Do you fancy a Paddy Buckley round, but also enjoy getting wet? This amphibious alternative takes the best bits of Snowdonia's classic challenge, and adds four big lakes for good measure. Welcome to the watery world of run-swimming. Nikki Sommers & Siobhan Evans were the third team to complete the route: here's how they got on:
You'll almost certainly have heard of the Bob Graham Round, the Lake District 24 hour fell-running round. Hopefully (but perhaps less likely) you'll also know about the Paddy Buckley, the Welsh equivalent. This is widely acknowledged to be the toughest of the UK's big three rounds.
Well, if you are a masochist like me, and running just isn't enough, then let me introduce you to the wonderful world of run-swim adventures! The Frog Graham was developed in 2005 by Peter Hayes, and since then it's seen 87 completions. It is a Lake District based round that combines fell running and lake swimming (and, of course, its name is an amphibious play on the Bob Graham).
The Puddle Buckley is the Frog's younger sister. First completed in 2019, it combines the best bits of the Paddy Buckley with four lake swims in a loop around Snowdonia. Prior to my round with Siobhan, it had only seen three completions. And a week later it's already been done again!
The route is fab, picking all the best bits of the Paddy Buckley, and putting them into an achievable loop
What does it involve?
- Four swims; Llyn Padarn, Llyn Ogwen, Llynau Mymbyr, Llyn Gwynant.
- Four run legs with 16 summits, crossing the Glyderau, Carneddau, Moelwynion, and the Snowdon massif.
- You can start/finish wherever you want, when you want, but must complete the summits in a set order, and close the circuit.
- There are set entry and exit points for the swims.
Starting with a splash
It's dark as we walk into a cold, still Llyn Padarn at 5am. After storms, heavy rain and flash flooding, the lake temperature has dropped dramatically. And we're well aware it may have sewage in from the water treatment plant. A bright light appears on the other side of the lake; 5:02am and it's time to go!
I'm on annual leave and should be on a two week holiday in France right now with the husband, who has been working away for weeks and weeks. Unfortunately COVID has other ideas, so I'm stuck at home due to travel restrictions. A week before, a message appears in a work swimming WhatsApp group; "Nikki have you seen this? Might be up your street" with a link to the Puddle Buckley website. In fact, I vaguely remember seeing it some time previously but hadn't given it much thought.
Now, after a summer of running in the hills, and spending time on the Paddy Buckley route, my adventure antennae are pricked! With a cancelled holiday, and a desire not to 'waste' my annual leave, the cogs get whirring and I start to think about planning and logistics... I read the two blogs from the completed rounds. One was done carrying a dry suit in October (but I don't own one, and besides it's August! The lakes should be warm enough); the second with bag drops and a new wetsuit for every swim that was then stashed and retrieved afterwards (but I don't own four wetsuits either).
I consider a food drop for each leg, towing my running bag, clothes and trainers, and going solo, without a wetsuit. But before I commit to a solo round, I'll just send a message to Siobhan, who I've spent the summer running Paddy legs with and talking all things training. Amazingly, she's game! And even more incredibly, Leo offers to come to do road/swim support.
As storm Francis hits (and the lakes overflow and drop their water temperature), I'm looking at the map and writing a rough schedule. We meet up over a cuppa to go through plans, and agree if the weather's good, we're game!
We discuss a start point and time. Whilst we'd rather not swim in the dark, the days are getting shorter. We're most familiar with the Snowdon leg, so we agree to a 5am start, clockwise round, beginning with a swim across Llyn Padarn, and finishing in the dark across Snowdon.
So... it's 5.02am and off we go. The water is significantly colder than a week ago. I'm certainly relieved to have my wetsuit on. It's calm, but I must admit I'm feeling daunted. We have no idea of distance due to darkness, swimming only towards Leo's bright head torch. I pause somewhere in the middle to wait for Siobhan, and try hard not to panic and think about what could be lurking below. It's a relief to make it to the other side and to dry clothes and rucksacks in the van.
Dawn is breaking as we head off up Elidir Fawr. I've run up through the quarries many many times during lockdown when Elidir Fach was the only open hill. The steep inclines are familiar, and an easy way to warm up. We're on Elidir Fawr bang on schedule as the sun appears ahead of us, peeking over the Carneddau. It's a clear day and it's obviously going to be beautiful, but there's a fresh northerly wind blowing.
Myself and Siobhan have different strengths; I'm much happier bounding over rocks, whilst she beats me hands down on grassy slopes. We slip and stumble our way across the rocky Glyderau leg, managing to stay on schedule. There's a large number of 'wild campers' around Llyn y Cŵn; it doesn't feel wild with so many people there! We descend off Tryfan down Western Gully - better than I expected - and arrive in a busy Ogwen, to find Leo with our kit ready, wetsuits dried out, plus Emma ready to join us on the next leg.
Llyn Ogwen is cold, but beautiful too. I've never swum in it before, so it's a first for me. Leo joins us in his kayak, and it is so appreciated. Not having to tow all our kit makes the day so much easier. We decided to swim in our underwear to reduce the number of changes needed, then put dry underwear on after each swim leg.
We have no idea of distance due to darkness, swimming only towards Leo's bright head torch. I try not to think about what could be lurking below
After a quick change and only minimal faffing, we're heading west on the footpath next to Llyn Ogwen. Last time we were here it was the middle of the night, after about 24hours of running on the Snowdonia Slate Trail. Fortunately, the footpath is easier going in the daylight (although our shoes and dry socks are wet again within minutes).
We head up the nose of Pen yr Ole Wen, chasing Emma up to the summit. It's just as steep and scrambly as we remember, having reccied this Paddy leg maybe a month before. We meet up with Emma on the summit and continue on round the Carneddau. The day is heating up, and I'm glad to have three bottles on this leg as there's no flowing water. We continue to move well, and the descent off of Pen yr Helgi Du is just lovely. Down in the valley, we cross the A5 near Helyg and trot along the track into Capel, a bit up on our guesstimated schedule.
Siobhan is worried that her legs are feeling a bit tired and she has a week's running holiday in only seven days time that she needs to be well-rested for. I'm secretly relieved that she decides to keep going with me!
After a decent eat at Capel, it's a difficult approach to Llynau Mymbyr through deep ferns and brambles. This is the least favourite swim for both of us; cold and quite weedy. I managed to forget my swim hat too which didn't help. After a secluded change of kit (except for man sat on paddle board having a brew 20m away!!), we head off up the side of the forest then cut across to the path.
The ascent up Moel Siabod goes quicker than expected, and we reach the trig point still on schedule, despite our tiring legs. We ran this leg of the Paddy back in March, our first long run together after I moved back to Wales, immediately before lockdown. Back then it was boggy, trackless and tough. It still is now! The section from Clogwyn Bwlch-y-maen to Bwlch-y-Rhediad is slow going, and for the first time we start to drop a bit behind schedule. At the Bwlch it is a relief to turn off and pick up a path into the valley. I definitely need to spend more time on that leg before I try and run a Paddy round.
We arrive at the heaving Nant Gwynant campsite tired but happy, ready to get our final swim over and done with. I came earlier in the week to check out the Llyn Gwynant swim exit next to Elephant Rock, and work out the best way to get to the Watkin path. The longest swim of the day, with tired arms, it goes better than expected, and we are soon picking our way through rocks on the back side of the lake. The swims have been so much easier with Leo's support; thank you.
Leo kayaks back, drives round to Bethania, and comes to join us for the final leg. Despite being on the move for 14 hours already, we are managing to ascend at a steady pace, and reach the Bwlch on the south ridge of Snowdon as the sun is setting. We pause to add layers and eat on Tregalan, before stomping off up Snowdon. It's Sunday of a bank holiday weekend. Despite this, Snowdon is satisfyingly quiet. We see two people bivvying, and another two approaching the summit. I suppose it is about 10pm at night.
With aching legs, worse on descents, we aren't looking forward to the rocky Ranger path, but it's better than expected. The climb up Moel Cynghorion looks deceptively big, but we make it up and down again in no time. Somehow my legs have found a new confidence descending, and I'm sure I'm descending quicker than I have been all day. I think my brain must have finally learnt to switch off.
At the top of Maes Gwm, we're onto the home stretch; my local 'lap' of Moel Eilio. We reach our last summit, then start our final descent back into Llanberis, with sore knees and tired heads. When I last descended off the nose of Moel Eilio I did an excellent bum slide down the steepest bit. Unfortunately the grass is dry and I'm in shorts, so I think it's best to stay stood up this time.
We hit the track, and speed up, picking up the pace as we run down Llanberis High Street. I'm impressed my legs move so well. It must be an odd sight as most of Llanberis sleeps. 0:53am and we arrive back at the sword. Tired and happy; the Puddle Buckley completed in a time of 19 hrs 50 mins 28 seconds.
I stumble home, hungry, tired, dirty, and just about manage a bowl of cereal and shower before bed.
That's definitely the best day I've had in the hills so far this year! Whilst I think I could have completed it solo (but slower), it was great to run it all with Siobhan. And we couldn't have had such a good day without Leo's attentive support. The weather was perfect, and the route is fab, picking all the best bits of the Paddy Buckley, and putting them into an achievable loop. - with added aquatic stages for variety.
What's next? A lot more running over the winter, then a spring Paddy Buckley I hope, this time without the swimming.
- Running the Spine: It's All About the Attitude 13 Mar, 2020