Cambridge and Coleridge Fell Runners – attempt the Billy Bland relay challenge. 66miles and 42 peaks of the Lake District

Leg 1 – Amy Buchanan-Hughes and Simon Warburton
Keswick 00:00 to Threlkeld 05:12:08
14 miles / 5,500ft ascent (Skiddaw, Great Calva, Blencathra)

After the balmy weather in Cambridge during the week it was quite a shock to arrive in Keswick to 10 degrees and rain – the weather proved almost too much for Neville and his shorts as he changed in quick order.  By the time we had pitched tents at Burns Hill Farm, eaten in Keswick (arriving to displace Scott, Charlie, Steve, Rosa and Isabelle from their table….and steal their left-over cheese) and then got back to the campsite it was almost time to leave for Moot Hall again – no sleep before our leg (that was fine, too nervous/eager to sleep).


Kris drove Amy and I to Moot Hall in contemplative silence.  Amy had tackled most of the recce runs in preparation but I had mange three quarters of leg three as practice.  As a result, I had not run leg 1 before nor run in the dark….but, we are all still relative fell running novices, so we were both looking forward to getting the relay under way for the rest of the team.


It was fantastic to lead off from Moot Hall – a sort of Mecca for fell running.  There were a couple of BGers ready to leave at the same time as us so at least, when the clock ticked over to midnight, we knew we were going to set off in the right direction.  I even chuckled a bit when one of the guys ahead of us could be heard chastising his partners to steady up, “We’re not racing you know”.


We made our way to the foot of Skiddaw well and it was not long before the incline started and the street lights faded away.  It can really get dark when there is no moon and the light pollutions lessen and even though you are running to a path it soon proved a challenge enough to make sure we stuck to the path and didn’t wander off it.  We were grateful to be caught up by a BGer who had a much better idea of where the path was and we kept with her for quite to the top of Skiddaw.  In our enthusiasm to snap a selfie, despite being pitch black, our “guide” seemed to have disappeared off the summit and left us in complete darkness.  With no moonlight and plenty of cloud it’s impossible to take bearings so we relied totally on the GPS and I relied totally on Amy who was doing a superb job of navigating us off Skiddaw and down towards Great Calva.


We were confident that we could make good progress to Great Calva but we ended up having to trek through knee high heather as it was impossible to find the path.  In fact, I really hope there is no path rather than believe it could have helped our progress up the mountain instead of wading through heather.  If the plant life wasn’t hindering our progress too much it was certainly taking the skin off Amy’s knees.  The combination of heather and hidden streams took their casualties as well, Amy fell to an unnerving “crack” only to ease my panic and tell me that her compass had borne the brunt of the fall, I misplaced my footing and fell completely from Amy’s view to fall in lovely, soft, comfy heather…..I was almost tempted to stay there.


Great Calva cairn is a bit unloved and just as well we visited in the dark…not a photo stop really.  However, the descent is worth keeping your eyes wide open on as there were bits of exposed metal fences sticking out of the ground at bizarre angles.  So if the descent doesn’t catch you the impaling fences will.  The run from Calva to Blencathra is simple…in theory.  You follow the fence to the apex of a river, cross the river, (fell face-first in that one) then start the relentless, seemingly-never-ending run up to Blencathra.  We had left the heather, thankfully, and progressed to the bogs of Mungrisdale Common.  Not that the bogs mattered, I was still soaked from the river and Amy was grateful to have got through the heather before she got to the connective tissue of her knees.  Blencathra is stunning, particularly in the emerging sunlight of the day.  You aim for the left-hand shoulder of the mountain and, in true fell running style, just when you think you are near the peak you must veer to the right to scale the peak in a completely different part of the mountain.  Amy navigated this bit superbly and we arrived at the peak of Blencathra to witness a stunning view of Threlkeld and the valley below.  Now the descent….


We looked at Halls Fell….no thank you.  The parachute drop, very nice but not going near that even with a parachute.  So we veered to the left and headed to Doddick Fell.  What an amazing run this was.  Despite the miles and elevation we had covered so far we whooped as we ran down this snaking path, winding its way through rocks, gravel and ferns.  Steep bits still checked our progress and the pair of us ”enjoyed” the odd lost footing but we emerged on a relatively flat part of the path, through the bracken and still manage to knock off a 4:03 min km in our haste to get to Rob and Rosa waiting for us in Threlkeld.

The team managed to complete the challenge within the 24hrs and arrived back into Keswick in 22 hours and 17 minutes.  Flatlanders can run peaks 🙂



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