Many a Hundred Folk
Could Beat My Record
Harry Griffin was a prolific Lake District writer, particularly known for his regular column in the Lancashire Evening Post, 'Leaves from a Lakeland Notebook'.
One such article is widely credited as being the original inspiration for Alan Heaton's successful attempt to break Bob Graham's record in 1960.
When writing the new 42 Peaks, I frequently came across references to this particular article. But it was a fruitless search. Happily, now that the British Library has reopened, its extensive newspaper archives have yielded Griffin's seminal column. It was published on Friday 29 January 1960. The full text is set out below.
Here’s a REAL test of endurance
These marathon walks, with their attendant ballyhoo and publicity, are all right, I suppose, if one wants notoriety or publicity, but they only seem remarkable because in these unfortunately enlightened days most of us are rapidly losing the use of our legs.
Most people are equipped with legs and lungs which, if properly used, should enable them to walk 40 miles a day without undue effort. So that if one has three weeks to spare, money in one’s pocket and nothing better to do, a walk from John o’ Groats to Land’s End should be a pleasant change rather than an ordeal. There is no need to walk quickly, or to run, and the further one goes the fitter one should become.
But to enjoy it one would have to do it in private, thereby avoiding the crowds, the photographers, the autograph hunters, and the constantly proffered bags of sweets. I almost wish I had the time, the money – and nothing better to do. But then there’s always the risk of suddenly seeing oneself gawping on TV.
Not fit enough
If it is a question of proving one’s determination, I can think of many more satisfactory ways than walking the length of Britain, which, in my view, proves very little and takes a long time and a lot of money (unless one arranges things, or counts upon the usual gullibility of the British). For instance, a certain endurance record in Lakeland has now stood for nearly 38 years. All that is required to beat it are two or three helpers, 24 hours of reasonably good weather – and superb physical fitness.
But although many people have tried, nobody has been quite fit enough. That is all there is to it. And I do not mean the ordinary sort of fitness of Dr. Barbara Moore. I mean the extraordinary fitness of Mr. Robert Graham of Barrow House, Borrowdale, the holder since June 13th 1932 of the Lakeland fell-walking “record”.
The only thing these two people – Dr. Moore and Bob Graham – have in common is that both are vegetarians, the latter having achieved his fantastic walk, not on grated carrots but on two or three lightly-boiled eggs, two half slices of bread and butter, some fruit juice, some condensed milk and vast quantities of fruit pastilles.
Many could do it
Bob is now 70 years of age and, in his own words, “as fit as a flea”. He told me modestly the other day: “Many a hundred folk could beat my record if they tried hard enough. All that is required is to be fit and have a bit of perseverance.”
Myself, I would put it rather higher than that, for I have long regarded his performance as representing the highest level of physical fitness and endurance which can be reached by man. His feat on that distant Sunday, before the whole world went to war, was probably the [most] outstanding walking feat recorded in these islands, or possibly, for that matter, anywhere else. The attainments of Dr. Barbara Moore or any other long-distance marchers, are not to be spoken of in the same breath.
Put simply, Bob’s feat consisted of ascending 42 of the highest mountains in the Lake District, and completing a total height of about 33,000 – 4,000 feet higher than Everest – in 23 hours 39 minutes. The distance involved was about 90 miles – some people claim it was very much longer – all of it up and down and most of it very rough indeed. The few miles along roads were scornfully run, every yard of them.
“Bit of age”
This business of running up and down as many Lake District mountains as possible within the space of 24 hours began nearly 100 years ago when a man named J. M. Elliott set off from Wasdale Head and ticked off most of the central fells. The thing caught on and increasingly longer walks were achieved, one of the most prominent of the record breakers being the late Dr. A. W. Wakefield, of Everest and Keswick, whose big walks were in 1904 and 1905.
Mr. Eustace Thomas improved on Dr. Wakefield’s performance in 1922, raising the total height ascended in the day to 30,000 feet, and it was this feat which Bob Graham surpassed just 10 years later.
At the time, Bob was the proprietor of the Balmoral guest house in Keswick and it was his custom to take his guests out on the fells, so that being out nearly every day he became very fit indeed. He was 43 years of age when he did his great walk, but he must have been just as fit as it is possible for anybody to be.
“You need to have a bit of age on you for these jobs,” he tells me. “Young lads of 20 don’t really stand much of a chance.”
It is perhaps stretching matters a little bit to describe Bob’s feat as a fell walk, for he left Keswick Market Place at one o’clock in the morning at the run and he was running along all the level sections and all the downhill parts for the next 24 hours. “The uphill bits gave me a rest,” claims Bob, “and if I felt tired going up I thought to myself ‘I can always get a rest running down the next bit’.”
He was dressed simply in shirt, shorts and rubber plimsolls and when he set off up Skiddaw he was paced by Martin Rylands, now in Australia, but at that time son of the Vicar of St. John’s in the Vale. Through the dark morning hours Bob, with Rylands at his side, was running up and down Skiddaw, Great Calva, Blencathra, the whole long line of the Dodds range, Helvellyn, Dollywaggon, Fairfield, the neglected Seat Sandal and thence down to the top of Dunmail Raise.
Here, waiting to take photographs and speed him on his way was Mr. George D. Abraham, of Keswick, the veteran mountaineer, who is still alive, and Mr. Phillip Davidson, the Keswick architect who took over the pacing.
Davidson paced him along the Westmorland-Cumberland boundary, up Steel Fell, Calf Crag and High Raise, along every one of the tops of the Langdale Pikes, over Black Crags, Bowfell, Esk Pike, Great End, Scafell Pike and Scafell (the highest land in England) and down to Wasdale Head.
The pacer for the next section was Robin Deans, a school-master from Aspatria, and he remained with the record breaker as far as Honister Pass, traversing in the meantime Yewbarrow, the whole of the Pillar-Red Pike-Steeple range, Kirkfell, the Gables, Brandreth and Grey Knotts. On Buttermere Red Pike it started to rain, and there was mist on Robinson and Dale Head and thunder and lightning when he was traversing this section, paced by Bill Hewitson, nowadays in charge of the Home Office school at Calder Bridge.
For a long time Bob and his pacers had been trotting through the second period of darkness, but when they reached Newlands Hause they knew it was downhill all the way home, and that they could not fail. There was need for haste, however, for at midnight Bob was still four and a half miles from home with an hour to go.
They left the top of the pass at exactly midnight – Bob, Davidson, Rylands and Hewitson – and the first three, running all the way, trotted into Keswick Market Place in exactly 39 minutes, the whole long walk having taken Graham, 21 minutes under the 24 hours.
“I felt fine when we got in,” Bob recalls today. “We all had a meal at my place and then I was up again at six o’clock the same morning to cook them their breakfast, so that they could all get back to their jobs in time. Then I just carried on the rest of the day as usual, and I never felt any after-effects whatsoever. But I suppose it must have taken something out of me for I was half a stone lighter at the end. Where it had gone to I don’t know.”
“What were you thinking about during the walk?” I asked the veteran, who is still fit for a hard day on the fells. “Oh, I’d no time to do much thinking,” he confesses. “We were laughing and telling tales all the way. We thought it was great fun. Yes, it was a good day.”
So, there you are. If you think you are tough, don’t bother to spend three weeks trying to beat Dr. Barbara Moore. Take a weekend off and try and beat Bob Graham. I’m certain he’ll give you all the help he can.
Caption to photo: Dollywaggon Pike. The majestic sweep of the fells makes a magnificent picture, and when you imagine RUNNING up it, then it becomes even more breathtaking! Mr. Robert Graham, of Borrowdale, reached the summit, and 41 other mountain tops, in less than 24 hours. He is convinced many people could beat his record if only they would try.