The Paddy Buckley is the Welsh Big Round. England’s Lake District has the original round, The Bob Graham and Scotland has the Charlie Ramsay. Each round is 60 – 65 miles long with approximately 27,000 – 28,000 feet of ascent. They all include their nation’s highest peak and the highest peaks of their mountain range. The Paddy Buckley reflects Snowdonia: it is full of rock, bog, heather and bracken and traverses vast slate quarries with single ascents larger than any in the Lake District.
On completion of the Bob Graham Round in 2019, I kept looking at the maps of the Paddy and Ramsay rounds. For me, these rounds are incredible. I love the enormity of the challenge, how they really test you and bring together the skills of mountain craft and ultra-running whilst forging friendships. On closer inspection of the Paddy Buckley route, I was utterly overwhelmed by the roughness of the ground, the logistics of getting to know the route and organising a round in unfamiliar territory. Thankfully my husband, Chris, was behind me and encouraged me to get on with it.
Over a period of about 12 months, I became more familiar with the Paddy route; in fact I covered each section of the round three times. This is no small task, it involved numerous family trips to Snowdonia where I would spend long, solo days with my map and compass trudging through bogs, clambering over boulders and getting lost in slate quarries. Chris, my children and dog found plenty of their own adventures and would finish their days in a car park with warm food and spare clothes, waiting for me to appear.
Geoff coached me and I loved the training process. I loved feeling my body become stronger, more confident on steep, uneven, wet ground and become more accustomed to longer and longer days in the hills. I was very grateful for Sam Renwick’s Secret PT app to help me be more disciplined and accountable with S&C. Tamsin, Stuart and I spent most Wednesdays from January ’23 to Easter receiving a weekly battering of wild weather creating many memories full of rain, wind, snow and mist.
The date was set for Saturday 27th May 2023. I was thrilled and amazed that fellow mountain running friends were prepared to travel to Snowdonia to support me – I think everyone had at least a 5 hour drive. The forecast was hot, I was pleased that this would mean dry rock, good visibility but I was also very aware that my training had been completed on wet, cold days and I was about to run in Snowdonia’s finest mountains in the heat. It was not ideal to be going from one extreme to the other.
Leg 1 – Llanberis to the Ogwen Valley
10 miles, 5700ft
Elidir Fach 795m, Elidir Fawr 924m, Mynydd Perfedd 812m, Foel-goch 831m, Y Garn 947m, Glyder Fawr 999m, Glyder Fach 994m, Tryfan 917m.
With Chris, my sister Ni and brother-in-law Tom waving me off, Neil and I left Llanberis at 2am for the first leg, which starts with careful micro nav through the dark Dinorwic quarries. Sadly, it wasn’t Neil’s day and I continued solo through the quarries and to the first peak, spotting the flag waving on Elidir Fach. From here on, there was a magical quality to this run. The night sky was clear, full of stars, I could make out the silhouettes of the mountains, with a line of headtorches climbing Snowdon in the distance, I happily felt at one with the mountains. The sun rose on the Glyders, my legs felt fresh and light, enough to feel like they were dancing across the huge stone slabs and boulders. I unwittingly disturbed a few wild campers and a group enjoying sunrise on Tryfan to arrive at my first stop in the Ogwen Valley where Chris, Susan, Geoff, Penny & Dawn were waiting for me. With hindsight, I should have carried my own fluid, as I ended up with nothing to drink on this leg.
Leg 2 – Ogwen to Capel Curig
10 miles, 4000 ft
Pen yr Ole Wen 978m, Carnedd Dafydd 1044m, Carnedd Llewelyn 1064m, Pen yr Helgi Du 833m, Pen Llithrig y Wrach 799m.
A dream run on Leg 2, with Geoff, Dawn & Penny looking after me over the Carneddau. With clear visibility and dry rock, it seemed to fly past. At the end of this leg, approaching Capel Curig, I realised that it felt like midday in the Mediterranean and yet it was only 9am. It was hot, really hot and I started to feel it.
Leg 3 – Capel Curig to Aberglaslyn
23 miles, 7500 ft
Carnedd Moel Siabod 872m, Clogwyn Bwlch y Maen 548m, Carnedd Y Cribau 591m, Cerrig Cochion 550m, Moel Meirch 607m, Ysgefell Wen 650m, Mynydd Llynnau’r Cwn 669m, Unnamed Summit aka ‘Three Tops’ 672m, Moel Druman 676m, Allt Fawr 698m, Foel Ddu 458m, Moel yr hydd 648m, Moelwyn Bach 710m, Craig Ysgafn 689m, Moelwyn Mawr 770m, Cnicht 689m
Mark, Alex & I climbed up to Siabod and I could feel the heat pressing down on me. Usually, the descent from Siabod is one of my favourites: the ground is a touch spongy, but firm and you follow a fence – easy nav, great ground to run on, it should be a winner especially before the next section which is super boggy with fiddly navigation. However, it was here I started to feel cramps in my legs and a headache and to me the ground looked very different. All my Snowdonian training runs had been on very wet ground in the mist, after a dry spell and in the heat the ground looked unfamiliar. Mark and Alex were super vigilant and patient, as I started to feel confused with the nav and my body felt like it didn’t want to move. I knew I didn’t feel right. Halfway through this 23 mile leg, fellow runners that I had connected with through the Paddy Buckley Facebook page joined us. It was a joy to have Jules and Andy meet us, and they happily took charge of the navigation, their families also hiked up to provide extra water for us all. I couldn’t quite articulate it, but my vision was going fuzzy at times and the cramps in my legs had become sudden, sharp and painful, reminding me of bolts of lightning attacking my legs. The final climb of Leg 3 is up Cnicht, a real test at the end of the longest leg and it did not disappoint! On arrival at the National Trust car park at Aberglaslyn, Chris had everything ready and there were lots of warm supportive friends waiting. I felt there were two of me: one whose body had trained hard and was ready to keep going endlessly up and down mountains and the other me was stuck in this brain fog with lightning bolts attacking my legs and a head that hurt.
Leg 4 – Aberglaslyn to Beddgelert Forest
10 miles, 5300 ft
Bryn Banog 520m, Moel Hebog 782m, Moel yr Ogof 655m, Moel Lefn 638m, Y Gyrn 452m, Mynydd y Ddwy Elor 466m, Trum y Ddysgl 709m, Mynydd Drws-y-Coed 695m, Y Garn 633m
For the last 5 months if not 8, I had spent one day a week running in the Lake District or Snowdonia in wind, rain and mist. My body had become so accustomed to going up and down mountains that this overrode anything else I was feeling. Stu, James and Tall Paul were full of chatter, warmth and enthusiasm as we went into the evening, with the sun setting on the Nantlle Ridge. With hindsight, I wish I could have engaged more with this run but the lightning bolts of pain in my legs persisted, and it made me lose confidence in my foot placement. Halfway through Abi appeared with delicious watermelon, that sadly I ate and immediately vomited back up. For anyone keen to explore Snowdonia, the Nantile ridge is a good one: in a quieter pocket of Snowdonia, still rugged & wild with good views towards Snowdon and the Irish sea. Ever vigilant and supportive, Chris was waiting with Abi and the van in Beddgelert Forest with the biggest swarm of midges we had experienced in a long time: I think we were all keen to get out of that forest quick!
Leg 5 – Beddgelert Forest to Llanberis
12 miles, 6200 ft
Craig Wen 608m, Yr Aran 747m, Cribau Tregalan 931m, Yr Wyddfa / Snowdon 1085m, Crib y Ddysgl 1065m, Moel Cynghorion 674m, Foel Goch 605m, Foel Gron 629m, Moel Eilio 726m
In darkness, Stu, James, Tall and I continued. There are two distinct parts to this leg: the rocky, big single ascent up to Snowdon and then the grassy ridge that curves round to Moel Eilio with a few extra tops along the way. I’m afraid my memory can’t distinguish the peaks; I suspect the sky was full of stars and it was potentially a special night to be running up to Snowdon. I do remember Tall leading the way, Stu and/or James were there by my side, I remember slopes looming ahead of me and putting all my energy into powering up. I also remember my legs failing me on the descents: I was still getting sudden sharp pain in my legs testing my foot placement, but I got up and carried on. I’m not actually sure how communicative I was, my head was swirling, but the quote that stayed with me and motivated me was Roosevelt’s:
“…and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.”
We finally got to all the tops, and I had reached all 47 peaks of the Paddy Buckley round, I just needed to get back to the village of Llanberis where I started. I still struggle with the following memories, as it shows how incredibly empty I was, in every way. Stuart Scott keeps me connected with the ultra-running world, it is through him I know about The Spine, Big Dog, Backyard Ultras, Cockbain’s Accumulator, Tunnel race…etc. but when he told me that I had reached all the peaks of the Paddy Buckley, I didn’t know what he was talking about, I thought he was talking about another enticing and absurd ultra-running event. I also couldn’t make sense of Tall, James and Stuart going away from the mountains and into the valley, I thought I should be going up and down mountains, so I didn’t understand why they were leading me into the valley to flat ground. I had no comprehension that it was almost over or where I was. Nevertheless, I had a strong sense that all three of them knew exactly what they were doing, and my best option was to follow them and not follow my instinct of staying in the mountains looking for more peaks to climb.
I owe my round to Tall, James and Stu. If I didn’t trust them, I wouldn’t have finished. Thankfully, I did follow them to the end where Chris and Abi were waiting.
In 27 hours and 19 minutes, I had reached all 47 summits of the Paddy Buckley Round starting and finishing in Llanberis. It was done. I could stop.
This crazy endeavour was only made a reality with the contribution of everyone mentioned. I will always treasure their involvement and be very thankful for their support.
Over the last 2 years, I have invested a lot of time scrutinising maps of the Paddy Buckley route, comparing Finlay Wild’s route with Andy Berry’s, reading race reports, spending hours on the Paddy Buckley route wondering where I am and how on earth I pronounce the names of the peaks! I would be thrilled to share anything about the Paddy Buckley Round with any daring soul, so please get in touch if you are drawn to this challenging and thrilling endeavour.
- Considering the heat, should I have started at Capel Curig and complete the part of the round where you are running south into the sun, with large sections of bog that reflect the light back at you? But then, I would have had the huge rocks of the Glyders and Tryfan at the end with tired legs.
- When there is one support runner, be more self-sufficient.
- Keep check point food simple.
- Train on the route as much as possible.
- Get on the route close to the attempt day. The ground felt and looked so different in the high temperatures compared to the wet training days.
- It is demanding doing a big journey close to the attempt, if logistics allow, have a day in location to recover from the journey and acclimatise to the area before an attempt.
- Mountain running friends are incredible.
- Weather, including temperature has a huge impact.
- There is a small sting that I completed it in over 24 hours, but I know I gave it my all and maybe that sub 24-hour Paddy is still waiting for me!
If you have read this far: thank you. My final words are articulated best by Anna McNuff written at the end of her book ‘The Pants of Perspective’, a book gifted to me by Tall after supporting his successful battle with the Paddy Buckley.
“The Trail took me right to the jagged edges of what I believed I was capable of, and it will take me some time before I want to go to those edges again, but return I will, because I know that when the cobwebs cling to the dusty pages of this tale, all of the hardships will fall away. All I will know is that I have placed myself in a state most fragile, so that I might see the world at its most beautiful, and its people at their most kind. All I will know is that I have played an irreplaceable part in a great adventure, and that I have truly lived.”