Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
The Round in Bob Graham's Footsteps by Steve Chilton. Sandstone Press.
Bob Graham, the famous Bob Graham, the Bob Graham who first climbed forty-two peaks when he was 42 and did it in under 24 hours, the Bob Graham who gave his name to that ultimate test of athletic endurance, the Bob Graham Round, that Bob Graham, had flat feet. Even during the First World War, they wouldn't let him join the army because of his flat feet.
But on Sunday, 13th June, 1932, short and stocky, flat-footed Bob Graham, born and bred in Houghton near Carlisle, once a gardener and then a guesthouse-keeper, set out from the Moot Hall at Keswick at one o'clock in the morning and he walked up and ran down hills, up Skiddaw and Great Calva and Blencathra and Great Dodd and over Helvellyn, Dollywaggon and Fairfield, Pike O' Stickle, Scafell, Red Pike, Steeple, Robinson and all points and peaks in between and, eventually, at 12.39 in the morning, he was back where he had started, standing in front of the Moot Hall in Keswick. And all this time pounding the fells he was running in plimsolls - he'd run and walked barefoot in training to toughen his feet - and he didn't get blisters. He wore khaki drill shorts and a pyjama top.
For the first nine hours he survived on fruit pastilles until, reaching Dunmail Raise, he had a boiled egg and a cup of tea at ten o'clock. Seven hours later, taking a break at Wasdale Head, he treated himself to two boiled eggs and some milk and soda. There was some hot milk for him at Honister and some hot strong tea to help him cover the last four miles home. He'd traversed sixty-two miles and, in terms of ascent and descent, he might as well have gone up and down Everest.
Such is the stuff legends are made of. Harry Griffin saw it as "a test of endurance unequalled in this century". When, after twenty-eight years, Alan Heaton, broke Bob's record with well over an hour to spare, all Bob could say was, "About time, too."
Records are made to be broken and in another twenty years, the incomparable Billy Bland had completed the round in under fourteen hours. There was nothing of today's finely-tuned dietary training for Billy Brand: "I do have bad patches but I know when they are coming because my eyelids start to flutter. I just bang in another Mars bar and wait for it to hit the system. It's like putting coal on the fire." In Wasdale Head, Billy had only stopped for a butty and a bottle of Mackeson. Otherwise his food strategy was "me wife's malt loaf, and date and walnut cake. There's something called barmbrack. Nice moist stuff."
The athlete turned journalist Chris Brasher - he'd set the pace for Roger Bannister when he broke the four-minute mile - attempted the Round in 1977 when he was 49. He was paced by none-other than Joss Naylor. "At Dunmail Raise . . . Jos had to leave them as he had to catch a train to London because he was having lunch with Muhammed Ali." Having stopped for a massage at Wasdale, "Brasher continued up Yewbarrow but was so ill when he met Stan Bradshaw at the summit he abandoned and dropped down to Jos's farm."
There is something legendary about the Bob Graham Round. Steve Chilton has interviewed the men, and the women, people of rare determination and doggedness, as well as extraordinary fitness, who have completed the Round. Perhaps no-one will ever beat Billy Bland's record - he only stopped for 21 minutes all together - and even today no-one has come within an hour of his time.
It all shows what can be achieved with a bottle of Mackeson and some barmbrack or, for the man who started it all, fruit pastilles, plimsolls, pyjamas and flat-feet.