The National Three Peaks Challenge

D-DAY MINUS ONE – Thursday 20 June 1996.

Over the weekend of the 21 to 23 June 1996, Rod and Nigel (supported by Julie, Alison and a well packed van!) successfully completed the extended three peaks challenge (or midsummer madness), climbing the three national peaks and cycling in between. This is Rod's account of the weekend.

Julie and Katherine came to Glossop on the Thursday evening in the van, to collect Alison, me and all the food, clothes, bikes, tools, blankets, first-aid equipment etc which might be needed over the next few days. Amazingly, Nigel and Julie easily had twice as much again to pack in the van! Including water tankers and cooker, two mattresses and even a fold-up table and chair set (we didn't in the end take this). Nigel immediately proposed reversing the route due to prevailing winds – northerlies that will provide a good tail wind from Ben Nevis, but a severe headwind the other way. There was a general agreement to this although it meant a long drive of about 340 miles up to Fort William the following day.

THE LONGEST DAY – Friday 21 June
Start The van was packed up in the early morning and we left Littleborough at 9.00am, heading for Scotland with 1 stop enroute for homemade soup and sandwiches. Arriving at Fort William at about 4.30pm to make final preparations, including a photo shoot at Loch Linnhe. Nigel and I then rode quickly to the foot of the Ben, leaving the bikes at the van for the ascent at 5.15pm. Conditions were good, bright, not much wind or too hot. Expected return time 9.15 pm. We set off at a steady jog from Achintee up the main tourist path (I had to quickly retrace because I had forgotten the camera) we received lots of encouragement from walkers, which helped us get into our stride. The weather was better than we could have hoped for as we reached the top of the interminable zigzags. Achintee support
Nigel with Mamories backdrop

Before we knew it we were enjoying one of the 60 or so days in the year when the Ben is not swathed in mist. The views of the Mamores were magnificent, but we hadn't much time to spend admiring them. Well ahead of schedule we started the descent, passing a group of Germans we had seen on the way up. They were astonished to see us and one of them exclaimed ‘You've been all the vay upstairs'.

We also ended up racing a couple of Fell runners on the way down (I figured this was stupid). Our earlier than expected return caught Alison and Julie by surprise.

Rod on way up the Ben
So our ahead of scheduled return as they strolled someway up the mountain to fill in time, had them turning on their heels. We couldn't see them for dust as they sprinted back to the van, with us chasing. But they quickly rustled up hot drinks, sandwiches and slices of fruitcake whilst we prepared for a long ride on the shortest night, wrapping up with lots of scotchlite. We felt good and optimistic about the time schedule and general fitness. We left them at 8.15pm and cycled through the recently pedestrianised Fort William out along the A82. Any aching from the run was gently massaged away as we turned fairly low gears at a good cadence towards the grand climb of Glencoe. The ascent was smooth and the sunset and tailwind combined to boost momentum. But then a bout of sickness came over Nigel, this made the going very hard for him and so early on in the venture!

We were to meet the van at the top of Rannoch Moor, about 30 miles into the cycle and it was a welcome sight to see it in the lay-by as arranged (for supper). It was now 10.15pm and Nigel spent some time recovering and trying to eat. Julie asked the crucial question, “can you, should you – go on?” “YES” came the reply. We would resume cycling and see how he felt over the next 20 miles or so. He did not have a temperature and his pulse was 80 bpm (similar to mine). These factors indicated it wasn't serious, possibly mild sunstroke. I felt fine: had a wash and plenty to eat (pasta and sauce, pineapples and rice pudding with peppermint tea sweetened with honey to drink).

We resumed cycling after 45 minutes, at 11pm. The steady pace allowed one to take in the atmosphere and although we had inevitably to follow the main and only road it didn't distract from the vast amount of wilderness on either side. The crescent moon reflected in the lochs and shooting stars shot across the sky like distant fireworks. The piece was only disturbed by the juggernauts thundering past all lit up like fairground carrousels. At one point a stag running onto the road out of the dark, skidded on the tarmac across our path and made off as fast at it had appeared. Moving through the twilight was a strange and dreamlike experience – it was easy to contemplate taking up night riding in preference to the hectic commuting back home.

Nigel slowly recovered over the miles whilst I felt wonderful, even euphoric – it seemed like no distance at all before we were past Loch Lomond as we slip streamed each other's red bike lights and scotchlite. We pushed on towards the dawn chorus and Erskine Bridge, having only had to make a couple of stops (at Tyndrum and Tarbet) for hot drinks, water and bonk food. We were all reassured if not amazed by Nigel's recovery, as he had a short nap and as the night wore on. It was the usual pre dawn coldness that drove us to push on hard to Erskine Bridge, we stopped for breakfast – having covered 94 miles in 8 hours 15 minutes (4.30am).
SCOTLAND TO THE BORDER – Saturday 22 June.

The dawn was teeth chatteringly cold, easily the coldest part of the cycle so far. A cup of tea, cereal and hot toast allowed recuperation. We both had a warm wash down and cleaned our teeth which, due to glucose intake felt furred up (probably imaginary but at least they were warm!) I was pleased not to feel tired, although Nigel did (this was not usual). We left the van and Alison and Julie to set it to rights before they set off at 5.15am, . They passed us a long way down the A726 towards Paisley.

They waited for us up ahead to guide us through a potentially tricky town centre's jumble of roads (assisted by Graham's detailed maps). Paisley was a bit dilapidated and sad but the surrounding Ayrshire countryside was lush and green. There was a stiff climb out of Lugton, where the girls spied a fox cub and then the vixen, whilst they waited to photograph us slogging up the hill. The sun was now bright and giving some warmth so we had an unscheduled stop at 7.00am for which we both were grateful – we both felt tired and chanced dozing off.

Nigel dozes for a minute

The cows in the adjacent field crowded up to the hedge to gaze at these mad humans buzzing around with kettles, blankets, fruit baskets and washing up bowls of warm water.

So 35 minutes rest then back to the grind (7.35am). Ayrshire proved to be a very cyclable part of the country with long descents, and few uphill stretches on the A76, passing Kilmarnock then onto Sarquhar and Dumfries, where we had booked lunch at our mobile café!. Progress was good and we were maintaining an average speed of 16 mph. It was only towards the Dumfries that the traffic started to pick up, although we were able to use this to our advantage speeding along at 20/21 mph to our next rendezvous. This was a good stint of just over 50 miles (a miraculous recovery by Nigel) when we stopped at 11.40am for a substantial and much needed lunch of tatter–hash, fresh fruit salad and custard and a variety of hot and cold drinks, along with the obligatory wash down in spite of the stares of the passing motorists.

The girls were feeling much brighter after managing another hours kip along the way. At 12.30pm we continued on our way towards Carlisle, with 175 miles done 86 to go to Scafell. We were, by now resigned to a non-record time concentrating on just completing this Herculean task.

The van passed us some way down the road and as we were approaching Annan, Julie called us up on the mobile, from Carlisle, advising us of an extremely busy road and in fact part of the A74 which had been re-designated part of the motorway. So we took the quieter roads around Longtown to approach Carlisle (this is what we told Alison and Julie), noting the attitude towards cyclists was more tolerant than in Greater Manchester we chanced the motorway for a mad half hour of hostility. Maybe on the smaller roads they have more time (they certainly seem to have longer days up here ) to be tolerant but certainly not on the A74 we time trialled for our lives on the most direct route to Carlisle. After Carlisle, just past Thursby roundabout at 3.30pm we met up with the support team, who had managed to pick up some mid–afternoon treats at Morrisons, in the shape of watermelon, Danish pastries, fresh coffee and crisps (for salt content). This really perked us up and we were raring to go soon afterwards in high spirits. We began the final haul into Cumbria, 40 miles over the hills through Keswick and then on to Seathwaite in Borrowdale, expecting to see Alison and Julie again at about 6.30pm - on Stockley Bridge, ready to take our bikes off us, (we were nearly taken out at this point by speeding vans taking hoards of the regular three peaks challengers). We then changed for the ascent of Scafell.


Julie and Alison had arrived to find the several vans supporting similar attempts (without bikes!) that had nearly taken us out. It was slightly disheartening to be part of a thronging crowd, intruding on the piece of the Lakes. The plan was for us to ride up to Stockley Bridge and hand the bikes over to the girls and then continue on foot to the summit via the corridor route. Unfortunately the track was too rough and we very quickly abandoned the idea. Alison and Julie took the bikes, loaded them into the van and drove them the very long way round to Dungeon Ghyll to await our reappearance on the other side of Scafell Pike. I felt a bit low at this point, but we adopted a fast march up to the Pike, lots of erosion was evident. Both of us were worried about small stones being dislodged by the walkers scrambling up the scree slopes in front of us (the Corridor route is famous for this), we wished we still had our cycling helmets on. We eventually reached the top of Scafell after overshooting somewhat and having to back track, descending with aching thighs and knees into the dusk. I had to keep saying to myself “giving up was not an option”. We kept thinking that the girls had brought the bikes up the long track, but it was the light of dusk playing tricks. At 10.15pm we wearily strolled down the last few yards of the path into Dungeon Ghyll.

Rod, Nigel and some prats,  Scafell Pike

At this point I really felt I could not go on. The thought of all the miles ahead made my head spin and I don't think I was making much sense to anyone anymore! Nigel just wanted to sleep but was otherwise in good humour. We both ate well ( a second helping of tatter – hash, rice pudding and peaches plus cake and drinks) then went to sleep for just over an hour. On waking, Nigel decided to answer a call of nature in a nearby shrubbery remembered from our previous training visit. He suddenly found himself in a cesspit.

He calmly called for hot water and a complete change and climbed out! I just got up, dressed and climbed on the bike. Better not to think too hard about it! We cycled away from Dungeon Ghyll in pitch darkness at 1.20am on Sunday heading towards Lancaster via Great Langdale. My front light started to fail and using Nigel as a guide was extremely hard every time we hit a descent he pulled away from me leaving me blind. Our support said they would go on ahead as far as Milnthorpe and as they were very tired would grab and hour or so's kip.


We sped along in the dark on the tricky winding unlit road to Windermere, conscious of the stone walls looming right and left. I was thankful when the road widened and there was a white line to guide me away from the these rough walls and the potholes. Windermere was well lit and it was possible to pick up the pace and stretch the legs on the climbs.

Into our second dawn with plenty downhill stretches towards Lancaster. The mist was hanging over the meadows and streams, we were able to do some sociable riding. Riding side by side helped keep the sleepiness at bay, although I was feeling extremely good I noticed Nigel's front wheel twitching, he was actually falling asleep on the bike. I was dismayed to find he had his eyes closed at one point. We continued to Lancaster dodging hundreds of rabbits hopping across the road to a glorious sunrise.

As we cycled towards Lancaster we passed the van where the girls were fast asleep (stupidly we didn't wake them presuming they would meet us in Lancaster as planned). But the next time we saw them was 16 miles past the rendezvous point, oh dear! this lost us an hour or so at a roundabout waiting for them to catch up. Breakfast was eventually made at Scorton at 6.50am and all was well again except for petrol which was now dangerously low. We left the girls at 7.30am, the next stop was to be Ashton–in–Makerfield. It also was quite amusing at this point to get caught up in a local time–trial. Nigel and I had both raced here in the past and it was quite embarrassing to be catching a competitor up after all our miles. Apart from the brief stop at Ashton–in- Makerfield (this made me laugh, we cycled all that way to get to Ashton–in–Makerfield), and a few miles further on, along the A49 past Wigan. Apparently it was nine petrol stations and over hour later that the tank was filled up. However the stop was made as planned and we had elevenses of oatcakes with cheese and tomatoes, fruitcake and you've guessed it – bananas! All served in the driveway of a deserted factory next to a main road. Not far to go now relatively and everybody was in good spirits, Next stop – Fflint in Wales.

The roads around this area seemed vaguely familiar and we cycled them in a blur. It was strange to contemplate people's ignorance to what we were doing – to them we were just two cyclists out for a Sunday morning potter – ha! By the time we passed the huge Stanlow oil refinery outside Queensferry, with Nigel setting a blistering pace. A feeling of riding the same stretch of road over and over again disconcerted me. It struck me as so funny that I had to get off the bike to regain my composure. I was also becoming emotional and after seeing another cyclist with his young daughter in a kiddie seat on the back contending with heavy traffic, I was nearly over the edge.

After we had last left them, Alison and Julie had decided to clean up the van. At first it seemed like a good idea but proved to be an error of judgement (due to lack of sleep) because they lost track of time and had to hot foot it down the motorway to F…Fflint Castle, in an exhausted state and worried as to their fitness to drive. Although late in arriving, they were ahead of us and had prepared the food, which consisted of yet more pasta. At this point, Nigel was eager to get on, but I was feeling pessimistic and pre-occupied about failing. I felt we needed ‘total support' (no that didn't mean putting the bikes and us in the van) I thought that the van should follow behind us all the way to Pen–y–pass. However Alison and Julie firmly said they needed some sleep and we agreed to meet further up the A54. The girls eventually caught us up on the road through Rhyll (where we had to contend with hollers of get off and milk it and the smell of Candy Floss), we stopped to make sure we were following the right route and had peppermint tea and honey, malt bread and biscuits. What – no bananas? “NO! - We're sick of the sight of them!”. We all felt brighter and less worried now that the final miles were approaching, but we did have to struggle against a very strong westerly headwind, which reduced the pace to around 13 mph, My knees were tender and Nigel had a sore foot and a touch of cramp. By this time we were definitely riding on automatic pilot and feeling pretty numb, though not unhappy and looking forward to seeing the mountains of North Wales again.

Into the hills and for me a potentially dangerous loss of concentration, which nearly saw me off the bike and into a tree, when I experienced whilst, descending near Llanrwst (at around 40 mph) ‘speed wobbles' (a phenomenon believed to be caused by tension from the rider passing into the frame). It shook me out of whatever state I had settled into. After recovering and getting my confidence back, we climbed well out of Betws–y–Coed and pressed on along the wooded valley past Swallow Falls to Capel Curig, Snowdon looming ever closer. Nothing could stop us now, and we managed a final sprint for the line up Pan–y–Pass (which up until that point in time seemed like a big climb) at 7.45pm.

Alison and Julie prepared sandwiches and tea, along with a complete change of gear for us and at 8.10pm, all four of us set off up the Miners Track for Snowdon summit. It was overcast and we had to press on hard, three quarters of the way up the girls bid us farewell and returned back to the van. We scrambled over the scree up to Bwlch Glas and at 10.30pm we ascended through the clouds to a summit in an ethereal world of lavender skies and layers of pink and white clouds tumbling over the mountains. We quietly enjoyed a moment of peace and tranquillity after the hurly–burly of the preceding 50 or so hours, 462 miles of cycling and three mountain peaks.
Rod at Snowdon Summit, 10.30pm

With a fantastic sunset we made our way down the Pyg track in the darkness, the clouds moving across the moonlight played many tricks with my eyes. Thinking I was seeing many strange moving images, almost like the rocks were transforming themselves into staring creatures, we also thought the moonbeams shining through the clouds were the spotlights of rescuers sent to find us.

At last we regained the van, in which our anxious companions had fretted away the last two hours, as it grew darker and windier. The watch was stopped at 11.40pm the challenge had taken 54 hours 25 minutes. Unfortunately the meal and a whisky at the hotel was not on offer. Needless to say, we were all shattered, physically and mentally and just wanted to sleep which we did somehow in the van.

The sense of elation and immense satisfaction would come later.


The success of the venture came down to the preparation and organization. I had cycled around 6000 miles in the months leading up to it, plus a fair amount of running and walking on Snowdon, Tryfan and Bristly Ridge in heavy rain and Scafell in snow and ice. More locally on Bleaklow and Kinder and I wore out a good pair of Walsh running shoes and two pair of tyres in the process.

The back up was the make or ‘brake' so our faithful support team Alison and Julie were wonderful (apart from.......only joking), they showed real foresight to our needs. At each stop everything was prepared for us to minimise the stoppage time and the odd Terry's chocolate orange or Danish pastry made a welcome change to pasta and potato. They also had to endure lack of sleep, grabbing around 5 hours on the whole trip. Plus driving some of the tricky roads around the Lake District was probably more tiring than some of the cycling.

The detailed maps carefully prepared by my work colleague Graham Fletcher were invaluable for both road and mountain use. I would like to thank everyone who helped to raise £350 for charity.

Rod presenting cheque
Rod, June 1996