Steve is a keen fell runner and I describe myself as a hillwalker who has dabbled in fell running. I am a confident swimmer and we have both enjoyed open water swimming in the summer months. A few years ago, a mountaineer friend introduced us to the Frog Graham Round in the Lake District. This is a swim / hike / run challenge devised by Peter Hayes who first completed the 40 mile with 15,750 feet of ascent, starting and finishing at the Moot Hall in Keswick. He visited a succession of summits and swam Bassenthwaite, Crummock Water, Buttermere and Derwentwater in May 2005. My friend, Tim Mosedale then became the first person to repeat the round in June 2014.
The idea of the challenge captivated both Steve and I and after spending many hours learning the route and testing the water as it were, Steve completed in August 2016 followed by me on 3rd May 2017 to claim the 8th ad 9th places respectively on the Frog Graham Round Roll of Honour. The spirit of the round is for it to be self-supported and everything must be carried by the contender, including food and wetsuit if used.
Although there is no time limit, I wanted to complete in less than 24 hours and although I could swim Bassenthwaite in the dark, it is not possible to navigate across Derwentwater in the dark as three islands must be visited and they are not visible, being covered in trees against a forested background. I therefore set off at midnight on a 21.5 hour schedule which I knew was going to be tight for me.
The route starts up Skiddaw and then drops down Carl Side to Bassenthwaite Church on the side of the Lake, and when Steve saw my headtorch approaching he switched on our van headlights on the opposite bank. This provided a splendid swimway for me to sight on and I was soon exiting on the slippery stones at Beck Wythop. I had opted to swim in my running shoes which was helpful on the stones and I carried my gear in a Chilswim float which I towed behind me.
Leg two ascends Barf, Lords Seat and Ullister Hill before dropping down to Whinlatter and then the unrelenting ascent of Grisedale Pike. I jogged the downhills conscious that I needed to keep the pressure on to have any hope of succeeding. Hopegill Head, Sand Hill, Crag Hill, Wandhope and Whiteless Pike soon passed and I found myself sitting on the shore of Crummock Water bang on Schedule. With the severe ascent of Melbreak in front of me I scoffed some food before plunging into the coldest water on the route. The sun soon warmed me as I got changed on the far bank and I climbed Melbreak, Red Pike and High Stile before the tricky descent down to Buttermere. The wind had got up and I was horrified to see little tornados scudding across the Lake, picking surface water up and tossing it into the air.
Nothing else for it, I just had to get changed again and get on with it although what should have been the easiest swim turned into a battle to make any headway at all and I was pretty exhausted when Steve met me. He asked me if I would carry on and although I was now about an hour behind my schedule, I set off up Robinson which is the tough climb on the BRECA Buttermere race. By now I was just plodding and Steve accompanied me as far as Dale Head before heading back. I continued along the final ridge of High Spy and Steve met me again on Catbells where I confess to having a few tears. Dusk was falling and I thought all my efforts had been in vain but Steve told me that my lovely friends, Nicky Spinks and her husband Steve had driven up from Huddersfield with a Canadian canoe and they were busy taking compass bearings on the shore to enable them to guide me across Derwentwater via the three islands. So I put my wetsuit on for the last time and Nicky’s Steve put a headtorch on the back of his head for me to follow in the dark. This is the longest swim at around 2km and towards the end my hands were getting too cold to catch the water. I needed a helping hand to stand up before my Steve and I walked the last long mile back to the Moot Hall to finish in 23 hours and 13 minutes. I was, and still am very proud, especially as I got a new right hip in June 2015 and it was wonderful to be able to enjoy such a great adventure.
Then, in 2017 another friend introduced us to BRECA Swimrun and Steve and I decided to volunteer at Buttermere and Coniston to get an idea what it was all about. We were mightily impressed with the organisation and thoroughly enjoyed marshalling on swim entry/exits. We were especially pleased to help out with some logistics at BRECA Coniston to make sure that all the teams made the start line in time.
So now all we had to do was to decide which BRECA event we would choose to claim our free entry in return for volunteering. In the end it was not a hard choice – Steve is skinny and feels the cold and so in April we will be heading to North Island, New Zealand for BRECA Bay of Islands. We have been training hard in the local pool and have managed to try out our new hand paddles and bungee to some curious looks from pool attendants. I am super excited and will be delighted to simply beat the cut-offs to complete this adventure and our swim run journey.
Wish us luck
Charmian Heaton and Steve Wathall