A summary of a great day out in the Lakeland Fells.
George Fisher’s Tea Round has been on Paul Chrisp’s bucket list for many years but was something that Nigel Prue and I had never heard of until we joined the Delamere Spartans. Since discovering that there is a run based in the Lakeland fells that can be seen from a certain café window, for me, the more years I ran with Paul the more it become a case of when, not if, we were going to do it. I mean, it can’t be too hard can it to run from Keswick and head up Cat Bells and tick off a few other neighbouring fells whilst we are at it?!
Wrong! My first mistake was only to check out the route on various maps and web sites and not actually sit in the café at the George Fisher shop in Keswick, with coffee and cake in hand, gaze out of the window at the beautiful, famous view and actually consider the fells that make up the challenge.
It was only when we sat in the said café the day after we had finished the Round that the enormity of what we had achieved the previous day properly sunk in (spoiler alert!). In fact, you can’t see the entire route if you just sit with a coffee in your hand; you have to stand up and walk to the far right and left hand ends of the window to see how cruel the creators of the challenge were!
A few facts about George Fisher’s Tea Round:
- In a nutshell it is a traverse of all the summits that can be seen from the café in George Fisher outdoors shop in Keswick
- It covers a distance of approximately 48km (30 miles)
- 3657m (12,000ft) of vertical ascent/ descent
- The summits to be reached are:
- Catbells (451m)
- Robinson (737m)
- High Stile (806m)
- Hobcarton Crag (739m)
- Grisedale Pike (791m)
- Eel Crag (840m)
- Sail (771m)
- Causey Pike (637m)
- Rowling End (435m)
- Barrow (456m)
The George Fisher Round website refers to the challenge as “a serious undertaking that requires a good level of fitness and experience in fell running, mountain craft and navigation. All runners should carry necessary safety equipment with them in order to be able to help themselves or anyone with them”.
We can’t say that we were not warned!
The equipment we each took with us was standard for a long day out in the Lakes; the Montane list for the Lakeland 50 mile was a suitable guide. Our strategy for water and food however needed to be considered carefully, as apart from the café stop at Buttermere, there is no opportunity to restock.
If you are not planning on taking great quantities of liquid, then refilling water bottles from streams can be done on the descent of Robinson, at Coledale Hause and just before going up Barrow (but not too many options). I consumed 4 litres throughout the day, but took a bladder and bottles and filled up in Buttermere. Paul and Nigel used the café and streams to refill, with no adverse consequences.
There is a route recommended by the web site that we chose to follow, clockwise; we had it loaded into our Garmins and also took a bespoke route map – don’t just rely on technology. We also took head torches as you never know how long such a challenge might take.
Like all challenges there is a leader board with the times of everyone who has completed the event. It is not a surprise that some of the times, and the record itself, are eye-wateringly fast. It can be done at any time of year and just requires you to submit a Strava / Garmin type record of your activity to the website.
We just wanted to get out onto the fells and complete it, with no interest in how long it took, just as long as we were able to finish and get the T-shirt.
Yes, there is a T-shirt for everyone who finishes, plus the immense satisfaction of completing such an undertaking. The free cup of coffee and cake at the end is now just a myth, you have to buy that; but a free T-shirt and buff ain’t that bad!
Taking on the Round requires you to start and finish at the shop door in Keswick, which suddenly makes it feel like you are doing a classic run, something like a Bob Graham, where runners have to start and finish at Moot Hall. I have no intention of running the Bob Graham but I like the idea of following a tradition of starting and finishing at another doorway in Keswick. It did make going on this particular challenge feel a bit special.
We all left the doorway at 7.30am and 12.5 hours later (8pm) we all banged the door in exhaustion and relief at the same time, hoping that we wouldn’t set off the burglar alarm – we didn’t…
However, stopping your stop watch at this point is vital as this is the only way you can prove to the George Fisher Tea Round authorities that you have undertaken and completed it, if you want to appear on the leader board.
A word of caution here is required – make sure that if you are not planning to try and beat the record (and are more likely to take 10-13 hours) that your device has enough battery life to last that long, particularly if you are using your device to navigate by.
My Garmin packed up with 10 minutes left and Paul’s went into battery-saver mode as we banged on the shop door. We spent a nervous few hours hoping, that once our devices were re-charged, that the route had been preserved – it was.
We could not have picked a better day weather-wise. Not a cloud in the sky all day, no wind and temperature was about 14’c; the light was great for some amazing views of the Lakes. Fantastic conditions for a day’s running.
I use the term ‘running’ loosely, when referencing the George Fisher Tea Round. We seemed to spend most of the day, apart from the sections from Keswick to the bottom of Cat Bells (at the beginning) and from Barrow (fell) back to Keswick (at the end of the day), walking, hiking, scrambling, climbing, tippy-toeing, but not running.
This is because this is really an extended fell run, not a trail run; we didn’t come across many trails, instead it is mostly trods, crags or summits. We were either climbing up some beast of a fell or taking care going down one - certainly not the type of terrain that is conducive to convivial chatting alongside your running colleagues, with little regard for where you place each foot.
As it is a circular route, for most of the way round you can see where you had to go next, which meant that although there were always amazing views, it also meant you could see just what a challenge the Round is.
Cat Bells is a lovely fell, but from the top you can see across to how far down you then need to descend before heading over to the foot of Robinson for your second ascent.
To your right all you can see is the skyline stretched out before you which includes everything that you will be running over in the next 11 hours – can Grisedale Pike be that far over to your right? Can High Stile (and Red Pike) be so far over to the left? Wow! Look at the steep lumps that Eel Crag, Causey Pike and Barrow represent – really?
Like all challenges that Delamere Spartans know and love, it is all about metaphorically getting your head down and grinding it out. That is what we did for much of the day.
The descent of Robinson into Buttermere was the hardest descent of the day and anyone thinking of doing this event might look at alternative ways off Robinson. The path seemed to be vertical with big steps down – the fence that the path followed was a necessary safety aid to hold on to, to prevent losing control.
Having said that, the view of the day (and there were so many) was the view halfway down Robinson, overlooking Buttermere, across to High Stile and Red Pike, a-m-a-z-i-n-g.
I need to mention the ascent of High Stile from Buttermere because there is nothing good to say about it; it is just very hard. The path up is not easy to find and is not easy to stick to, however it isn’t easy to get lost because you just have to keep going up, aiming for the round, bristling crag at the top that is always visible. Anyway, this is a fell event not a trail event, so what should we have expected?
Summitting High Stile is amazing and the views are incredible in all directions. However all there is to do once you get to the top and have admired the view is to look for a way down back into Buttermere, which looks steep and a long way down below. We decided not to go the short way back via Chapel Crag which is a very steep scree down to Bleaberry Tarn and instead took the longer and slightly less steep descent via Red Pike to Bleaberry Tarn and then the uneven stoned path back to the bottom.
Buttermere village represents half way and it had taken us nearly three hours to ascend High Stile from the lake and return to the lake, to almost the same point – one of the peculiarities of this challenge.
Don’t be fooled when looking on a map that the High Stile section looks short; what it lacks in distance, it makes up for in technical challenge and effort – Nigel will not be making that mistake again! I can confirm that you can see Keswick from the top of High Stile, but couldn’t quite pick out the George Fisher café!
Buttermere also represents an excuse to sit down in a café (or a pub – depending on your Spartan-hardness) and take on board refreshments, like a cup of tea, can of coke and fill up your water bottles.
When we left Buttermere we had been going for 7 hours and had covered 14 miles, with another 16 miles to go and 4 hours of daylight left – kind of focusses the mind a bit.
Ascending Whiteless Pike directly from Buttermere is the direct way and probably the only way to head for Grisedale Pike. It is the fourth big climb of the day and with about 1800m already in your legs it cannot be rushed and did seem to take up more time than we would have liked. However, it’s a lovely ascent compared to High Stile; a grassy fell with a defined path – luxury (and the sun was still shining).
Grisedale Pike only appears once you have summited Whiteless Pike, traversed Whiteless Edge and headed around the western base of Eel Crag. Ahead appears Grisedale Pike, or so you think, looking quite far away, bearing in mind that you are currently running (yes, at last, running) past Eel Crag. However as you head to Coledale Hause only then do you realise that you have been looking at the wrong lump, which is called Hopegill Head (and cannot be seen from Keswick – phew!). Grisedale Pike is that bastard of a double summit way off into the distance that you couldn’t see before. Meanwhile, immediately on our right, Eel Crag is becoming more sheer, its crags getting more obvious as we descend to Coledale Hause.
Grisedale Pike is out on a limb as far as a round route is concerned and this is where the mental aspect of this challenge starts to kick in. Up until now it has been a purely physical challenge, i.e. am I fit enough? I felt that after having achieved four big climbs, seeing Grisedale Pike taking you off into the distance, just to return to where you are stood, at Coledale Hause, makes you really have to take a deep breath, not get frustrated and recognise that this is where it starts getting serious.
It is a beautiful ascent to the top and back and there is the option of bailing out here and going down into Braithwaite to finish what would be a fine day out. However this isn’t a challenge for nothing, and so it was back the way we came, with the now sheer crags of Eel Crag looming high over Coledale Hause and the near skyline of Sail, Causey Pike and Barrow filling all our panorama beyond.
Eel Crag is a pure scramble up the rocky crag (no ropes required). It is quite exciting to do actually, as it is very different again from High Stile. The view at the top is amazing (surprise, surprise!) and then it is the majestic and roller-coaster descent off Eel Crag over Sail and the amazing zig-zag path down to Causey Pike, and onwards to Rowling End. All the way down, looking right you can see your previous effort of Cat Bells and Robinson; to your left Grisedale Pike (had we really just been there?!).
At Rowling End you are within touching distance of the finish, Keswick, in the near distance; however Barrow can ‘unfortunately’ be seen from the café, so it is back up the track you have just been down. You have to go about a mile back towards the base of Causey Pike and then it is a right hand turn and a fell run, along a trod, traversing across to Stonycroft Gill and the marked and obvious path up Barrow.
The sun had set by now and the light was fading but was still fine for running in. The descent off Barrow is lovely as it is grass all the way – even some running was possible. By the time we get to the bottom it was dark and head torches were required. I hadn’t thought that we would be still on the fells after dark but we were, and as Delamere Spartans we are always prepared (and had packed ours) so it didn’t really matter that it had taken longer than we had reckoned on.
The fell section of the Round ends in Braithwaite so it was a power-walk along the roads of Portinscale back to Keswick. As I mentioned earlier we didn’t set off the alarm when we simultaneously slammed our hands onto the George Fisher front door and stopped our watches. We wandered back to the YHA taking in the noise and laughter spilling out of the pubs and restaurants of Keswick. We had planned on sitting outside a pub in our running gear having several beers before heading back ‘home’, but we figured that at 8pm on a Saturday, three hot and smelly runners wouldn’t be appreciated by the locals.
It was a quick beer in the YHA, shower and out for a meal in the local Thai restaurant. I have to mention the receptionist at the YHA who greeted me when I order our celebratory beers. She asked me how our challenge had gone and expressed surprise when I told her we had just finished and it had taken us 12.5 hours. She clearly knew about the event so I asked if she had done it. ‘Yes’ was the response; ‘how long did it take you?’ I asked; ‘7 hours’ was the reply. Inspiring!
Was it worth it? It is a great challenge to consider, but only if you are fit. The route is becoming a Lakeland classic and is probably not one you would select yourself, which makes it more challenging and, anyway, the scenery is stunning. A great day out and yes, we would all absolutely recommend it.