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Holiday Postcards – Our Magical Island

Once upon a time, there were two young, naive and carefree travellers, a kiwi and anenglishman. In search of adventure, they set off on the bonus Royal Wedding bank holiday of 2011 from the southern shores of Bournemouth destined for the Scottish Highlands. They packed their survival gear into the back of their rickety old Ford Focus and strapped the moutain bikes as securely (and legally) as possible to the back and hit bank holiday roads.

Of course I’m talking about me and Scott.

After hours of driving to the Lake District we finally arrived in Windermere. It was a little overwhelming, what with the thousands of tourists which had turned this quiant lakeside resort into a themepark, so we made a quick stop of at the tourist information centre for directions to the nearest campsite. As I re-appear rather disheveled, I told Scott that the women had quite literally laughed in my face and told me “that I was unbeleivably naive to have come here without a booking” and that we’d have to “wild camp”. Well, well, well, that sounds like a challenge to me.

After a few hours of driving from village to village, we finally found a campsite set in the valley of a mountain range. The most expensive camping we’d ever experienced, but none the less absolutely spectacular. We set up our tent, cracked into a bottle of wine and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains.

Scott’s tent has been around the world with him. We laugh every time we sleep in it as we always seem to find some travel memorabilia hidden within its small poles and ropes. Its the curse of the travelling tent and in fact last time we slept in it, we found some kind of African currency! Not much use in the Lake District however…

The next day, fresh faced and ready for some exploring, we hit the lakes. They have got to be one of the most incredible landscapes I have ever seen.

Lakes so clear they appear to mirror the landscapes surrounding them. The unseasonable April weather also made for the most magical of spring side settings. Lambs patrolled the greenery and the leaves awakened from the warmth of the sun. We weren’t quite ready to leave our paradise, but Edinburgh was calling our names.

Ever wondered what a Kiwi looks like in Scotland?

Edinburgh gave us the perfect opportunity to use those bikes we’d dragged up the length of England, so we set off early in the morning on our two wheels and explored the cities amazing history. Waking up a little jaded the next day (the Scots love to get you drinking their local whiskeys) we set off and headed west towards Lock Lomand.

And WOW is it incredible. The road further north runs adjacent with the Loch and in the spring you’ll get uninterrupted views of the magnificent scenery. Boat trips of tourists gallivant up and down the crystal waters and you can spot castles and large mansions nestled in the quiet of the other side of the Loch. After 3 hours of driving we arrived in Fort William (home to Ben Nevis) and once again set up our tent. That night we gorged fillet steaks and fine red wine under the clear Scottish skies. I was loving this already.

The next day we made our way to the local tourist information centre (just outside the Morrison’s) and booked some Outer Hebrides ferries with the main provider Calmac. We’d booked our first ferry from Ullapool that evening so after pleading with the kind Scotsman at the campsite to let us keep our tent pitched in the grounds for a few days, we hit the road once again.

We headed north towards Inverness and once again the landscape just blew us away.

Take the road to the west of Loch Ness for the best views of the Loch. They’ll blow your mind.

After Inverness the landscape changes completely. No longer are you driving through lush green forests alongside mirror lakes. Oh no, everything turns dry and baron.

Its unnerving and eery.

But the roads are an entirely different story. Long, straight, amazing roads that allow you to enjoy the view in its entirety. The below photo is scarily similar to those I’d taken on the South Island of New Zealand.

We reached Ullapool in the early evening, hit up a local fish and chip shop and joined the que for the car ferry. We met travellers from all over the world on the ferry that evening and as we shared life stories under the setting Scottish sun, the view on Stornoway had everyone on their feet.

Stornoway is the largest town on the Isles of Harris and Lewis. The northern part of the island is Harris, famous for Harris Tweed, and is amazingly flat. The weather proof houses here are battered by the Atlantic weather and still to this day villagers burn the “peat” that covers this island as fire fuel for their homes. There are no trees and nothing in the way of protection, but it is the exposure of this island which creates its beauty.

After a full Scottish breakfast in our B&B we headed north from Stornoway to the most northern point on the Isle of Harris to the famous lighthouse. On our decent back through the isles you spot parts of history which have been left virtually untouched. They call them Blackhouses and are thousands of years old. You can freely walk up to and even explore the interior of these amazing small buildings and still to this day smell the peat which was once burnt inside.

On the Isle of Lewis, stone circles cover the landscape. Far larger and more impressive than Stone Henge, you can freely walk up to each circle and marvel in the mystery of these incredible formations.

Our last ferry of the journey took us from the most southern point of the Isle of Lewis to the northern tip of the tropical Isle of Skye. Unfortunately the evening winds had drawn in some clouds and we were desperate to get back to our tent in Fort William for more of that fine Scottish steak, that Scott put his foot down and we flew threw the Isle of Skye like there was no tomorrow.

And our final view of this amazing landscape was one worth pulling over for. We’d crossed the bridge connecting the Isle of Skye to Scotland and in the rear view mirror we saw the most magical of sunsets. The sun just breaking through the clouds and the enormous mountain range as a backdrop of the sheer beauty of the landscape.

And so I urge you, with all my will, please see our magical island. Those dark winter days are more bearable knowing how wonderful our land is and having travelled to New Zealand, Scotland is like the kiwi’s little sister.

 

Three Peaks Challenge

The Three Peaks Challenge is the most physically enduring challenge I have ever put this poor body of mine through. The emotions and exhaustion of climbing the 3 highest peaks in the UK in 24 hours is enough to make your mind boggle, but its the lack of sleep and having to drag your body out of a cramped mini bus at 4am to climb yet another mountain that personally, I found almost impossible.

But there is always one thing on your mind that seemingly will not let you give up and thats the children that our chosen charity, Julia’s House, provide care and support to. Children with life limiting conditions, children who will not live to see their 18th Birthday. It is the most painful thought and you know, however bad it gets, nothing can compare to the pain these children and their families are put through every day of their lives.

So, back to the road trip! With the plight of the children in mind, we set off from Bournemouth on our 10 hour journey to Fort William, Scotland, where we would find the highest peak of them all, Ben Nevis.

We quickly renamed our bus the “Party Bus”, plugged in the iPod and blasted out great 90’s hits as we meandered up the country.

After hours and hours of amazing Scottish scenery and some very windy roads, we arrived at our destination. The girls dropped the bags off and choose their bunk for the night and the boys headed to the bar, in the shadow of Ben Nevis himself.

In a bid to calm the nerves, we drank the evening away, chatted with some locals and even met a group of guys who’d sailed over from Sweden. They thought we were crazy even giving one mountain a go.

It was too late for training, too late for working ourselves up in a worry and too late to worry about what we’d be wearing up the mountains. It was however the perfect time to load ourselves with the fuel we’d need if we were to get up the mountains in 24 hours.

And, my, did the Ben Nevis Inn deliver! I ordered the cajun chicken and chips expecting a small portion to hostel standards. Wrong! A huge portion of handmade chips and half a chicken with a delicious spicy mayo for plenty of dunkin’.

Lyn chose the Ben Nevis burger which looked incredible and judging by her reactions, was as good as it looked. As the evening went on, the only thing that was calming the nerves was the alcohol.

The next morning, waking up a little hazed, reality hit us.

And there we are. 4.58pm and ready to take on Nevis.

The first 30 minutes in that blistering heat will be a moment that I will never forget.

I was 30 minutes in and the shock and realisation of what was happening hit me, I’d taken off too quickly, overheated and almost fainted. Terrified for the next 4 hours ahead, I stripped off, downed as much water as I could, and  slowly set off to catch up with the rest of the team.

Within 15 minutes, I’d found my feet and was off. I quickly joined the leaders at the front of the group and we pursued on.

After a few hours of climbing we disappeared into the clouds. The eeriest feeling in the world, but also the most relieving, knowing the top of the relentless mountain must be approaching.

Then we hit the snow and the adrenaline started pumping at such a rate, I can barely remember the walk from here to the top.

All of a sudden, the sound of voices appeared and the mountain levelled. I knew then that we’d made it. Tears of relief poured down my face as I eagerly waited for my colleagues to appear through the clouds.

As the last person made it up, Scott appeared through the cloud (our driver for the challenge) and we realised he’d made it all the way up in his converse! He was the topic of conversation for all the climbers who were suited and booted to endurance standards!

Within minutes, the fastest of the our group had started the descent at speed. I was struggling through thick cloud on my own, trying not to take my eyes off the path for a second. The outline of people teased my eyes for the next 20 minutes before the cloud thinned and the amazing view was revealed. Battling that on my own was scary, but I had to learn now that the challenge ahead was always going to be downhill for me. In parts, I was able to pick up some speed and for a good majority, I ran as fast as I could.

I completed my first mountain in 3 hours and 38 minutes.

We waited almost an hour for the last of our group to descend. When they arrived we bundled into our mini bus and took off into the night. Restless, we couldn’t sleep. The sickening feeling of the adrenaline kept our eyes open and not able to stomach eating, the hardest part was this.

At 3.05am we arrived in the Lake District. Feeling exhausted and sick, I started lacing up my boots and tried to eat a banana. I knew I’d need all the energy I could get up this mountain. I switched on my head torch and tied my glow stick onto my backpack. Like little bugs heading into the valley, one by one we began the climb.

Very little could have prepared me for the relentlessness of Scaffell Pike. It is mentally one of the most unbelievably horrendous thing I have been through. After climbing sheer rock faces with our tired hands and feet for over 2 hours, we reached what we thought was the last shingled steep incline. For miles we climbed and still we could not grasp the end.

At just over 3 hours into our climb, we finally reached the top. Highly charged with emotion, I stood on top of the mountain and I cried.

Perhaps the hardest steps I have ever taken was what followed. Another 2 hours and 30 minutes of downhill descent across rock faces and uneven shingle made our quickly exhausting feet throb. The end was in sight for a good hour. We could see the farm that the vans were parked at and tears continued to stream down our faces until we were on even ground and we knew we’d made it.

There was no time for stopping. No time for more tear (or what was left). We whipped off our kit and the vans sped off towards our final mountain, Snowdon.

The unexpected good weather made our drive from the Lake District to North Wales long, frustrating and full of traffic jams. We could feel the 24 hour target slipping through our fingers.

As we finally pulled into the car park at the foot of Snowdon, we realised there was only 2 hours 50 minutes left on the clock. Unfortunately now virtually impossible for the girls and the weaker team members, the marathon runners took off at full sprint, determined to make the target.

Snowdon was beautiful. Despite the 25 degree heat and the pain in our feet we carried out tired body further up the mountain.

The first members of our group completed in 23 hours and 57 minutes, 3 minutes to spare. We’d done it.

The Three Peaks Challenge was an incredible experience. You learn to push your body and challenge your mind. The emotions of fear and relentlessness take hold of your body in a way that your mind starts going against everything it knows. We have raised just over £4000 for Julia’s House and our feet are just about recovered (apart from a lost toe nail!).

If your thinking about giving the challenge a go, train and eat well. Climb some mountains in advance and buy good boots. I wore these 1000 mile socks which I can thank for not having any blisters. Good Luck!