DIARY: Rest Season in the High Mountains

As mentioned yesterday I will employ my “rest period” of two weeks after Snowdon starting with a holiday in the Lake District and then quiet week at home, well not entirely quiet, as I’ve decided to finally go up and jog around a race that has captured my imagination since I first heard of it in 2007: The Mourne Seven Sevens (the longest race on the NIMRA calendar taking in all of the Mourne peaks of 700m, although Meelmore is now know not to have that honour at 687m).

Rest?

What’s 30.6km and 2653m of ascent between friends after all? I’m hoping the Mournes will be friendly to me again anyway.

I’ve summited Donard, Commedagh, Binnian and Lamagan before and am familiar with the area around Ben Crom Dam, so that only leaves Bearnagh, Meelmore and Meelbeg as new territory for me but with the Mourne Wall and my now (hopefully) improved navigation skills I don’t expect major trouble.

The Lakes

Before that, however, the real excitement beckons in the Lake District. We’ll be staying the first three nights in Borrowdale which should give ample opportunity to recce the Bob Graham sections around there

Next stop is three days and the lovely village of Ambleside (which is also very close to another fell-running mecca: Grasmere). On the day we arrive the Ambleside Sports is on and I plan to enter the Senior Guides Race I mentioned and hopefully watch the fell-runner traversing the Rydal Round later that same day (the Rydal Round is the BOFRA version of the Fairfield Horseshoe, same race under a different name). If I wasn’t in recovery, I’d try it out but in any case the timings don’t fit. The Rydal Round starts at 12:05 and the Senior Guides Race at 15:40, meaning you could easily miss it if you got lost during the 16km with 1100m ascent.

The Rydal Round/Fairfield Horseshoe features eight major peaks: Low Pike, High Pike, Dove Crag, Hart Crag, Fairfield (summit of the race at 873m), Great Rigg, Heron Pike, and Nab Scarr. Low Pike and Nab Scarr are the “hills” with just 508 and 440m height while most of the other peaks are well above 600m.

It’s a race with a lot of tradition, the FRA version alone has been run on 43 occasions!

Not quite Grasmere….

However, for all its fascination, it’s the chance to finally run a super-short hill race that has my blood soaring. Obviously, my great dreams are Grasmere in the Lakes and Burnsall in Yorkshire, for they are the most famous of BOFRA’s senior guide’s races. (Burnsall runs on the 12th of September this year with Grasmere a few weeks’ earlier on the 29th August).

There’s a great video of the 2009 Grasmere race here.

Ambleside is not to be scorned, though, and certainly seems to have all the flavour and format of the other sports shows: Cumberland wrestling, hound racing, 800m track competition in addition to the fell frolics. And, I'll be running in the footsteps of Bill Teasdale, Fred Reeves and Tommy Sedgwick who all won this race on multiple occasions. The winning time is often well under fourteen minutes.

Maps of the Lakes

I’ve never seen better maps than those available for the Lakes. I never came to terms with the British OS series (they’re too muddled for my liking) but the Harvey’s series outshines the Irish version by a considerable margin. To cover the Lake District you need six 1:25000 scale Superwalker maps (I currently own the Central, West and North and hope to pick up the East, South-West and South-East this time). However, most of the areas you’ll know from “Feet in the Clouds” are covered by the first three.

If you don’t like the idea of that many maps there’s two more you should get: The first is the Harvey’s “Lake District – National Park Outdoor Atlas” a 95-page booklet (made of weather resistant mesh and light) in 1:40.000 which also includes 1:25000 enlargements of Helvellyn and Scafell summits. It covers the entire national park.

As if that wasn’t enough, the best map of all is the “British Mountain Maps – Lake District” map in 1:40.000. This is a durable all-weather map in polyethylene covering all the famous mountains and fells in the Lakes and with 1:15.000 enlargements of Scafell and Pillar (a similar map exists for Snowdonia and I picked this up last year too, it looks the part too). It’s great for an overview, planning and seeing far distant peaks in relation to each other but doesn’t have the rich detail of the 1:25000 series which would be my choice to take with me on the road.

Finally, at last year’s Snowdon race I picked up Harvey’s “Lakeland Fells – Bob Graham Round” a special map in 1:40.000 showing the full Bob Graham route with all necessary bearings as well as comments and notes on alternative routes, waymarks etc. The map divides the round into four sections which were the basis for the four areas I wanted to recce during the week we’ll stay.

As we had hoped to bring along more Irish hill runners (and another car!), I’ll need to rejig my plans as we can’t do point to point by will need to do circuits in order to arrive back at our own car.

Bob Graham Plans

Last time we took in Skiddaw and Lattrig (although we went over rather than around Latrigg fell as you would in the BG), so this time we may leave out the section starting in Keswick and taking Skiddaw, Great Calva, and Blencathra. It’s a pity since these three are all mighty famous peaks, but there’s just so much to see.

We’re staying on Ashness Farm close to Keswick in Borrowdale first, so we could warm up with parts of the easy section that runs from Honister to Keswick (only three major peaks: Dale Head, Hindscarth and Robinson before a run in the shadow of Catbells).

Next, we could get close to Threlkeld and do the full Dodds ridge down to Dunmail which would leave us close to Grasmere and the possibility of a taxi back to Keswick. This ridge-run would yield us a spectacular twelve peaks including the Munro Helvellyn (950m).

Wasdale

The biggest test will be how to get as much as the Dunmail to Wasdale section in as possible. At the speed required to complete the round in 23 hours, this section is the longest at six hours and ends in Wasdale where it is very hard to drive in and out off. My best plan would be to get a taxi to Wasdale and do the route anti-clockwise. This would make Scafell and Scafell Pike (the roof) our first and second peaks with another thirteen to go before we’d be back at Dunmail again and could consider walking back to Grasmere.

I’ve devised a workable plan to deal with this obstacle: Drive from Grasmere to Old Dungeon Ghyll and take the Cumbria Way up to Rossett Pike. From here most of the major peaks (including the two Scafells) on the hard section can be reached. If we are good for time we could drop down into Wasdale and look around. If we’re not, it’s time to turn back (the route would have to be done as outb-and-back). This would leave the section between Dunmail and Rossett Pike to be covered on a later trip; an acceptable compromise as the map suggests it’s the least interesting.

Out of Borrowdale

Wasdale to Honister will likewise have to be left out this time, but during our days in Borrowdale, we can do the final section of the clockwise circuit: From Keswick to Honister. This takes only three hours, which leaves us time to loop back via the Catbells that overlook the Derwentwater and spiked my curiosity during our boat-trip there the last time we went.

If we have enough time late Wednesday, a drive to Threlkeld and a quick out-and-back trip to Blencathra would be a great way to see this renowned mountain which is one of the forty-two BG peaks.

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