Wild Peaks Walk
Words & Photography: Drew Collins
It’s mid-May. My feet have travelled some 200 miles thus far and conversing with myself has become a regular occurrence that I'm no longer ashamed to admit; it helps to pass the time. I'm victim of raw painful sunburn, interdigital blisters on filthy feet wrapped in oxide tape that has lost its adhesive quality, and my unwashed hiking clothes harbour a smell I cannot even begin to describe. I do not find it hard to believe that just a few days ago I was sitting in my tent in floods of tears contemplating how easy it would be to give up and return home to the comforts we all take for granted in everyday life; a warm house, a hot shower and a damn fine espresso. Putting these comforts to one side for the last 13 days has somewhat jolted my senses and without them I've slowly come to realise two crucial things that must be present on any lengthy expedition: perseverance and determination.
I have realised that these two things are fundamental if you want to achieve whatever goals and challenges in life that you decide to pursue, including walking the entire length of the UK's three tallest peaks. My tent has seen downpours of rain, before drying off and baking into sauna like conditions in the morning sun. I have experienced strong winds that had me fearing I'll be ripped from where I lay never to be seen again and my morale has taken a severe knocking time and time again.
To me, the idea of tackling the entire length of the UK's three tallest peaks in 24 days by foot was the perfect challenge because it was something unique, something which had never been done before. Flash forward to April 26th and I was sat in the small bar at the foot of Ben Nevis eating haggis with a cold pint of cask ale. I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed that I had even managed to get myself to the starting point. My alarm rang at 4am the next morning and I dragged myself from the cold tent and into the drizzle to begin my ascent of Nevis. The initial beginnings of the climb started well, but it was not long before I was hit with heavy rain, hail and strong winds. I pushed on, touched the barely visible summit marker, and descended quickly to pack up my gear and jump on the West Highland Way to Kinlochleven. The weather didn’t let up for the entire journey and by the time I had set up camp for the evening I was miserable, cold and wet. However, I awoke the next morning feeling surprisingly refreshed and energetic. I set out to continue along the West Highland Way, but 5 minutes in my feet began to ache unbearably; had I pushed myself too far too soon? I pushed the thought from my mind and tried to focus on the trail ahead of me. The West Highland Way is a truly fantastic path, and there is something incredibly majestic about Scotland; the vast peaks and desolate moors are simply awe inspiring.
The next part of my journey, The Clyde Walkway, is a part of my journey I really did not enjoy. The droning sound of the motorway traffic still makes me shudder every time I think back to it. However, as soon as I hit the Annandale Way I truly began to enjoy my journey. Although the scenery is not as dramatic as that of the Scottish Highlands, it is special in its own right. The view of rolling hills, wind farms and green as far as the eye can see is something I will always remember. By this point my feet had begun to toughen up, although the blisters were still painful to walk on.
Day 11 and I’m walking from Craigielands to Kirk Loch. I had already run out of water and was in a bit of a bad way when I followed the trail through a simple cow field. I’d had my share of cow confrontations on the trip and so from experience I knew that the animals tended to steer clear of me, but this was not the case today. The herd began to make an awful racket and walk slowly towards me, then almost like something out of a movie they separated to reveal one huge cow with what looked to be a ring through its nose. Next thing I knew my legs were running and the bull was chasing, I have never run so fast and never been so scared in my entire life. As I dived over the field gate I started laughing uncontrollably, picked myself up, told myself to be more vigilant and continued along the trail.
Cut to the Cumbrian Way on Day 13 and I am back where I started this tale, at Skiddaw House in the Northern part of the Lake District feeling like luxury just landed at my feet. The ‘Loneliest House in Britain’ is situated roughly 5 miles north of Keswick and stands proudly amongst a conifer tree boundary at 407 metres, making it the highest bunkhouse in Britain. Walking through the door you're instantly greeted by the warmth of a crackling fire and delicious date and chocolate flapjacks. The stone floor is cold against blistered feet, yet it felt soothing and half helped coax them back to some kind of normality. The warm log fire cracked and spewed beautiful warmth throughout the empty building. After an incredibly good nights sleep the songbirds woke me at 5am and the sun peeked through the window lighting up the 6-bunk room that I had all to myself. Day 14, and I left the warm comforts of the bunkhouse to continue my journey.
Scafell Pike was up next, and although I had spent much of the first part of the journey doubting myself, having got this far I was now feeling as though I really could finish this walk as first intended. Those that are experienced long-distance walkers will no doubt know of the feelings that arise when you first start to tackle big trails, it’s not easy breaking your body into it. After a night in Seathwaite I headed toward England’s tallest peak via the Derwent and past the beautiful Sprinkling Tarn. Once Scafell Pike was ticked off I felt recharged, a sudden surge of energy coursed through my body and I knew I was going to make it to the finish line in Wales. A few days later, I found myself in Natland on a patch of farmland several miles from one of my favourite parts of the walk, the Lancaster Canal. Having spent much of my childhood walking along the rivers back home in Essex, I was quite fond of these kinds of paths. The canal only measures 41 miles in length and is flat for the entirety, but it’s the most scenic way to get from Kendal to Preston, and for that reason alone I can’t recommend it enough.
Day 21 found me in Conwy ready to tackle the last part of my walk, my feet now a little more seasoned and my pace steadier, more rhythmic. I was aiming to roughly follow a path which would take me over the Carnedd and Glyder ranges to Snowdon, but this was quickly put to bed when I hit some pretty severe weather, forcing me to turn back and take the roads into the national park. I sighed with relief when I arrived at the base of Snowdon, knowing that in just over 20 hours I’d reach my final summit, before heading to the nearest pub amongst family and friends to celebrate the end of my journey.
All in all, I have tackled 403 miles in 24 days, burnt over 120,000 calories and lost just under 2 stone. It feels good knowing I completed this challenge now, and it will feel good in 50 years, when looking back on my life I can say to my grandchildren in a raspy, fragile voice: “You know, I once walked a long walk.”
If I thought this journey would put me off walking for life, I was wrong. I cannot wait to get back into the outdoors and explore this incredible planet just a little bit more, maybe I’ll see you out there?