This is a chapter from 'A Tribute to the Round', a short book on the Bob Graham Round, written for charity and available here
No leg or fell should be underestimated, especially after 55 miles. But there is surely a psychological boost from reaching Honister and knowing that what remains is the shortest leg of the round with the least ascent. Try to keep it together.
Overseeing the valley of Newlands, Dale Head is perfectly positioned for its name. It is the fifth greatest ascent in the round, a higher rank than one would expect and one which frustratingly resonates with the legs. The way from Honister is simple: follow the fence until it stops, then continue. At the top you find the grandest cairn of the round, rebuilt on a number of occasions and all the better for it. It stands guard over the vale.
The summit lies on the geological divide between Skiddaw slate and Borrowdale volcanic rock (there is evidence on the ground, if you are lucky enough to have the time in hand and know what to look for). Save for the miner’s path heading north, the view into Newlands does little to convey the array of sub-surface activity undertaken some 400 years ago, when the valley was one of Britain’s most important extractive sites. But it does offer the first proper glimpse of your ultimate quarry: Keswick.
Hindscarth has a long top and half a mile of it. Aside from that self-evident fact, there is little to say about this fell, brother to Robinson. A curving short-cut branches off from Hindscarth Edge to the summit.
Only three fells on the round are named after people: Watson’s Dodd, Harrison Stickle and Robinson. History does not record the particular Watson or Harrison, but we do know that Mr Richard Robinson bought Buttermere estates in the sixteenth century to give his name to the mountain. The value of his investment will only have appreciated now it marks the culmination of the round.
From Hindscarth, look out for the drop into a well-formed trail that elegantly cuts the corner back to Littledale Edge. Once back on the ridge, seek out a trod for a direct route to the top. Alternatively, hugging the fence gives an interesting view onto Robinson Crag and Hackney Holes.
And now for something completely different. All that remains is the seven-mile matter of making the round good and returning to the Moot Hall.
Bob Graham was not the first to introduce Robinson into the 24-Hour Fell Record, but his counter-cultural decision to go clockwise meant he was the first to experience the long run-in to Keswick. His choice of descent is obvious from the fact High Snab was counted as one of his 42 fells. Contemporaneous newspaper accounts say he took just 47 minutes to complete the four and a half miles from the then Mill Dam Inn (Little Town) to Moot Hall.
Rather curiously, in the years between 1932 and 1960, some confusion appears to have been sown about his route. When Alan Heaton set out to break Graham’s record, he fittingly wanted to follow the precise course taken in 1932. But, for some unknown reason, it came to be believed that Graham had dropped from Robinson to Newlands Hause before heading to Keswick. This would have added one more painful mile to the trip. Heaton, going anti-clockwise, sought to replicate this erroneous transition, made all the worse by the fact that someone trod on the glasses of his brother and pacer, Ken Heaton, at the base of Moss Force. Despite the detour, he still managed to improve on Graham’s time.
Returning to the task in hand, the home stretch has many variants and it is helpful to distinguish between getting from Robinson to Newlands Church and from there to Keswick.
For the Robinson descent, there are three ways to come off the mountain: High Snab Bank, Blea Crags and Little Dale. The first and traditional way is simply to follow Robinson’s north-eastern shoulder, over the crags (tricky when wet) and onto the ridge of High Snab Bank (joggable, perhaps?), looking for an opportunity to drop down to Low High Snab and then the road.
The second and modern-day preference is to perform the necessary steep descent at Blea Crags and drop on a grassy line to the pool at the top of Scope Beck (also tricky when wet). The reservoir was built for the purpose of holding water for the Goldscope mines and channeling it to Scope End by means of a long-removed wooden aqueduct. Goldscope mining began 600 years ago, undertaken by Germans invited by Queen Elizabeth I. The original German name for the rich mines was ‘Gottes Gab’, which translated to ‘God’s Gift’ and mutated to Goldscope. They yielded far more lead and copper than gold.
The third and rarely-pursued alternative involves exploring the soggy hanging valley of Little Dale, which offers opportunities for a soft descent. It may serve either those with stiff legs avoiding hard ground or contenders seeking out runnable lines and with vigour to spare.
There are two main sub-options. The least pioneering is to veer away from Robinson’s shoulder, heading into the valley to pick up the path leading to the reservoir, thus avoiding the main crag and most of the rocks. The second is to take a very different course. From Robinson summit, descend immediately to the east (using Hindscarth as a navigational handle), searching for steep grass and scree in order to meet the floor of the boggy valley. From there, strike out directly to exit Little Dale.
All routes lead to a good path and road to Newlands Church in Little Town. At this point, you have the choice of a road or a path. Nearly everyone opts for the road to Stair, then Swinside, then Portinscale to Keswick. These are bleak miles, but they get the job done. To be different, it is possible to take a path from Little Town to Skelgill, the road to Hawse End Outdoor Centre and then the well-appointed Cumbria Way to Portinscale. From there, the traditional way beckons.
Once you reach the Moot Hall, only three vital questions remain: did you originally set off from Moot Hall, was it less than 24 hours ago and did you reach all the 42 tops in that time? Assuming so, you have completed the Bob Graham Round.