After just over 16 hours spent summiting and descending the three highest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales, our Rail Media team made it back to the foot of Ben Nevis, where it had begun in the early hours.
From leaving London Euston on Thursday, 19 June, it took just over 36 hours to conquer Snowdon (1,085m), Scafell Pike (978m) and Ben Nevis (1,134m), and travel the hundreds of miles in between in aid of the industry’s favoured charity, Railway Children.
The weather forecast for the weekend was perfect. Sun, light breezes and just a smattering of showers on the final day. A far cry from the torrential rains of two years ago. Things briefly looked as though they might not go as smoothly as hoped when a freight train derailment marooned the chartered train at Stafford. Fortunately having an entire carriage occupied by Network Rail employees meant things seemed to get going quickly.
The challenge began just as the sun was setting on a brisk summer’s evening in Snowdonia. However, the eagerness to get started was tempered by a familiar disappointment and collective groans as many listened to interrupted radio coverage of England’s hasty World Cup exit. Forty-seven teams made their way in the dark to Snowdon’s summit. The head torches created an unbroken thread of light up to the summit where clear skies afforded views of the hundreds of twinkling street lights across the towns and villages of north Wales.
After just a couple of hours to sleep and eat, Scafell Pike loomed. Following a short ride on the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway, there was a two-hour ramble through the Lake District before the teams arrived at the base of the mountain. What followed was a gruelling climb in the intense afternoon sunshine over shifting rocky terrain.
Back on the train, there were a few hours to scoff even more food and rest up before the final stretch. In the Scottish Highlands’ beautiful Grampian Mountains, Ben Nevis was waiting. We set off just before 5am. By then, some walkers were already on their way back down, offering a few words of encouragement as they passed by.
It was during the first section of Ben Nevis that the difficulty of the challenge began to be felt. Radio message after radio message came through as several of the 188 climbers were forced to turn back through injury and fatigue. Approaching the final third, the rains came, initially as a refreshing mist but soon as a driving shower, testing the limits of our not so weather-resistant waterproofs.
Finally, at the final summit of the final mountain, we were able to forget the aches and the blisters and take stock. The Three Peaks is a real physical and mental challenge. Being able to see what they’re capable of is what attracts many people to it every year but it feels important to refocus on why it is held in the first place.
Overall, this year’s challenge raised £280,000 – a record amount.
All the food and drink on the Three Peaks train was donated by various companies and the onboard bar made £1,300. As always, teams from all corners of the industry took part. First Transpennine Express took the accolade of top fundraising team, drumming up an incredible £53,000.
Since its launch in 2004, Three Peaks by Rail has raised over £2 million for the charity. Railway Children supports 5,000 new children in need every year around the world, providing shelter, food, clothing, medical supplies, education and counselling.
Says Katie Mason, events manager for Railway Children, ‘Everyone involved pulled out all the stops for this year’s Three Peaks by Rail to raise an incredible £280,000, which is a huge achievement.
‘The on-board service, run entirely by volunteers, worked tirelessly and always with a smile to feed and water the participants from start to finish.
‘The teams even raised over £900 by having a whip round on the train to thank the crew, but they insisted on donating it all back to Railway Children. The challenge, our biggest annual industry event, is now in its 11th year but the generosity of those that take part can still take your breath away.’
To enter a team of four in next year’s Three Peaks Challenge, please call Katie on 01270 757 596 or e-mail: [email protected]. For more information go to www. railwaychildren.org.uk/events
Photos courtesy of Jack Boskett Photography and Railway Children.