> Bob Graham Round: Geoff Davis

30th-31st May 1999

4am Sunday 30th May 1999 and two alarms are sounding in my little tent pitched at Threlkeld Quarry. Why are they ringing so early I wonder - ah yes I'm doing the Bob Graham today! So it's a quick breakfast, get ready and I'm driven to Keswick market place by Susan my wife who is to provide invaluable support throughout the day.

Not many bods around at 5.40am but two very important people are there; Kevin and Linda Bray both of Morpeth Harriers. Kevin is to pace the first two sections of this anti-clockwise attempt while Linda will run to Littletown carrying my "Walshs". But as yet Tim (Higginbottom) and Bendy (Dave Bendell NFR) are yet to arrive. Tim and I intend to attempt the round together and Bendy, like Kevin, is to pace the first two sections. At 5.52 they arrive along with Tim's girlfriend Jenny Ewels. Pacers for later sections, Bob Sewell (NFR), Jeff Ross (NFR) and Gordon Dixon (Morpeth Harriers), are also there to see us off. This is dedication above and beyond the call of duty.

After lots of photos and good wishes the six of us are off. Weatherwise it's a near perfect morning; dry, a light wind with broken cloud just licking the fell tops. Tim's preference is for the paths rather than the roads to Littletown so we're treated to a pleasant jog through woods and fields and lots of gates opened (mostly) by our pacers. A quick change of shoes at Littletown and it's the four of us heading for Robinson the first of the 42 tops. A steady pull up the side of High Snab Bank and we're on the ridge and quickly reach the summit. A brief pause for a photo then it's off over fairly easy terrain to Hindscarth and Dale Head with the weather improving all the time (cloud lifting and the sun shining).

At Honister we're four minutes up on the 23 and a half hour schedule we are using. Ten minutes rest with food and drink supplied by Susan, Jenny and Will Bridge (Tim's operations manager for the day). Then it's off again up Grey Knotts, over the gentle summit of Brandreth and onto Green Gable - nine minutes up and now all the Lakeland summits clear of cloud. However, this is where the rough stuff starts. It's generally recognised (by me and Bendy) that from here to Rosset Pike is the rockiest and toughest stretch of the round and part of our reason for going anti-clockwise is to get it out of the way ASAP.

We see our first people of the day as we ascend Great Gable. Quickly reaching the top we pause for a photo of me framed by the best view in England (Wastwater, Yewbarrow, the Screes etc) and then start the descent to Beck Head. Bendy and I had gone wrong here while training on a misty day over Easter but no such problems today and we're soon up and over Kirk Fell and pushing on to Pillar. It really is a nice day now and we start to see more and more walkers out for their bank holiday jaunt. They all offer cheery hellos, if accompanied by somewhat bemused looks.

Eighteen minutes up as Tim and I stand on the airy summit of Steeple admiring (briefly) the wonderful view. It's then over Red Pike and at Dore Head the party briefly divides with Tim and Bendy taking the direct route to Yewbarrow via Stirrup Crag while Kevin and I take the narrow traverse that hits the ridge just below the summit. Its then down the steep fellside through the rock, scree, bracken, bilberry and bog to our amazing welcome at Wasdale Head. There are six of our people there (Susan, Linda, Jenny, Bob, Jeff and Will) nearly all holding cameras to record our arrival. They all say we look fine and are doing really well (we're 29 minutes up now). This is our longest stop at 24 minutes and I take on quite a lot of food and change some of my clothes. Up to now I've enjoyed every minute - nice weather, beautiful scenery, good company, comfortable pace etc. Six and a half hours out that's a good day on the fells. After Wasdale things get a bit different.

I'm still lucky enough to have two excellent pacers in Bob Sewell (NFR's own Bob Graham guru) and Jeff Ross limbering up for his own BGR on 19th June. Tim sets off with Will who's been given the extra job of retrieving the rope from Broad Stand (but more of that anon), Bob, Jeff and I join them.

The climb from Wasdale to Scafell is a full 3,000 feet, the longest of the round, quite steep in places and utterly demoralising. This was to be my low point of the round. Bob and Jeff were doing their level best to be cheerful but I can be a miserable bugger at times. On top of Scafell (at last) and it's cold. While we wait for Tim and Will a dog tries to nick our grub, Bob soon puts a stop to that, however.

We're all back together and we head for Broad Stand. Now Broad Stand had caused me a lot of mental anguish. I'm no climber, indeed on a couple of memorable occasions I've been known to "bottle out" on difficult scrambles. I'd reccied all the alternate routes between Scafell and Scafell Pike and knew Broad Stand would save me considerable time and effort. I made the decision to go for it about a week before the round (with certain provisos). Tim's people were organising a rope and I said I needed a knotted rope over the crag to cling on to and I wanted to be in a harness belayed on another rope (belt and braces). "No problem" Tim said and that's exactly what I got at the top of Broad Stand. I managed the descent with a minimum of fuss (for me) coaxed and assisted particularly by Tim, Jeff and our "rope man" Chris Hall.

My spirits soar as I step out of the crack at the bottom of Broad Stand with Bob capturing the moment on camera. We all head off to Scafell Pike surrounded by loads of walkers and now accompanied by Chris who is carrying on to Dunmail. Although we feel a few spots of rain the temperature seems a bit higher and we reach the summit 22 minutes up on schedule. We're soon across the subsidiary tops of Broad Crag and Ill Crag and heading for Great End where some discussion ensued as to which bump represented the actual summit.

Meanwhile Susan (my wife) having walked from Seathwaite to Wasdale Head to provide sustenance was making her way to Esk Hause to do the same. When we arrived she was also able use her massage skills on relieving the twinges of cramp I'd suffered in my legs since climbing Scafell.

Onward and onward over Esk Pike and Bow Fell and down Tim's superb route of descent to finish the roughest stretch of the round. Twenty minutes up on the top of Rosset Pike with the easier terrain of the Langdales in front of us. Quickly over the Stickles and continuing to Thunacar, High Raise and Sergeant Man the soft ground feels much kinder on the feet and the weather's still holding with high cloud, a gentle wind and just the very occasional spot of rain. We couldn't have hoped for much better.

I'm starting to go through the odd bad patch where the fuel gauge seems to be hovering around the red. But a request to my pacers for jelly babies, jungle juice, chocolate raisins or Bob's flapjack (otherwise known as rocket fuel) and I'm as right as rain again. All day (and night) my pacers saw to my every need. On this section if I'd asked for a pint of Jennings' Bitter Bob or Jeff would have run down to Grasmere and back and I'd have had the beer in a straight glass with a foaming head still on the top. Thanks again everyone.

More gentle terrain over Calf Crag where Bob takes the opportunity to recruit Chris to the NFR. On to Steel Fell and the last top on this the longest section. A knee jarring descent and we're at Dunmail 36 minutes up at twelve minutes past seven. I sit on a picnic chair drinking a hot cup of sweet tea while Susan peels off my Walshs (what dedication - the marriage ceremony said nothing about this). A complete change of clothes and footwear and we're off again. Jeff is still with me and I'm joined by Gordon Dixon (Morpeth Harriers). Tim has Oliver Mason, Emma Moody (NFR) and her husband Steve Birkenshaw (NFR). I don't think the seven of us are going to get lost in the dark!

With the Scafell experience behind me I wasn't looking forward to the next couple of hours which would include three steep ascents Seat Sandal, Fairfield and Dollywagon Pike. Nonetheless I found myself leading the party up Seat Sandal at a fairly brisk pace. Up and down Fairfield, across the stream at Grisedale Tarn and past a group of half a dozen tents full of giggling school kids doing their Duke of Edinburgh.

In the gathering dusk on top of Dollywagon and I'm feeling a bit "woozie". I know the cure but I'm getting tired of jelly babies and my carbohydrate drink is starting to taste like sick. One of Tim's Frusli bars and a gulp of Jeff's spring water do the trick and I'm ok again by Helvellyn. It's 10pm now and we're 56 minutes up on our 23 and a half hour schedule so that's nearly an hour and a half inside the 24 hours. This is the sort of cushion I wanted and I think things are looking good.

The fell tops are passing quickly now Whiteside, Raise, Stybarrow Dodd as Steve leads us to the tops with apparent ease. Gordon provides the entertainment with details of his Iron Man competitions from across the world. Although it's cloudy and we haven't got the benefit of the full moon it is otherwise a fine night with virtually no wind: dry and the cloud high above the fell tops. With the lights of Keswick and Penrith becoming brighter each person turns on their head torch.

The other two Dodds are crossed and we're on the top of Clough Head at two minutes past midnight - its Monday morning! and there's Bob at Newsham shining his torch to guide us down off the fell. Steve knows a way down the scree and we all follow at our own speed.

Threlkeld seems to be full of our supporters' cars. A quick drink and a bite of savoury mince pie courtesy of my Mother-in-law and we're off again. Jeff bows out here after supporting me manfully for two tough legs. Gordon is accompanying me to Keswick. Ollie stays with Tim and we're joined by Jenny and a local orienteer Mike Hind whom Tim has charged with leading us over this last dark and difficult section.

Mike sets off up Blencathra at a fair lick and I'm struggling to stay with the pace, this is where Gordon's encouragement is proving vital. After an airy scramble in the dark we reach the top with four hours left to get to Keswick - it's looking good. The next section down to Witey Gill however, is going slowly, we're losing time and I know Great Calva is bloody steep. We all slog up it and exchange pleasantries with two people descending who are in the early stages of a clockwise BGR attempt. The larks are now singing as Mike finds the path off Great Calva. Just one top to go. The knee deep heather at the base of Hare Crag is proving one of the round's low lights as I manage to fall into two drainage ditches. Once again Gordon's well chosen words of encouragement are doing the trick and, with dawn finally breaking, we find ourselves getting nearer and nearer to Skiddaw's summit ridge. A quick kiss for the summit cairn, in the only mist of the whole round, and I've got an hour and a half to get to the Moot Hall - surely I can do that!

I'm tired now, as you can imagine, and I'm not descending as quickly as I would like. It's 38 minutes since I left the summit and Keswick doesn't look much nearer. I need to move up a gear to stay with the others. From somewhere the energy arrives and I know I can do it now and I know Tim is going to do it. At Latrigg car park my fleece shirt is off and the NFR vest is on. Bendy and Bob are there to join Gordon and I for the run in - they seem as pleased as I am. Through Fitz park and I'm actually sprinting. Bob and Bendy have to slow me down in case I get cramp. I'm through the alley way, into the market place and there's Susan standing in front of the Moot Hall. I've done it with 24 minutes to spare! Tim, Jenny and Mike arrive moments later and it's congratulations, thanks, tea and photos all round. Shortly after, the Moot Hall clock strikes six and I catch Bob Sewell's eye, after his epic round last year he knows exactly how I'm feeling.

I owe a lot of thanks to those people who helped me prepare for and complete my BGR. Susan must receive most thanks for helping, encouraging and putting up with me since I made the decision to attempt the round back in October last year. Our lives can now return to (near) normality. Dave Bendell and latterly Bob Sewell have also offered the sort of advice, encouragement and practical help I needed to attempt the round and ultimately achieve success. Tim's companionship and encouragement on the day itself were invaluable and we're both now members of the same exclusive club.

I make no apologies for naming individually all my pacers and supporters on the day without whom of course it would not have been possible:

Susan Davis, Tim Higginbottom, Dave Bendell, Linda Bray, Kevin Bray, Jenny Ewels, Will Bridge, Bob Sewell, Jeff Ross, Chris Hall, Gordon Dixon, Emma Moody, Steve Birkenshaw, Oliver Mason and Mike Hind.

Also Steve Violet, Ruth Fletcher and Shaun Scott who I know would have been there on the day if circumstances had allowed.

Thank you all again.

Geoff Davis

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