It was back in 2019, in Elterwater after too long away from the fells, sitting in the Britannia Inn with a mate and a pint of Bluebird, we were talking about Paul Tierney’s record-breaking run around all the Wainwrights. Our hostel had helped support it, and it seemed such an incredible feat, somehow both out of reach for mere mortals, and something to be emulated – what an adventure!
Pouring over a map of the route he took, thinking about the best routes between peaks, an idea began to emerge. How many could we do? Certainly not all 214 Wainwrights, but there were 23 that seemed within reach of the Elterwater Hostel, whatever “within reach” meant.
There were other peaks, even bigger peaks, further away, but something about these 23 seemed enticing – all within an entirely arbitrary rectangle on the map, they showcased some of our favourites, and linking them up presented exactly the antidote to our awe for Paul’s superhuman effort. A challenge to be sure, but one that at least felt doable - from the comfort of the pub!
Would it be possible, though, in the cold light of day, to link them all together, run over all of them, and get back to the hostel in a day?
A few weeks later, ill-trained and not really sure of our best route, we tried it. Unfortunately, we were defeated by the sheer amount of ascent and descent, a gammy ankle, and frankly the fact that we weren’t fit enough. To link all those 23 required doing valley-floor to top-of-Wainwright at least four times. Still, we pressed on, ankle and all, managing 14 peaks and getting back to the Hostel just within the 12-hour mark; 14 peaks and home for tea felt like a pretty good achievement, all told.
But the idea caught on in the running community, and a name emerged: 23 Before Tea. And while the Lakes was out of bounds for visitors during lockdown, an expert navigator living in Brighton was studying the maps of his beloved Lakeland fells. He’s known to everyone in the running world as Little Dave, and he found himself hooked. He did a lot of research, and eventually, in September 2020, he set off with his friend James Harris on a slightly different version of our original route.
They had a grand day out on the hills, completing 23 summits, just under 40miles, with 15,000 feet of climbing, in 14 hours 50 minutes. They were back in time for a very late tea.
It was just over a year before the next attempt, when ultra-distance specialist, running coach and chair of the Bob Graham Club, Paul Wilson had a go in October 2021, and got round in 12 hours 41 minutes. Runners were getting excited. It was in June this year (2022) that the record fell again when Richard Bolton completed the route in 12 hours and 18 minutes, beating Paul’s effort by 23 minutes.
Last month saw the next attempt, by Pete Faulkner, who came very close to the record, running round the 23 summits around our hostel in a time of 12 hours 33 minutes. He loved the route, and thought he could go faster, so last Saturday he came back and smashed his own best time, and set a new record of an amazing 11 hours 23minutes.
Pete, who lives in Cockermouth and is a member of Cumberland Fell Runners, says he has been working towards the 23 before Tea round for a year. “At first it was motivation to explore new areas of the Lake District and tick off some different Wainwrights, but as my recces progressed I felt I could challenge for the record, and possibly even break the 12-hour benchmark that was the original intention of the challenge.
“After a summer off running due to injury during my latest solo Bob Graham attempt in June, I finally felt I was fit enough to attempt this in September. Perfect summer conditions meant the going was good, but sourcing and filtering water after such a dry spell cost me a lot of time and, ultimately, I missed the record by 15 min.
“Running the route in its entirety highlighted some developments that could be made and some streamlining that could be done, and I was confident the record was achievable – if I could get another round in before winter.”
After a week of biblical rain, Saturday October 8 dried a little but the weather was still changeable, and ground conditions were exceptionally slippery under foot. “But I wanted to take the chance before the weather really turned. So I set out in the dark just after 6am armed with a more streamlined route (including swapping out the Wainwrights of Black Crag and Lingmoor for Grey Friar and High Raise, reducing the route by 2.4 miles and 800ft of ascent/descent).
“I kept a careful eye on my split times throughout, taking extra caution when the ground conditions were particularly treacherous but pushing where they allowed, and ultimately came home in 11hrs 23 minutes: 55 minutes under the previous record.”
Here at the hostel we are excited that the 23 before Tea round is really capturing the imagination of fell runners. If you want to have a go, please contact us - you can stay here the night before and after. And if you want to split the route into two or three more manageable days, we think that’s a pretty good effort too. There’s the offer of a free night’s accommodation for anyone who breaks the record, and of course a cup of tea – or a pint – for completers.
Our leaderboard at the moment looks like this:
Richard Bolton: 12-18
Paul Wilson: 12-41
Little Dave Cumins and James Harris: 14-50
The route details, and Little Dave’s schedule for a potential 12-hour circuit have changed slightly. Pete replaced Black Crag and Lingmoor with Grey Friar and High Raise.
The 23 now are:
Pike o Blisco
Pike o Stickle