Tuesday – the day of the trains
For a variety of reasons I was unable to take the Sleeper train to Fort William and as such spent the day travelling up to my starting point.
Setting off from Little Kimble at 5:11am I arrived in Fort William, via London Euston and then Glasgow, at 4:20pm. It was for the large part an unremarkable journey apart from the last leg beyond the sprawling city of Glasgow and in to the Highlands. What a way to travel, I’ve never been a huge fan of trains but frankly the time and space to just be immersed in the beauty of the highlands was just amazing. I was also noting how I’d be following much the same line back the next day, as I returned on my way from Ben Nevis.
My alarm went off and bleery eyes I went about making some breakfast – Truestart coffee, some ready oats and a bottle of Fuel10k breakfast drink. Life sucks at 4am but when you’ve also got to suck down a shot of beetroot juice, well then you know it’s going to be a long hard day. Belly full and bike packed, I set off.
From the B&B I cycled the few short miles to the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre, and at 5am I wasn’t surprised to find I was one of the only people at the base of the mountain. Having recon’ed the mountain the evening before I removed the wheels from the bike and chained them and frame together to the bike rack on the visitor centre wall – I really didn’t want to come back and find the bike or a key component missing before the challenge had even got going.
A quick change of shoes and I was off – after much thought in the weeks leading up to the challenge I decided that I would climb each of the Three Peaks in my cycling gear and only change my socks and shoes, this would serve to reduce weight on the bike and ensure I didn’t lose too much time at the base of the mountains. In the end a good decision seeing as there wasn’t anywhere to get changed anyway!
From the visitor centre I crossed the Bridge over the River Nevis and across the initial low lying fields. The climb takes you up around Meall an t-Suidhe and the gradient steepens as you take the pass between Meall an t-Suidhe and Ben Nevis. I hadn’t appreciated until I turned this corner how sheltered I’d been from the wind, but a cold blast was whipping down that pass – my hopes for a clear summit completely disappeared at that point. The tourist path up the mountain is well marked, the zig zaging path and cairn markers were silhouetted in the damp fog. However, at one point I became totally disorientated – everything had, in an instant, gone white. I turnaround a few times before I realised what I was seeing – a 20-30 metre wide strip of snow lay in front of me. After slipping my way over this I reached the summit plateau where the path becomes suddenly less clear and your side by side with a gaping chasm, a 3000ft drop down Ben’s north face. I found the summit, still in high spirits, and climbing the stone cairn, Make-A-Wish flag aloft at XXam.
Ben Nevis – the first and highest of the three peaks done – 4,462ft in just 3hrs 15mins.
As soon as I was off the summit and descending I could see the day was clearing and brightening up. By the time I reached the Visitor Centre I was drenched with sweat, leading to an sudden attack – the infamous Scottish midges were out in force. Changing became a bit more of an issue than I wanted, swatting flies while trying to remove hot sweaty gear.
Ben Nevis – Abington, a tale of contrasting landscapes
From Ben Nevis is was back to Fort William, alongside Loch Linnhe which provided a good flat stretch of road to acclimatise the legs from walking to cycling. The route runs past the Bridge of Orchy, over to Ballachuish and on to Glencoe – the part of the ride I was most looking forward to.
From Glencoe the journey was dominated by fast sweeping descents, providing the legs a much needed rest but also just adding to the pure cycling pleasure that this early part of the journey was delivering. I stopped at the Green Welly Stop for a much needed lunch break – feasting on sandwiches, banana’s, flapjacks and the all-important coffee. As I repacked the bike I got chatting to another cyclist who’d come up from Invernan, he was more worried about the tatties he’d left behind than the distance he was travelling.
I benefited from a long, largely flat section alongside Loch Lomond before rolling in to Glasgow, going under the Erskine Bridge I planned to stay to the North of the River Clyde and head towards Hamilton. The City Centre was a world away from the previous 90 miles and I found myself battling traffic and the constant irritation of junctions and traffic lights. At Larkhall I began tracking the M74 motorway, the B7078 which runs alongside it is a pretty well-known route among ‘end to enders’, myself included, as the most direct route North / South. Oh how the world can change in a few hours – from the natural glamour of the Highlands to the monotonous drone of a busy motorway. This last 40 or so miles of day one was a steady gradient up to my hotel at a motorway services in Abington
I was extremely happy with day 1 – everything just seemed to click in to place – I felt fresh and rested and as such I’d made great time on the ride.
Day 2 started with an initial 50 mile slog, continuing down the A road at the side of the motorway, while not the most interesting start to the day it was at least a good warm up for slightly stiffened legs. From my hotel it was just a short hop down to the border between England and Scotland at Gretna.
Despite the smiles my breakfast, and the late night burger and chips, had not settled well, and the sickness I felt made this morning stint seem even longer. A petrol station coffee seemed to have the desired effect of giving me a much needed boost. I was definitely not feeling the romance of Gretna!! From here it was more motorway tracking, this time the M6 on to Carlisle and then Bothel, my gateway to the Lake District.
Travelling down the A591 towards Bassenthwaite the Lake District grows and expands in front of you as you wind around the green lanes and villages set back from one of the largest of the Lakes.
I stopped in Keswick for an early lunch – the last thing I wanted way to be climbing Scafell on an empty stomach – a bowl of tuna pasta, a boiled egg and a milkshake. After getting going again, realised I really had misjudged quite how far it was from Keswick to Seathwaite, what on the map looked like a little jaunt down the road turned in to what felt like a 10 mile toil.
At Seathwaite, I was kindly offered (I say offered, I mad-eyed and sweatily asked) one of the farmers gardens within which to store my bike and prevent any further panic regarding stolen equipment. From the farm I took the Corridor route, which follows the Grains and then Ruddy Gill rivers.
This route is pretty clear for most of the way and takes you up through the deep cut which is Piers Gill, a frequent place for rescue shouts I’m told. It’s a long slog but, finally the summit comes in to view after you’ve got over the top of Broad Crag, I’ll admit to being a bit apprehensive at what was laid out in front of me. The final climb was a steep scramble over loose ground and rocks. I pushed on up and on to the large cairn at the summit – the 360 degree view from which is quite stunning. It was too windy to hand around long, so I made my way back down much to the surprise and annoyance of all the walkers I had passed on the way up, “You have not just f’ing got up there and come back down have you?” one chap jokingly asked.
Peak 2 – 3,274ft in 3hrs 23mins – done.
With tired legs I cycled back to Kendall with a sense of dread – which route had I plotted. Thankfully, I headed to Thirlmere before the drop down to Grasmere, Ambleside and then on to Windermere – thereby avoiding the leg destroying Kirkstone Pass. Not sure my mental resolve would have stood up to that test. From here the remaining 20 or so miles took me along the A6 through Milnthorpe and finally in to Carnforth and my hotel.
I was, unfortunately, just too late for dinner so had to resort to a kebab and chips, which I duly ate while sat in the bath tub soaking my tired legs and sore butt.
There is something wonderfully joyful yet weirdly sad about waking up on the final day. Knowing it’s all going to be over and that the body can relax and recover is great, but re-entering the real world sucks a little.
Either way it doesn’t get more real than a 4am alarm – day 3 but same alarm, same breakfast – this little routine keeps me going in a way. One of my other routines is about getting dressed and the application of some assos chamois crème – to my horror the tub was empty. The sexy curved design of the pot had fooled me into thinking there was more there but my fingers found nothing. My already delicate behind was not going to love this.
From Lancaster my route went South following the M6 down to Preston and then on to St Helens, for the first break for the day. Things began to unravel in Windes – the plan had been to cross the Mersey on the Silver Jubilee Bridge, however when I got there it was closed for maintenance. Clearly I had not researched this route enough. I cycled on to the Mersey Gateway Bridge only to find that cyclists were prohibited from using it (being a 6 lane road probably for the best). After too much debate about what to do, I settled for the easiest option in my mind, which was to divert around to Warrington, avoiding the need to cross the Mersey. An hour of grumbling and internal rage later and I was back on track, just South of Runcorn.
From Shotton, over the River Dee, I was getting in to more rural territory and the start of the inevitable Welsh hills. I stopped for lunch at a local garage after around 110 miles taking on some much needed fuel – a breakfast bap, nuts, flapjack and my now go to milkshake. Riding off I was now cycling minor roads climbing steady up to Pandy Tudur in order to drop down to Llanrwst and the final shot to Pen-y-Pass. But no, it was not meant to be – screaming downhill I missed a fallen sign and rounding a bend near the base of the hill I had to apply some pretty smart braking to avoid slamming in to some harras fencing. The road was closed for bridge repairs, but more annoying was I could see the other side but there was no way to get to it…this was the most direct route and it was shut. Admitting defeat I turned around and slowly climbing back up in order to take a longer loop in to Llanrwst. I was so close, but the heat and the climbing were beginning to get to me… the stops were becoming more frequent and I was drained. I stopped in a field gateway and just collapsed back on the grass, I knew I could quite happily got to sleep there but my mind was screaming at me to get up, to finish this thing. So after 10 minutes I got up, pushed the bike to the edge of the road and started again.
There was a very welcome descent into Llanrwst, from which I opted for what I assumed would be the flatter A470 and A5 to Betws-y-Coed. I knew where I was now and I started to feel like this was the final effort and what a final 16 or so miles it was. Climbing out of Betws-y-Coed along the A5 to Capel Curig and from there the final long sweeping climb through the valley and up to Pen-y-Pass. It was a hard feeling getting to that carpark – in one way my mind was relieved, it was over…but I had to keep reminding myself that I still had a good few hours of walking to go before this challenge was done.
I could not have had a better afternoon / evening to climb Snowdon – the skies were clear and the lower sun was painting everything with a golden tint. I’d decided to reverse the route from last year’s traditional Three Peaks challenge, climbing up the Pyg track and down the Miners. I questioned my reasoning many times on that climb – while the path was clearer, with clear stone paths it was unquestionably hard. I had to stop on a mesh retaining wall at one point – my legs were burning from the effort. As I sat eating a banana I got talking to a guy who’d decided to head up the mountain after work, in order to make the most of the amazing evening, “You’ll love it up there” he said as he strode off. The final climb up to Bwlch Glas was hard, slow going but once I’d got on to the ridge I knew I was nearly there. The guy had waited to see my reaction – I gave him a wave and a thumbs up – but I think my face said it all.
Sitting on that summit, looking over the Welsh Mountains, taking in that golden light and reflecting on the last 3 days, was frankly one of the best experiences in my life. The sense of achievement, inner calm and happiness was restorative.
Snowdon, the final of the three peaks completed – climbing 2,484ft in 3hrs 17mins.
The climb down was slow and painful, while the Miners track provides a less harsh gradient you do notice the extra distance. By the time I had passed the derelict miners buildings and reached Llyn Llydaw the moon was my only source of light (helpfully I left the head torch at home, thinking “I won’t need that, I’ll just save a few more grams by not taking it”) but it was clear enough that it wasn’t an issue. I returned to the car park at around 11:30pm. The next challenge was hitching a ride back to my B&B without having to get back on the bike…
A total of 30hrs of effort
Cycling 450 miles and Walking 27 miles
All solo and unsupported in aid of one incredible Charity in Make-A-Wish UK.
Well obviously an incredible achievement and experience but Make-A-Wish adn the children and families they are support are absolutely at the heart of this and every challenge.
Make-A-Wish believe that every child’s wish is different and their reason for wishing it is unique to them. Whether they wish to be a princess or a policeman for a day, own the latest computer equipment, meet a favourite celebrity or just enjoy a special holiday with their family – Make-A-Wish strive to make those wishes a magical reality that enriches the child’s life at a time when they need it most.
Let’s be honest a wish is not a cure, but that doesn’t make it any less important – a wish is a form of magic. It is hope, it is a laugh and it is the smile on a child’s face, it is respite and it is lifelong memories for a whole family and, damn it, that is something so very powerful.
I want you to be generous, I want you to dig deep and I want you to do something magical – not for me but for the thousands of children that turn to Make-A-Wish each year. By donating you can literally transform a life.
Thank you for your support, Guy x