Sat 27.5.23, AL, 24km, 1337m
In preparation for a forthcoming club Bob Graham weekend I’ve been trying to get to know the BGR route better, both my own allocated leg (Leg 3) and, in case of last minute changes of plan, other sections not previously visited. A couple of weekends ago this had me and pal Simon recceing Leg 3. The good news – we got round the full leg; the bad news – it completely exposed how poorly prepared I was for taking on a challenge like this. Most obviously I just didn’t get the food and drink right, both out on the fell and in between. I was struggling by the end, so lessons to be learned!
With fresh resolve I decided to have a look at Leg 2 this weekend, a leg I’ve not done before. After the Leg 3 debacle I thought it was sensible to break it down into sections rather than tackle it all at once. By happy coincidence, my old club Keswick AC were putting on their annual Helvellyn and the Dodds race on Saturday, which covers the first half of the leg. This would then give me the rest of the Bank Holiday weekend to look at the remainder.
The race starts at Threlkeld Cricket Club, traditional handover point between Legs 1 and 2 on the BGR. Please note they’ve just put in a parking meter – £3 in coins or by parking app. Parking apps give me a nosebleed, particularly in remote areas with poor coverage, and I didn’t have any coins; fortunately a friendly face was on registration, my old colleague Catherine. She didn’t have a lot of change but we struck a deal of 3 pound coins in return for my £20 note; with entry being £14 that put Keswick AC £3 to the good, but it seemed a small price to pay for a technophobe like me!
Cat also gave me the top tip of watch out for the climbs on the way back. This was helpful as it seemed difficult in advance to work out this race. In one way it seemed pretty straightforward – climb up onto the ridge, run along it for 5 miles, come back the same way. But it’s still an AL fell race which means it must be hard, one way or another.
The other useful bit of intelligence was that there was no water on the route. This meant that my new filtration water bottle (ref. Leg 3 debacle, above) wasn’t going to be much help, so how much to take? Conditions were fine, but blissfully cooler than forecast earlier in the week. With the course record being 2 hours I reckoned I’d do well to get in under 3, so took about a litre, along with an apple, a piece of flapjack and some almonds. Full kit was enforced which meant quite a heavy rucksack but I was happy to err on the cautious side, this was just about getting more experienced at negotiating a long run. Meanwhile I looked at those with seemingly tiny loads with some wonder.
Race start at 11am and a jog along the tarmac for the first half mile, before hitting the open fell. Before long, we were walking up the steep grass steps of Clough Head. Already I was beginning to factor in how it would be coming back – this is a tough climb, but the descent in 3 hours’ time will be worse! This climb must be hard when you’re doing the BGR for real – Yewbarrow I guess is the only one that compares for continual steepness and height?
Eventually we topped out to the first checkpoint, followed by a long downhill to a depression (but yes, we will have to climb this on the way back). Up to the second checkpoint at Great Dodd; with an hour gone I had my first food and water stop. I was fine with taking a minute or two here, I don’t much like eating and drinking on the go and the views across to the central Lakes were stunning. In fact with the ground underfoot not too technical it was possible to take in the views much more today than other races I’ve done, where a quick scan of the horizon can so easily be followed by a trip.
From here the next checkpoint is Raise, which means the best line skirts the BG tops of Watson’s Dodd and Stybarrow Dodd. Mental note to navigate carefully here on a BG day, particularly at night/in mist. Just before the summit of Raise the mildly depressing sight of the leaders returning the other way. Some more ups and downs via White Side and Helvellyn Lower Man until eventually reaching the cheerful marshals on top of Helvellyn, celebrated with my piece of flapjack. 8 BG tops visited in less than 2 hours, if it was all like that we’d be doing it in 10 hours!
Still, it seemed a long way back, but fortunately my legs were still moving OK on the descents and the climbs, although long, were manageable. I got a lesson in proper fellrunning though from an older guy from Keswick – while I kept overtaking him on the climbs he was coming past on every descent, having picked the perfect line. Eventually, back to the top of Clough Head. I finished off my food and water, took a complimentary sweet balanced on top of the trigpoint and began tentatively descending the steps. Several proper fellrunners stormed past as I tiptoed down, but as long as I was moving I was fine about it. Eventually back to the tarmac and a more comfortable run in, feeling more like a closet road runner than a fellrunner. Back in just under 3hrs 15mins, 49th of 102.
If I’d had a niggly sense that £14 (£17) was a bit steep for a low-key fell race I soon found out it was an absolute bargain. A huge spread of free sandwiches, cake, juice and tea was laid out, and I didn’t miss out. In fact, many of us were still there an hour or two later, enjoying the sunshine, shared experience and hospitality – thank you Keswick AC!
As a postscript, seemingly well fed and recovered I returned the day after to have a look at the rest of the leg. The plan was to go up Helvellyn from Dunmail then return via the BG route. But the climb was surprisingly hard work, and while admiring the view of Striding Edge the apple I was eating almost slipped out of my hand; good job it didn’t as it would have ended up in Red Tarn 1000 feet below! I took that as a sign that maybe Fairfield and Seat Sandal were best left for another day. It’s one thing to do short/medium fell races, but this longer and multi-day stuff is a whole different order. Still more to learn, I’ll be pondering that while watching the footie with my feet up this afternoon!