Pioneers (1832 - 1904)
This page describes notable and record from 1832 (the first sourced record walk) to 1904 (immediately before Dr Arthur A. Wakefield, the first to codify the record). A summary article for this period was published in Fellrunner (Winter 2019), which can be read here.
[idnx] refers to newspaper references; [idx] refers to all other sources. Full references are available here
[endx] notation refers to the "endeavour code", essentially a unique identifier for each record attempt or walk. A full reference table will soon be available
References to "substantive peaks" are a subjective attempt to allow for comparisons between different record walks of this period. Peaks with little additional ascent are not recorded as such. For example, Steeple is not a substantive peak when it comes between Pillar and Red Pike
Pilkingtons on the scene [end3]
Shorts [including end1c, end2b]
The brothers Tucker [end7]
A Climber's dabble [end9]
Dawson, Poole and Palmer [end10]
Westmorland's reprise [end12]
Broadrick's duathlon [end13]
The final four fells [end14]
Westmorland extends? [end12b]
Broadrick and Dawson [end15]
Johnston's last word [end16]
THE FIRST PIONEERS [end0]
Date: July or August 1832
Start / finish: Not known, but assumed as Keswick [18 hours]
Route: Not known, but included Scafell, Helvellyn and Skiddaw
Peaks: 3, of which 3 substantive peaks (*)
Distance and elevation: 44-47 miles [depending on route between Scafell and Helvellyn] and 12,800 ft of ascent
Contenders: Harrison Walker (HWA), Joseph Clark (JCL)
So far, the earliest record I have found relates to a walk undertaken by Harrison Walker and Joseph Clark, both residents of Keswick, in 1832. The pair captured Scafell, Helvellyn and Skiddaw (i.e. the three highest peaks in the district, with the notable - and rather odd - exception of Scafell Pikes and its main massif). The media of the day played a relatively straight bat in comparison to some of the spuriously superlative descriptions of subsequent endeavours. Drawing on the Carlisle Journal, the Morning Advertiser notes: "[that] considering the difficulty of ascending and descending these stupendous mountains, it may be considered a most arduous task" [idn062]. Indeed, we might go further and, in the absence of further evidence, note this as the inaugural Lake District 24-Hour Fell Record - three peaks in 18 hours.
There is no available evidence on the route chosen but we can put together an illustrative sketch, partly based on the routes of their successors (which give some clue as to the predominant ways of the era). Assuming they began in their native Keswick, a reasonable route to Scafell could be via Seathwaite, Styhead Tarn and Lord's Rake. Perhaps by way of Foxes Tarn, the pair wended through the Scafell Pikes massif and down to Angle Tarn, before reaching Greenup Edge and heading down to Wythburn. (Alternatively, they might have headed to Langdale for sustenance, then on to Grasmere.) From there to Helvellyn, descending the traditional white stones route to Thirlspot, then north up the drove road to Keswick. All that remains is a there-and-back to Skiddaw, presumably by the soon-to-become tourist route. All told, this maps out around 45 miles, not far off the "computed distance" (by the Victorian press) of "about 50". Like many future records, the route comes within spitting distance of a number of tops which would be later be claimed by future record-holders but omitted because the main object was to gain the named notable peaks, not the greatest number of tops.
Why Scafell and not Scafell Pike? I can only surmise that it was deemed a more worthy peak. The newspaper article notes the hills chosen were the "three highest... excepting the Pikes" so all were cognisant of the fact Lakeland's highest mountain was excluded (it was certainly known by that the time that the Pikes were taller, as we know from Jonathan Otley's guides and the notes of Dorothy Wordsworth). Perhaps the walkers' affections for Scafell's top were undimmed by its slightly subsidiary height. Either way, if the pair did indeed start at Keswick, it would have taken some effort and willpower to gain Scafell but not the Pike as well.
ELLIOTT'S HORSESHOE [end1]
Start / finish: Wasdale Head [8 hours 30 minutes]
Route: (1*) Scafell, (2*) Scafell Pike, (3*) Great End, [Styhead Pass], (4*) Great Gable, (5*) Kirk Fell, (6*) Pillar, (7) Steeple, (8) Red Pike, (9*) Stirrup Crag / Yewbarrow
Peaks: 9 [including Stirrup Crag], of which 7 substantive peaks (*)
Distance and elevation: 15.5 miles and 8,300 ft of ascent
Contenders: Rev. Julius Marshall Elliott (JME)
Reverend Julius Elliott is commonly associated with the 'first' Lakeland record, a Wasdale circuit of nine fells. It was a very different walk from the other records of the time as it was essentially a horseshoe walk around Wasdale rather than an attempt to make a round of Lakeland’s most notable peaks.
Setting off from the Wasdale Head Inn, he took in Scafell, Scafell Pike, Great End, Great Gable, Kirk Fell, Steeple, Pillar and Red Pike. Records at the time note his final "peak" as Stirrup Crag, the rocky top slightly (30 feet) below the altitude of Yewbarrow summit and half a mile distant. I am prepared to class this as a summit given the scramble required, which a climber like Elliott would have enjoyed.
On the face of it, the Reverend's walk would set the record for the greatest number of peaks to be gained in a 24 hour period for three decades. However, I suspect Elliott’s round would not have been considered sensational at the time. The contemporary commentary suggests the prized metrics were distance and ascent – on these measures, Elliott only registered 16 miles and 8,300 feet of ascent.
To be fair to the Reverend, he probably never intended to set a record, much less seek recognition for it. My understanding is it was originally recorded in the Visitors' Book of the Wasdale Head Inn and many of those same achievements were done with no fanfare. In my view, it should be considered more as a walk undertaken by a climber on a non-climbing day rather than the Fell Record.
Elliott was to die in 1869 in a climbing accident on the Schreckhorn at the age of 30. After completing the hardest part of the climb, Elliott and his party prematurely congratulated themselves on their approaching achievement. While Elliott’s regular guide went to cut steps in the glacier for the final push, Elliott pressed on. He slipped, unroped, holding no axe to arrest a fall. For a heart-stopping moment, a companion was able to catch his arm. Alas, the momentum was too great and he tumbled into an abyss. As his father’s biographer poignantly reflected: the same Alps which brought him such life were ultimately to cause him death.
THREE PEAKS FROM LANGDALE [end1b]
Start / finish: Dungeon Ghyll New Hotel (3am; 8.30pm) [17 hours 30 minutes]
Route: (1*) Scafell, [Lodore], (2*) Skiddaw, [Legburthwaite], (3*) Helvellyn, [Grasmere]
Peaks: 3, of which 3 substantive peaks (*)
Distance and elevation: 47 miles and 12,800 ft of ascent
Contenders: J Bennett (JBE), Fleming Coward (FLC) and Thomas Grisedale (TGR)
The next recorded pedestrian endeavour came the following year when in 1865 three men set off from the New Dungeon Ghyll – John Bennett (a guide of Mackereth's Hotel), Fleming Coward (also a guide) and Thomas Grisedale (a Langdale shepherd).
After departing 3am they managed to fit in three civilised meals (at the Lodore Hotel, the King's Head, and the Red Lion in Grasmere, respectively), in the process of taking in Scafell at 5am, Skiddaw at 11am and Helvellyn at 5pm.
They almost certainly would not have appreciated the fact, but they beat the bar set by Harrison and Walker [end0] by half an hour, clocking in at 17 hours and around 30 minutes.
The trio ensured their feat could be verified by leaving a note on each mountain they visited and the newspaper accounts tell us who retrieved each confirmation slip. It is unclear whether the finders were arranged by prior agreement or whether they were simply the first good-natured folk who happened to come across them. Either way, the system worked.
For unknown reasons, upon completion of the round, Thomas Grisedale chose to add a further peak: "[he] ran round Pike How with a fresh man, and returned at 10pm, thus having walked at a rapid rate almost continuously for nineteen hours" [idn052]. Given this was a return trip within the 24 hours, this addendum technically increases the number of peaks gained to four.
A SPORTSMAN FROM DARLINGTON [end2]
Date: June 1870
Start / finish: Keswick (12.55; 19:45) [18 hours 40 minutes]
Route: [Seathwaite], (1*) Scafell Pike, [Stake Pass], (2*) Helvellyn, [St. John's in the Vale], (3*) Blencathra, (4*) Skiddaw
Peaks: 4, of which 4 substantive peaks (*)
Distance and elevation: 43 miles and 11,500 ft of ascent
Contenders: Thomas Watson (TWA), Wilson (WIL)
Thomas Watson was a Lakeland tourist, albeit a Northerner. He appears to have been adept at any sport he turned his hand or foot to, including cricket, rugby, athletics and of course fell-walking. It is testament to his achievements that his obituary in 1935 does not suggest his Lake District fell walk was his most impressive sporting achievement.
At the age of 30, accompanied by a Borrowdale guide named Wilson, Watson set off from Atkinson's Lake Hotel in Keswick at 1am in June 1870 to gain Scafell Pike, Helvellyn, Blencathra and Skiddaw. The reported objective was to capture the 3,000 foot peaks of the Lakes. Despite the season, the weather was a major factor: the summit of Scafell Pike was reached in "a most unwelcome snow-squall" [id016] and the ascent of Skiddaw "had to be done on the hands and knees".
Similar to Bennett et al in 1865 [end1b], corroborative evidence was left at the top of each summit by means of letters in bottles. On each letter was a request for it to be posted back to Watson.
It is worth reflecting on the transitions between the peaks, as it applies to many future walks: Keswick to Scafell Pike is assumed to be on roads to Seathwaite, then Stockley Bridge, Styhead Tarn and the corridor route. The journey from the Scafell range to Helvellyn presents an interesting route choice. The most direct is probably via Angle Tarn, Stake Pass, heading over High Raise to Greenup Edge, then heading down the Wythburn valley where, according to Wainwright, "the ground is very, very wet". I assume this was used on a number of record walks. From Helvellyn, the Dodds were eschewed and walkers tended to make a path to the King's Head at Thirlspot (presumably for refreshment) and then up St. John's in the Vale. I assume the transition between Blencathra and Skiddaw was made by Skiddaw House.
JENKINSON OVER-REACHES [end5]
Date: 17 June 1871
Start / finish: Keswick (Midnight; 12.55am) [24 hours 55 minutes]
Route: [Styhead Tarn], (1*) Great Gable, [Esk Hause], (2*) Scafell Pike, (3*) Bowfell, [Angle Tarn], [Greenup Edge], [Wythburn], (4*) Helvellyn, [Thirlspot], [Threlkeld], (5*) Blencathra, [Skiddaw House], (6*) Skiddaw
Peaks: 6, of which 6 substantive peaks (*)
Distance and elevation: 47 miles and 13,900 ft of ascent
Contenders: Henry Irwin Jenkinson (HIJ)
Pacers: an unnamed friend (until Scafell Pike), two Langdale shepherds (around Bowfell) and two men from Threlkeld
Henry Jenkinson made his Lakeland name as the author of one of the first detailed guidebooks targeted at Victorian tourists – A Practical Guide to the English Lake District. It is said that he covered over 4,000 miles on foot between October and May in research for the guide, putting him in the same class as Alfred Wainwright. The guide was published in 1872 so we can speculate that, after a brief respite (the modern-day term would be a 'taper'), he embarked upon his attempt. AW would never have approved of record walks for the sole sake of testing one’s endurance. But in Jenkinson's defence, he was clearly a modest man as he made no mention of his walking feats in his book, despite entitling a chapter: “How best to spend a flying visit to the Lakes”.
He was a Yorkshireman, “of middle height, [with] no surplus flesh to carry... and there is nothing in his outward appearance to incline to think that he could perform such all but superhuman feats” [idn075]. Palmer notes "his action on the level was easy, while his dexterity among screes and boulders was something to marvel at" [id016, p.72].
Jenkinson set out at midnight on 17 June from Keswick. Heading anti-clockwise, he reached the summit of Great Gable between 4am and 5am. He and his supporter then turned to Scafell Pike, presumably by way of the corridor route. The way to Bowfell was shrouded in mist and they became lost at the oft-confusing Esk Hause area "for about three hours" [id036, p.124]. Jenkinson’s companion thought better of perseverance and decided to head back to Keswick. Miraculously, Jenkinson then came across two Langdale shepherds who seemingly agreed to guide his second attempt on Bow Fell "for a liberal pecuniary consideration" [idn071].
His remaining summits were Helvellyn, Blencathra and Skiddaw, which he took on following an hour's rest at Wythburn (having crossed the fells over High Raise). On his way to the final peak he was "overcome by sleepiness at the back of Skiddaw having to rest for a while at a gamekeeper's cottage" [id036, p.124].
He arrived back in Keswick a tantalising 55 minutes after midnight and would have surely made it within the cut-off had weather not intervened after Esk Hause. We know Jenkinson meant to complete his walk within the day as it is recorded as being his “express intention [to visit] the summits of six of the highest mountains in England within a period of twenty-four hours” [idn053]. It is worth noting that none of the many newspaper reports count the exploit as anything but an unmitigated success, demonstrating that the seminal parameter of the Lake District 24-Hour Record was yet to become firmly established. To give one example, it was noted as “a feat hitherto unprecedented in the annals of English mountaineering” [idn044].
It says much of the custom of the day, and how much has changed since, that it was also noted – with utmost sincerity and admiration:
“The whole of this remarkable journey… was accomplished without the use of wine or spirits; a mixture of beer and lemonade, only three times during the course of 24 hours, taking the place of the water afforded by the mountain streams on the way” [idn0071 / idn059]
PILKINGTONS ON THE SCENE [end3]
Date: 22 August 1871
Start / finish: Dungeon Ghyll (2.30am; 11:40pm) [21 hours 10 minutes]
Route: (1*) Bowfell, (2*) Scafell Pike, [Styhead Pass], (3*) Great Gable, [Keswick], (4*) Skiddaw, (5*) Blencathra, [Threlkeld], (6*) Helvellyn, [Grisedale Tarn], (7*) Fairfield, [Grasmere]
Peaks: 7, of which 7 substantive peaks (*)
Distance and elevation: 48 miles and 15,200 ft of ascent
Contenders: Edward Pilkington (EPI) and John Bennett (JBE)
By this time a pattern was becoming established. Contenders would set off in the early hours of the morning; they would head to the Scafell massif before pivoting north; some form of 'proof' message would be left at the summit of each mountain; and the local press would proclaim the exploit as the most remarkable feat ever accomplished by an English pedestrian.
Pilkington's record walk of 1871 was little different, save for it is the first time we can start to see an emergent outline of the Bob Graham route. Pilkington added Great Gable to the round, bringing in the most notable peak of what would eventually evolve into leg four. He also brought in Fairfield, thereby inaugurating the Grisedale Tarn 'there and back' slog.
Edward Pilkington was one of four brothers, most of whom were a significant part of the Lakeland rock climbing community in the late nineteenth century. His brothers Charles and Lawrence would go on to complete a notable walk of their own [end8].
Edward was accompanied by John Bennett (last seen leading his own record walk in 1865), now proprietor of the Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, from where they started and finished. Departing at 2.30am, Bowfell was reached by 4am, Scafell Pike between 5am and 6am, Great Gable at 6.45am, Skiddaw at 12.41pm, Blencathra at 2.45pm and Fairfield at 8.10pm. The total time was 21 hours and 10 minutes.
Pilkington said of the walk:
“We were both perfectly fresh at the finish, and had we come straight through instead of having supper at Grasmere, we should have saved at least an hour – we could easily have done the journey in 20 hours; but having finished the mountains, and with so much in hand, we did not think of it.” [id016]
While the newspapers report Scafell as being the second fell, not Scafell Pike, the accompanying heights [provided to a newspaper by Sir Henry James F.R.S. of the Ordnance Survey, no less], inter-peak times and route suggest it was in fact Scafell Pike.
Postcards were left on the major summits, with instructions for the finders to post them onward to Windermere Hotel. These apparently arrived the next day.
Thus far, there had been no real analytical scrutiny of pedestrian feats. This all changed on 29 August when a 'Hugh Klidd' (an apt pen name, given his geometric concerns) stepped forward with a letter to the editor of the Penrith Observer [idn046]. Mr. Klidd had taken exception to the phrase "a glance at the map will convince anyone at all acquainted with the district traversed by the pedestrians that the feat is no ordinary one", asserting:"I come to the conclusion that the whole distance traversed was exactly 53 miles, a good day's work, certainly, but though only a trifle over 2 1/2 miles per hour."
Turning to satire, Mr. Klidd continued: "It would be interesting to know the respective weights of Bennett and Pilkington, in order to arrive at the total weight of flesh and other matter each one raised". With reference the postcards, "let no one henceforth complain of our inadequate postal arrangements." He goes on at some length, concluding "we can have no more solitarys [sic] in our Lake country ... it will not be surprising if we find on Scafell's towering peak a still more towering granite monument bearing on its base, fronting sea-wards, the Pilkington arms.. and a Bennett-head medallion."
While Mr. Klidd calculated the route as 53 miles, my estimate is closer to 49. Imagine the tenor of his parody had he known it was four fewer miles!
SHORTS [end1c, end2b and others]
In and around this time there is limited record of some additional walks. In each case, there is not enough information to gauge precisely what occurred, largely because no contemporary newspaper articles have been found.
Lawrence Pilkington and John Bennett set off from Keswick and climbed Scafell, Helvellyn and Skiddaw [end1c]. This is entirely plausible given the pair went on to do a bigger – and much better recorded – walk in 1871 [end3].
Jenkinson completed a round of Scafell, Helvellyn and Skiddaw. Presumably this was a preview of his six fells, which he completed the year after
"An Alpine Club man and Mackereth" took in Bowfell, Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Skiddaw. They “barely succeeded” and the “general course has been adopted as the ‘Four Fells Record’ of later climbers” [id016] [end2b]. This is described further in the notes on the Tuckers’ ‘Four Fells Record’ [end7]
THE BROTHERS TUCKER [end7]
Date: June 1876
Start / finish: Elterwater (4.20am; 11.58pm) [19 hours 38 minutes]
Route: (1*) Bowfell, (2*) Scafell Pike, (3*) Skiddaw, [Vale of St John's], (4*) Helvellyn, [Grasmere]
Peaks: 4, of which 4 substantive peaks (*)
Distance and elevation: 54 miles and 11,600 ft of ascent
Contenders: Alfred Robert Tucker (ART), Frederick Tucker (FRT), Hubert Tucker (HUT), Edward Jr. Tucker (EJT) and Bell
This walk constitutes the first proper account of the so-called ‘Four Fells Record’. The record was simply the fastest time to complete a round of Bowfell, Scafell Pike, Skiddaw and Helvellyn (the four highest mountains in the district if Scafell Pike is taken as the sole representative of the Scafell massif). In a short-lived tradition, seemingly established by the Tuckers, Elterwater was the start and finish point.
In June 1876, the four brothers from Cumberland and a man named Bell set off on their round. All were "fine, lusty men, well hardened to the fell" [idn036] and members of Ambleside rugby club. Some of the brothers were known as painters and one – Alfred Tucker – would go onto to take holy orders and become a celebrated Bishop in Uganda.
Soulby's Ulverston Advertiser and General Intelligencer [idn016] records: "People who had spent all their lives in the land that Wordsworth loved so well, declared that the thing was next to impossible, and the attempt folly. Nothing daunted by the adverse comments freely expressed on every hand, the four young men proceeded to carry out their intention.”
While the brothers would have known the fells well, the walk was not meticulously planned and there “were none of the careful preparations in training and the supply of proper refreshment that are features of modern climbing records” [id096].
Leaving at 4.20am, they reached Bowfell by 8am and Scafell Pike at 9am. Then to Skiddaw around 1pm. Having largely survived on beef tea and streamwater thus far, the party celebrated their three quarter mark with 16 bottles of ginger beer. While they averaged around 3 miles an hour to the top of Skiddaw, it was "too good to last, and the next dozen miles [to Helvellyn] (including some bathing of feet and feeding) occupied no less than six hours" [idn041].
Upon reaching Helvellyn there was some debate on whether to add Fairfield to the list, but it was declined on the basis "enough is as good as a feast" [idn016].
Despite this, the group determined to head back to Elterwater via Ambleside and not over Loughrigg Fell, simply because one of brothers lived there and they wanted to drop him off, thus extending the walk by around five miles. With this detour, they unknowingly set a precedent and future ‘Four Fells Record’ contenders would replicate the route to ensure a like-for-like record. All told, the round trip is estimated at 54 miles and 11,550 feet of ascent.
It was a hot day to be out and they clocked in at 19 hours and 38 minutes - the "hottest day of the summer" [idn014] - with temperatures reaching 78 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade.
They carried nothing with them "but a small quantity of beef tea" [idn016]. The local press [idn012] noted "this remarkable effort of pluck and endurance was conducted on strict teetotal lines.”
There is some confusion on the year of this endeavour. The only contemporaneous news article I can find is dated 1876. However, all subsequent descriptions of notable fell walks mark it as 1878, although the earliest of these was written in 1890. Palmer [id016] notes it as 1877 but he is often inaccurate. Overall, 1876 is my educated guess because: (1) the veracity of the newspaper source of that year; and (2) by 1878, Alfred Tucker was moving on to other parts of his life.
The Tuckers were seemingly aware there was a record as it was said that the brothers "lowered the previous highly-thought of record by six hours" [idn012]. This previous (perhaps inaugural?) ‘Four Fells Record’ was set by a "well-known Alpine climber" and a "guide, Mackereth of Dungeon Ghyll". This is referenced again in [idn041]. It is not clear to what endeavour this refers and I can find no further record. A Mackereth guide (John Bennett) was involved in an 1865 walk over three fells [end1b] but I do not think that involved a known Alpinist. Another option could be Edward Pilkington and Bennett's round of seven peaks in 1871 [end3]. The Pilkingtons were certainly involved in the Alpine Club, although this walk was far from a ‘Four Fells’ as Great Gable, Blencathra and Fairfield were also included.
PILKINGTON'S RETURN [end8]
Date: 20 May 1883
Start / finish: Lodore Hotel (11pm; 11.30pm) [24 hours 30 minutes]
Route: (1*) Great Gable, (2*) Scafell Pike, (3*) Bowfell, (4*) Fairfield, (5*) Helvellyn, (6*) Blencathra, (7*) Skiddaw
Peaks: 7, of which 7 substantive peaks (*)
Distance and elevation: 50 miles and 15,500 ft of ascent
Contenders: Lawrence Pilkington (LPI), Charles Pilkington (CPI) and Matthew Barnes (MBA)
On Sunday 20 May 1883, the Pilkington family came forth once again, on this occasion with Lawrence and Charles, accompanied by Matthew Barnes. In just over 24 hours they ascended 7 peaks in an anti-clockwise circuit from Lodore: Great Gable, Scafell Pike, Bowfell, Fairfield, Helvellyn, Blencathra and Skiddaw.
Some of the time lost was attributed to a thick mist around Esk Hause ("nearly two hours was lost between Scafell Pikes and Bowfell" [idn018]), and then again on Fairfield. Indeed for the latter it was "necessary to build cairns to ensure the way back" [idn017].
To verify the walk, the trio arranged for other members of the Alpine Club to occupy various positions to note the time they achieved the peaks. They had left provisions at various stopping points, including extract of beef and "other stimulants" [idn018].
Following the exploit, "both gentlemen suffered a little stiff on Tuesday morning... but the guide [Barnes], who is all bone, muscle, and skin, would not own up to the slightest inconvenience."
A CLIMBER'S DABBLE [end9]
Date: 27 October 1893
Start / finish: Keswick (midnight; 11.25pm) [23 hours 25 minutes]
Route: [Seathwaite], [Styhead], (1*) Great Gable, (2*) Scafell, (3*) Scafell Pike, (4*) Bowfell, [crossing fells], [Wythburn], (5*) Helvellyn, [Thirlspot], (6*) Blencathra
Peaks: 6, of which 6 substantive peaks (*)
Distance and elevation: 48 miles and 13,800 ft of ascent
Contenders: John Wilson Robinson (JWR) and Gibbs (GIB)
John Wilson Robinson was one of the founding fathers of the Wasdale climbing scene. He knew Lakeland like the back of his hand, perhaps even better, and would think nothing of walking from his Lorton home to Wasdale for climbing and returning on the same day – all on foot over fells. Harry Griffin extolled he was probably the "greatest authority on the Lake District mountains" [id036, p.124].
Chiefly out of curiosity, he decided to turn his feet to a different endeavour, joining up with Mr Gibbs of Darlington. Robinson was the clear leader and his letters give more details of the genesis for the round [id036]:
“During the last two years the idea has got into my head of seeing how many mountains I can do in a day… I am slow and should never dream of attempting a record, but I have always felt that if I had any slight advantage over some others it was merely knowing the Scafell range pretty well…”
The walk was undertaken in "frost, snow and strong winds" [id018]. Beginning in Keswick at midnight on 27 October, the pair planned to take in Great Gable, Scafell, Scafell Pike, Bowfell, Helvellyn, Blencathra and Skiddaw (Robinson was seeking to add one peak to Jenkinson's 'six mountains').
Conditions become decidedly wintry very early and by Gable a “white mantle three inches thick covered the ground” [id016]. They approached Scafell from Lord’s Rake, but after the first of the three reaches, the strong winds threw a rock down upon them. Injury avoided, they pressed on to the summit, kicking toe holds into the ice to aid progress.
From there to Scafell Pike was no easy going. Robinson reported [id016]:
“We were not prepared to find the climb in a more dangerous state than it was last year in midwinter, but such it was; and the alpenstocks we had provided ourselves with were without the usual spike in the end with which to roughen the ice to make a foothold I took off the rucksack which held our lunch, and, with an arm through one strap while my friend [Gibbs] held on to the other, kicked off the ice from ledge to ledge.”
The pair continued, without particular incident but in truly sketchy conditions. As they neared the summit of Blencathra (via Hall’s Fell), they were "at times unable to stand, and were compelled to lie down and cling to the heather" [idn011]. Ultimately, Skiddaw could not be gained within the 24 hours (partially due to poor moonlight) and so they returned to Keswick, one peak down but 30 minutes within their target time.
The Carlisle Express and Examiner [idn011] noted that, while impressive, "unless we are mistaken the same route, with Skiddaw included, was accomplished within the 24 hours about thirty years ago by Bennett, a well-known guide in Langdale". Well, more or less. It is true that in 1871 Bennett accompanied Edward Pilkington on a successful walk of 7 peaks. However, their route included Fairfield at the expense of Scafell. It probably comes out in the wash.
DAWSON, POOLE AND PALMER [end10]
Date: 5 August 1895
Start / finish: Elterwater Common (1am; 8.17pm) [19 hours 17 minutes]
Route: (1*) Bowfell, (2*) Scafell Pike, [Styhead Tarn], [Rosthwaite], [Keswick], (3*) Skiddaw, [Thirlspot], (4*) Helvellyn, [Grasmere], [Ambleside]
Peaks: 4, of which 4 substantive peaks (*)
Distance and elevation: 54 miles and 11,600 ft of ascent
Contenders: William Palmer (WTP), Benjamin Dawson (BDA) and William Poole (WPO)
Dawson, Palmer and Poole set out to cut the 'Four Fells Record' set by the Tucker brothers in 1876 (this was explicitly not an attempt at the 24-Hour Fell Record).
In comparison with the heat of the Tuckers' record, the trio were faced with a "memorably dull and wet Bank Holiday, and as a consequence the tops of the mountains were never clear of clouds." [idn014]
The system of verification was strengthened with the addition of spotters: "To prevent doubts being cast on the result, arrangements were made to have persons interest in the walk to be stationed on the summits of the fells, and to them the pedestrians handed letters containing the time they passed over." [idn009]
Starting at 1am at Elterwater Common, the three first made for Bowfell. But between there and Scafell Pike, time was lost in mist and poor weather and over an hour and half was spent getting through Esk Hause and over the Pike. By this point, Palmer chose to retire because of a combination of ailments: "indisposition", having become "seized with dizziness" and a bad knee.
The long trek to Skiddaw was next, which followed a 30 minute pause in Keswick for refreshment. In the first suggestion of a schedule, it was noted that at Skiddaw there were 35 minutes behind time. Despite this, they were later able to make up the deficit, even accounting for a 22-minute stay at the Traveller's Rest for tea.
With the record in the balance, Palmer (heroically?) returned to pace the party from the pub to the finish. They returned to Elterwater via Ambleside, presumably because it was the route taken by the Tucker record, although it would have added around five miles to the distance. They completed this final stretch in under an hour.
"At the finishing point the winners were enthusiastically welcomed by a large crowd. Mr. Astley [of Elterwater Hall, who collect the verification letters from Bowfell and Scafell] announced the record to be broken… all proofs coming in just before the finish" [idn032]. This is interesting as it demonstrates the level of interest in the challenge, despite the fact the ‘Four Fells Record’ would soon become a historical cul-de-sac.
The men finished strong and well, succeeding in taking 21 minutes off the Tucker's record, clocking in at 19 hours and 17 minutes.
They were clearly going for it, as a holidaying walker noted in the Bucks Herald that while toiling up Skiddaw, he came across the two mean "leaping from rock to rock like chamois [goats]" [idn077].
CARLISLE YOUNG MEN'S CYCLING CLUB [end11]
Date: June 1898
Start / finish: Seathwaite (5.24am); Keswick (1am) [19 hours 35 minutes]
Route: [Sty Head Pass], (1*) Great Gable, [Esk Hause], (2*) Great End, (3*) Scafell Pike, (4*) Scafell, [Esk Hause], [Hanging Knotts], (5*) Bowfell, [Stake Pass], (6*) High Raise, [Wythburn], (7*) Helvellyn, Threlkeld, (8*) Blencathra, [Skiddaw Forest], (9*) Skiddaw
Peaks: 9, of which 9 substantive peaks (*)
Distance and elevation: 40 miles and 15,400 ft of ascent
Contenders: Ned Westmorland (NEW), S. B. Johnston (SBJ), Ernest Beatty (ERB) and P. Strong (PSG)
The four young men from Carlisle consisted of Westmorland, Johnston (see below), Beatty and Strong. They had two stated sources of inspiration: first, to "prove cycling does not, as some people imagine, incapacitate its notaries for pedestrian exercises". Second, to show that a previous record was not in fact such an "impressive" record at all [idn055] - although it is never stated to which precise record they were referring.
The attempt was "planned as long ago as three years," indicating a long period of training [idn073].
The foursome set off from Seathwaite at 5.24am in June, as dawn was breaking over a perfect day in the fells.
Their round broke new ground by taking in Great End (skirted by many but summited by none so far) and High Raise (again, passed by many going from the Scafell massif to Helvellyn). Scafell was gained by means of Broad Stand. At Wythburn the group split over a meal at the then Nag’s Head hostelry. Westmorland and Beatty retired to Threlkeld station (12 miles away, for a train to Carlisle - most likely due to work commitments than fatigue); the remaining duo continued on.
After taking in Helvellyn, Threlkeld was reached by means of the Helvellyn ridge – the first time would-be record-setters had not descended to Thirlspot and headed up St. John’s in the Vale. We do not know if this was done with the express intention of increasing the peak count. On balance, I do not think it is the case as so little is mentioned about these extra peaks. It is particularly noteworthy that future record walks by Broadrick and Johnston would later ignore them (and add different, more difficult fells). For the purposes of fair comparison, I have not included them in the summary statistics above. It would not be until Eustace Thomas in 1922 that all the fells from Helvellyn to Clough Head would be included in the record [end20].
The descent from Skiddaw required Johnston and Strong to strike matches to see the path, despite the electric lights from the town and the new moon. They took a rest at its base before heading back to Seathwaite via Keswick - or so they planned.
What in fact happened was that the pair stopped for a few hours’ sleep at the Skiddaw Hotel (awakening the proprietor in the process, as they reached Keswick at 1am). Did they then return to Seathwaite within the 24 hours? The evidence says not, seemingly because "as the climbers had four good hours to spare in which to walk the nine miles to Seathwaite and complete the circuit, they determined to take that bit of the journey for granted". Anyone who has done a hard day on the fells can emphasise with the complex self-justification for taking an easier course. All told, they took 19 hours and 35 minutes.
Like many that would follow in their footsteps, three of the group clad their soles in ordinary gymnastic shoes as the rubber soles provided the best support on dry rocks (but were poor in descent). On the slopes of Scafell, the light-footed trio envied their leader who was more heavily shod.
The Westmorland Gazette [idn027] concluded: "one would like to know what was the most vivid impression of which the performers were conscious, when it was over.” And the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald [idn055] said of the men:
"one who has a reputation for veracity declared that he was not in the least tired at the end of his journey, and that it was never in the least fatiguing. But another has whispered to some sympathetic friends that he would not undertake another such ramble upon any consideration whatsoever."
WESTMORLAND'S REPRISE [end12]
Date: July 1898
Start / finish: Threlkeld (4.45am; 4.31am) [23 hours 22 minutes]
Route: [Sticks Pass], (1) Raise, (2) Whiteside, (3) Helvellyn Lower Man, (4*) Helvellyn, [Wythburn], (5*) High Raise, [Stake Pass], (6*) Bowfell, [Hanging Knott], (7*) Great End, (8*) Scafell Pike, (9*) Scafell, (10*) Great Gable, (11*) Skiddaw, (12*) Blencathra
Peaks: 12, of which 9 substantive peaks (*)
Distance and elevation: 48 miles and 15,400 ft of ascent
Contenders: Ned Westmorland (NEW) and Ernest Beaty (ERB)
This was a well-organised attempt and there is an explicit reference to a schedule being determined in advance.
Westmorland and Beatty set off in brilliant sunshine along the Vale of St. John's, ascending the Helvellyn ridge by way of Sticks Pass. After Helvellyn, they breakfasted at Wythburn. Heading up the valley and to Greenup Edge, High Raise was reached before skirting the back of the Langdale Pikes to ascend Bowfell. After Great End and Scafell Pike, Scafell was gained by means of Broad Stand.
From Scafell summit, the Penrith Observer describes a slightly curious route [idn072]. The next peak was Great Gable, but instead of taking the corridor route, they descended Broad Stand, returned to Scafell Pike, and then headed down Piers Ghyll path, climbing to Styhead Tarn. It was then a there and back to Gable.
Seathwaite offered a 45-minute rest and refreshment before the pair headed north to Keswick. A further 45-minute rest had been scheduled but they went straight on to Skiddaw. In an episode with which many a Bob Grahamer may empathise, they could not find their way in the dark through Keswick to the lower slopes of Latrigg. The incident passed without consequence and they arrived at Skiddaw at 1.35am, bang on schedule.
Walking from the Caldew, they lost their way on the ascent up the back of Blencathra and Westmorland is said to have started to lose heart. Beatty was in better spirits and started up an alternative route, losing contact with his companion. By means of shouting they managed to reacquaint themselves on the top after 4am. Impressively for the time, and especially at that point in the round, the descent to Threlkeld was done in 22 minutes. This feels exceptionally fast for the time, but Griffin notes that Westmorland was “particularly adept at running down rocky slopes” [id036].
In total, the resting time was said to be 3 hours 35 minutes.
Provisions consumed on the move consisted of meat sandwiches which were dipped in water to soften them. Rubber-soled shoes were used and no 'alpenstocks' were carried.
Mr Westmorland took the first train to Carlisle and did a full day's work, not reaching bed until 10.30pm. Mr. Beatty, perhaps the wiser of the two, went on holiday.
BROADRICK'S DUATHLON [end13]
Date: 1 September 1898
Start / finish: Windermere (bike) [3.30am]; Dungeon Ghyll (foot) (xxam; xxpm) [20 hours 15 minutes]
Route: (1*) Bowfell, [Hanging Knotts] [idn70], (2*) Great End, (3*) Scawfell Pike, (4*) Scawfell, [Wasdale Head Inn], (5*) Great Gable, (6) Green Gable [idn70], [Keswick], (7*) Skiddaw, [Keswick], [Sticks Pass], (8*) Helvellyn, [Dunmail Raise], [Windermere]
Peaks: 8, of which 7 substantive peaks (*)
Contenders: R W Broadrick (RWB)
As the end of the century approached, one paper preceded an account of the Broadrick brothers’ walk with nonchalance: "record walks in Lakeland are becoming if not quite so common as blackberries, at least numerous."
On 1 September, Richard Broadrick set out from his home town of Windermere at 3.30am on a bicycle. Depositing his steel steed at the Dungeon Ghyll hotel ("in a conspicuous place, hoping that the hotel people would take charge of it" [idn025]), he set out on foot for Bowfell, Great End, Scafell Pike and Scafell before reaching Wasdale Head around 8.30am. Great and Green Gables were summited on his way to Keswick. Skiddaw was done by way of a there and back, heading on to Helvellyn by way of Sticks Pass.
The intention was to reach Grasmere via Grisedale Tarn but in the dark he instead ended up at Dunmail. What followed was a 15-mile walk back to Windermere, completed in under three hours (the bicycle would have to wait for another day).
THE FINAL FOUR FELLS [end14]
Date: 27 April 1899
Start / finish: Ambleside (4.30am; 7.56pm) [15 hours 26 minutes]
Route: Langdale Church, (1*) Bowfell, (2*) Scafell Pike, (3*) Skiddaw, (4*) Helvellyn
Peaks: 4, of which 4 substantive summits (*)
Distance and elevation: 54 miles and 11,600 ft of ascent
Contenders: R W Broadrick (RWB)
This walks marks the final and fastest Four Fells Record, an endeavour that is sadly no longer with us.
On a fine day - an “ideal day for walking” [idn014] - Broadrick set out from Ambleside alone at 4.30am. He made excellent time up until an incident at a beck on the lower slopes of Skiddaw, where he left a purse on the slopes of Skiddaw and lost 45 minutes in retracing his steps to find it. The rest of the round appears to have passed without incident and he made a significant advance on the record.
Broadrick was to later complain his contemporaries dismissed his account of the record as “euphemistically termed exaggerations” [id072] because it was uncorroborated.
WESTMORLAND EXTENDS? [end12b]
A newspaper report [idn007] suggests Westmorland gave notice in May 1899 that “in a fortnight's time” he intended to extend the record he set the year before in the company of Beatty. The objective was to climb 13 summits within the 24 hours, one more than the 12 in the previous walk [end12]. The article does not speculate on his additional peak, but perhaps it might have been Pillar.
I can find no ex-post report of this walk, suggesting it did not take place for whatever reason (perhaps weather). Westmorland was to participate in a future record walk [end16].
BROADRICK AND DAWSON [end15]
Date: 14 September 1901
Start / finish: Rosthwaite (3.30am; 2.58am) [23 hours 32 minutes]
Route: [Styhead Tarn], (1*) Great Gable, [under Kirk Fell], (2*) Pillar, [Wasdale Head], (3*) Scafell, (4*) Scafell Pike, (5*) Great End, (6*) Bowfell, [Dungeon Ghyll], [Grasmere], [Grisedale Tarn], (7*) Fairfield, (8*) Helvellyn, [Thirlspot], [Threlkeld], (9*) Blencathra, (10*) Skiddaw
Peaks: 10, of which 10 substantive peaks (*)
Distance and elevation: 56 miles and 18,000 ft of ascent
Contenders: R W Broadrick (RWB) and Cecil Dawson (CDA)
Pacers: Oppenheimer (LEO), his [Oppenheimer's] brother, Evans, Jones and Richardson
As noted above [end14], Broadrick had completed his last round as a solo endeavour. To eliminate any doubt over his next achievement, he sought out an associate for his attempt on the 24-Hour Fell Record. He found one in Cecil Dawson, the celebrated ‘bog-trotter’ from Manchester. This was an ironic choice given the challenge to Dawson's future 'record' in 1916 [end19].
Interestingly, it appears he had attempted to join up with fellow record-setter Westmorland. For whatever reason, the arrangement could not be finalised (I assume logistical difficulty rather than any competitive malice). William Palmer indulged in a spot of fantasy fell running and asserted that Broadrick could out-pace Westmorland on the flat (by around half a mile per hour) but would be trumped by Westmorland's superior stamina, ascending and descending [idn025].
This appears to be the first walk to use pacers to a significant degree, with four Manchester men being used to organise supplies and accompany the record-breaking pair. Of particular note was Lehmann Oppenheimer, a man of interest in his own right, being a well-known climber and having once “walked 83 miles in 24 hours on the road” [id086, p.140].
The significant innovation in Broadrick and Dawson’s round was the inclusion of the hulk of Pillar. Pillar Rock was sacred ground for the climbing community and it feels fitting for Broadrick to induct its connected peak to the 24-Hour Fell Record. The quick descent to Wasdale at the time would have been via the screes into Mosedale valley.
After an aborted first outing, they set off anti-clockwise from Rosthwaite. The weather was generally fine until it deteriorated significantly at Skiddaw [id018]: "thick mist rendered the going exceedingly slow" and they missed the stationed torch-bearers at Skiddaw House [idn026]. Instead of being guided up the back of Skiddaw, the pair slowly found their way to Glenderaterra Beck, only to spend "20 minutes floundering about in a swamp" [idn026]. But they did eventually reach the Skiddaw ridge, at which point a strong wind promptly blew out their small lantern, their only source of light. For the next three and a half hours(!), the wind played havoc with the light-piece until there was simply no candle to relight. Having been at the top of Blencathra at 7.55pm, they did not reach the Lake Hotel in Keswick until 12.50am.
In Broadrick's own words:
"We went on very well to the top of Saddleback, the weather conditions being perfect; but there darkness and fog came down together, and we had five hours stumbling along by compass and lantern-light, which, owing to the mist, only showed up two or three feet of the ground ahead at one time. Added to that, there was a very strong north-east wind, which blew the light out continually, and necessitated wrapping it up in a sweater. However, after making up our minds several times that it would be necessary to spend the night on the uplands, we struck the railing leading down the mountain. I don't know whether we got to the actual top of triple-headed Skiddaw, but we got to one of the tops, and stuck our cards on the cairn. It was utterly impossible to tell which of the three it was."
Despite all this, Broadrick and Dawson managed to return to Rosthwaite within the prescribed time.
As a minor aside, Broadrick also noted his companion’s propensity to bathe and it appears Dawson took a dip in any passing body of water, most notably Grisedale Tarn [id016].
JOHNSTON’S LAST WORD [end16]
Date: Thursday 28 May 1903
Start / finish: Threlkeld (5am; 3.07am) [22 hours 7 minutes]
Route: [St John’s in the Vale], (1*) Helvellyn, [Grisedale Tarn], (2*) Fairfield; [Langdale valley], (3*) Bowfell, (4*) Great End, (5*) Scawfell Pike; (6*) Scawfell; [Wasdale Head], (7*) Pillar, (8*) Great Gable, [Seathwaite], [Keswick], (9*) Skiddaw, (10*) Blencathra
Peaks: 10, of which 10 substantive peaks (*)
Distance and elevation: 56 miles and 18,000 ft of ascent
Contenders: S B Johnston (SBJ)
Pacers: P Strong (PST), Ernest Beatty (ERB) and Ned Westmorland (NEW)
This was the farewell tour of the Carlisle four, coming together one last time and focusing their efforts in getting Johnston over the line. This was not the first time pacers were formally employed but it is notable that Strong, Beatty and Westmorland sacrificed their opportunity to be part of the record by assuming supporting roles.
The implicit objective was to complete Broadrick and Dawson’s round in a quicker time and the goal was achieved with by nearly an hour and a half.
This round was the second and final notable walk to start and finish at Threlkeld. The only difference from the record they were seeking to beat was the direction of travel, as Johnston headed clockwise.
Starting at 5am, accounts suggest Johnston headed through St John's in the Vale before ascending Helvellyn by the traditional White Stones route. This is in contrast with the 1898 walk which was the first to take in the full ridge, presumably to ensure alignment with Broadrick and Dawson.
The Scafell section was the hottest and hardest part of the walk. Johnston was at the top of Skiddaw at midnight and the descent to Skiddaw House was therefore done in the dark. By the end, "the runners were able to navigate through the darkness by the stars" [id036, p.126] as they trotted down Blencathra.
After completion, Johnston noted that he felt the record could be further cut.