Make the Billy Bland Challenge your own microadventure

Bob Graham Round

TWO years ago m’learned friend Simon Anderson (he’s a barrister) completed the Bob Graham Round as a way of celebrating his 40th birthday, and last weekend it was my turn; the first bit not the birthday.

The Bob Graham is an approximate 66-mile circuit of 42 Lake District peaks which has to be completed in under 24-hours to qualify for the Bob Graham 24-Hour Club; which currently has around 1,850 members.

Before you congratulate me on attempting such a phenomenal test of human strength I need to explain that I was merely taking part in the Billy Bland Relay with my running club, Otley Athletic Club.

The relay is the same in every way as the BG other than being split into five sections; and you can run it clockwise, anti-clockwise and start at anytime you want.

I ran leg five, a journey of just under 11-miles from the top of Honister Pass to Moot Hall in Keswick taking in the peaks of Dale Head, Hindscarth and Robinson before a sharp descent to the hamlet of Little Town and then a four-mile ‘cruise’ on the road to the finish.


Five days before I did a recce of the route completing it in just under three hours; not bad considering I was on my own so there was no-one to ‘compete with’, plus I was having to map read and I stopped a few times to chat to people on the tops; including a man from Aberystwyth University Harriers who was also on a recce.

And so, on Friday June 20th the Otley AC team along with a couple of members of Keighley & Craven AC assembled at the event HQ, Thirlspot Farm campsite near the top of end of Thirlmere, in time for the start of leg one at eight o’clock that evening.

We all trooped en masse to Keswick’s Moot Hall to cheer on our three runners as they disappear towards Skiddaw for their 12-mile adventure.

Back at the campsite some of us (not me) had to get ready for leg two, which was likely to start at any time after midnight, while those running leg three would possibly begin their seven hours stint at four in the morning.

Most of us therefore retreated to the King’s Head pub next to the campsite in the hope that a couple of drinks would calm our excitement about what was unfolding, out of sight in the hills.


The next morning when I awoke, legs one and two were catching up on sleep and leg three were possibly somewhere in the Langdale Pikes running in ever-increasing heat.

Five of us would be running leg five, and we weren’t due to begin until late in the afternoon so we sat around the campsite in the heat, eating, drinking tea and  chatting.

As the overnight runners appeared from their tents news began filtering through about how tough it had been; leg one took an hour longer than expected, leg two got caught in mist bringing visibility down to a couple of metres and severely hampering map reading.

Leg three returned just after lunch having survived the searing heat across 16 peaks, and a rock fall near Scafell. The pressure was now on leg four to finish in a good enough time to allow us leg five runners at least two and a half hours to get back to Keswick within the 24-hour limit.

We arrived at Honister Pass at about 4pm, hoping we wouldn’t have more than an hour to wait, and we’d be able to see leg four descending from Grey Knotts so we’d have a few minutes to prepare ourselves before our collective effort began.


The sun disappeared behind clouds, it got cold, spare tops went on, coffee was bought from the slate mine cafe, and we waited; eventually retreating into one of the support cars for warmth.

The clock was ticking and the general feeling was that we weren’t going to get inside 24-hours because none of us could say with confidence how long it would take us to run our leg.

At just after 6pm we set off, just as the sun reappeared. Trying to impress our crew we ran as hard as we could up the hill from the slate mine car park, across Honister Pass and up the grassy hill that leads to Dale Head before collectively groaning after a couple of hundred metres and stopping to take our warm layers off.

After 1.2 miles of run walk, run walk and 1,200 feet of ascent the breathtaking view of Newlands Valley unfolded in front of us. The hardest part was over, certainly in terms of climbing.

Dale Head and Newlands Valley

No time to hang around though, a fast undulating rocky track took us to Hindscarth before we retraced our steps to Littledale Edge for a short descent before heading up to Robinson. Job done, apart from the little matter of getting to Keswick.


The first mile of the gentle descent from Robinson took us on mostly soft ground, before we had to negotiate getting down a couple of crags and then taking the brakes off for a fast run down a steep grassy bank into Little Dale and onto Little Town.

Keswick couldn’t come quick enough for me; I was shattered after the hills, and the road section wasn’t going to be easy.

I was having to be chaperoned back; and I was trying to switch off my brain and go onto auto-pilot.

Eventually Portinscale came in to view and then the footbridge over the River Derwent leading to the Cumbria Way track that would take us to the River Greta road bridge and then the short pavement leading to Moot Hall.

We did it in two hours and 13 minutes; time for pie and chips!

Although we didn’t complete in within 24-hours it didn’t matter, we’d all done something different, we’d all been part of one big adventure as well as our own individual microadventure.

By Richard Hamer.

  1. Wrote this for your competition then realised I hadn’t wild camped; hopefully soon.
    I’m in complete awe of anyone who does the BG, and if you do get around to it at least you’ll never be stuck for helpers; it’s brilliant how runners from far and wide will come to together to help one person achieve their dream.

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