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Matt Bourne’s Cumbrian Traverse – 22nd June 2019

June 28, 2019

 

Two weeks later than planned I was preparing to run the Cumbrian Traverse, a thirty five mile 12,000ft route from Broughton Mills in the South Lakes to Keswick in the North. The initial date of June 8th was postponed due to typical summer Cumbrian downpours of biblical proportions. As an added bonus I was now actually 50 rather than the young whippersnapper of 49 I would’ve been two weeks earlier.

Myself and Bowland colleague John Graham had stayed up the night before in a ‘rustic’ farmhouse courtesy of AirBnB. “1690 the year it was built” the landlady kindly informed us. It couldn’t have been more Withnail & I if it tried. I was going to take a few snaps to send home but I was that worried that if they’d be a ghostly apparition on any I would get no sleep that night  whatsoever.
We’d planned on an early start and requested a 6.30am breakfast. Having reconsidered we asked if that could be slightly earlier at 6.15? The look on the landlady’s face told us that 6.30 it was.
Starting at Broughton Mills Village Hall a little after 7am, the initial climb up Great Stickle and Stickle Pike afforded views across to Coniston and a clear route weather wise. Anybody familiar with the November Dunnerdale race will know that this little ridge is an unspoilt gem, off the beaten track but fine running. We’d reccied the route to Caw and White Maiden a few weeks earlier and with a little fine tuning made good time picking a slightly different line to and up Caw. There was a solitary wild camper at the top so we tip toed past as to not make him any wilder. I remarked to John that it’s rare to see anybody camping overnight here but actually it’s rare to see anybody walk up here too, the crowds flocking to those Central fells we’d see in a few hours time. The schlep to the top of White Maiden is pretty unadventurous, just a long grassy climb but it’s a relief to touch the cairn and head off to Turner Landscape territory and Brown Pike. Here is where the navigation becomes easier but the running a bit more challenging.
Dow Crag to Coniston to Swirl How to Great Carrs is a well trodden route. There appeared to be an student reunion atop the Old Man; a coach load of thirty scallywags selfying with Prosecco. Sort of the Oxbridge equivalent of the 5am Wetherspoons full English and pint of Carling at Manchester airport on route to a Malaga stag do. Descending down into Wrynose and Three Shire Stone a minute over four hours for our first stop, we could see not only the next stage along the ridge to Great End but the familiar faces of Declan and Tom who would be supporting on that stage. Thirteen miles and 5,000 feet under our belt already.
Priorities, priorities. The macaroni cheese trumped the sock and shoe change at Wrynose. Closely followed by banana, flapjack and a top up of water. We’d actually added an extra layer at Coniston but the day was hotting up. Extra sunscreen added and I was carrying a good 1.5 litres of water with me and was keen to get that jelly baby, salted cashew and liquid intake balance bob on.
A good (reccied) line got us up the trod to Cold Pike easily enough. I did warn Tom and Dec that I would be talking bollo (copyright Ian Dury) for most of the route so as to take my mind off climbing and running. Actually it’s a very well defined route to Great End across Crinkle Crags, Bowfell and Esk Pike, but very rocky in contrast to the grassy beginning of leg one. Dec was picking some excellent lines and conversation was flowing. Brioche with piccalilli. Ever tried it? Branston Pickle? Or Marmite? Nope, me neither, although I did have the chance courtesy of Dec’s backpack stash. And don’t get me started on baked beans and onions! Like I said; bollo.
My only technical concern was the drop off Great End down to Styhead Tarn. Plan B being that we could retrace our steps back to Esk Hause and follow the path via Sprinkling Tarn. But throwing caution to the wind Dec suggested we “satisfy our curiosity” and see what line we could find. It’s this cavalier life on the edge attitude that enables his savoury Brioche lifestyle; the Heston Blumenthal of Bowland. But what a line he found, scree gullies leading to the grassy descent via The Band and at Styhead we took a breather before the ascent of Gable.
During planning I’d always thought that if I could get to the top of Great Gable I’d have broken the majority of the entire route. It was only half way round the Traverse but a large proportion of the climbing would be behind me. It had played on my mind a bit. A little challenge within a bigger one. It proved tough but I was going well as Tom and I discussed our own very personal reasons for fell running and what exactly this run meant. I think people watching over us got us up that climb without any problem Tom.
The descent from Great Gable to Green Gable caused no issues and we picked a perfect line to Grey Knotts via Brandreth. For the first time in a few hours we were able to open the legs a bit and get some good running in. There are a number of rocky tors on Grey Knotts, after making sure we touched the correct top we kept track of the fence line as we made our way down to Honister pass for a well earnt rest and the support team of my wife Hedda, Tom’s wife Helena and John & Sarah Morris, who would be joining me for the final leg into Keswick.
That second leg took five hours; a lot of clambering over rock and stone. Rather slower than the Bob Graham attempt of seventeen hours that Rhys Findlay Robinson was waiting to pace at Honister Slate Mine. More sunscreen, more water and more pie. The Booths cheesy bean pasty relay was going well; John carrying two from leg one to leg two, Tom then taking over although the climb up Bowfell warranted a little munch of one. So now the voyage of the remaining pasty to Keswick was in Dec’s capable hands. Spoiler alert; it doesn’t make it.
Now all that was left was the climb to High Spy, Maiden Moor and Catbells, followed by a showboating descent into Keswick. Tough going mind once you’ve run the equivalent of a marathon and climbed over 10,000ft already. Familiar territory this for Bowlanders, being the back end of the Anniversary Waltz race, the difference this time being the luxury of taking in the stunning scenery. North to Skiddaw were clear blue skies, behind us the route we’d just ran in all its glory. As Dec pointed out; “The Lake District is incomparable in this weather”.
Some of you may be aware that I not only ran this for something to do on my 50th birthday but to try and raise some money for a local suicide support charity. My oldest and best friend Mike had taken his own life two years ago and this seemed a fitting way to do something in the year he would have been 50 too. I’d carried with me a copy of his memorial service in my backpack and every now and then I’d just have a little touch of it to keep me focused. Ascending those last few steps to the summit of Catbells I had one last touch. Chin chin mate.
Quick change into Bowland vests. Rolling through Portinscale into Keswick the weather began to take its toll. I’d had it basically. Emergency jelly babies were sourced but by the time I’d hit the town centre I’d found a new lease of life. Earlier that week I’d watched and been inspired by Paul Tierney’s record breaking Wainwrights run. I climbed for one last time; the steps to Moot Hall on a sunny Saturday evening in June to be greeted by familiar faces and a pint from Tom, twelve hours, twenty two minutes, twenty one peaks, thirty five miles and 12,000ft on from when I started. Everything had fallen into place; the planning, the support, the weather. It was lovely to see the camaraderie of other fell runners as they congratulated me but also waited for friends and family to complete successful Bob Graham rounds. I’d achieved what I wanted to do and done it in my favourite surroundings with some of my favourite people present. I couldn’t have asked for a better 50th birthday present.
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