A June weekend spent travelling around some of the most stunning parts of the United Kingdom aboard a specially provided train sounds pretty idyllic doesn't it? There’s an old British Rail advert, which urged us to Let The Train Take The Strain and we were certainly very well looked after whilst on-board. But this only tells a part of the story. This train was ferrying a team from SmartRail World alongside 41 other groups from across the rail industry between the three highest peaks in Wales, England and Scotland – Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis – which all had to be climbed within 36 hours. This is estimated as the equivalent of three half marathons, all on challenging terrain, with little opportunity to sleep in between. So why did the SmartRail team do this? It was all for a very good cause, to raise money for Railway Children, an international children's charity working with street children in India, East Africa and the UK. Our Editor, Luke Upton, one of the team, takes over the story…
The Three Peaks Challenge by Rail began at Euston Station in London, where Piers Bearne (our Chairman), Alex Williamson (Managing Director), Rosie Nixon (Operations Manager), Stephen Scott (Marketing Manager) and Becca Skeel (Friend of the company) plus me, boarded a train to Crewe to convene with the other teams. Weeks of talk about starting preparation had led to this point, with a mixture of some tennis, a bit of 5 a-side, yoga and walking rather than getting the bus in the morning ensuring that we were all at least partly prepared for the challenge. One of our team however, Stephen, had added an extra layer to the challenge, having broken his arm after being clipped off his bike the previous week. But as befitting his Geordie-Irish roots, a little thing like limited movement and a sling wasn’t going to stop him climbing any mountains!
The teams came together at Crewe, where the platform was alive with industry chatter as friends old and new joined together in mild trepidation at what was now fast approaching. With our kit all checked by the Railway Children team we boarded the train that would be our home for the weekend, and headed for Wales and our first challenge, Snowdon (1,085 metres / 3,560 ft.). As a proud Welshman, I did of course insist to our team that this would be the best mountain they’d ever climb, let alone on this weekend. For on exceptionally clear days, Ireland, Scotland, England and the Isle of Man are all visible from the summit of Snowdon, and so I am told, also 24 counties, 29 lakes and 17 islands. However, as we commenced our climb at 10pm, summiting at 1am (pictured left) before commencing the walk back down, the breath-taking views were limited to the headlamps of our fellow climbers and a faint glow above Caernarfon. It was though a great start, and the twinkly lights of the 3 Peaks Challengers meandering up the path above the Glaslyn lake provided a memorable image.
Back down from mountain one, we were back on the train and heading to Scafell Pike (978 metres / 3,209 ft.), the highest mountain in England. A few brief hours of uncomfortable sleep were gained on-board before our arrival in Cumbria. As an extra treat for our assembled group of rail professionals, we boarded the Ravenglass & Eskdale Steam Railway, a 15 in / 381 mm minimum gauge heritage railway which took us 7 miles /11.3 km to Dalegarth Station. Where we arrived however wasn’t at the foot of Scafell Pike, we had a 4.5 mile / 7.25 km trek over meadows and pastures just to get to it. After two hours of walking we could begin our 6 mile / 9.6 km ascent (pictured right).
There’s no escaping the fact that climbing Scafell Pike was tough. Whilst pleasant at the during the first hour, as we climbed it became very rainy, cold and visibility dropped to only a few feet in front of our noses. The walking poles that some of us were a little sceptical about using proved essential as the route to the summit was broken up, covered with a mass of loose stones and blocks, or scree in our newly discovered mountain language. But we did it. All six of us made it to the summit, where sadly the view was non-existent due to the abysmal weather. A quick photo and then we were heading back down. Several hours later we made it, returning to the train station, where we were rewarded in a pub with what we all agreed were probably the best chips we’d ever had and some medicinal pints to rehydrate.
Two down, one to go. We boarded the train, and were served some tasty dinner by the crew (all volunteering their time) before heading north and onto the big ‘un – Ben Nevis (1,345 metres / 4,411 ft.). Not just the highest mountain in Scotland, but also in the United Kingdom. As the train rolled into Fort William, we were tired but with the end in sight. Even if we had to look up a long way to see it.
Starting out at 8am, we marched along the broad zig-zag path (pictured left) that winds up the mountain, at time flattening out and then rising again. After three hours, all six of us reach the summit. It’s not like the top of the mountain you would imagine. It’s a flat broad plateau (pictured below), you could probably fit at least two football pitches on it. And even though we are there in June, there were still snow drifts sitting upon it. A few short steps up onto the cairn and we’ve made it, for a minute we are the highest individuals in the whole country. Then it’s a swig of water, an energy bar and we are back on our way down. We make it over the finish line at around 11am, tired, slightly achy but very happy to have completed a real challenge!
Boarding the train for the final time, we enjoy a celebratory few drinks and are presented with our medals as we sweep through the stunning Scottish countryside. Arriving back in London around midnight, we head off home, all delighted to have achieved what we have, and all looking forward to a warm shower followed by a long lie-in!
A big well done to all the 42 teams who participated, it wasn’t a race but well done to British Transport Police for the fastest time (SmartRail World came 14th overall) and honourable mentions to David Taylor and Brian Freemantle who have now both completed the event a record 11 times! A huge thanks as well to all the Railway Children team, and also to the volunteers who worked so hard to keep you fed and watered. The whole weekend wouldn’t have happened without all these fantastic people.
The total raised for the event is over £200k now, and we’d be delighted if you were able to support such a great charity with a small donation. It was cold and wet on all those mountains, but we always knew we’d be back in the warm, with dry clothes and a hot dinner. For a lot of children around the world, they have none of these things.
Thanks for the support!
Luke, Piers, Alex, Rosie, Steve and Becca X
PS - "Thousands of youngsters arrive at India’s railway stations and find themselves lost, alone and scared, with no idea where to go or what to do. All too often the station becomes their home but proves to be a threatening and dangerous environment..." - We have recently also interviewed, Terina Keene, CEO at Railway Children so be sure to read this story and learn more about their work in India, East Africa and the United Kingdom.
Team list: Angel Trains, Arcus Infrastructure Partners, Arriva Rail North, Atos, British Transport Police, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry Trains, DFT, DRSL, East Midlands Trains, Global Transport Forum (SmartRail World), GWR, Hitachi Rail, HS1, Irish Rail, IRO South East,Komplete Group,Lally, Network Rail, Rail Delivery Group, SNC-Lavalin, Southeastern, Thales,TransPennine Express,Virgin Trains, YRP.