '87 where they attempted to reach Honister in a single day. The attempt was frustrated by bad weather and they abandoned the walk at Dunmail. Spring '88 saw both teams in intensive training. Mike and Nicky had planned the attempt for 25th June, for maximum daylight and moonshine. A trial run to Honister was planned for May 14th. Support was to be from Dave Harrison and Dave Gibson, with pacing from John Bowers. In April there was a major set-back. Nicky damaged an Achilles tendon and was forced to postpone her attempt. The trial weekend went ahead with Mike having a vague idea of completing the round if things went well. He set out from Keswick at 1 a.m. and soloed it by torchlight as far as Threlkeld, whilst the support team drove there and bivvied for a few hours, waking up just in time - Dave Harrison was about to roll down the river bank. The support team brewed up whilst Nicky and Dave Gibson made their way to Clough Head to wait for Mike. He arrived and Nicky took his boots back down to Threlkeld whilst Dave paced him as far as Dunmail Raise where the team were waiting with more tea and food. Mike was not feeling too good at this point but carried on to Angle Tarn with John Bowers. Meanwhile the car dashed round to Langdale and the team trudged up the path to Angle Tarn for the next rendezvous. Whilst Mike was having his blisters dressed there he caught a glimpse of Joss Naylor (!!) running past in the opposite direction. After a sunbathe the support team drove round to Honister Pass for the next stop. John appeared from a totally unexpected direction explaining that Mike had given up. The weather was very hot and Mike had retired, exhausted near the summit of Red Pike. In typical fashion, Mike was initially dead against another attempt, but gradually changed his outlook until he was talking about the changes needed to his schedule for the attempt in June!

Andy was running 60 miles/week and also spending time in the Lakes familiarising himself with the route. He ran the South Downs Way in two 7 ½ hour days, and until Nicky's injury, went training with her regularly. Mike had been running about 40 miles/week and cycling 200 to 300 km/week in Holland. Mike's training culminated with 8 days back-packing in the Pyrenees. Coming off the hills he did a 20 mile walk with wet feet to build up stamina and then did practically nothing for the week before his June attempt.

Everything went smoothly in June owing to the dress-rehearsal in May. It was obvious from the start that Mike was in better shape mentally. Andrew Davies did most of the pacing, assisted by Nicky and brother James. Dave did the Helvellyn section again and Mike's friend Brent McGregor met him at Wasdale Head relieving Nicky and her two "absurdly fit brothers" for the ensuing section, since the support team would not have time to drive from Langdale to Wasdale, and Wasdale to Honister. After cream teas in Wasdale, the Davies Team yomped up to Beckhead Tarn to intercept Mike who now felt renewed vigour. At Honister Pass spaghetti bolognese was consumed whilst the team scurried round organising lights and drinks for the next section. Thomas Perryman (aged 2) looked on, bemused by all the activity. It was here that they met Andy who was preparing for his attempt later in the week. He had been persuaded to pace the Honister to Keswick section for "Jim, the Kendal Milkman" and this proved to be ideal 'acclimatisation'. For the last section of Mike's run from Chapel Bridge to Keswick he changed into road-running shoes. The team set off in convoy, spirits high. Mike writes: "..Dave Harrison and Lindy Furby in two cars illuminating us from behind with their headlights, Dave Gibson ahead taking photos from his bike, and Brent McGregor and Nicky, Andrew and James Davies running alongside. In this triumphant fashion we entered Keswick, touching the walls of the Moot Hall at 23:32 hours. The entire team assembled for a bottle of champagne, drunk Grand Prix Style.."

Mike's run had been clockwise starting at midnight. Andy and John Vaughan's was to be anticlockwise for which it is better to start in the early morning. The support team of Sue Hill and Caroline Hirons arrived on Tuesday to the news that Tony Cresswell had reorganised the pacers and brought the start forward to 6am. They set off on Wednesday 29th June at 6:02. A support team met them at Honister Pass, and at 12:30 they arrived at Wasdale Head. After a short rest, food and change of clothing they set off for Sca Fell. Splitting up in the cloud they lost some time on the top, but gradually the weather improved until conditions were 'nearly perfect with the fells slightly softened and the day cool and bright'. Nicky met them on Pike O'Stickle with hot tea and company as far as High Raise, and at 18:23 they caught the support team by surprise with an early arrival at Dunmail Raise. After another short rest the final section was tackled arriving at the top of Clough Head at 10pm on a beautiful clear evening. A final feed at Threlkeld preceded the climb up to Blencathra followed by a fast descent with headtorches. Andy writes: "Unable in the dark to find the clear path up by the fence, Boyd [Millen] took a direct line for the top [of Great Calva] as we trailed along behind. Without doubt the hardest ascent of the day it took all the encouragement that Boyd and Lillian could provide to get us over the top. A well chosen smooth descent brought us to the final climb of the day up the ridge above Hare Crag onto Skiddaw. A succession of ditches and heather obstacles eventually brought us to the fenceline and the final summit, back in the mist again, at 02:06. We now followed automatically as the pacers set a brisk pace over the downhill stretch into Keswick, finally emerging from the tunnel into the total quiet of the Moot Hall square at 03:15 and a time of 21 hours 13 minutes. Sue and Caroline broke out the champagne and ale and we sat savouring the good feelings of success as dawn started to lighten the sky above the town".

Andy notes that whilst both the Lakes and Welsh 3000s were done with minimal training and conventional hill-walking gear (heavy boots, rucksack) the BG requires intensive training, lightweight equipment (fellrunning shoes, shorts), a full support team at road crossings, pacers on the fells, a fair amount of luck with the weather and, above all, the support and encouragement of everyone involved. Mike points out that his BG was not a Bob Graham Round made easier by the attendance of these friends, but a Bob Graham Round made possible by their enthusiasm and dedication.

So what does one do next? People have done double Bob Graham Rounds and unsupported rounds. In 1975 Joss Naylor did an unbelievable 72 summits, 100 miles and 37,000 feet of ascent in under 24 hours. In October '88 Andy did a Welsh 3000s round in 9 ¼ hours in very cold conditions and he is now thinking about a Welsh version of the Bob Graham Round. A route of 47 summits has been suggested by Paddy Buckley, Chris Brasher and others. This 'Classical Round' was first completed by Wendy Dodds in 25 hours 35 minutes, and has yet to be brought under 24 hours. The map distance is quoted as around 61 miles 27,700 feet on the same reckoning the BG is 59 miles and 25,300 feet. More contenders for the Bob Graham Round will be in the lakes this summer, and probably in 1990 too, such is the interest that has been aroused by the recent attempts.

Further information:

List of Peaks for a clockwise Bob Graham Round

Based on data supplied by Mike Perryman from his round of 25/6/88. Times rounded to nearest 5 minutes (except * exact). Summit heights taken from OS 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure map. Distances approximate, based on information Mike drew up for his run. Ascents recalculated from 1:25000 maps, and are guidelines only.

Restpoints & Summitstimeheight
Keswickdep. 00:00*295/90
Great Calva02:102264/6905-1500+710
nr. Threlkeldarr. 03:50490/1504-23600
dep. 04:00
Clough Head04:502382/72650+1890
Great Dodd05:202812/8573-350+780
Watson's Dodd05:302589/7891-250+30
Stybarrow Dodd05:402766/8431-30+210
White Side06:152831/8631-210+140
Helvellyn Lower Man06:253035/9251-210+410
Nethermost Pike06:502923/8911-290+100
Dollywagon Pike07:002815/8582-260+150
Seat Sandal08:002415/7362-890+440
A591, Dunmail Raisearr. 08:25755/2302-16600
dep. 08:45
Steel Fell09:001814/55320+1060
Calf Crag09:201762/5372-170+120
High Raise10:102500/7623-120+860
Sergeant Man10:252415/7362-11020
Thunacar Knott10:402372/7232-220+170
Harrison Stickle10:502415/7361-70+110
Pike of Stickle11:002326/7091-350+260
Rossett Pike11:352136/6514-760+570
Bow Fell12:202959/9021-100+930
Esk Pike12:452904/8851.5-270+220
Great End13:152986/9102-600+680
Ill Crag13:303068/9351-200+280
Broad Crag13:453068/9351-280+280
Scafell Pike14:003209/9780.5-280+420
Sca Fell14:303163/9641420+370
Wasdale Headarr. 15:15245/753-29200
dep. 15:30
Red Pike17:102710/8263420+1070
Kirk Fell18:402631/8022-1290+1000
Great Gable19:252949/8993-560+880
Green Gable19:402628/8010.5490+110
Grey Knotts20:052287/6971-120+60
Honister Passarr. 20:201020/3101-12700
dep. 20:30
Dale Head21:102470/75320+1450
Keswickarr. 23:32*295/9012-21200

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