23 Before Tea: Our fell running challenge

Current Record: 5 hrs 47 mins - Gavin Dale

We’re really excited that our fell-running challenge, 23 Before Tea, is officially on the map.

The round has now been tackled by some of the top long-distance runners, with the record tumbling regularly, and it’s now made the listings on the Fastest Known Time (FKT) website.

We wanted to find something that our visitors could tackle over a few days’ walking from the hostel, but also something that a strong runner might complete in a day. Maybe something like the  Abrahams’ Tea Round in the North Lakes? We were inspired by Paul Tierney when he set a new Wainwrights record a few years ago, and after staring at his map for several days, following his progress, we started to see a shape emerging. Not exactly a circle, but certainly a circular route, with Elterwater Hostel at its centre, and there were 23 fell tops within reach. Whatever “within reach” meant…

Plotting the first attempt...

We tried it; one of our family, Adrian, and a friend had an attempt in 2019, but a dodgy ankle and not much training meant that they’d bagged just 14 before coming home for tea. They also found that there was a great deal of climbing and descending, rather than ridge running between tops.  But the idea was there, and a name emerged: 23 Before Tea.

Through social media, word got around, and a chap called Cumins, known to the entire fell-running community as Little Dave, found himself hooked. Few people know the Lakeland hills better than he does, an expert navigator and a man who’s fascinated by maps.

He did a lot of research during the early months in 2020 when he couldn’t get to the Lakes, and eventually, in September that year, he set off with his friend James Harris on a slightly different version of our original route – sticking to the same idea, bag 23 Wainwright peaks from the Hostel, and be back in time for tea. They completed the run in 14 hours 50 minutes. You can read Little Dave’s story here.

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 on October  14, 2021. His time? 12 hours 41 minutes. Now, we had ourselves a leaderboard!

It was in June of 2022 that the record fell again when Richard Bolton completed the route  in 12 hours and 18 minutes, beating the standing record by 23 minutes. Richard would later shave 5 hours off his time and go round in 7hrs 45mins in summer of 2023!

In September 2022 came the next attempt. Pete Faulkner 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 on October 8 he came back and smashed his own best time, and set a new record of an amazing 11 hours 23 minutes.

Much to our surprise, December saw the first winter attempt from Angela Wilson, an experienced long distance runner and secretary of the Bob Graham Club (accompanied by her husband Paul) to become the first female to complete the challenge and go second fastest overall – a superb effort given the time of year, the ground conditions and the dark! Her story can be viewed here.

Little Dave and James Harris - the first to complete a round
Paul Wilson on his way round

Just four days later, the female record was broken again, by just four minutes! Carol Morgan and Steve Rhodes ran the route in 11 hours 48 minutes. They enjoyed the route, and called it a “lovely day out, with a great sunrise and sunset”. Carol is a phenomenal runner, and among other achievements held the women’s record for summiting the most Lakeland peaks in 24 hours, bagging 65 fells in 2020!!

Richard Kendalls new route, taking in Fairfield

The prize is open for a verified circuit of any 23 Wainwright summits, from the hostel sign at the gate and back, so you’re free to chart your own route, and this is how we build our leaderboard.  It is the free rein that inspired the first runner of 2023, Richard Kendall  “One of the things I really enjoyed about this was the openness of the challenge – coming up with a route was as much fun as running it”.  Richard’s route was the first to replace the Coniston fells and to include part of Fairfield.

Richard’s route has been followed by others including by Gavin Dale, Mark Darbyshire and Dan Weller who ran it together in March 2023, setting another record at 6 hrs 42.  All three are accomplished fell runners who met at the Cornish Arc of Attrition race this year. Gavin and Dan were first and third in that race and Mark holds the course record for both the Arc of Attrition and the lakeland 100.

Jann Smith and Paul Carman also used this route for their challenge attempt in April 2023, as did Julian Goudge (anticlockwise), and Anna Llewellyn as she set a new women’s record, taking almost an hour and a half of the previous women’s time, to go round in just 7 hours and 14 minutes in June 2023.

The times continue to get faster and faster, and just when we thought the optimisation of the route would mean the era of shaving off huge chunks off the record had passed (both men’s and women’s records having been broken by under 12 minutes), Gavin Dale came back and took 47 minutes of Mark Burley’s October ’23 run, to set an astonishing 5 hours 47 as the new mark to beat.

Pete Faulkner on his way to setting a new record
An outline of an early 23 Before Tea route - faster routes have evolved as more people have taken on the challenge

Here at the hostel we are excited that the 23 Before Tea round is really capturing the imagination of fell runners, and inspiring some hikers too – our very own Andy is plotting a slightly more leisurely two day round in the coming weeks, something we think lots of our guests might enjoy. Adrian finally managed the round in December 2023, nicely closing the circle after a the first attempt in 2019, in 11hrs 34 minutes, and is full of admiration for the top runners setting records at the other end of the leaderboard, but also for the beauty of the route. We’re keen that the round isn’t just seen as something to try if you think you can break the record, it’s a great day (or few days) out for all abilities, showcasing some of the very best of the Lake District.

If you want to have a go at the record, please ensure that all your peaks are Wainwrights (as listed in his seven books) and that you achieve the correct summit in each case.  Please also contact us – you can stay here the night before and after, and there’s still the offer of a free night’s accommodation for anyone who breaks the record.

The route isn’t prescribed, you can chart your own path and choose your own 23 tops, they just need to be tops which are in the Wainwright guides. That said, an established route has emerged and this is what the last few record holders have followed: Silver How, Blea Rigg, Pavey Ark, Harrison Stickle,  Loft Crag, Pike of Stickle, Thunacar Knott, High Raise, Sergeant Man,  Tarn Crag, Calf Crag, Gibson Knott, Helm Crag, Nab Scar, Heron Pike,  Stone Arthur, Great Rigg, Fairfield, Hart Crag, Dove Crag, High Pike,  Low Pike and Loughrigg.


Our leaderboard of runners who’ve completed a full 23 peaks and back to the Hostel gate, looks like this:

Pos.NameTimeMonth/Year CompletedNotes/Links
1Gavin Dale5 hrs 47 minsNovember 2023 
2Mark Burley6 hrs 34 minsOctober 2023 
3Gavin Dale, Mark Darbyshire and Dan Weller6 hrs 42 minsMarch 2023 
4Emma Stuart7 hrs 3 minsAugust 2023 
5Anna Llewellyn7 hrs 14 minsJune 2023 
6Richard Kendall7 hrs 17 minsJanuary 2023New Route
7Julian Goudge7 hrs 21 minsApril 2023Anticlockwise
8Josh Wade7 hrs 44 minsDecember 2022 
9Richard Bolton7 hrs 45 minsJuly 2023 
10Gavin Dale8 hrs 28 minsDecember 2022 

View Full Leaderboard

Disclaimer: As with all outdoor activities, the 23 Before Tea carries risk and requires you to know your abilities and to have proper equipment. Anyone undertaking the 23 Before Tea, or any other walk/hike/run from Elterwater does so entirely at their own risk. Elterwater Hostel, or it’s staff and agents, cannot be held responsible in anyway.

In particular, we do not recommend relying on the GPS routes of prior 23 Before Tea finishers as your sole source of navigation – these routes often include off path sections and steep descents that may not be suitable for all. You should always plan your route based on your own abilities.

Always be adventure smart.

Connect with us