Running the British Big Three Rounds

By Tom Saville

RunUltra Introduction In the UK, we have three well known Challenges. The Bob Graham Round is 42 Fells in the Lake District consisting of 106km (66 miles) and 8,200m ascent. The Paddy Buckley Round is the Welsh equivalent in the Snowdonia National Park, consisting of 47 summits, 100km (62 miles) and 8,500 metres of ascent. The Charlie Ramsey Round is the Scottish version, totalling 24 summits, 93km (58 miles) and 8,534 metres of ascent.

John Kelly ran a FKT on the Pennine Way last month (which was then taken by Damian Hall (read his interview here) a week later). He is now attempting a FKT on all three Rounds, one after the other, including cycling between them.

Tom Saville and Oli Johnson ran these three rounds last year and they write about it here.

How did we come to run the big 3?

Tom: At the start of the year I had no intention of running any rounds, but the whole thing just sort of developed. I bumped into Oli in the local Co-Op and he asked if I wanted to join him for all or part of a Bob Graham Round (BGR). I didn’t take much persuading and so we got on with it.

A week or so later I again bumped into Oli in the Co-Op and this time he mentioned running the Charlie Ramsay Round whilst we were up in Scotland for the British Fell Champs. This took a little more persuading but we decided if the weather was right then we’d have a go, maybe.

In the meantime a friend was going to attempt a Paddy Buckley Round and I thought why not tag along if she would allow and tick that one off whilst I was at it. Considering the lack of planning it all went fairly well and within 46 days I’d successfully completed all three in under 24 hours, whilst still managing to run the British and English Fell Champs in between. Luck was definitely on my side!”

Oli: “By accident! I wanted to run the BGR, which was a really enjoyable day out. Then I was on holiday in Scotland for the Scottish 6 Days orienteering events and sort of suggested to my wife Jenny that we could maybe possibly follow it with a few days in Glen Nevis.

I think I then blamed Tom for the Ramsay Round idea. She was just glad that I was going to do it with some (kind of) responsible company rather than on my own. After that, the Paddy Buckley became inevitable…”


Tom: The way the whole thing fell into place meant that we didn’t have time to worry too much about planning. Oli’s idea for the BGR was to just run it nice and low key with only Oli’s parents meeting us for road support.

We treated it like any other long day in the hills and with a 2am start and a quick-ish schedule we barely saw any darkness. Just a cracking day out!

The Paddy was very last minute but I knew I was fairly fit and I knew what I needed to pack from recently running the BGR. Helen, who I was tagging along with kindly let me chuck some stuff in with her support team and Dave Taylor kindly helped me along on the final leg.

The Ramsay Round was different again with more kit preparation but also no road support at all, so we had to carry everything and navigate the whole route on-sight. This was still a low key outing with us only fully committing to it the day before.”

Oli: Minimal organisation and self-sufficient on the hills. As an orienteer, I wanted to run the rounds with a map and compass, rather than being shown the way around – keeping an eye on the map helps to keep my mind off the effort.

Most of our BGR planning was done in the local Co-Op, where Tom and I hatched the idea. Ramsay planning was done in a cafe in Fort William the day before. And luckily my folks were happy to provide road support for the Paddy Buckley, which made things nice and easy.

Seriously though, I think minimal planning and flexibility were a big advantage as we could take advantage of decent weather windows rather than getting locked into a fixed plan for support. It made the logistics far less stressful. Having some good company on the BGR and the Ramsay made things much more fun though!”

Hard Times

Tom: I found the Paddy Buckley the hardest of the three rounds. This was due to a few things. The weather turned pretty grim as we went into the night up Snowdon which just wasn’t that nice. After this section the route gets very rocky and technical over the Glyders (a mountain group in Snowdonia).

The harsh terrain started to cause my left ITB to tighten up and so from then on descending was pretty painful. I could move fast uphill and flats but not down and so it was a slog for the remainder of the round. Finally, as the slowest of the three it was longer on my feet and that just makes it generally harder.

I have a bit of unfinished business here and I will probably run it again at some point. Despite me not fully appreciating this route the Glyders did deliver a magnificent sunrise.”

Oli: The Ramsay was definitely the toughest of the three for me and the most demanding in terms of route finding. I think Tom had been up Ben Nevis before, but other than that, we had never visited any of the summits and were doing it on-sight.

Or not, since it was dark and foggy for the first few hours. We went anti-clockwise (I liked the idea of finishing with Ben Nevis) and the middle section from Fersit through to the Grey Corries was a lot tougher and rougher underfoot than I expected.

No BG-style sheep trod to follow there! Then we got crag-bound coming off Aonach Beag at dusk in some nasty weather and it suddenly all felt a bit serious. Nothing another layer of clothing and some Kendall mint cake couldn’t sort out, but it was a good reminder that these are serious mountains and deserve respect.”

The Best Bits

Tom: The Bob Graham Round with Oli was a pretty amazing day out. It just went so well and with no fuss at all. A few mates joined us near the end and we had a welcome Dark Peak Fell Runners reception in Keswick. But the real adventure was the Ramsay.

We ran as a three, Oli, Lova Chechik, and myself, having all decided to just have a go whilst we were in the area. We studied the route as much as we could from Es Tresidder’s record breaking round and set off into the dark on a midnight start carrying everything we needed for the next 24 hours.

As we didn’t know what to expect I think it made the whole route even more spectacular. It was so remote in places and although a tough day on the hills, we were rewarded with superb ridges and remote wild valleys. A seriously amazing day finishing with the UKs highest mountain.”

Oli: Two great days out with friends on the BG and the Ramsay and some quality me-time on the Paddy. The whole thing felt like a very indulgent opportunity to spend a lot of time in some very nice places. What could be better than spending a whole day (or three) with nothing else to think about except the next foot placement and the next summit?

The BGR was busy and familiar but it felt like a piece of fell running history. The Ramsay was wild and beautiful with summits of glistening schist and pink marble. And the Paddy Buckley was esoteric and dazzling in its variety from the slate mines of Llanberis to the jagged ramparts of the Glyders and, of course, the boggy bit.

Lova Chechik, who ran the Charlie Ramsay Round with us, had also completed the Bob Graham Round earlier that year. Lova then went on the attempt the Paddy Buckley Round in early November but rather inclement weather (snow and sleet) made this a particularly hard challenge and unfortunately Lova didn’t manage all three of the rounds in one season. Though we are sure he will return to the Paddy at some point to put the record straight.”


BGR 22 June Tom and Oli 17 hrs 25mins
PBR 13/14 July Tom 23 hrs 34 mins
  13 Sept Oli 19 hrs 24 mins
CRR 6 August Tom and Oli 22 hrs 10 mins

Tom and Oli are the 59th and 60th registered completers of the UK Big 3 rounds and both completed the rounds within one season taking 46 and 84 days respectively.

Tom’s father, Kevin, is the 15th registered completion of the rounds.

"I think minimal planning and flexibility were a big advantage as we could take advantage of decent weather windows rather than getting locked into a fixed plan for support"

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