Supported Attempts

This log covers both attempts and completions of supported contenders. It begins with the honourable inclusion of Chris Bland’s 1981 achievement and continues to the present day. The descriptions of each attempt are relatively short with the exception of the three major achievements of the 1980s from Chris, Alan Heaton and Joss Naylor.

Unless otherwise stated, each modern-day contender used a route either identical or very similar to Steve Birkinshaw’s route from 2014 (which went in a clockwise direction from the Moot Hall).

There is limited information on some of the attempts; any additional facts would be very welcome. Similarly, while every attempt has been made for accuracy, any notifications of any errors would be gratefully received.

Contents:

CHRIS BLAND - June, 1981

First attempt at completing all the 214 fells as a single challenge

Start date and time: Saturday 27 June 1981, 4am

Finish date and time: Saturday 4 July 1981, 3.56am

Overall duration: 6 days, 23 hours and 42 minutes [not a continuous traverse]

Route: Chris’s self-devised seven routes for each pictorial guide

Form: Supported

 

Chris was using his round to raise funds for Borrowdale church roof, so he planned to start and finish each the seven days at a valley church. He began at Matterdale Church at 4am on 27 June, embarking first upon the Eastern fells. It would have suited him perfectly to fix the roof while the sun was shining, but he was instead met by a June week that was “colder than Christmas”, so he spent most of it in a tracksuit.

Chris completed the first day without incident, but he fell behind schedule on the second, choosing to cut the day short rather than run late (bagging only 27 of the 36 Far Eastern fells). He was concerned about the knock-on impact so early in the week and – in his own words – “got into the wrong state of mind”. Spirits began low on day three, but Chris persevered with a full completion of the Central fells, a helpfully timed shorter book. This in combination with “enormous amounts of food” lifted the mood and brought the challenge back on track.

While the Southern fells of day four brought another partial completion (17 out of 30 peaks bagged over tricky ground), this time Chris was buoyed by how much had been achieved in spite of the wind and poor visibility. It set him up for a full house over the three remaining days: the Northern, North Western and Western fells, respectively. The last of those, a beast of a pictorial guide, took nearly 20 hours to complete. At 3.42am, and with 18 minutes to spare on the 7 days, Chris and his pacers trotted into Lorton Church, bringing an end to his ground-breaking week. Overall, he had 14 minutes to spare on the 7 days, suggesting he made the right judgements to call two of the days short.

There is one striking reflection from reading Chris’s account: the almost complete lack of bodily complaint. Fell runners are a hardy bunch, but we are used to stories of contenders taken to the darkest of places. Either Chris did not feel it or he chose not record it – “descents getting a bit painful” is the furthest he would venture. If anything, he seemed to get stronger as the week went on; he might not have been the fastest of the Bland clan, but his physical stamina was unquestionable.

“That I failed to complete the entire programme no longer worries me,” Chris concluded. “Before the event, I was so terrified of failing miserably, that when things went so well, this was the greatest mental and physical boost I could have hoped for.”

Overall, Chris estimated that he covered 308 miles and 102,000 feet of ascent over the 192 fells, statistics not far off the modern-day route devised by Steve Birkinshaw. Even if it was not a full completion, it was probably a record for the most fell miles covered in the space of a week. Having set a target, he welcomed the prospect of others stepping up and beating it: “My great hope is that the idea catches on.”

ALAN HEATON - June, 1985

Inaugural Wainwrights Round / Overall record held: 1985 – 1986

Start date and time: Saturday 29 June 1985, 3.30am

Finish date and time: Monday 8 July 1985s, 8.12pm

Overall duration: 9 days, 16 hours and 42 minutes

Start and finish point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Route: Alan’s self-devised continuous route [based on John Beech’s work]

Form: Supported

 

Four years after Chris, Alan Heaton was ready. At 57 years old (Chris had been 40), he wanted “to mark the end of an era of long-distance fell attempts which began when I completed Bob Graham’s round of fells.” It was a career that included making ten attempts on the 24-Hour Lake District Fell Record, setting the Pennine Way record in 1972, inaugurating the Lakes, Meres and Waters run in 1982 and, naturally, embarking on the first full continuous traverse of the Wainwrights Round (as he christened it).

Starting at the traditional Moot Hall on 29 June, Alan began with the low-lying Whinlatter fells before turning to complete the whole of the Skiddaw massif. The day was broadly equivalent to a 19-hour Bob Graham, albeit with less ascent; this was the pace he needed to meet his seven-day schedule.

Days two, three and four focused on the Eastern and Far Eastern fells, all of which went largely to plan, although at times he suffered from stomach trouble. However, by the half-way point he was badly suffering from a greater ailment – feet that “felt like they were on fire”, which would plague him for the rest of the round. He began to fear he might have reached “the beginning of the end”. The only relative respite was cold, wet ground; luckily, the day ended with some of the boggiest territory in Lakeland, the infamous Pewits of the Central fells.

Sadly, bog-trotting could not see him through the rest of the week and by morning he was compelled to head to hospital to treat a septic toe. Departing the infirmary, there can hardly have been a worse convalescence plan than a further 190 miles of running, but that is precisely what was on the cards. Alan’s only nod to reality was to focus on completion rather than hitting his seven-day target.

A shortened day five completed the Central fells and day six took him over the Coniston and Langdale ranges. The Southern fells came next, bringing tough terrain that is now traversed at a much earlier stage of the round. The Westerns then sandwiched an overnight stop at Joss Naylor’s farm. Despite experiencing his lowest ebb over these fells, Alan soldiered on, most of time only slightly slower than his pre-hospital pace. Just like today, the Coledale and Newlands fells were reserved for the finale, but even with only three to go his tormented feet gave “so much pain that [he] flopped down into the wet grass for a few minutes to regain [his] composure.”

Alan returned to Keswick 9 days, 16 hours and 42 minutes after he set out, completing both a full course of Wainwrights and prescribed antibiotics. His time on the fells (including stops on the route but not overnights) was just over 6 days.

JOSS NAYLOR - June, 1986


Second completion and new men’s record / Overall record held: 1986 – 2014

Start date and time: Saturday 28 June 1986, 4am

Finish date and time: Saturday 5 July 1986, 5.25am

Overall duration: 7 days, 1 hour and 25 minutes

Start and finish point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Route: Modified version of Alan Heaton’s route

Form: Supported

 

Perhaps it should not have been a surprise to see Joss Naylor line up at the Moot Hall some twelve months later. By this point, a clear pattern had emerged: Alan would inaugurate a challenge and set a mark; Joss would come along and break it – usually by a healthy margin. It began in 1971 when Joss beat Alan’s 24-Hour Lake District Fell Record; then repeated in 1973 with the Pennine Way; then again in 1983 with the Lakes, Meres and Waters. But while the scoreboard may appear one-sided, there is an extra challenge in being the ‘first’ and a clear advantage from having a yardstick to chase.

Like Alan, 50-year-old Joss felt the Wainwrights was an apt way to mark a 25-year fell running career. The route was based on Alan’s but with a good number of variations, often reflecting the fact that Joss had no problem with steep, direct lines.

Joss started at Moot Hall on 28 June 1986. Heatwave conditions were the single biggest theme. Averaging 25 degrees on the tops, “it was like breathing in from an open oven, the heat burned the inside of the mouth.” But he seemed to acclimatise to the temperature and made good progress.

By day four, he was past the point of his previous longest run (the Pennine Way) but still opted to make it a long day, going into the night with multiple head torches lighting the best lines around the Coniston fells. The late finish meant the team needed to hastily make new overnight arrangements; somehow, a guest cottage was found and its front room turned into a bunkhouse for twelve.

The next day, Chris Bland met him on the Central fells at the summit of High Raise with a tin of macaroni pudding – “there should be more it on the summits”, said Joss. Beyond pasta, the day brought two things that had not been seen since the start: clouds and Joss’s own bed. Both were welcomed but neither proved transformational as by now his body had significantly deteriorated. The following sections were in his backyard and, on paper, an opportunity to gain over familiar ground, but he could get “nowhere near” his usual times.

Joss was no stranger to pushing through the pain threshold, indeed the sheer act of becoming a fell runner had been mind over body given the medical problems of his youth. He was neither a man of complaint nor emotions. The rawness of his Wainwrights account is therefore all the more striking. There is no better way to describe it than by quoting directly:

“It was a pain that bit into me all day… even when I stopped, it was sore like red-hot needles shoved into my ankles… I was drained to a point I had never been to before... It was as though someone had got hold of me and squeezed all the energy out… We had to drag from ourselves not only our accumulated fitness and basic strength, we had to reach even deeper into ourselves... I just do not have the words to describe the discomfort, the physical pain, the frustration, and the worry we all had to suffer.”

To manage the ordeal, Joss preferred to drive to a house at the end of each day for a proper rest (and Guinness – “a couple, or was it a few?”). But when it became clear the round would stretch into a seventh day, he elected for an unplanned fell-side bivvy. Assembled at the Kirkstile Inn, his pacers for the evening leg were asked if they might kindly carry Joss’s sleeping bag and bunk down in a sheepfold with no equipment for themselves. Naturally, this was no trouble at all. Once the sun came up, Billy Bland paced a leg, but by this point even highly runnable ground was travelled at a walk.

Joss ultimately finished in 7 days, 1 hour and 25 minutes – a huge advance on Alan’s time. Three-quarters of the gain came from stopped time; the remainder from moving slightly faster. He initially suggested he might have made it in under seven days were it not for his feet, but in later years he concluded, “I put down a time that was the best I could do.”

STEVE BIRKINSHAW - June, 2014

New men’s record / Overall record held: 2014 – 2019


Start date and time: Saturday 14 June 2014, 9am
Finish date and time: Friday 20 June 2014, 9.58pm
Overall duration: 6 days, 12 hours, 58 minutes
Start and finish point: Moot Hall, Keswick
Route: Devised by Steve
Form: Supported

Steve Birkinshaw’s excellent book, There is No Map in Hell, tells the full story of his preparation and record round. After significant planning, he set off in June for what was set to be relatively settled and warm weather. His strategy was to take less rest than Joss, but he still broadly kept to a diurnal pattern, generally sleeping between midnight and 4am.


Steve’s account tells the story of his difficulty in sleeping and significant troubles with feet. He was nervous entering final two days as it was at that point when Joss body had really deteriorated. He was just about on schedule overall, taking longer than planned for the stops (mainly due to feet care) but making up the time by moving well over the fells. 


By the time he started the last day, Steve knew he had the record so long as he could finish. By the end, he had taken 12 hours from Joss’s time. The effect of the exertion would stay with Steve for a number of years.

 

PAUL TIERNEY - June, 2019

 

New men’s record / Overall record held: 2019 – 2021

Start date and time: Friday 14 June 2019, 8am

Finish date and time: Thursday 20 June 2019, 2.05pm

Overall duration: 6 days, 6 hours and 5 minutes

Start and finish point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Form: Supported

 

Paul initially considered an attempt in 2018 but instead chose to use the Tour des Geants as an apprenticeship. He followed the same route as Steve, who helped significantly with advice on preparation for the attempt.

In broad terms, Paul’s approach to beating the record was largely about taking time out of the rest stops rather than moving time over the fells. The weather was initially tough over the weekend but improved by the half-way point. It then stayed fine until the end.

 

Overall, Paul reduced Steve’s record by around seven hours, of which five came from shorter stops and two came from saving time on the fell. A big part of the time saved at stops arose from the fact that his body – and in particular feet – held up remarkably well. He slept for an average of two hours each ‘night’.

DOM AINSLEY - February, 2020


First winter attempt (unsuccessful)

Start date and time: Sunday 16 February 2020, 7.14am

Attempt ended: Wednesday 19 February 2020, around 5pm

Start point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Form: Supported

 

In early 2020, Dom Ainsley set out ambitiously to be the first person to complete the continuous traverse outside of summer. While it was towards the tail end of seasonal winter, the conditions were very much those of hard winter, with snow, wind and ice.

Being the first winter attempt, there was no yardstick to judge against but, even so, progress was tough and the attempt had to be curtailed for reasons of safety after three and a half days. Dom was initially keen to pursue a summer attempt and to re-attempt a winter completion, but neither of these happened in the end. He did set out briefly on a self-supported round in 2021 – see below.

SABRINA VERJEE - June, 2020

First women’s attempt (aborted)

Start date and time: Tuesday 2 June 2020, 3am

Attempt ended: Wednesday 3 June 2020, around 10am

Start point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Form: Supported

 

Sabrina wanted to begin her Wainwrights Round from as soon as Covid regulations would allow. Unfortunately, multi-day endurance challenges were not expressly considered in the making of the law, which made it difficult to decide what was the right side of the line. After setting out early on a June morning, a decision was made to abort the attempt after around 30 hours. Sabrina’s schedule was for a round of just over six days.

SABRINA VERJEE - July, 2020

First women’s completion (with physical aid)

Start date and time: Monday 6 July 2020, 3am

Finish date and time: Sunday 12 July 2020, 10.51pm

Duration: 6 days, 17 hours and 51 minutes

Start and end point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Form: Supported

 

One month after her aborted attempt, Sabrina set out again. The first few days of the attempt went well and a record looked very possible. Unfortunately, her knee became very painful and swollen around the half-way point. Once the reality was appreciated, the priority was finishing to round rather than setting a record pace. Because of difficulty descending, Sabrina received physical support on a number of occasions. As such, her continuous traverse cannot be officially recorded as a completion, despite the fact it is still a hugely impressive time and the first time a woman had attempted the round.

MEL STEVENTON - September, 2020


First women’s completion and new women's record / Women's record held: 2020 – 2021

Start date and time: Thursday 10 September 2020, 7.41am

Finish date and time: Wednesday 23 September 2020, 7.57pm

Duration: 13 days, 12 hours and 16 minutes

Start and end point: Great Mell Fell

Form: Supported

 

Mel completed the Wainwrights Round as part of a longer set of walks to raise money for a Nepalese charity. While her original schedule was for a completion in around 10 days, the combination of weather and injury meant the round took just under a fortnight to complete. Regardless, it marked the first official women’s completion and, therefore, the first women’s record.

SABRINA VERJEE - April, 2021


Unsuccessful attempt

Start date and time: Friday 30 April 2021, 7.30am

Attempt ended: Tuesday 4 May 2021, around 4.30am

Start point: Langdale

Form: Supported

 

Despite her injury, Sabrina recovered well from her 2020 Wainwrights attempts, going on to set records on the Pennine Way and Coast to Coast routes.

Unlike her previous attempts, she chose to start the route at her home in Langdale for a more low-key departure. To ensure like-for-like comparisons with previous completers, she included the Moot Hall as a checkpoint midway through the round.

She set out very well, but the weather turned around the half-way point. This in turn led to asthma trouble caused by breathing in the cold air. Sabrina battled on, but the combination of the winter conditions (in May!) and asthma meant the attempt had to be called short 95 hours into the round.

TOM HOLLINS - May, 2021


Men’s completion

Start date and time: Sunday 16 May 2021, 9.40am

Finish date and time: Sunday 23 May 2021, 7.13am

Duration: 6 days, 21 hours and 33 minutes

Start and end point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Form: Supported

 

Tom was a previous Spine winner and had also made an attempt at a double Bob Graham Round. He had hoped to challenge Paul Tierney’s record, but the round was completed in very poor weather and he was not able to stay on schedule. Tom went on to attempt a winter round later in the year – see below.

CAROL MORGAN - May, 2021

Unsuccessful attempt

Start date and time: Friday 21 May 2021, 6am

Attempt ended: Friday 21 May 2021, around 10pm

Start point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Route: Anti-clockwise Birkinshaw

Form: Supported

 

One year after claiming the Lake District 24-Hour Fell Record, Carol set her sights on the Wainwrights. Sadly, she had to abandon her attempt Lonscale Fell due to poor weather. She would go on to make two further attempts, the final one being a successful completion – see below.

SABRINA VERJEE - June, 2021

New overall record and new women’s record / Overall record held: 2021 – 2022 / Women's record held: 2021 – present

Overall record held: 2021 – 2022

Start date and time: Friday 6 June 2021, 7.03am

Finish date and time: Friday 11 June 2021, 6.52am

Duration: 5 days, 23 hours and 49 minutes

Start and end point: Langdale

Form: Supported

 

Sabrina had started four attempts in just over a year and was single-mindedly pursuing an ‘official’ completion. Similar to her attempt earlier in the season, her route began from her Langdale home but included a visit to Moot Hall.

Remarkably, both her and her team were ready to go again after barely a month from the previous attempt (which had gone on for four days).

 

The weather was good and the round largely went without incident. By day five, it is was clear that a record was very largely secure, but the prospect of completing in under six days kept her speed up. In the end, she managed it with eleven minutes to spare. Her dedication to the round was rewarded with her first completion, a new women’s record and a new overall record.

CAROL MORGAN - June, 2021

 

Unsuccessful attempt

Start date and time: Saturday 26 June 2021, 6.08am

Attempt ended: Tuesday 29 June 2021, around 10am

Start point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Route: Anti-clockwise Birkinshaw

Form: Supported

 

Just over a month after her prior attempt (which ended at the end of day one – see above), Carol set out again. She started well and was keeping to a strong pace. Unfortunately, she had to pull out of the attempt after around three days (and just over 200 miles).

JOHN KELLY - July, 2021

 

Unsuccessful attempt

 

Start date and time: Saturday 17 July 2021, 10am

Attempt ended: Monday 19 July 2021, around 1.20pm

Start point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Form: Supported

 

After setting the record for the Pennine Way and completing his self-devised ‘Grand Round’, it was perhaps logical for John to turn to the Wainwrights Round. He set an ambitious schedule of under five and a half days.

Unfortunately, he had to abort the attempt after 53 hours on the fell because of heat (conditions were very warm) and feet problems. He would go on to make a further attempt in 2022 – see below.

TOM HOLLINS - December, 2021

 

Unsuccessful winter attempt

 

Start date and time: Wednesday 1 December 2021, 6am

Attempt ended: Sunday 5 December 2021, around 1am

Start point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Route: Birkinshaw route with variations

Form: Supported

 

Having completed a so-called ‘summer’ round six months earlier, Tom was the first person to go for a second official completion. He made a large number of changes to the route to reflect limited winter daylight and support points, largely to the beginning of the round in the Borrowdale area. Critically, for a winter round, additional opportunities for ‘escape’ routes were also built into the course.

He did not know about James’ parallel attempt (see below) until just before he began. The pair crossed paths on the slopes of Low Pike. There is a great picture of the two stopping for a chat; what the image cannot convey is the high winds swirling all around.

Tom initially made good progress given the conditions. A particularly stormy night beckoned over the Far Eastern Fells but, unlike James, Tom was not scheduled for a rest at Kentmere. As a result, he expended significant energy battling through the weather on the tops. In the end, he was forced to cut short the attempt around 1am after Branstree. By this point, the snow and wind was making for very slow progress. He had summitted 122 fells.

After the attempt ended, Tom praised his support team. It is worth quoting to give a sense of the demands on ‘pacers’ during a winter attempt:

“Eating and drinking yourself is a luxury. And your fingers are always freezing as your own gloves are on and off to get things out of your pack. Several runners had to physically form a wind break in the later stages so that I got less of a battering.

“You would have thought that the experiences above would have made people pretty miserable. But all I got was constant smiles and support and care. I could feel the lift of every single person wanting me to succeed, despite them being in adverse conditions themselves and putting themselves through extra adversity for me.

“On my side I tried to say thank you every time but I am sure I was also focused on the task in hand. Thank you to those who reminded me to lift my eyes to the surroundings. So many beautiful things to see even with 15 hours of darkness each day.”

JAMES GIBSON - December, 2021

 

First winter completion / Winter record held: 2021 – present

 

Start date and time: Wednesday 1 December 2021, 7am

Finish date and time: Thursday 9 December 2021, 1.44pm

Duration: 8 days, 6 hours and 44 minutes

Start and end point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Form: Supported

 

James had originally planned a winter attempt for the previous year, but Covid meant he instead had to settle for a Steve Parr Round (which he completed).

When James set off from Moot Hall, it was initially hard to compare progress with Tom given the differences in route, but after a while they were following similar paths.

Unlike Tom (see above), James was scheduled to take a rest at Kentmere, which proved fortuitous as it was an awful night’s weather. He rested for eight hours while waiting for the worst of the conditions to pass. He then continued. Later on in the round, over the Northern Fells, he opted to drop down to Mungrisdale for a substantive stop to wait out the weather. It proved inspired, allowing for Storm Barra to pass and allow for valuable rest. He went on to complete the round in excellent spirits.

 

James would go on to complete a summer round in 2022 – see below.

PAVEL PALONCY - January, 2022

Unsuccessful winter attempt

Start date and time: Sunday 30 January 2022, 8am

Attempt ended: Tuesday 1 February 2022

Start point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Form: Partially supported

 

Three-time winner of the infamous Spine race, Pavel had started to plan his winter Wainwrights long before Tom and James set off in December the previous year. Unlike them, he wanted a simpler affair and intended to be out on the fell “mostly alone, carry[ing] all my kit and food, and do[ing] the navigation.” But this was not a formal solo, self-supported attempt and he was happy to welcome any runners who happened to join him.

Unfortunately, Pavel had to call the attempt off after serious problems with his Achilles. He had battled terrible weather on the first night.

JAMES GIBSON - April, 2022

Successful men’s completion

Start date and time: Friday 1 April 2022, 9am

Finish date and time: Thursday 7 April 2022, 2.23pm

Duration: 6 days, 5 hours and 23 minutes

Start and end point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Form: Supported

 

After completing a winter round in tough conditions, James set out four months later on a 'summer' attempt. On the basis of 2021 experience, perhaps we should have expected that early Spring would bring a difficult set of conditions for a non-winter Wainwrights Round. So it proved.

Towards the end of the round, his pace was strong, which suggests he might have gone faster had the weather been better. Overall, James was around an hour faster than Paul Tierney, so he set a new men’s record but Sabrina safely kept the overall record.

James is the only person to have completed the Wainwrights in both ‘summer’ and winter.

JOHN KELLY - May, 2022

New men’s record  / Overall record held: 2022 – present

Overall record held: 2022 – present

Start date and time: Monday 2 May 2022, 10am

Finish date and time: Saturday 7 May 2022, 10.14pm

Duration: 5 days, 12 hours and 14 minutes

Start and end point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Form: Supported

 

Given the schedule he had set himself for 2021, there was an expectation that John was a potential contender for the overall record. He scheduled a second attempt in 2022 for immediately before his return to the USA.

The schedule was again relatively aggressive, but he started well and continued to move well over the entirety of the round. He took around 12 hours from Sabrina’s the record, despite taking 3 more hours of rest (to compensate, he was around 15 hours quicker over the fells). Even so, he took under half the total amount of rest of Steve Birkinshaw (and he noted in his account how hard it was to stay awake over the long sections).

CAROL MORGAN - May, 2022

Successful women's completion

Start date and time: 8 May 2022, 6am

Finish date and time: 14 May 2022, 4.40pm

Duration: 6 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes

Start and end point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Form: Supported

 

Around a year after her brace of attempts in 2021, Carol set out again, this time in a clockwise direction. Despite coming only a week after John Kelly, her weather window was a fair amount worse and she suffered from high winds for most of the week.

Carol completed in a highly respectable time, some two hours quicker than Steve Birkinshaw in 2014. Carol was the third woman to complete the Wainwrights Round after Mel Steventon and Sabrina Verjee.

DOUGIE ZINIS - May, 2022

 

Successful men’s completion

 

Start date and time: Saturday 28 May 2022, 10am

Finish date and time: Friday 3 June 2022, 1.47pm

Duration: 6 days, 3 hours and 47 minutes

Start and end point: Moot Hall, Keswick

Form: Supported

 

In terms of endurance fell running, Dougie is perhaps best known for his record for the fastest double Bob Graham Round. He set the third fastest overall time for his round (and the second-fastest men’s time).