Start point: Moot Hall
Moot Hall to Skiddaw
Overview Assuming Keswick can be safely navigated and ignoring whatever recent flooding means for ways to cross the Greta, the main choice is whether to stick with tradition or take the novel approach of an ascent via Carl Side. There are no short-cuts to reduce ascent, but cutting corners can in theory save over a mile.
Classic There are no points of note for the tourist path via Latrigg’s slopes and then Jenkin Hill.
Carl Side (main path) The first decision is whether to take the road or the footpaths to Millbeck. Distances are very similar so horses for courses (given condition of paths, the swiftest way is probably to walk along the A591 - there is a footpath until the road to Applethwaite). Once at the village, the route up to Carl Side is clear. From the summit, there are two choices for gaining Skiddaw; the left-hand path is the most direct.
Carl Side (Slades Beck) It is also possible to summit Carl Side via Slades Beck, indeed Wainwright notes that in the 1960s it was “the second most-used route to the top of Skiddaw”. Now it is a (much) less-trodden way, a path for the first half and scree-ridden for the second half. For those who wish, it can be found by wending through Millbeck houses and a private drive to get beyond the dam. Then to the gully to the north of the village which is west of Little Man. There is little positive to say about this route save for it is the only sheltered way up Skiddaw.
Making the choice The big question is whether the gradient of the Carl Side ascent is worth the saving of a half a mile. One the one hand, the road stretch is relatively flat and could be completed swiftly in trainers. On the other, a speedy road stint followed by a calf-busting climb is not traditionally viewed as a sustainable start to a long-distance round. Of course, there are many Bob Graham ascents that are as steep or steeper than Carl Side, so it all comes down to personal preference – it could work well for those who wish to segment their flats and their slopes into distinct chunks. But the author knows of no round that has made use of this alternative way.
Anti-clockwise reflections Is 900m of descent painful regardless of the route? If so, contenders may prefer the shortest possible route back to Moot Hall but they will to have strong quads for the descent of Carl Side. The classic approach is probably kinder to feet.
Skiddaw to Great Calva
Overview The BGR has formed the trod off Skiddaw so it should be little surprise it is the efficient route. There is no sensible alternative going clockwise. The classic approach involves no more ascent and little additional distance from the theoretical minimums.
Classic Judging the point to turn from the path descending the north shoulder of Skiddaw is critical but not for this guide. Coming down Blake Hill, quad-bike tracks emerge. There is more than one set and it can be tricky to form a definite way over Hare Crag and through Candleseaves Bog. Matters become simpler once the unmarked bridge across Dead Beck on the Cumbria Way is reached. From here, there are two choices. The first is to follow the beck but bend right along a trod (the usual passage). The second is to stay with the beck and follow it to the Calva ridgeline and then head to the summit as the beck disappears. When the author tried this alternative, the kindest yet fair description he could find was "at some points there is the semblance of a way" - there is no path; instead either bog or heather or both. Avoid.
Alternatively, it would be possible to head down Skiddaw by Sale How and then ascent Calva by the path up its south-western shoulder, which starts not far north from Skiddaw House.
Anti-clockwise reflections In reverse, a new option emerges: descending Calva by its highly runnable south-western shoulder, heading past Skiddaw House and then up the tracks of Sale How. This adds at least half a mile of distance but has the attraction of being on dry grass.
Great Calva to Blencathra
Overview Two of the rare genuine BGR trilemmas involve either getting to or from Blencathra. The choice comes down to favoured terrain. For getting to Blencathra, the two most common choices (via the fence and through the heather) add little to the minimum distance.
West fence Generally considered the cautious option, way-finding should not be difficult. Once the river is reached, follow Wiley Gill and deviate as little as possible from a straight line to Mungrisedale. The trudge leads within spitting distance of the Mungrisedale cairn before heading to Foule Crag and turning before Atkinson Pike onto a traverse for Blencathra summit.
Heather trod Having tracked back to the southern, false summit of Calva, head approximately south east (initially south south east). After a time, this will evolve into a trod beneath the heather. Beware sudden drops on the way to near the sheepfold. Once the valley floor is reached, take a bearing to Mungrisedale and deviate only for safe river crossing (there is no good option, but the crossing is slightly upstream of the fence option and so may be slightly easier in times of spate). From there, to Foule and to Blencathra (as above).
There may be other trods through the heather, but the author has not yet found them.
Skiddaw House Rarely - never? - chosen but not wholly without merit. From the false summit, take the well-formed and runnable south west path, crossing the footbridge to Skiddaw House. (In years gone by it may have been possible to have taken a more direct southerly line off Calva, but the heather is to great now [unless it is burnt off again].) Then briefly follow the Cumbria Way for half a mile until it turns southward. At that point, there are two options.
The first is to follow the faint trod the Cloven Stone and then take a direct line to Foule Crag. The second is a more direct attack taking in Sinew and then Roughten Gill. Either way, there are no barriers to simply striding out.
Making the choice Experience suggests there is little material time difference between the fence and heather trods. So it comes down to preferred ground. The fence line avoids ankle risk, which is particularly relevant at times of high heather or night. If that risk can be borne, then most swift contenders seem to favour the heather trod, perhaps because it sets up an easier crossing of the of the Caldew.
On paper, the Skiddaw House route has more merit than its footfall suggests. The descent from Calva is relatively easy and swift, certainly compared to the more direct routes. And any climb up Mungrisdale is just as unfun as another, so why not maximise the amount of easy and flat ground?
Anti-clockwise reflections The heather trod is the shortest route and hidden holes are less of a risk in ascent. That said, it may be tricky to find and so the fence line may be a safer bet. There is scant cause to add an extra kilometre by going via Skiddaw House unless emergency hostel respite is required (note: only open in summer months).
Blencathra to Threlkeld
Overview The four ways down to Threlkeld means this decision point holds the joint record for choice (alongside Scafell Pike to Scafell). All are credible for different contenders in different situations. Any route involving Hall’s Fell or Middle Tongue adds little to the minimum possible distance.
Hall's Fell The classic way down. Involving scrambles for the first third (necessitating both hands, particularly at first), this turns into a swift and runnable descent.
Parachute A route of two halves: part grass (a rarity on Blencathra’s southern aspect) and part desolate. Head west along the ridgeline to a point of your choosing. For most, this is only around 75m from the summit (see below for alternative). Then head directly down and south until the top of the first beck is reached. At that point, veer right (south west) towards the north west tributaries of Gate Gill. Once reached, follow it to Gate Gill itself and look out as the way crosses the beck, alternating sides along the valley floor.
It is also possible to go further west on the Blencathra ridge (almost to the next “top” [unnamed on the OS map but north of Knott Halloo]). From there, find a way down to the north west tributaries of Gate Gill and then as above.
Para-cum-Hall's As suggested by the label, this option utilises elements of both the Parachute descent and Hall’s Fell ridge (in that order). In essence, the objective is to use the initial grassy descent into Middle Tongue to avoid the most fiddly parts of the Hall’s Fell scramble. Depending on the line taken, it is possible to be reacquainted with the Hall’s Fell line between the 700m and 750m contour line. The line is not always obvious and any more detailed guidance must be gained through experience. Depending on confidence, this route may negate the need for Doddick in bad weather.
Doddick Fell Usually considered the bad weather option. After the bogland of leg 1, a swift gravel descent will refresh legs on the way to Doddick ridge. From there, it is less exposed than Hall’s ridge and can be negotiated largely without hands. The cost is an additional half mile and a small amount of climbing at the end. It is technically possible to go through the field at the bottom of Doddick but it is private ground and no one really wants to run along the A66 on a round.
Making the choice Many of the fastest contenders opt for the parachute descent but it requires mastery of continually steep slopes over poor ground. For those willing to do the latter but not possessing the former, there is significant merit in using the steep, grassy slopes of Middle Tongue to lose height quickly and avoid the worst of Hall’s scramble. While Doddick has its aficionados, conditions will need to be pretty bleak to make it faster.
Anti-clockwise reflections Reversing the direction tips the favour to Hall’s Fell in nearly all situations. Doddick is extra distance without extra speed. And nothing about the trials of leg 1 (5) on an anti-clockwise round become easier through use of the Parachute in ascent.
leg ONE summary
On paper, there is serious distance to be saved with little compromise on ascent