If you are Walking The 214 Wainwrights, you may appreciate why fell runner, Steve Birkinshaw’s book was such an inspiration to me, but there’s more to it than you think. I spent the day with him recently, along with John Beamson, climbing Halls Fell Ridge on to Blencathra and descended Sharp Edge. I’ll tell you exactly why Steve’s ‘journey’ is so inspiring.

Steve-Birkinshaw-Sharp-Edge-Blencathra
Steve-Birkinshaw-Sharp-Edge-Blencathra

We speak about Steve’s 214 Wainwrights fell running record, chronic fatigue syndrome and the awaited record attempt of Paul Tierney, as well as family life, head fog and not knowing where you are! I saved this blog for today as it’s Steve’s 51st birthday.

Steve Birkinshaw Wainwrights

Steve is a quiet, unassuming, well-spoken man who you’ll warm to quickly when you meet him or, as did many walkers on Blencathra when we were there. You may walk past him, not knowing who he is. He’s a Lakeland legend, but he doesn’t shout it from the hilltops.

Mountain running and orienteering is in his family; he started when he was five years old.

Steve competed in many fell running and orienteering events, including winning the Original Mountain Marathon 7 times. He did the Bob Graham Round in 17 hours 9 minutes in 2005, as well as winning many other fell races.

Steve’s Achievements To Date (list courtesy of Berghaus)

  • Record holder of the fastest time summiting all 214 Wainwright Fells
  • Winner of the 2012 Dragons Back Race across the spine of Wales
  • 7 times winner of KIMM/OMM elite
  • Winner at several elite mountain marathons
  • Winner Lakeland 100 (UTLD) – 105 mile trail race
  • 2 times winner British Adventure Racing Champs
  • 7th World Adventure Racing Champs
  • Winner Hebridean Challenge
  • British 35+ Orienteering Champion
  • British Night Orienteering Champion
  • Bob Graham Round (17:09) 10th fastest
  • Charlie Ramsay round (21:02) 9th fastest -fastest solo round
  • Paddy Buckley round (20:27) 9th fastest

Bob Graham Round and Kilian Jornet

Steve assisted fellow fell runner Kilian Jornet last year on his record-breaking Bob Graham Round of 12 hours and 52 minutes. Of this, he said, ‘That’s what you do.’

There’s a good community spirit in fell running in the Lake District. He also said that Paul Tierney is using a very similar Wainwright route that he devised in 2014.

Steve Birkinshaw Wainwrights route
Steve Birkinshaw’s Wainwrights route

Steve Birkinshaw’s Wainwrights route not only attempts to cover the 214 Wainwrights in a shorter distance, with the least ascent, but needs to avoid tricky areas such as bogs, boulder fields and river crossings.

The ascent, by the way, of all those Wainwrights in one go is like climbing Everest 4 times! The distance covered on Steve’s Wainwright route was 323 miles, and of course, topped each of the actual 214 Wainwright summits detailed in Alfred Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide To The Lakeland Fells.

Our Day Up Blencathra

We met at The White Horse in Scales in the Lake District, along the A66 between Penrith and Keswick, and took John’s car down to Threlkeld just near Ken Hebson’s for our steep ascent of Halls Fell.

Halls Fell Ridge Steve Birkinshaw
Ascending Halls Fell Ridge with Steve Birkinshaw

The weather was stunning, not a whiff of wind and you could see right across Lakeland, as far as the Southern Fells. I’d not been up Blencathra this way, so I was quite excited. I was hoping Steve was as excited about his first-ever descent of Sharp Edge later.

Steve Birkinshaw and John Beamson on Halls Fell Ridge
Steve Birkinshaw and John Beamson on Halls Fell Ridge

As we climbed the fell-side, I needed a stop now and again. Chronic fatigue syndrome makes it hard for me to ascend at speed. My muscles burn, and eventually, anxiety takes over, my heart racing and chest-pounding. With Robustours John and this running Lakeland Legend, I might have been in trouble, but they were both very patient.

Steve’s condition, his chronic fatigue, starting shortly after his Wainwrights round, and was very different to mine. He says that he would wake up in the morning with the worst hangover ever, although he doesn’t drink! Sometimes, he said, not even knowing where he was! Nearly five years on, he’s very fit it seems. He’s out running every day and up Blencathra (his local) once a week, although he prefers Doddick Fell for running up to Halls Fell due to the easier terrain.

Blencathra summit

Blencathra with Steve Birkinshaw
Blencathra with Steve Birkinshaw

We’re back on Blencathra summit where we laid The New Blencathra Summit Stone a week ago. Steve kindly joined us the morning after to help promote the event. A couple of ladies on the summit take our photo, and off we head for Sharp Edge. The conditions, even at the 800m top of this arête, are perfect. We descend the gully with ease and onto The Edge.

Steve tells us about his commute to Newcastle University once a week and how he juggles running, his working hours and the remaining symptoms of his CFS. Like me, he works better in the afternoon and working from home, can move things around when needed.

I still have to run a company through my chronic fatigue (the hiking business, WildFire, is part of my exit strategy to this company). Even though I have some flexibility, it’s very difficult to keep up; this is why Steve Birkinshaw has been such an inspiration to me. Steve has battled through and came running out the other side.

Sharp Edge with Steve Birkinshaw
Sharp Edge with Steve Birkinshaw

We dance down Sharp Edge, the rock is as dry as Ghandi’s flip flops, and we level off at the mouth of Scales Tarn. I ask if he takes anyone out running, does he have any interest in becoming a Mountain Leader. Interestingly, he really fancies the idea. I’m sure being a Research Hydrologist pays better, but money isn’t always what motivates, Steve loves the mountains. Watch this space!

There is No Map in Hell

Arriving back at the pub Steve signs a copy of his book, There is No Map in Hell, for John’s girlfriend, Emma.

Steve birkinshaw book
There Is No Map In Hell

The Steve Birkinshaw book – There Is No Map In Hell

In the book, Steve Birkinshaw talks about how it all began, running and orienteering with his family. Of course, it’s all about beating Joss Naylor’s 27-year-old Wainwright record really (Joss actually helped Steve plan the new route! and wrote the ‘foreword’ for the book) and how he went about planning and executing such a mammoth task.

Steve actually ran the 214 Wainwrights in 6 days, 12 hours and 58 minutes.

Here’s the moment Steve completed the 214 Wainwrights Record reaching Keswick.

So now you see why I like the guy so much and really enjoy spending time with him. Hopefully, something here rings for you as well. It’s overwhelming when someone tells you that you are an inspiration, I do know how that feels but this for me is on another level.

Happy birthday Steve.

Further reading / listening

Read next…

Paul Tierney Running The Wainwrights Record
Paul Tierney Running The Wainwrights Record

Paul Teirney – Running The Wainwrights

Beating Steve Birkinhaw’s Wainwrights record, Paul Teirney runs the 214 Wainwrights of the Lake District, 333 miles, in six days, six hours and five minutes. Read the story here and how Steve was involved.