Andy Richardson: Taking on the Three Peaks Challenge – by accident!
We didn’t expect to find ourselves half way up a very steep hill on a Saturday. And why would we? After all, Saturdays are all about kicking back and relaxing, they’re about shouting at men dressed in short shorts while urging sports teams to glory. They’re about blowing the week’s wages on disposable clothes in what’s left of the British high street or catching up on stuff that’s been missed during the week. Most importantly of all, Saturdays are about spending time with loved ones. If any day is about turning on, tuning in and dropping out, it’s Saturday.
Here’s a few things Saturdays are not designed to cope with:
Picking up pointless parking tickets from bored attendants with nothing better to do than spoil the mornings of people propping up the High Street; buying walking boots that are a size too small but are the only ones available right here, right now; hatching crazy plans to walk up the tallest mountain in England and Wales because, um, there’s no men in short shorts to shout out and no disposable clothes worth buying that day.
And so it was that She Who Must Be Obeyed and I found ourselves driving to Mount Snowdon about three hours after all the sensible people had already arrived, parked up and begun their gradual ascent. With a fleeting stop-off to buy bison – yes, bison; who knew there’d be a shop selling bison on the road from the West Midlands to North Wales – we found ourselves looking up at a 1,085 metre hill. Oops. Those whims ought to be put away in the locker.
The weather was scorching hot and, of course, we came entirely underprepared with no sun block, no hats and nothing to stop a man with male pattern baldness from turning a vibrant shade of crimson. Several hours later, She Who Must Be Obeyed made such an observation, with a needlessly blunt: “Well, you look like a lobster.”
We reflected on her direct approach to communication and decided that in order to save my sensitivities, the next time she’d say: “You’ve really caught the sun.” Aren’t words nice, when you use them correctly.
I’d last walked Snowdon about 30 years ago. During my happily energetic teens, I’d frequently find myself in North Wales at outdoor pursuits centres, climbing mountains, camping on hillsides, climbing rock faces – my favourite – or sea kayaking. As you do. And then life got in the way to the extent that for the past 15 years, I’ve been saying to myself: ‘I really ought to go up Snowdon….’ Without doing anything about it.
Until we decided to walk it.
We set off slowly, following polished stones worn by heavy boots over many, many years as we took ourselves along the Pyg Track. She Who Must Be Obeyed was magnificent. Though her body told her to give up and descend, she ploughed on wilfully until we reached the top. The views, of course, are spectacular; though the summit of Snowdon is busier than the centre of Birmingham’s Bull Ring on the Boxing Day sales. If there’s one place not to go for quiet contemplation or to commune with nature, it’s the summit of Snowdon. On sunny Saturdays, there are more people per square metre than on the tube from Tottenham Court Road to Oxford Circus at 9am on a Monday. Snowdon is the Working Class Mountain. Droves of Scousers, multitudes of Black Country types and hoards of lads get their kicks at the place known by locals as Yr Wyddfa.
The sunburn – sorry, the ‘Oh, you’ve caught the sun’ colour – was still with me when we found ourselves two weeks later in Scotland. As you do. And having climbed Snowdon successfully, She Who Must Be Obeyed decided it was time to tackle Ben Nevis. So while Scotland’s picturesque Highlands offer all sorts of attractions, we picked the one that would hurt us the most. Nice.
Up we climbed; me in too-tight boots, her in a fashionable t-shirt that screamed ‘not normally a walker, but still looking good’. A golden eagle soared on the thermals and as deep calm ensued, we realised that Ben Nevis is the Middle Class Mountain, where walkers called Penelope and Crispin use poles and talk about their favourite wines as they rise ever higher.
The views were more spectacular than Snowdon, the gradient harder, the after-effects worse. For two days, I walked like a sentry on patrol.
Which leaves us with Scafell Pike; the tallest mountain in England. It’s been added to a list we didn’t intend to draw up. What started off as a Saturday morning whim has turned into our own Three Peaks Challenge, albeit spread over several months.