> Bob Graham Round: Stewart Gardner

15th-16th June 2002

Just where to start a tale is always difficult but I suppose the thought of attempting the round had always been in the back of my mind for many years. It was the time and effort to get across to the lakes that had put me off in the past but now that I was a student (of the very mature variety) the excuses for not doing it were fading away. Charlotte my partner had successfully completed in 1996 and she convinced me that with the right amount of training it was within my grasp. I took her at her word and decided that 2001 was the year as I had started a degree at Durham and was in the first year with plenty of time for training! As we all know foot and mouth disease was to knock that on the head especially as we were living in a 'hot spot' with no chance of any training, so 2002 was the year in which I would make the attempt. Even though I was a student I still needed time to complete assignments so training and studying was a compromise and I hoped I could pull off both elements.

The day arrived and the weather forecast was not promising but as the majority of my training had been in 'challenging weather', I decided that I would start and see how it went. Friday night was spent in a Keswick B& B run by 'a bitter women' hailing originally from South Shields. We spent breakfast time on the Saturday morning listening to her rant on the unfriendliness of the good folk of Keswick and the meanness of her estranged husband. At least it took my mind off the weather, which at that time was absolutely sheeting down. Charlotte was convinced it was going to improve and gullible as ever I believed her.

We got all the gear together and parked the car near the Moot Hall where Jez Wilkinson one of my pacers for the first leg was preparing for the onslaught. At the Moot Hall we all assembled after circling the said Moot Hall about five times looking for everyone (should have specified the exact location for the start as people were sheltering in doorways trying not to get too wet). We synchronised watches and set off with myself glad to finally have got underway. Geoff Davis was my navigator for the first two sections and was determined that I would not get 'carried away 'and go too fast. I think with hindsight that I took the advice too literally and with the added dimension of bad weather fell slightly behind schedule. Barry Evans was sent to the front to open gates and did it with so much aplomb that I am convinced that he was a doorman at the Ritz in a former life! The weather over Robinson was extremely windy and wet and also Jez had slightly fallen behind at this point. It was only later when he had rejoined us that we learnt that he had badly stubbed his toe. The descent to Honister was uneventful and so far the Round had been 'enjoyable'.

A good strong brew under my belt and the second section got under way. This time we had extra company in the shape of Dave, Gerry and Geoff. Dave and Gerry who I had never met before were going to stay with us to Rossett Gill before heading off to the Old Dungeon Ghyll where they were staying (apparently someone's stag night). We had some interesting conversation; as Dave was a triathelete from Peterlee and Gerry a surgeon from Derby who had recently discovered the joys of fell running. Further foul weather with occasional glimpses of 'views' accompanied us as we picked off the summits. Green Gable was slightly troublesome as it is such an unassuming peak (hell that sounds like a Wainwright description) but we found it eventually even though the mist was swirling and visibility was down to 100 metres or less. Geoff did extremely well with his navigation but was slightly disappointed (football parlance, too much world cup) with the line off Yewbarrow but I was more disappointed with my legs as the early stages of cramp started to kick in. This puzzled me as I had been drinking and eating copiously until now. Anyhow we arrived at Wasdale in good spirits with an excellent greeting committee. This was the time that I needed to get plenty of fuel inside me but could only manage a small portion of macaroni cheese of the tinned variety. I felt like a boxer at the end of round two as I was thrust into camping chair and was desocked and provided with a new dry top but unfortunately time didn't allow for the promised aromatherapy massage promised by Sue Davis. It didn't seem long before we were off up the long climb to Scafell. All the way up I was feeling decidedly sick and lethargic. Surely this was not how it was supposed to be but the thought of retiring and letting my entire support group down kept my pecker up. Paul who was navigating now took us on a very direct line from half way up Lingmell Beck. We had decided to use the Lords Rake descent and traverse to Broad Stand as the rope option seemed risky in view of the slippery conditions. A check afterwards revealed that we only lost about a minute by choosing this safer option.A very pleasant surprise greeted us at Esk Hause as Charlotte and Maggie had decided at the last minute to meet us there with extra drink and food should we need it. Fortunately they hadn't had to wait very long for us as the weather had taken a turn for the worse at this point. After the descent off Bow Fell we said goodbye to Dave and Gerry, buoyed up by the news that England had beaten Belgium 3-0 in the world cup. Nick who was my only pacer did sterling service by feeding me orange segments mixed with apricots that had degenerated into a congealed mess but were now extremely palatable. After consultation with Paul I decided to go to Stake pass and avoid any extra climb although it was the longer route. The sickness had returned with a vengeance and I was very glad when we finally descended down to Dunmail.

As usual there was a very warm welcome from the backroom staff. I was eased into my chair and the repair work began. Shoes off and pebbles removed yet again as my new style Walshes had begun to unravel. The stitching on the inside arches had disappeared and the result was that every scree run ended in a delay as I emptied the residue from the descent. I always thought that if I was feeling fairly good at this stage then I would carry on. My appearance obviously betrayed my feelings on this matter and so legs were massaged, ego was flattered and all the rest of the kidology was used to get me out of the chair and on to the ascent of Seat Sandal which had looked extremely daunting coming down to Dunmail. The next surprise was Claire Kenney was to assist Anne Stentiford (describing themselves as two fit chicks) in prodding me over the Dodds. If I could just get the next three peaks done (Seat Sandal, Fairfield and Dollywagon Pike) then the rest might not be too bad. The visibility over these three was pretty bad but John Crummett was an old stager who had done everything there was to do in fell running so I knew there would be no problems. Dollywagon Pike felt like a peak too far and I really struggled. Stomach cramps big time kicking in didn't help and I eventually had to succumb to diving behind a rock whilst the 'gals' chatted away in the near distance. As we made our way over the Dodds the mist cleared and the odd patch of drizzle was the only inclement aspect of the weather that interrupted our view of the lights down below in 'civilization'. Having never run at night over the fells before I was concerned about twisting an ankle and this I duly did but they were only of the 'run it off' variety. Plenty of falling in boggy terrain provided opportunity for many Anglo-Saxon expletives. The 'gals' were constantly badgering me to eat and drink but the sickness and stomach cramps were never far away and I struggled to eat. I couldn't really believe it when we eventually arrived at Threlkeld intact, so to speak.

Its unbelievable how friends will turn out in the most appalling conditions and unearthly hours just so you can do this event and there they were again at Threlkeld many trying to snatch a few hours' kip in cars before the ascent of Blencathra began. Once to more to the chair my friends (Shakespeare) and we prepared for the finalé. There was quite a small troop on this section as it was felt that moral support (keep the old bugger going) was the order of the day (night). Once again the first climb seemed daunting but the darkness helped at this stage, as I couldn't see what was ahead. Dawn was breaking as we approached the summit from an angle I had never been on before and I don't think it lost us any time. I knew we were still behind schedule slightly even though I had cut short the stop over in Threlkeld. My aim was to run all the way from Blencathra to the beck crossing just before Great Calva. I managed to do this as it was a nice long gradual descent over fairly kind terrain. Thirza Hyde and Dave Shipman were keeping up a constant barrage of encouragement and chit chat which helped to take my mind off the next climb up Great Calva. I have never liked that climb but gradually with the aid of the fence I clawed my way to the top. By this stage I was beginning to think that maybe there was a chance of arriving in Keswick on time. Martin Barratt and Andy Scaife, my other two pacers assured me that it was in the bag and that I just needed to plod on. Andy Curtis and Martin had conspired to find a heather free zone from Great Calva to the base of Skiddaw for which I was very grateful. I couldn't wait to see the fence on the ridge of Skiddaw as the weather turned even wetter and windier. I suppose the mind had taken over at this point as I could feel the strength ebbing away from my poor little battered body. Finally we arrived at the trig point on Skiddaw and I knew if I could just manage to jog all the way to Keswick then it was in the bag. The driving rain and wind had made me feel very cold and I couldn't wait to descend out of the clag. Charlotte and Geoff Davis were waiting for us half way down and I think it was at this point that I started to relax although I was still constantly looking at my watch as the minutes ticked away. I can't imagine how you must feel if you just miss out by a few vital minutes.

The mood of elation as we approached Keswick inspired Dave Shipman to break into song, which for volume could not even be beaten by the 'wee beastie' Thirza! As I ran into the square accompanied by the cheers of supporters, a flood of relief enveloped me. I think I was shell-shocked and couldn't really believe that I had pulled it off. A quick change of top and it was time for the photo call and champagne. I don't know who was more relieved Charlotte or myself as she had been with me metaphorically speaking every step of the way. I am deeply indebted to all those who helped me as it goes without saying that this was a team effort. I was sorry that Paul Foster couldn't accompany us on the third section due to back problems but he did make up for it by providing some very illuminating digital images (I was having a bad hair day), which can be viewed on [dead link]. Pam Kirkup who was roadside support sent me a postcard showing what the view from Yewbarrow should have looked like in good weather! Finally in true British style we repaired back to Dave Shipmans camper van where Yvonne and Lynne provided us with the best bacon sarnies I have eaten in a long time. Now that it is all over I think an inner glow best describes how I feel about what was a true test of physical and mental stamina. The cliché that time is a great healer is very true as already I am looking for next year's challenge and can't wait to get back out into the great outdoors.

Stewart Gardner

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