The single biggest choice of them all is whether to go clockwise or anti-clockwise.
Following Bob Graham’s inaugural (clockwise) round, there was a trend in the “challengers” years to attempt to match the record with an anti-clockwise circuit. Indeed – very roughly – anti-clockwise was the more popular direction until the mid-1980s. Of particular relevance for this project, Billy and Gavin Bland undertook their walking round in an anti-clockwise direction (following “careful study of the map” to reduce mileage – see part 5).
It was traditional to begin the round after breakfast between 7am and 9am. In summary, this puts the tarmac section to bed quickly, allows for the main rocky sections to be completed in daylight hours, leaves the main grassy sections and the Helvellyn range for the dark and, draws on the rejuvenating powers of dawn to aid the final three big climbs before stumbling down Skiddaw.
This note does not attempt to rehearse well-known arguments for each direction but instead walks through an anti-clockwise round from the perspective of the different route options. The sub-sections set this out.
Leg 1 (leg 5)
With fresh legs, the vast majority will favour the road option to get from Moot Hall to Little Town. For the climb of Robinson, don’t discount a steadier trudge up through Little Dale as a measured way to wake up the calves. There are no material choices from the Robinson summit to Honister.
Leg 2 (leg 4)
Contenders with a preference for steps will take the path by the fence to Grey Knotts summit rather than the grassy trod. Getting to Great Gable should pass without event but knowing the best line off the summit to Beck Head can make a big difference given it is tricky ground in reverse.
The descent of Kirk Fell presents a choice in line but fundamentally not of route. The scree of red gully is likely the swiftest way down. The final choice is whether to take a direct line from Red Pike to Yewbarrow over Gosforth Crag Moss, reverse the traditional route or head up via Stirrup. Then know make sure to know the best line down to Wasdale.
Scafell is the single biggest climb on the round and will be a slog under any circumstances. Pick between: (1) Brown Tongue followed by Lord’s Rake and West Wall Traverse; (2) up through the orchard and up the western Rakehead gully to continue up Green How (unlikely to be “fun”); or (3) Green How all the way. The choices are arranged in decreasing speed for a swift contender. There is technically significant choice from Scafell to the Pike but Foxes Tarn will be the usual decision. From there, proceed through the Scafell massif to Bowfell.
It is worth practising the way down the Billy Bland’s rake to the col below Rossett Pike (the much slower alternative is to retrace steps and head down Ore Gap). From Rossett, either head down Black Crags (fine) and up Martcrag Moor (trudge) or swing around Langdale Combe – all depends on appetite for distance versus ascent. High Raise or Sergeant Man is simply personal choice. There is little argument for a direct descent of Steel Fell.
Leg 4 (leg 2)
Do not discount a counter-cultural ascent up Raise Beck, turning south at the appropriate moment. Else, follow the usual trod to Seat Sandal’s summit. There is no debate on getting to Fairfield but the transition to Dollywaggon may feel easiest via Cofa Pike (benefitting from scree down to the tarn and a good path to the Pike).
At this point in the round most will discount a direct line from Great Dodd to Clough Head and some will prefer to take in White Pike ridge to relieve tired calves on the way down to Threlkeld.
Leg 5 (leg 1)
Hall’s Fell must surely be the preference, not least because a scramble at the top may offer some distracting respite. The nature of the ground in descent would suggest taking the shortest possible line, which would be the heather-covered trod that heads north west up Great Calva (far less ankle risk in ascent).
From Calva, the shortest line is to retrace the traditional route, but some may prefer the surety of (dry!) Sale How even though it is longer. Avoid Carl Side in descending Skiddaw.
In the author’s experience, there is no better way to learn the round than by going in the opposite direction to that which you intend to go.