They say that everything happens in threes and that three is the magic number. During my trip away in Groggy the campervan, this has certainly rung true.
When I set off on Becky Jo’s Great British Tour, I had three goals in mind. The first was to reach both Land’s End in the South West and John O’Groats in the North East. These landmarks depict the furthest extremes of the island of Great Britain. My second goal was to meet as many people as possible by visiting as many places as time and fuel would allow. My third goal was to climb the highest peaks in each of England, Wales and Scotland.
By serendipitous happenstance, I chose my 70th day away to climb Ben Nevis (Snowdon was summited on Day 50). Having endured ten uninterrupted days of self-imposed corporeal abuse (alcohol, partying and lack of sleep), today was not the best day to have chosen. I set my alarm for 5.30am, ready to beat the rambling public to the top but, on hearing those jarring tones ring out into the cavernous void of my Ford Transit high-top home, I hit snooze.
Before 10am, I had eaten breakfast, packed away my bed and found the path beside the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre to start the ascent. Having failed to recruit a crew, I climbed alone with David Bowie, Supertramp, Josh Pyke and this little nostalgic number from a few years back:
I finally found that this time, I had the routine perfected. When I climbed Snowdon with my sister, we carried too much with us as we were unsure of what we would need. When I climbed Scafell Pike with three lads I met that day, the weather was diabolical and I didn’t put my waterproof jacket on in time. Third time’s a charm; Ben Nevis went without a hitch.
The first peak I climbed was Snowdon in Wales, which I found to be the steepest of the three. In fact, the first 200 yards of the route my sister and I took had the steepest section of all and at that point I seriously began to question my sanity at setting myself these goals.
Next was Scafell Pike. Being the smallest of the three peaks, I thought it might be easier than Wales’ offering, but the mist made the path almost impossible to follow and the strong winds and icy rain were unbearable. However, myself and Arwel from Swansea, Joe from Essex and Simon from Dublin let nothing dampen our spirits; the worse the weather became, the more we laughed.
I can confidently say that, although Ben Nevis is the highest of the three, it has the most gentle ascent and is therefore the easiest climb. With motivational music in my ears, I relentlessly marched up the mountain and practically danced my way down.
The people who climb these three peaks – and I speak generally as I have only ever climbed on a Saturday! – come from all walks of life. I saw people who looked too old to climb who later ran past me, smiling cheerily as they went. There were humans being dragged to the top by their dogs, and dogs being carried to the top by their humans. A young couple were taking it in turns to carry their tiny baby to the summit. And today, I dived out of the way repeatedly as 600 runners made a mad downhill dash for the finish line.
Battling for space on the path with a lethal avalanche of Ben Nevis racers made me rather irritated at times, but I was easily appeased by the polite runners who said ‘thank you’ when I stood aside for them. How terribly British.
Once I got over the mild annoyance, I had nothing but respect for these athletes. I watched them belt up and down the mountain and I was in awe. Someone in the pub at the end told me his friend was racing at the tender age of 68. But it’s not just the runners who were an inspiration, it was the Average Joe, the overweight, the elderly, the children, the quiet people, the stag party, the newly-weds and that hungover bloke from Newcastle.
Regardless of the reason, those hikers today had set themselves a challenge. Every challenge is relative and the measurement of success is subjective. For everyone who completed the challenge they had set themselves, they were treated to a little dose of happy endorphins. Nothing can replace the feeling of pride and accomplishment we experience when we reach a target or smash an objective, so it’s a wonder we don’t set more challenges for ourselves to work towards.
For the ‘left brain’ dominant readers:
Highest peak in Wales = 1,085m
2.5 hours up, 2 hours down
Highest peak in England = 978m
2.5 hours up, 1.5 hours down
Highest peak in Scotland = 1,345m
3 hours up, 2.5 hours down (bloody runners!)
* steps calculated for the entire day, based on a VERY ropey pedometer