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The Bob Graham Round: Music meets the Fells

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Richard Wigley Richard Wigley 15:26, Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Ed's note: Richard Wigley is the general manager of the BBC Philharmonic in Salford. Like many people he likes nothing better than spending time in the Lake District. But rather than a gentle amble though the hills he prefers a gruelling run. And so he set Italian film composer Maurizio Malagnini the challenge of bringing together two of his loves, the worlds of the Fells and music - PM.

The ridges of Lakeland

The view from Hindscarth, over High Spy (High Scawdel), Grange Fell and Great Crag to Helvellyn.
Picture by Peer Lawther

I do wish I could call myself a proper fell runner. The truth is that I'm very slow and want to give up on every hill I climb. But something rather wonderful keeps me pushing forwards.

Part of my life, the non-BBC bit, is driven by a compulsion to exhaust myself on the fells of Cumbria and experience occasional moments of supreme joy and one-ness.

My chunkiest achievement to date is to knock off 50 Wainwright Fells continuously for my 50th year - it took 27 hours which is 3 hours too long. But I'm no athlete, I just have to get another fix, and another and another.

The fix is the moment when you crest the top of a hill that felt impossible and all below you is revealed in a wonderful patchwork of highly defined colours; or a moment in a cold, misty, rainy, miserable run when your head leaves your body and the synapses connect in a new way and all is right with the world (then the moment passes and it's cold and miserable again); or a moment when you're belting down a hill like a 10 year old; or in the middle of the night when a beautiful moon lights your way. Joy unconfined. In a 24 hour period this lift happens maybe 4 times - and lives in the memory forever.

Even the names are full of magic: Dollywagon Pike (a high level promontory that gives a perfect view of the stars); Sergeant Man (yes, you need to be forced to slog there from Calf Crag); Helvellyn (the most beautifully named hill on the planet?); Green Gable (a moment's respite from wind and scree); Yewbarrow (the clue is in the name); and Steeple and Red Pike, my personal favourites, with their views and dizzying drops all around.

These are a few of the 42 fells that make up the 70 mile Bob Graham Round, a personal challenge to be completed in 24 hours.

There's something highly creative about using your body and surroundings to achieve a transcendent state.

Not unlike listening to long-form symphonic music as in the symphonies of Bruckner where musician and listener invest a great deal in the apparently repetitive to achieve occasional nirvana.

This is fell running for me and I'm looking to Maurizio Malagnini to transport me there at the premiere of his Lakes inspired commission for the BBC Philharmonic.

To hear the stories of the great, great fellrunner and shepherd/farmer Joss Naylor is to hear the voice of deep culture straight from the rocks and grass and sheep and mud and rain and lakes and scree.

For me the only comparator to this is music; both can move you to experience your unalloyed deep self.

And now I find that words become hopelessly inadequate. You have to find this place for yourselves and that is why this non-runner seeks out pain and magic on the fells.

Richard Wigley is the general manager of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

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