> Bob Graham Round: Kevin Atwell

Saturday 31st May 2003


About 15 years ago while walking along the Helvellyn Ridge with a pal called Duncan he happened to say that this was a small part of the 'Bob Graham Round', he told me what he knew about it and I was overawed at the scale of the task and the intriguing history. I bought the booklet and read with disbelief the incredible feats of endurance that have followed since Mr. Graham set his round on June 13th 1932. The seed was sown.

Over the years I graduated from fell walker to fell runner and joined the Northumberland Fell Runners. As I began to get to know the Lakes better the BGR seemed to get bigger and ever more unachievable but I was hooked and gradually aspired to a clockwise attempt in the year 2000 which was doomed to failure, poorly planned and without skilled support we lost our bearings on a misty Helvellyn range. It was a lesson in how to underestimate the BGR.

I attended the Northumberland Fell Runners presentation in February 2003 and watched as Stewart Gardner was presented an award for his successful BGR in 2002, Stewart was sitting on the table close by me and during the conversation with Geoff Davis I learned that there were no less than 5 people in this group who had ''bagged the Bob'' this was exalted company. I exchanged e-mail addresses with the guys and went off to wrestle with my conscience. It was my wife Dee who really made up my mind for me, she said ''in fifteen years you'll be sixty, get it done'' does a man need any more persuasion? My mind was made up, though I remained apprehensive about the round right up to the day.


I designed a training schedule and did quite well to stick to it over the next 3 months, it covered ascent training, distance running and conditioning myself to being active and awake for long hours. I also put in some long descending while I was in the Lakes because many of the accounts I have read suggested that the greater discomfort was in the descending. I also met Geoff Davis for a run and we did some planning over tea and stickies in a Rothbury café. Bob Sewell and I also did an epic recce of section 3 from Dunmail to Wasdale and back in awful conditions, though; as Bob put it 'we didn't lose our sense of humour'. The admiral Creighton (Paul) and I put in many happy hours in the Cheviots and Simonside hills occasionally with other friends. E-mails were exchanged with Charlotte and Stewart, Kevin and Linda and others who all offered sound advice from vast experience.

My round

Friday May 30th soon came around, Pete Bartolo and I took the loaded minibus from Tyneside Mail Centre to meet the team at Bassenthwaite campsite, Pete had made the journey from 'The Old Kent Road' for a weekend in the Lakes with us, the forecast promised kinder weather than the past 3 weeks, we were to be fortunate. I went off to bed in the B& B Rivendell in Keswick, the land lady even got up at 05:30 to prepare breakfast for me.

Section 1

Saturday 31st May 06:30. We all met at the Moot Hall, 2 lads from Penrith started at the same time, the atmosphere was wonderful in the beautiful morning sun and a chorus counted us down to 7 o'clock, we were soon jogging and chatting through the lovely lanes and tracks towards upper Newlands. It gradually got hotter, John Dallinson and Dave were constantly at me to drink plenty. Kevin and Linda Bray and Graham Daglish were all good company. We changed into fell shoes at Ghyll Bank and keeping a sensible pace began the first climb of Robinson but the heat was to eventually take its toll. My previous 4 visits to the Lakes were in very wet, cold conditions with poor visibility, this was the perfect compensation, scenery to die for; Hindscarth was bagged and Dale Head for a photo, then down the fence to breakfast at Honister, the reception there was great and as we tucked in it got hotter.

Section 2

Stewart made his way up to the fence in anticipation, he was to navigate section 2 for me, we followed after our jolly picnic. I started steadily though I felt bloated by the continuous drinking and the breakfast, the discomfort increased as the morning progressed, Green Gable, Great Gable and as we began to ascend Kirkfell I got the first bite of cramp in my legs, this was not a good sign, Stewart led us down Joss's gully to the pass and as we began the ascent of Pillar both legs cramped and the feeling of sickness began. I had asked the team not to tell me the time so I was unaware that we were actually keeping to schedule, Paul Creighton kept encouraging me though I no longer cared as I drifted through waves of sickness and intermittent leg cramps, Stewart led us carefully up the Yewbarrow traverse then found our scree descent, I dropped into Wasdale, got over the gate and sat in the river cupping handfuls of water over my head - something was going wrong inside and I could not understand what it was, I had not experienced this sickness before. The reception at Wasdale was really uplifting and I have never been treated to anything like this at any event, they seemed to know exactly what needed to be done. I was fed, watered and changed with the efficiency of the Ferrari pit team.

Section 3

The sun was now at full strength as we strode toward the flanks of Sca fell, Bob Sewell led the way with Garry Owens and Jeff Ross chatting about old scars and stuff and as soon as I began the first real uphill steps both legs cramped again, and so began a downward spiral of sickness, dizziness and leg pain which was to continue from Sca fell to Thunacar Knot. What made matters worse was half way up Sca fell I realised that I had left my hat in Wasdale, it was too late to go back, this surely added to my predicament. Bob tried desperately to find a solution to the sickness and cramps, although I did not know it at the time, things got so bad that the guys were plotting the best route off the fells if there was no improvement by Bowfell.

I am unable to recall much of the detail of section 3 from Sca fell to Thunacar Knot, only that they were the most difficult hours that I have ever experienced on the fells, at one point I thought the only way off would be by helicopter. Every time I screamed and fell with cramp the lads set about stretching my legs, they tried everything they could to keep me going, there was encouragement from them all the way, without their dogged determination I may have quit. I owe this round to these three men.

Approaching Thunacar Knot the illness began to ease and I found myself able to put the leg muscles under load again without immediate cramp. The evening cooled down and I began to flow. Time had been lost, Jeff, Bob and Garry gradually upped the pace to try clawing back the minutes, by Calf Crag I was more like my old self. Closing on Steel Fell we saw the gangly frame of my old pal Dave Rose who had trogged up Dunmail to meet us en route. I had paced a section for Dave on his successful round in 1995. I really enjoyed the descent of Dunmail and the reception there was fantastic. Valerie Atkinson was quickly on hand to work on the leg muscles which had been worst affected and what a job, my pummelled legs got no more cramp after Val's assault! My wife Dee brought some fish and chips for me, which Rosey had duly scoffed ''because they were getting cold''(I got a few and they were lovely).

Section 4

Leaving Dunmail I felt great, the sickness and cramps were gone, fed, watered, massaged with a change of clothes and footwear I knew my fortunes had changed, I shouted to the lads, ''lets rock and roll''. Seat Sandle, Fairfield, Dollywaggon were steadily taken as we entered the night in a heavy mist on the Helvellyn range, I was concerned, this is how and where I failed on my first attempt but I need not have worried, what followed was an A level example of how to navigate in nil visibility, the team were superb and the leadership of Geoff Davis navigating confidently was really something to be experienced and just when I thought things could not get better, out of the gloom and the dark we saw head lamps, then cheering and waving about 10 of the support team came to us thrusting tea, coffee and scoff into our hands, they had climbed Sticks pass to meet us and raise our spirits. I realised at this point how very special this team was, every one to a person, whether running, feeding navigating or driving had made the journey and given up their weekend and sleep for one cause, my successful Bob Graham Round and at this very point I felt that this round was achievable, I pictured the wooden door of the Moot Hall and pushed on. As we neared Cleugh Head we caught glimpses of head lamps, the Penrith lads were ahead of us searching for the best route off, they must have turned onto the dreaded scree because by the time we met the coach road at the bottom we had passed them, we looked back to see their lamps searching for the way down.

Section 5

I thought that everyone would be tucked up in sleeping bags at 02:30, the only people I expected to see at Threlkeld were the designated night section guys, but no, that's not what this team had in mind, they were out in force, cheering us on and serving us well for the last push.

The drawback of an anti clockwise round is the last section that saves some considerable climbs for the last few hours but a team of wild horses would not stop me now. Ironically, from a semi conscious wreck on Sca fell 12 hours before I was now at my best. Paul O'Hara is a real expert of the Northern Fells and his navigation through this awkward section was excellent though I think everyone fell at least once on the descent to the river Caldew. Daylight gradually came and Billy kept the record of 5 falls and a superb somersault into the river, he was carrying my food but my thoughts were not on eating, two more climbs- just keep going- I could still hear Garry Owens and Jeff Ross chanting at me. Paul's route up Great Calva avoided the awful heather and the descent was fluent on a lovely track, we were really moving, skirting Hare Crag I was hungry to see the Skiddaw fence and sure enough, about 10 minutes later I looked up into the mist and found it. It was then that I asked how we were for time, ''05:45'' Paul said, ''you've got loads of time''; My eyes filled with tears and for a few minutes I became emotional, 15 hours before, in my desperation, I could feel my round slipping away, I had cried to God to help me stay conscious and to be able to walk without being wracked with the pain of cramps, and now, in his mercy, on the last 200 feet of the last mountain I was feeling strong with success within my grasp.

Kip and Cassy the dogs appeared just after Skiddaw then Charlotte met us smiling and happy that we had made such good progress. The morning began to clear as we ran smoothly below Little Man. Geoff met us near the gate and we all chatted as we followed Paul down the grassy slopes to the car park still running steadily, Stewart and Susan were there to cheer us through the gates. I floated across Fitz Park and as I entered Keswick Market Square I saw Dee with 2 bottles of Champagne on the seat at the wooden door of the Moot Hall. She seemed startled, I got a kiss and touched the door at 06:31. We were early, the team did not expect us for another 20 minutes, one by one they turned up to offer congratulations. A few minutes to seven there was another cheer as one of the Penrith lads made it to the finish, the other had sadly dropped out due to sickness.

Of his round, Bob Graham said ''anyone can do it - if they're fit enough''.

Kevin Atwell says ''you can train and recce as much as you want but to have a successful Bob Graham Round you need a good team'' I was fortunate, I had the best!

I extend my gratitude to everyone who helped me through this unforgettable day and to Dee for her encouragement and understanding during the months of preparation.

Kevin Atwell

> top