I need to thank Nina Mason. She did the George Fisher Tea Round a couple of weeks ago, and this inspired me to have a go. I had not heard of it before. The George Fisher Tea Round is a circular route that takes in all the tops you can see from the George Fisher cafe in Keswick. It is 30 miles and 12,000 feet of ascent in total. Jan Young mentioned there was another round called the George Fisher Espresso Round which was a shorter version encompassing the nearer peaks you can see from the cafe window. The Espresso Round is 12 miles and 3, 000ft total ascent. I was taken with the idea of the longer route. Also the longer route meant an opportunity for a mid-run dip in Buttermere and I hadn’t been to Buttermere for a long time and felt I would love to go there again. I got a highlighter pen and marked the route on my OS map.
I needed to plan. It was unfortunate being September, as the daylight hours are a lot shorter now meaning less running time is available in the day. I did not want to run in the dark on my own. I looked up sunrise and sunset in Keswick which said sunrise at 7am and sunset at 7:15pm. Therefore, I wanted to start running at 7am, setting off from Durham at 5am latest.
Earlier this year my husband and I decided we wouldn’t be going on holiday this year due to everything with Covid. I had annual leave to use and it had to be booked in advance so I decided to book random days off throughout the year. During the school summer holidays we had some nice family days out, but also I have been using these days as ‘escape days’ where I get up at 5am-ish, drive wherever the sun is shining and go running for a day with stops to swim in waterfalls, tarns and lakes. I have had some wonderful days out in Yorkshire, the Cheviots and the Lake District. Waterfall pools drenched in sparkling sunlight are my favourite places and I would live in one if I could 😊.
The thing with booking time off in advance is that it does not guarantee good weather, although with the summer we have had I have been quite lucky. For the George Fisher Tea Round attempt I wanted good weather. I am not a fan of being in mist on my own, as I find it navigationally hard and you can’t see anything. The weather forecast was potentially looking good for when I had leave booked on Monday 20th September. I nervously checked the forecast several times a day in the run up to the 20th! By the 18th it was still saying sunshine and light winds, so I booked wrap-around school childcare for the kids and then I was all set. It was on.
On the day I was really excited, and was awake and up at 4:20am. I had everything packed and downstairs so there would be less plastic bag rustling noise – I did not want to wake anyone up. The only unavoidable noise was the kettle boiling to make up the flask of tea but it didn’t take too long. Out of the front door I was greeted by Orion shining brightly above in the darkness and a giant yellow moon low in the sky. The night air was cold. I dumped my stuff in the car and set off. The first part of the journey down the A1 went well. There was a surprising amount of traffic that morning. Then crossing the Pennines on the A66 there was thick fog. I was behind a lorry. We had both slowed to 40mph as visibility was really bad. The lorry’s rear lights were tiny red dots and billows of mist swirled in my headlights. My frantic use of the windscreen wipers did not make any difference. We continued like this, until once over the Pennines there was more light coming through the fog as dawn broke. I stopped at Rheged services for a break and breakfast, and there was still thick fog there and I wondered if the weather forecast had changed. However, as I approached Keswick, things changed dramatically. That wonderful view you get of Blencathra and Skiddaw as you enter the Lake District appeared with these mountains rising majestically out of a white wispy ground lying mist. It was stunning. I couldn’t wait to get up Catbells, the first peak, as I expected the valley mist would look beautiful from above.
After parking and kit sorting, I started out through the quiet streets of Keswick and was soon running along pretty paths through sheep fields to Portinscale. The sunlight was highlighted by deep shadows. I was setting out a bit later than planned as the fog had slowed me up on the drive over, but not too much later. The air was peaceful and full of possibility. After Portinscale there is a short section through a pretty shady woodland along the shores of Derwent Water, taking me to the foot of Catbells. I enjoyed this and started up Catbells. However, then I realised I had left the map in the car! Oops! I ran back to the car, got the map and started out again. But as I started out I had a phone call from the builder who is about to start some work on our bathroom and it needed quite a long conversation. Following this there was another phone call from someone else. Following that, it was now 9am and I was just starting out! I thought then that the Tea Round might not happen. But that was OK, it was a beautiful day and I was in the Lake District! I decided to see how it went. Previous studying the map had shown shortcut routes and if all failed there was always the bus back from Buttermere. I would have a good day out whatever.
Getting to the summit of Catbells the view of Derwent water was glorious with postcard reflections of the surrounding mountains. I passed some cheerful walkers after the summit and followed the route down into the Newlands Valley. This starts as a crumbly stone path, a bit like the top of a well baked apple crumble. Down in the Newlands valley it was a lot warmer, so I had a quick change out of leggings into shorts and sun cream. I followed the lane past cow fields to the footpath which goes up Robinson via High Snab Bank. This is a fabulous way up Robinson, with good views of the glacial U shaped valley all the way up and I had it all to myself. Approaching the summit I had a citrus fruit craving so ate some clementines. At the summit I could see ‘over the hill’ the views of southern lakeland valleys, lakes and the sea. There were a few walkers at the top.
It’s then a quick bit along a path to the descent into Buttermere. The descent that the route takes is interesting to say the least! It is a steep, steep, steep path of rugged heather, grass and mud clods bordering the gully of the Hassnesshow Beck. The views are rather arial. I like to refer to it as ‘The Chute’. There is a good fence that some ingenious engineer has managed to bolt into the rock at this angle which is a great handrail. I looked forward to comparing notes with Nina about The Chute. Buttermere looked wonderful from above and further down I could make out a few swimmers and cows wading near the shore. The final bit goes through leafy trees and follows the now pooling and spillings of the beck to the road.
Nina said to me that the Tea Round does not go the way you might intuitively choose. She is right! So far my impressions were that it gets you up really high, then swiftly takes you back right down to sea level as fast as it can before another huge up.
The next huge up was High Stile. (I can confirm that it lives up to the ‘High’ bit.) To get to the ascent path there was a little bit around the lakeside to Peggy’s Bridge. It was really pretty in Buttermere. It was such a nice day! Lots of walkers were down in the valley and there was a display of mountain rescue vehicles and helicopters in a field. A sign said they were having a training day. The ascent up High Stile traverses the hill initially, then goes steeply up across closely spaced contours. I got into my stride and enjoyed the challenge. I had not seen anyone since at the lakeside and it stayed this way for now. A few boggy bits but higher up more rocky. It was hot and sticky and I applied more sun cream to my legs as the sun seemed to be burning the tops of my knees whenever I took a step. I powered on up. The path was small and not clear on the ground at times as it was quite rocky. I could see some higher crags above. From these crags two ladies appeared. One of them was waving at me. I carried on up quickly to meet her and she asked if I knew where the path was? It turned out I was on the same path as them, but they had found higher up the path had just petered out at the base of a very rocky section that looked more like rock-climbing. I studied my map and she studied the map on her phone and we agreed we needed to be more south of this line to find the right of way that was marked on the map (the small path we had been following was not on the map). Experience told me the ‘right of way’ would not be a path. This happens a lot in the North York Moors away from the popular paths. Rights of way are just that. The three of us found a good route up which was less craggy and we were soon on the summit, and what a view! I bid farewell to those ladies and galloped across the tops to the summit of Red Pike. I enjoyed the descent of Red Pike back into Buttermere. There are red screes below the summit, but it was dry and there are ways to avoid the worst of it. Then you go past Bleaberry Tarn, down a stepped path and descend further through Burtness Wood to the shore.
I ran down to a small stone beach at the lakeside. I was baking hot so I got changed into my swimming costume and jumped into the lake! The cold water was delicious. The lake surface was so still and my ripples circled away from me. I could see every reflection of the fells and trees. Studying the scenery around I saw the tiny sub-vertical line of the gully with ’The Chute’ in the fellside from earlier! My legs felt soothed. I love dipping mid-run. I find it gives me energy. It’s so relaxing for the mind too. I now always carry my swimming costume and a small towel in my rucksack. I clambered out over the slippy stones back to the beach to get changed. If dipping it’s important to get dry quickly and put on as many clothes as possible then to get running to get warmed up so you can mitigate the ‘after drop’ in body temperature. I put on my leggings, short and long-sleeved top, fleecy jumper, waterproof jacket and woolly hat and started running.
Nina had given me the heads-up that there was a tearoom in Buttermere village. There is, and very pleasant it is too. I had a tasty hot chocolate and bought some water to top up my water bladder. Then I checked the time and did some calculations. It was clear that owing to the events of the morning I might have run out of time to do the full route. It would be a bit touch and go with daylight hours and I like to calculate leaving a good margin of time as well for the unknown. I felt a bit disappointed as the next bit looked great up to peaks of the Coledale Horseshoe, which would have been the final high bit. But better to be safe. I calculated that I did have plenty of time with margin to run back to Keswick if I followed the paths along the valley of the Mill Beck then the valley of the Rigg Beck which would take me back to the Newlands valley and from there a few miles of minor road to Portinscale. I packed up my stuff and headed off.
This was by far the wildest part of the route. The nameless valleys were bleak. There was no path in the Mill Beck valley. Again, the big thick dashed green right of way on the map was only that. I did several miles of bracken wading, heather bashing and thistle pushing over uneven boggy terrain. The thistles were often above waist height and scratched my legs. It felt desolate. A few sheep were clearly surprised to see a human. I kept my morale high by noting my progress by tributary crossings, but progress was slow. However, after reaching the low col between the valleys, a brilliant perfect path appeared. I felt relief and was so happy that I ran fast all the way along the valley of the Rigg Beck, a much more inviting place. I was joyful to reach the Newlands valley and I ran at speed along the minor roads back to Portinscale then along footpaths to Keswick. Running into Keswick, civilisation appeared with the noise of pubs, traffic and people. Once in the town centre I made a beeline for the fish and chip shop. I was really hungry, and salty chips taste so good after a long run! As I waited, I could smell them coming from the fryer and they didn’t disappoint. Hot, steaming chips wrapped in paper with salt, vinegar and ketchup. It was perfect with a bottle of sparkling water for my thirst.
After a quick call to my husband to let him know I was on my way back, I changed into the dry clothes I had packed in the car and then I set off on the drive home. I felt really happy with my adventure. It had been challenging in many ways. It had not started well, what with delays due to unforeseen driving conditions, me initially leaving the map in the car and unexpected phone calls. Then there had been a bit of tricky navigation and ongoing planning decisions to make, and the bleak valley took some mental fibre. Having beaten those challenges felt good.
In total I had run 29.5 miles (including the pre-run ‘warm up’) and ascended 7,947 feet. I had not completed the George Fisher Tea Round or the George Fisher Espresso Round. In fact I had invented a whole new round. I have decided to call this The George Fisher Hot Chocolate Round, named after the scrumptious hot chocolate I had in Buttermere. I would absolutely like to try the George Fisher Tea Round again, probably in the summer when there are longer day-light hours, and this Hot Chocolate round has been an excellent recce.