The Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge route leaves Pooley Bridge to traverse 30 summits over a distance of 48 miles and climbs 17,000 feet (77km, 5182m).

The inaugural run from Pooley Bridge to Wasdale was made by Joss Naylor in 1990, at the age of 54; in very bad weather with heavy rain and a strong SW wind Joss completed the run to Greendale Bridge in 11 hours and 30 minutes.

Chris Brasher offered engraved pewter tankards to the first 20 runners to do so with the proviso that they raised at least £100 for a charity of their own choice. In January 1997, with 17 tankards already awarded, Chris extended his sponsorship. In 2001, with 33 tankards awarded, Joss secured on-going sponsorship for the tankards.

The challenge is offered to fell runners over the age of 50 to complete the run in set times according to their age group. The challenge is intended to be a "supported run" for individuals - each contender is to be accompanied on every leg for safety reasons and unaccompanied attempts will not be recognised. There is more information on the Challenge Details page below.

If you are interested, please have a look at the Challenge Details, download a schedule or contact me using the "Email Ian Charters" form below.

Early Days

Joss Naylor M50 1990

Arriving at the workshop at BNFL one back shop, Peter Todhunter was there poring his map, saying that he had one of the most spectacular runs in the Lake District for me to do. On inspection, I had to agree with his view and said I'd look it over. There was no real time to train - with 2,000 sheep to shear and a job outside farming it's difficult to fit everything in. I agreed on two training runs and a day on which we could do the whole run.

We went after a first shift, with Peter as driver and collected Colin Dulson on the way to Pooley Bridge. It was overcast, but the fells were clear along High Street and I decided to include Kidsty Pike. It gave great views of Haweswater and Riggindale and is well worth the extra five minutes. Running with Colin is always a battle; we have to test each other. It was great!

At Kirkstone, Colin needed sweet tea, so goes to the Inn. He came out with two tine plastic cups and had had to make it himself, at a huge price. Not a happy man! The rest of the run goes well to Dunmail and Peter reckoned about 5 hours in all.

The next free night, I arrange with Ken Ledward to collect me at Dunmail, after I had started at Bowderdale via Lad Crag under Haycock and then reversed the route to Dunmail. It was a long pull out of Sty Head to Great End, but then (it) went well to Dunmail - 5 hours.

On the day of he run from Pooley Bridge, Colin Dulson would do all of the pacing and his brother Peter, from Australia, would start off with us. It was a cold, damp, windy start and I used Colin as a wind shield - size is handy sometimes - but is was still very hard work abd we really had to dig in to keep the pace. Dropping off Thornthwaite Beacon we lost the wind in our faces and felt much happier.

Ken and Chris were camped out on Stoney Cove Pike and Bill O'Conner had driven through the night from the KIMM to take pictures; we had a welcome cup of Bovril. Here we dropped Peter, who had been suffering with the pace and he enjoyed going to Pooley Bridge with Chris, Ken and Bill for a full English breakfast - it made his day!

The run goes much better now and I feel good at Kirkstone. Quick refreshment and away on the nice, easy section to Dunmail for a quick coffee and a bun. Colin struggles up Steel Fell, but soon picks up and away we go. We made good time to Raise and then the heavens opened, with gale force winds; it was a nightmare. Thank heaven for Ken Ledward's hooded cags. They were down to our knees and a bit on the heavy side, but we were dry and warm. We could never have survived without them. A nice climb on to Bowfell, at least in shelter. Leaving Bowfell I mention to Colin that John James and Peter Todhunter are to meet us around Esk Pike, and yes, there they were, behind the cairn.  I was quite pleased to see them. The first thing they ask is "Have you any sweets?",  so I dish out the sweets. Then we make for Great End in thick mist. We didn't get a good route off. Having turned off too soon amongst big, greasy stones, slabs come out of the mist.. We head for the top of Skew Gill and now we are OK, arriving at the stretcher box. The weather worsens, if possible, rain spraying off the stones and Peter and John decide to carry on with us. After a few hundred feet Peter drops off the pace and goes down to Wasdale Head.

The top of Gable was a nightmare; we were holding on to stones with water cascading off them. I decide to bear left to miss the stones and take the fast run down the scree beds. I was looking forward to tea and buns at Beck Head, but feared that Chris and Ken had got stuck into the ale in the Scafell pub in Borrowdale. In fact we had been too fast and they missed us. John James was feeling the pace and I sent him round the back of Kirkfell, just Colin and I taking the Wasdale Head side of the crag for shelter up on Kirkfell. We were just pleased to get off the top OK.

We catch John James at Black sail and, finding him becoming hypothermic, send him down into Wasdale Head. I give Colin my last sweets and begin to wonder if he will make it, but he climbs well over Pillar. The mist turns day into night as we leave High Crags and it worsens as we come down onto the Scoat. Colin is losing body heat so he dons another cag. Even the sheep didn't run away, they stayed glued to the wall. Colin said very little; he needed all his energy to keep going. It was a fight to reach the top of Haycock, even with the wall breaking the gale. Leaving the top, the wind forced us to go left, down the scree. Soon we were out of the mist, which was nice and we had a clear run to Seatallan. We had to keep to the back side and below the ridge until the very last moment, to make any headway into the wind before climbing to the cairn. We could now see Middle Fell and the wind appeared to moderate as we climbed to its summit, the last top. We shook hands and jogged gently to Greendale Bridge. I lay in the river for 5 minutes - the water felt really warm - and then it felt good putting on clean, dry clothes. Mary had brought plenty of nice food, including a trifle and bottles of Guinness; it was great!

Why were all the visitors to Lakeland not on the fells today? We had seen very few on this trip.

Thanks to everyone who turned out to help. It was a day I shall never forget.

With a Will Harder Than Diamonds

Christopher Brasher on the trail of The Greatest of Them All

If you are invited to assist The Greatest of Them all it behoves you to make certain that you are at the right spot at the right time. Since the right spot was 2,500 feet up near the summit of Stoney Cove Pike and the right time was very early in the morning, Ken and I decided to 'bivvy' on the summit.

All might have been well if we had not lingered in the pub until chucking-out time, which is why the first rain of the night struck us as we hauled our rucksacks in the dark up the mountain. By the time we found a level patch for our two miniscule tents, it was 1.00 am and the rain was bouncing off our anoraks like a McEnroe smash.

It was not a comfortable night. Ken could sit up in his tent but I was stuffed into a coffin-like envelope surrounded by wet clothes and wet boots.

But then the sound of the lark startled the dull night and the sun gave us life and by the time Bill O'Conner, photographer, author and mountaineer, reached us just after 6.00 am we were ready to go looking for The Greatest of Them All.

Those readers who have been with this column for 20 years or so will know that I speak about Joss Naylor, MBE, who has been The Greatest of Them All since that day in 1975 when he ran over 72 Lake District mountains inside 24 hours.

Now, at the age of 54, Joss had a new idea: to cross from one side of the Lake District to the other in under 12 hours; from Pooley Bridge at the east end of Ullswater to Greendale, the farmhouse at the west end of Wasdale to which he and his wife Mary will retire.

The distance is a trifle under 50 miles and, since it involves traversing all the highest summits en route, Joss and his running mate son-in-law, Colin Dulson, would have to climb 16,000 feet (more than the height of Mont Blanc) and, what is even harder on the legs, descend the same height.

At about 7.30 am, two hours after his dawn start, we spotted two stick-like figures emerging out of the mist, pausing only to drink a minute cup of Bovril before heading down to the Kirskstone Pass.

Colin, aged 27, powerfully built and at the height of his strength, was with him and we marvelled at the contrast, There is nothing to Joss except bone and gristle. He stands 5ft. 11ins tall and yet weighs only 9 stone; there does not seem to be any muscle included and yet he can climb faster, descend more recklessly, for far longer than any man of his time. Which is why we missed him at Dunmail Raise, the last of only two road crossings on the entire route.

So we drove as fast as safety dictated into Borrowdale and up to Honister Pass. Then we traversed Grey Knotts and Brandreth until we came to Moses Trod, the path across the face of Great Gable which, supposedly, was used by a smuggler called Moses to carry illicit whisky into the heart of the Lakes.

And then we stood in the wind and rain waiting for him to hurtle off Great Gable. An hour later, cold and wet, we looked behind us and saw two yellow-jacketed, bare-legged figures climbing fast up Kirkfell and we knew that we had failed them.

We had what he and Colin needed - hot milk and energy drink and Mars Bars and chocolate - but there was no way we could catch them now. So we trudged back, disconsolately, through the rain and had our tea. We thought of him fighting the elements on that last hard section. Of course, being Joss, he made it. It took him 11 and a half hours and then he stood in the cold beck and scrubbed himself down.

"Everything was against us today - the punishing wind and the rain and the sudden drop in temperature", he said. "It was cruel coming off Bowfell - the slabs were treacherous and you knew when you were going to go flat on your back. It was the cold that was eating up our energy. Given a good day it will be very enjoyable".

That enjoyment is limited to the over-fifties. The first dozen who can run the Joss Naylor Crossing in under 12 hours and raise at least £100 for Joss' favourite charity, The Multiple Sclerosis Society, will be presented with an engraved tankard. And the first dozen over-sixties (I hope to be one of them) who cross in under 18 hours, also get a tankard.

I bet that none of us will be fit enough next day to work the early shift for seven and a half hours and then come home to walk the hills to see that his year's crop of lambs are keeping well. Joss can do it, but then Joss has sinews stronger than any man-made substance and his will is harder than a diamond.

Published in The Observer, Sunday 24th June 1990

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