Skipper John joins Bob Graham Club
Club captain John Ewart has joined the select group of Holmfirth Harriers to have completed the legendary Bob Graham Round.
The Bob Graham Round is the most famous test of long distance fellrunning. It is 72 miles long, involves 27,000 feet of climbing (and descending) and takes in 42 Lake District peaks.
The rules are simple – the round has to start and finish at the Moot Hall in Keswick, and the runner has to finish in under 24 hours. The round is named after its originator, Bob Graham, a Keswick hotelier, who simply set off on a “long walk” supported by some of his friends in 1932.
For many years no-one attempted to repeat this feat of endurance – indeed many considered it impossible. Eventually other runners rose to challenge and the round has become a popular (but no less arduous) challenge. About 1500 people have gained membership of the Bob Graham Round Club, including 12 Holmfirth Harriers.
Ewart, 53, from Honley, has been known primarily for his roadrunning exploits for many years. However, recently he has seen the light and turned to fellrunning. This year fellow Harriers have watched in amazement as he has spent weekends training hard in the Lake District, often in miserable weather conditions, learned the intricacies of the route, and gradually developed the characteristic whippet-like physique of a true fellrunner.
After months of preparation the attempt itself started at 7pm on Friday night when three runners lined up outside the Moot Hall along side the usual hordes of Friday night revellers. It was a perfect evening – calm and warm – and Ewart set off up Skiddaw wearing his amber Holmfirth vest, with Julian Rank and Gavin Baxter in support. Club President, Ashley Smith, reported that at the start Ewart was “a bag of nerves”
After an uneventful first leg the runners reached the first road crossing at Threlkeld in the twilight. The road support team provided refreshments and then the three runners set off into the night. In misty conditions, and with occasional showers, navigation became difficult but club stalwart Julian Rank kept John on course, and they reached the next road crossing point, Dunmail Raise, just about on schedule. Julian and Gavin’s work was done, and they handed over support duties to Tom Brunt and Nigel Moran. Nigel had endured a miserable couple of hours in a wet bivvy bag and needed a crafty 3am cigar to get himself going.
John forced down a much-needed bowl of porridge. Dawn broke to reveal a misty morning, but steady progress meant that a few precious minutes were gained here and there. A Dark Peak team who had started at the same time were caught and passed near Scafell Pike.
One of the major obstacles on the round is the mighty barrier of crags between Scafell Pike and Scafell. It is traditionally tackled via a short rock climb, Broad Stand. Despite having a rope in place (courtesy of a heroic piece of cragsmanship by Richard Griffiths) the rocks were desperately greasy and it proved a real struggle. The scrambling section higher up was no walk in the park and demanded a cautious approach. Back on more amenable terrain the summit of Scafell was soon ticked off before a long descent to Wasdale Head and another re-fuelling stop.
John was looking a little weary as he slumped in a deck-chair, but appearances proved to be deceptive as he stormed up the brutal ascents of Yewbarrow and Red Pike gaining more precious minutes. Rosie Taylor, Andy Shaw and Andy Hauser provided valuable support on this leg. More summits came and went, and about halfway along the leg the clouds finally broke and the sun came out revealing the Lakeland fells in all their splendour. At the Honister Pass road crossing John had more than an hour in hand – things were looking good.
Bill Stewart, Helen Berry and Andy Taylor took over support for the glory leg, joined by club president Ashley Smith and Barbara Hinchliffe on Dale Head. The last few miles are along lanes and John’s wife Lesley also joined the team for the final run-in. John showed signs of his old road-running pedigree, and it is reported that some of his supporters were unable to match John’s pace. In Keswick the market was still in full swing and stall-holder and customers were scattered in all directions as the runners sprinted the last few yards. At 4.50pm, 21 hours and 50 minutes after setting off John banged on the door of the Moot Hall – journey’s end.
Ashley Smith commented that John was “going like a train” on the last leg. He even had the energy for a pint (or two) afterwards.