Women's Fell Record
Unfortunately, the history of the women’s Fell Record is much shorter than that of the men’s record. The upside is that there is surely more excitement left to come, with a wider range of new fells to be added to the record.
It is important to note that the men’s and women’s rounds incorporate different circuits of fells. Indeed, this interesting facet of history will never change, as many of the peaks embedded within the women’s record are now ineligible for adding to men’s rounds (as they fall foul of today’s distance and prominence rules laid down by the Bob Graham Club). These peaks are Sale How, Calfhow Pike, Stirrup Crag, Looking Stead and Kirk Fell East Top. This has some interesting implications for the routes that contenders take between the fells.
Jean Dawes's inaugural round [endw1]
Anne-Marie Grindley goes faster [endw2]
Grindley extends [endw4]
Anne Stentiford raises the bar [endw5]
Nicky Spinks [endw6]
Carol Morgan [endw7]
Nicky's reprise [endw8]
Fi Pascall [endw9]
JEAN DAWES'S INAUGURAL ROUND [endw1]
Date: 25 / 26 June 1977
Start / finish: Keswick, 8am / 7.27am [23 hours 27 minutes]
Route: Clockwise round of Bob Graham’s 42 peaks
Contender: Jean Dawes
Support and pacing: Boyd Millen. Anne-Marie Grindley, Pete Dawes, Stan Bradshaw and Chris Bland
Jean Dawes’s first attempt on the round was on 31 July 1976 [endw0]. Dawes was well supported, including by 64-year-old Stan Bradshaw. She went well until Wasdale, then began to feel the effects of the round. She had a first bad batch going up Great Gable but remained largely on schedule at Honister. She left the quarry at 9pm with 3 hours to go – doable but hard. Unfortunately, by the final peak she was “asleep on her feet” [id005].
Before setting off, she had said that she intended to complete the round no matter how long it took. And so it proved: Dawes arrived back in Keswick 50 minutes after the 24 hours elapsed. Perhaps her energies had been sapped by recent support provided to her husband on another, longer challenge (the traverse of Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike), which took place only a short time earlier.
Jean set out again one year later in June 1977. Leg one was in rain and mist, but the weather did not dent progress. After a ten-minute rest in Threlkeld, the traverse of the Dodds was also made in the clouds. Boyd Millen supported from this point and ended up going with her all the wait to Keswick (excellent preparation for his double round only one month later).
Fred Rogerson met her atop Seat Sandal, before a 26-minute stop at Dunmail. Some fatigue-based doubt crept in during leg three, but she kept going. A 33-minute stop at Wasdale followed, these longer stops being usual practice for the time. In a potentially problematic reprise of 1976, she nearly fell asleep on a Kirk Fell boulder, but the leg was completed without further incident. She made it back to Moot Hall with over half an hour to spare on the 24 hours.
Jean was Club member 66, the first ‘lady member’ and the inaugural holder of the Women’s 24-Hour Fell Record.
As it happens, Stan Bradshaw (now 65) started alongside Jean at Moot Hall and completed the round as well, his second full completion but clocking in at 25 hours. Chris Bland also set off with Dawes and registered a formal completion.
ANNE-MARIE GRINDLEY GOES FASTER [endw2]
Date: 17 / 18 June 1978
Start / finish: Keswick, [start time not known] [21 hours 5 minutes]
Route: Anti-clockwise round of Bob Graham’s 42 peaks
Contender: Anne-Marie Grindley
Support and pacing included: Jean Dawes and Stan Bradshaw
“Ladies: may I recommend the Bob Graham Round to you – all those lovely men waiting on you hand and foot!” – so reported Anne-Marie Grindley in the opening line of her report on her record round.
She benefitted from fantastic weather and was up on schedule throughout. Indeed, a pacer failed to meet her as she had passed through the planned meeting point too early. By the time she returned to Moot Hall, she had knocked nearly two and a half hours off Jean Dawes's time.
Anne-Marie and her husband (Will) were the first husband and wife to complete the round together.
GRINDLEY EXTENDS [endw4]
Date: 30 June 1979
Start / finish: Keswick, [start time not known] [23 hours 20 minutes]
Route: Bob Graham’s 42 peaks, plus Lonscale Fell, Skiddaw Little Man, Sale How, Calfhow Pike, Pavey Ark, Loft Crag, Stirrup Crag, Scoat Fell, Looking Stead, Kirkfell East Top, Whiteless Pike, Wandope, Eel Crag, Sail, Scar Crags and Causey Pike
Contender: Anne-Marie Grindley
Support and pacing included: [not known]
Feeling that she could go further, Anne-Marie Grindley set out in the following year (1979) to be the first women to add further peaks to the Fell Record.
Given the rules of the record, her choices would quite literally set the course that future record-breakers would need to take.
She discussed her additions with Fred Rogerson in advance, agreeing that a peak could be included if it was surrounded by at least two 50-foot contours (i.e. 100-foot prominence, around 30 metres). This led to the inclusion of a number of tops that would fall foul of the modern-day rules for peaks. But that was no different from those ineligible peaks already baked into the men’s record (for example, Scoat Fell and Coomb Height).
“As the first female to do more than 42, I felt it was my choice of route” [id092]. In her own words, some of her selected fells were “controversial” [id143]. But, regardless, Grindley clearly added a substantive mileage to the route, largely in the north-western fells. If anyone felt the additional peaks were ‘soft’, the record was, of course, waiting on a plate for anyone who wanted to break it!
It was a particularly busy weekend in June when Grindley set out from Moot Hall. At a similar time, Ros Coats embarked on what would become her Bob Graham record time of 20 hours and 31 minutes. Depending on start times, Coats may even have technically been the women’s Fell Record holder between arriving back at Moot Hall and Grindley finishing! That same weekend, Roger Baumeister completed the second double BGR and the first under 48 hours.
ANNE STENTIFORD RAISES THE BAR [endw5]
Date: 15 / 16 July 1994
Start / finish: [start location unknown], [start time unknown] [23 hours 17 minutes]
Route: Clockwise round of Anne-Marie Grindley’s 58 peaks, plus Catstycam, Lingmell, Haycock and Grasmoor
Contender: Anne Stentiford
Support and pacing: A team of 14
In 1991, three years earlier, Anne Stentiford had set a new fastest women’s time for the Bob Graham Round of 18 hours and 49 minutes. She had broken the overall record for the Paddy Buckley Round only a month earlier.
Come July 1994, she set out on a round 20 fells longer, attempting to add four to Anne-Marie Grindley’s tally. Her attempt on the record was said to be inspired by talking to Mark Hartell, whom she had met at Macclesfield Harriers.
It was a scorching hot day. Catstycam and Lingmell were added in legs two and three, respectively. By Wasdale, the good weather was turning warm, which meant Anne struggled to eat much beyond this point in the round (15 hours in).
Haycock was added in leg four – this fell still has not been included in the men’s record (Kim Collison considered it, but he decided to add Fleetwith Pike instead). Anne had scheduled to also include Fleetwith Pike, but she chose to skip it in order to preserve time. In the final leg, she then realised she had time in hand, so Grasmoor was added on the hoof. Looking back, she felt she could have made it to both Fleetwith and Grasmoor (she probably could have, but the margin on the 24 hours would have been very tight).
NICKY SPINKS [endw6]
Date: 2 / 3 July 2011
Start / finish: Stair, 3am / 2.15am [23 hours 15 minutes]
Route: Clockwise round of Anne Stentiford’s 62 peaks, plus Fleetwith Pike and Sand Hill
Contender: Nicky Spinks
By 2011, Nicky Spinks had yet to break the women’s Bob Graham Round record, which she went on to do in 2012 and again in 2015. She would also go on to set records for the Paddy Buckley and Ramsay rounds. Overall, Spinks was - and still is - certainly one of the most prolific fast women involved in Britain's 'big three' rounds.
For her attempt on the Fell Record, her two main planned additions were Fleetwith Pike and Sand Hill. There was also a tentative plan to include Grisedale Pike if time allowed.
Uniquely to both the men’s and women’s record, she decided to start at Stair, albeit with a similar rationale for why most others start in Braithwaite. By leaving at 3am, the intention was to complete the road section in darkness and ensure that any 'spare time' at the end would also be dark time, ensuring no daylight would be wasted.
Going clockwise, dawn broke over the first leg, bringing what would be a hot day. Nicky gained time over the initial northern fells, perhaps because Stentiford had completed them in the dark. She then flew down the parachute route off Blencathra, arriving in Threlkeld 25 minutes up on the schedule.
Leg two also went well, in spite of the heat. She hardly paused at Dunmail, having planned in advance on how to minimise time spent at the support points. She suffered from some short-lived stomach trouble at the start of leg three, but felt good by the time she was surprised by Anne Johnson (nee Stentiford) on Harrison Stickle, who had come to wish her well.
There was more stomach trouble over the Scafell massif, but nothing that proved fundamentally detrimental to the round. She took Broad Stand to gain Scafell. By Wasdale she was nearly 50 minutes up on schedule. Leg four had good points and bad points, and a few more minutes were gained.
At the end of the short leg five over the Newlands fells, some confusion with the pacing team meant that the wrong descent line was taken from Robinson to Newlands Hause (presumably over the marsh rather than the quicker way down). This clearly frustrated an already-tired Spinks and led her to conclude that there would be insufficient time to include Grisedale Peak, the potential 65th peak.
The decision to omit was confirmed during the final leg, with just Sand Hill added. It was a difficult leg, but Nicky was still able to run in to Stair. In the end, she was comfortably within the 24 hours.
CAROL MORGAN [endw7]
Date: 30 August 2020
Start / finish: Braithwaite, midnight / 11.57pm [23 hours and 57 minutes]
Route: Clockwise round of Nicky Spinks’s 64 peaks, plus Grisedale Pike
Contenders: Carol Morgan
Support and pacing included: Kim Collison
Carol Morgan set out from Braithwaite at the end of the Covid-infused summer of FKTs. In contrast with Nicky Spinks, she set out from Braithwaite rather than Stair, reflecting her intention to add Grisedale Pike at the end of the round.
There was a small amount of mist on leg one but the darkness did not inhibit progress. Carol felt good travelling over the Dodds as dawn broke. The first struggle did not come until Bowfell, but it was quickly resolved with nourishment.
Like many other great runners, Yewbarrow was tough. It is especially hard on the women's round as a scrambling descent must be made off Stirrup Crag to Dore Head. As Red Pike and Haycock were ticked off, she felt better, partly in the knowledge it was all 'north' from there (i.e. back towards Braithwaite).
The final leg was tense as it got darker and harder to find the lines. There was very little time to spare and she had to push along the final section of the Grisedale Pike descent. She arrived back with just under three minutes to spare (two minutes and 47 seconds, to be precise).
Morgan is an Irish ultra-runner, coached by Kim Collision. They are now Vice-President and President of the Bob Graham Club, respectively. She dad completed a solo and unsupported Bob Graham only one month earlier (making a point of doing it without GPS or watch).
NICKY'S REPRISE [endw8]
Date: 14-15 August 2021
Start / finish: Braithwaite, 3am / 02.46am [23 hours and 46 minutes]
Route: Clockwise round of Carol Morgan's 65 peaks
Contender: Nicky Spinks
Support and pacing included: Jasmin Paris, Damian Hall
In 2020, Carol Morgan brought Grisedale Pike into the record to make it 65 peaks. She finished in 23 hours and 57 minutes - an absolute nail-biter, the closest margin on any Fell Record in its entire history. In contrast, she was beating a record that had been set with one of the longest margins: Nicky's 64-peak round from 2011 had had been completed in 23 hours and 15 minutes. You have to go back to Joss Naylor's 1975 record of 72 peaks to find a wider time margin (Joss finished with 49 minutes left in play).
Nicky's first attempt to reclaim took place on 22 May 2021. On that occasion, poor weather marred the first leg over the Skiddaw massif - it was just too cold and wet to make good progress. The cloud was also down, slowing navigation. Still, Nicky did add two peaks to the round - Bowscale and Knott. Ten minutes were lost over that leg, then another ten over the Helvellyn ridge to Dunmail. The time could not be reclaimed and a decision was made to abandon the record attempt on Red Pike after 16 hours. A tiring trudge to Honister followed.
Three months later and it was a very different story. Given the weather was still not perfect, so Nicky made the decision straight off the bat to stick with 65 peaks and aim to complete in a faster time than Carol. To state the obvious, this attempt went much better. There was relatively - and happily - little drama over the first three legs, which ended with Joss Naylor wishing her well at Wasdale.
Leg four proved harder (linked to food and energy) - a lot of this feeling continued to the end. But after bagging Grisedale Pike (the fell she regretted not including in 2011), she dropped down to the mine road and returned to the now infamous bench in Braithwaite in good time.
Nicky was only the second person to retake a Fell Record previously held. The other was Alan Heaton, who did it twice, in 1962 (from his brother, Ken) and 1965 (from Eric Beard).
This was also the first time in just over 100 years that a person has gained the record through a faster time rather than adding a peak.* The last occasion was back in 1920, when Eustace Thomas knocked 40 minutes off Arthur Wakefield's time for 21 fells. Nicky improved on Carol's circuit by 11 minutes, although she was much further up at earlier points in the round.
Nicky generally followed Carol's route, the only exception being the order of Haycock and Steeple. At Threlkeld, Nicky was 18 minutes up on Carol's splits; at Dunmail it was 26; no change at Wasdale; 32 at Honister (although at Pillar, the advantage was 48 minutes); down to 28 at Newlands and 11 at the finish.
FI PASCALL [endw9]
Date: 15 July 2022
Start / finish: Newlands Pass, [23 hours and 26 minutes]
Route: Clockwise round of Nicky Spinks's 65 peaks, plus Knott, Bowscale Fell and High Spy
Two pieces of context to begin. First, Fi was chasing Nicky Spinks’s record of 65 peaks from last year. Nicky had taken the record from Carol Morgan who in turn had taken it from Nicky. Second, the distinct histories of the women’s and men’s records means that, while the eligibility criteria for new peaks are the same, the peaks ‘baked into’ the record are different, which has knock-on implications for which peaks meet those eligibility criteria. Without getting into the detail, the upshot is that there is no low hanging fruit left – to include even one new peak is a major achievement.
Fi set out on Friday 15 July at the relatively unusual time of 10pm and in the very unusual place of the top of the Newlands Pass. Over the decades, the convention has become to start Fell Records just before dawn from Braithwaite, allowing contenders to pound out the road miles to the bottom of Skiddaw with fresh legs and in darkness. Instead, Fi entered the night with the climb to Scar Crags.
After dispatching the North Western fells (no new peaks added), she went on to the Northerns. Just past 3am, she reached Great Calva. Here, Nicky had gone straight to Blencathra, following the Bob Graham line. But Fi took a circuitous route via Knott and Bowscale, adding two peaks to the record at a ‘cost’ of around 50 precious minutes.
The leg over the Helvellyn range was next and she reached Dunmail at 9am for a brief pause. There had been the option of inserting St Sunday Crag between Dollywaggon and Fairfield, but it was not called – if you bite off too much too early in the 24-Hour Fell Record, it is impossible cut corners at a later stage. Another possible addition – Ullscarf – was also not taken on the next leg.
While the men’s route drops down into Langdale after the Pikes, the women’s record skirts around to Rossett and then the Scafell massif. Wasdale was reached at 2.30pm and the next leg brought her into Honister at 7.30pm.
Halfway up the climb to Dale Head, a decision had to be made: was there time for a third new fell? By this stage there was no uncertainty: yes. So Fi branched off to Dalehead Tarn and completed a dogleg to High Spy before returning to the BG route for the final three fells to Robinson. It was then just a question of the (very direct) descent back to the Newlands Pass.
Fi returned to her start point 23 hours and 26 minutes after she departed, with the peaks record raised from 65 to 68. A huge step forward. It was the most new peaks added to a Fell Record since Mark McDermott In 1988 (when he took Joss Naylor’s bar of 72 to 76).
Where did she get the time for such an advance? In large part from the first 10 fells, where she gained over an hour on Nicky (major caveat: it was Fi’s first leg and Nicky’s last). This time paid for two new fells in the Northern Fells. From then on, the pair were broadly evenly matched, but a gradual accumulation of small gains built the margin needed for High Spy.
With 34 minutes remaining on the 24 hours, could it have been 69 rather than 68 peaks? Perhaps. But this is too uncouth a question to ask from the comfort of my laptop, so I’ll concentrate on celebrating the 68. Chapeau!