Three peaks extreme – a short diary.

All smiles at Euston station in London

Quite a few people have asked me to upload a blog of how the trip went, so here goes…

Day Zero

After a stomach-churning night of nerves, I get on the train to London to meet up with the rest of the team. We stand around at Euston nervously joking and laughing as though we are on the bench for a big cup-tie. A quick coffee and a team photo and then we’re on the train.

'Carb-loading' in Lockerbie

However, it doesn’t go well – an accident near Lancaster means that the train will terminate at Preston, less than halfway to our eventual destination. After a journey on a replacement bus, another train to Lockerbie in the Scottish lowlands (where we do a spot of ‘carb-loading’ – see left), we get on a minibus taking us north. After about an hour, as we switch to a second minibus, one wag pipes up “Have we lost them yet?” We finally arrive, five hours late at the hostel in Fort William.  

 

Day one

Because of our late arrival the previous night, we rise a little later than originally planned. A quick breakfast of tea and porridge follows and then we are off to Ben Nevis. Suddenly it is all real. As always with mountains, the views slowly uncoil as you climb, each more amazing than the last. By curious coincidence, a friend of mine is climbing Ben Nevis the same day, leading a party on a three peaks experience (all three peaks in twenty-four hours) and we meet up for a quick chat and a photo halfway up.

Our mountain guide, Davey (who is a trained mountain leader) takes us off the main trail and across to the north face where we get spectacular views down into the gorges on the north side of the mountain. We are incredibly lucky with the weather, which (unusually) stays clear right to the summit. A celebratory photo follows and then we are off down the slopes. This was the part I had been dreading. All the other team members I had spoken to had been fearful of the cycling. For me it was the mountains, and especially the descents. By the time we finally reach the base of the mountain a few hours later, my toes are killing me and muscles I didn’t even know I had are aching. It is therefore a relief to get on the bikes and cycle 18 pleasant miles to Loch Leven. Finally I feel as though I am in my element, although we ride as a somewhat ragged and uncontrolled group. We are a pretty mixed lot – one racing cyclist, two or three ‘roadies’ like me and the rest mostly experiencing their first seroius stretch on a road bike. With a broad range of fitness, and ages varying from 38-57 we are hardly a practised group. One rider (who we shall call ‘Jim’ for the sake of argument) insists on riding on his wife’s bike in old trainers, with a borrowed too-small helmet in purple with an attractive floral pattern perched on the top of his head. He stops for a cigarette several times a day, but still manages to outpace many of the other riders. It just shows that you don’t need all the latest flash kit!

Day two

The first big day’s cycling (125 miles) breaks with rain. We set off nervously in groups of around five people, with me in the first group. Cycling uphill toward Glencoe in the morning rain has an ominous feel. Scottish drivers are not friendly to us and there is some hooting and abuse. By the first food stop, I am ravenous and eat as many sweets, energy bars and other quick calories as I can cram in my mouth. We have to eat around 8000 calories a day to keep up with what our bodies are burning. This is equivalent to roughly 32 McDonald’s hamburgers, although we have to eat most of it as carbohydrates and sugars which are easy to digest. At the end of each day we have a protein shake to aid muscle damage recovery – not exactly something to look forward to, although it is usually followed up with a good pub meal (but no beer!). The rain slowly abates and we cycle through grand highland valleys under what can only been described as brooding skies. After a fantastic 35 mile stretch along the banks of Loch Lomond and a slightly less pleasant ride through the suburbs of Glasgow, we finally end in the delicious dry comfort of a Premier Inn near Ayr, where we collapse gratefully into bed.

Day three

For many of us this is the toughest day so far. The late start and bad weather the previous day meant we did not quite do the miles, so we have to backtrack by minibus and pick up where we left off.  We are starting to ride as a more ordered group now; after a brief stop for best mates Darren and Matt to get married at Gretna Green and south of the Scottish border, we have a delightful ride south towards the lakes on an old Roman road through rolling countryside. By now, we are riding as a tight group in a peloton of eight pairs. I get great satisfaction from the occasional silent periods when all that can be heard is the swish of the wheels and the whir of the cranks rotating, periodically punctuated by the light clatter of sixteen bikes changing gear at the same time.  We finally stop at Glaramara House nestled in the beautiful Borrowdale.

Day four

After the by now legendary porridge at 06:45 as usual, we set off up Scafell Pike. This is the highest point in a ridge (Pike being the local name for a ridge of hills). The Lake District has a complex radial pattern of hills and valleys resulting from the geology and glacial action. As we climb Scafell, the weather closes in, but through occasional tantalising breaks in the cloud, more and more of these hills and U-shaped valleys become visible in the sunshine. We reach the summit around lunchtime and the clouds part to give us some amazing views before our descent.On our return to Borrowdale, we have an exhilarating 25 mile cycle past Derwent Water, through Keswick and along Thirlmere to Grasmere. In the pub after a good dinner, a brisk discussion about route follows. Our three cycling guides are unwilling to take us through Liverpool and the Mersey Tunnel; we are unwilling to cut the mileage. We eventually compromise – we would keep the mileage the same, but divert to the coast, taking in stretches of shoreline through Blackpool and Southport before picking up the minibus through the Mersey to North Wales.

Day five

Another tough day’s cycling starts with the group being split up into three. In the end this doesn’t work as the contact between the groups is lost. Some press on and others stop. Eventually we all reconvene near lunchtime. The first part of the journey is switchback riding through Lakeland lanes, followed by a couple of long climbs. Eventually we wind down on to the Lancashire Plain and with a tail wind head for the delights (?) of Blackpool. After and exhausting 127 miles, we finish near Formby Beach.

Day six

We beat the forecast once again, and cycle in dry weather. The climbs start almost immediately and a tough 35 miles of climbing on the bikes follows, culminating in an into-wind grind up the final pass towards Snowdon. A small reception party are awaiting us at Snowdon, but no time is lost as the thirteen of us stand in a line in the car park changing into our mountain gear, much to the amusement of a coachload of middle-aged ladies parked nearby. After the six days of continuous riding and climbing our legs feel like lead as we begin the ascent of Snowdon. The weather deteriorates, and we were soon in rain and low cloud. Just before the summit, we emerge into strong rain-bearing winds along the final ridge. At the summit of Snowdon, as many of you will know, is a café and visitor centre, served by a Victorian funicular railway. The cup of steaming tea and warm pasty that I have there will remain as one of the best things I have ever tasted! The descent is pretty exhausting, particularly as my feet are beginning to suffer from constantly being rammed to the front of my boots. After a celebratory photo at the base, we retreat to a log fire and a beer. Later in the hotel, we have a final dinner followed by speeches reminiscing and celebrating what we have achieved. It is with some reluctance that we finally retire to bed.

Epilogue

Writing this diary three days later, my muscles have finally stopped aching, although it looks like Snowdon will have claimed both my big toenails! I was surprised to see that as well as having lost about an inch from my waist, I have put on about ten pounds (4kg), which mostly appears to be on my legs!

We never forgot the main reason that we were undertaking this – to raise funds for Perennial (the Gardeners Royal Benevolent Society) and its work with the less fortunate in the horticulture industry. We checked the total daily and it spurred us on. Please donate if you haven’t already done so – it is easy through the JustGiving website dedicated to 3 Peaks Extreme – www.justgiving.com/3PeaksExtreme. The page will remain open for donations until early December 2013.

About John Wyer

This blog is mainly the thoughts and ramblings of John Wyer,with contributions from James Smith, Stuart Wallace, and others from the Bowles & Wyer team. John Wyer has been in the landscape and garden design sector for over 25 years. He was elected as a member of the Landscape Institute in 1990 and went on to establish the design partnership Bowles & Wyer with Chris Bowles in 1993. He was elected fellow of the Society of Garden Designers in 2011. His inspirational designs have won many awards including, most recently, Landscape Architect of the Year and Garden Designer of the Year from the New Homes Garden Awards. Outside of Bowles & Wyer, John is a founding member of the Triangle Community Garden in Hitchin, Hertfordshire which he formed with his wife fifteen years ago in a forgotten nettle covered corner of a public park. Today the award-winning garden runs regular hands-on gardening activities and several social and therapeutic horticultural projects for the local community all the while encouraging awareness and appreciation of environmental practices such as recycling, nature conservation and organic cultivation. His children have been known to say that he spends more time in his beloved vegetable garden than he does with them. Apart from gardening, he loves to cook (and eat) locally produced food. He is also a keen cyclist, and before having a family cycled from London to China.
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5 Responses to Three peaks extreme – a short diary.

  1. Jill Reid says:

    Well Done, I did follow the 3PE web blog on Facebook. It went a little quiet after Blackpool, so I am relieved to hear that you finished. It was a very ambitious task, but well executed in aid of a brilliant charity. I do hope that the dead toe-nails regrow and when you have the3EP challenge reunion, you will beable to dance and be merry with the rest of ‘em.

    • John Wyer says:

      Thanks Jill. Yes it went a bit quiet because the hotel we were in on the final night had poor sigal and not a very good wireless network, plus the fact that I think everybody was de-mob happy! Matt O’Conner did have some injuries to his knees which almost preveted him taking part in the last day, but he seems to be well on the road to recovery now. As for me, it seems I have lost the feeling in my big toes, but the doctor assures me that this is just bruised nerve endings ad that it will return to normal after 4-5 weeks. We are planing a get-together at the BALI awards in December!

      I would do it all again now given the chance.

  2. Kate O'Shea says:

    Fantastic blog John. I love the description of you all cycling along and all changing gears at same time in perfect harmony. Before the event started I knew of course that it would be tough, but I hadn’t realized just how long your days would be. It seems you had very little time each day to recover, and the logistics of it all were incredible. I was delighted to be a small part of the event, and to meet you all at Snowdon and to be able to say thank you from all at Perennial (and indeed on behalf of all our clients). Denise Ewbank summed it up for me, when she spoke about “what a great heart this industry has” something you all demonstarted in this event

  3. Really enjoyed reading about your exploits and it just increases the admiration for your achievement. Well done all!

  4. Simon Sales says:

    That’s a great blog John, well done to you and the rest of the team for “getting it done” and for raising money for a good charity too.

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