Let it be said forthright: No better cure could exist for an ego-bruising race performance than a lengthy sojourn among Wainwright’s favourite mountains: the fells of the Lake District, the jewel in England’s local crown.
It’s hard to condense the true feeling of adventure experienced and the majestic views assimilated by both inner and outer eye during our six days of traversing the same ground where Joss Naylor tested the spirit of man, where Kenny Stuart flew higher and faster than any runner before or since, and where Alfred Wainwright and William Wordsworth found their imaginations captured to such a degree that each sought to pay tribute through the written word: in poem and in pictorial guide.
Meeting Kenny Stuart in the flesh in Llanberis could not have been a better starter for this main course: My rest week in the Lakes with the ulterior motive of recceing yet more of the Bob Graham Round and attending a traditional Lakeland sports fair – the “Ambleside Sports”.
Day 1 – Borrowdale
Aoife had chosen brilliantly for both the BnBs we were to stay at during our six day trip: The first “Ashness House” being situated in the forestland below Walla Crag in Borrowdale (one of the few hill-tips we managed on our previous injury- and rain-ridden holiday here) close to the Bob Graham monument (a small rocky mound fitting of the humility of the man but not the scale of his achievement).
My legs were battered and largely unworkable as we arrived in the afternoon and the BnB staircase could just as well have been the infamous Broadstand at Scafell so hard I laboured to get my suitcase to the room. The planned easy jog was thus just as easily abandoned and a quiet night’s dining rung the welcome bell for our upcoming Tour-des-Lakes.
Day 2, Part 1 - Coast to Coast Way
For our first day, I had planned an easy hike, a choice proved wise when my quads, calves and knees had seemingly aged decades overnight. Aoife fancied at least one walk without the need for an initial drive so I engineered away on the route I had initially conceptualised with my “Lakeland West” Harvey’s map.
The Bob Graham section of the day were the final three Bob Graham peaks on the standard clockwise attempt: Dale Head (753m), Hindscarth (727m) and Robinson (737m) climbed from Honister Pass (or Honister Hause as it may be more precisely called, the word “hause” or “hawse” referring to “a pass” in the local Cumbrian dialect) as it would be in a true attempt.
We had more reason to seek for Honister: The slate mine is worth seeing and offers a good stopping point for tea and other refreshments; for the aspiring Bob Graham finisher, it serves as the last support point before the final three climbs and the road into Keswick signals the end of a long journey.
Immaculate trail depiction on Harvey’s map allowed us to pick a lovely bridle path down through Ashness Wood to Watendlath Tarn (tarn is a word every visitor to the Lakes should also familiarise themselves with as it indicates an upland lake, most of which are scenic in the extreme). A more idyllic spot is hard to envision with interesting rocky bridle-path swerving through verdant woodland before the green Borrowdale valley was fully revealed to us with strong crag-faces looking down from our right and the Watendlath river flowing peacefully on our left.
From Watendlath Tarn, we skirted the around the feet of Grange Fell into Rosthwaite village and onto the central crossing of two of England’s most fascinating long-distance trails, both of which are must-dos for ultra-runners and larger cousins to our own Wicklow Way: The Coast-to-Coast and the Cumbria Way. Wanting to go west, we continued on the former. Our moods (notably Aoife’s!) were growing dimmer as path gave way to spells of tarmac and rain and thick mist greeted our final kilometres to Honister.
Wet and somewhat miserable, we took a recess for tea and soup and an assessment of the route ahead. Eventually, we decided to go up Dale Head and retreat home straight East over High Spy (653m) if conditions continued to worsen. I made a habit of planning “outs” for all parts of our long traverses here as part of teaching myself to become a better navigator.
Day 1, Part 2 - Dale Head, Hindscarth and Robinson
Tea and soup does much to raise spirits and we never lost momentum after leaving the pass behind: The ascent of Dale Head delighted with a recognisable path up a steep grassy slope next to a fence. Yet for a brief moment by eyes looked at the grassy slope south and the Bob Graham fells of Brandreth (715m), Green Gable (801m) and Great Gable (899m) which we would just have left behind had we been real Rounders rather than mere aspirants. No doubt such real Rounders would find a lot less pleasure in climbing almost 400 metres in less than two kilometres as we were about to do to reach the cloud-covered summit of Dale Head.
At the top, we stopped to take some photos in the now calm but eerie cloud. It was warm enough to linger but we didn’t stray too close to Dale Head’s steep north face which features several crags. It was entirely lonely up here apart from two fell-runners passing by (the only two we’d meet on our travels).
A practical highway of a path-system led us over the two summits of Hindscarth and you wouldn’t have been surprised to find road-signs here. We sat down in a shelter where I worked out the bearing that would allow us to leave the summit and hit the broken-up path leading back to the main trail on Littledale Edge and onwards to Robinson. An alternative was to just take the path we had just trodden back to the junction on Hindscarth edge and head further west from there but I felt eager to test usage of the bearing.
We meandered through low rocky grass for a short while and never found any truly recognisable path but the bearing held true and we were back on the “mountain highway” and soon running alongside a wall leading towards the summit. It’s tempting to be pulled along with the wall, so as the slope flattens, make sure to look right on a misty day where the rocky path is clearly revealed and shortly thereafter Robinson summit.
Rocky ground leads you towards you around the edge of the steep Robinson Crags and we took care but didn’t quite find the best way down. On two occasions, we had to do some serious flexibility work (and overcome natural vertigo!) to slip down rock faces to lower parts of an otherwise spectacular narrow ridge offering tremendous views of Keskadale with Catbells on the right and Causey Pike on the left (the section of fells around Causey Pike was used during the setting of the Lakeland 24 Hour Record of 77 peaks).
The Bob Graham section from Honister Hause to Little Town had a length of around 10km with 815m elevation.