Cicerone's Joe Williams discusses Charlie Ramsay's Round, a long distance mountain running challenge in Scotland, and one of his recent training runs.
As part of my buildup to running the UTMB race in August I will be doing the classic Scottish mountain running challenge of Charlie Ramsay's Round in mid June. Aside from being a substantial way to test my fitness before the big race of the summer, Ramsay's is a run that has been on my wish-list for a while. The following explains the round, in Charlie's own words:
Ramsay's Round overview map (courtesy of Harvey Maps)
Just before noon on Sunday 9th July 1978, Charlie Ramsay from Edinburgh, Scotland, and a member of Lochaber Athletic Club in Fort William was seen running down the lower slopes of Ben Nevis, his mind seemingly possessed by a desperate degree of urgency as he crossed over the footbridge and onwards for a further 25 metres past the youth hostel, to his finishing line. There, his family and friends met him; as he checked his watch and fell to his knees with a mixture of exhaustion and elation. For the previous 23 hours and 58 minutes Charlie had climbed a total of 24 Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet) of which Ben Nevis was the last. With just 2 minutes to spare he had achieved his dream of circuiting all the Lochaber mountains in a single day. Behind him he left a trail of exhausted bodies, his support team and even his teammate, Bobby Shields, who had to retire after 16 tops, so sustained was the pace. Charlie had set a record, which was to last for nine years, and had created Scotland’s Classic Mountain Marathon, a distance of 56 miles and 28,500 feet of climbing.
So, 90km and 8500m of ascent over 24 Munros in under 24 hours: Sounds like a good run! These numbers are fairly comparable to the Bob Graham Round that I completed last year, the difference being that many sections of Ramsay's are over much rougher ground. Several of the UK's classic hillwalking/easy scrambling routes are traversed, along with multiple ascents of trackless, steep, heathery slopes. With the rough nature of Ramsay's in mind, I have been training on some of the roughest ground I can find in my home fells of the Lake District. On Sunday I was joined by Giles Story, a super fit fell runner, on an unusual exploration of the Coniston Fells.
Lake District Scrambling Training
The plan was to link together as many of the Coniston Fells' scrambles and summits as possible before Giles had to catch his train back to London. With the new edition of Scrambles in the Lake District - South in the pack, we set off from Coniston at a blistering pace. Within minutes we had set foot on the rough rock of Long Crag Buttress (grade 1***) and scampered our way up onto the higher fell.
Ascending the quartz vein on Little How
Running across tussock and marsh, we soon reached a good track that lead us round the eastern side of Wetherlam. A climb around the side of Birk Fell lead us to a stunning view of the Lake District and a rapid descent north to Greenburn Reservoir, interrupted only by a brief exploration of a mine entrance tunnel halfway down. We now set our sights on another Long Crag scramble, this time up the north face of Wetherlam at a disjointed grade 1/2*. After a bite of flapjack on the summit, we set off down towards Levers Water and began the search for the next scramble, Little How (grade 2/3*). We touched our hands to the striking quartz vein with 2:00 reading our on our stopwatches and carefully padded up the rib.
This scramble is short at 180m all together, but the lower section is on excellent rock, with some wonderful exposed positions. The summit of Swirl How was reached at 2:30 where we added more food and another layer. Here, Giles managed to rip off the zipper on his pack, which necessitated encircling the pack with liberal amounts of tape to hold it together (always a good tip to bring along several meters of tape). We headed north then west to tag the more remote summits of Great Carrs and Grey Friar with 3:00 on the clock before hurling ourselves south, down steep slopes to Seathwaite Tarn. This is a wonderfully quiet corner of the Lakes, with not a soul to be seen. We took care to carefully locate the exact position of our last scramble, trying to match the rocks with a photo in the Cicerone guide. Shudderstone How and Near Hill Crag proved highly entertaining, with some lovely rough and featured rock, all easily escapable if boldness became lacking. I added a grade 3/4 variant on a steep wall while Giles took the more prudent decision of bypassing the obstacle via a gully.
Slab scrambling on Shudderstone How
The Scrambles in the Lake District South guide was our companion for the day
"When do you need to be back at the car, Giles?"
"Right, we've got 40 minutes to climb the Old Man of Coniston and get back to the village!"
Ten minutes later and we were at the summit of the Old Man. I told Giles we'd be less than 25 minutes back to Coniston village from here. Down the summit rocks we went, before noisily crashing down the slate slabs of the upper quarries. I struggled to keep up with Giles, but guided him from behind as if in a computer game: "Left now!" "Down that grass!". My toes jammed painfully against the front of my ill fitting shoes, but it didn't matter now as we took our murderous pace towards the Coppermines Valley, past the fell wall, along the stream and back to the waiting car, for four and a half hours, 22km, 2000m of ascent, four great scrambles and a lot of rough ground under our feet.
Trying to keep my balance on top of Great Carrs