scotland

Three Peaks Challenge

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Back in June, on the longest day of the year, Reid and I embarked (along with 12 other people) on what is known as the Three Peaks Challenge. The Challenge involves climbing the three highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales within 24 hours. I like to think of myself as a someone who stays in shape (I like to run quite a bit and try and do various races throughout the year- 5k’s, 10k’s, sprint triathlons) but this was not only the most physically challenging things I have ever done but possibly also the most mentally challenging.

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We began our trip the day before by flying from London to Glasgow (barely an hour flight) and meeting up with the rest of the group and the van that would be home for the next day or so. From the airport we drove further up north to the town of Fort William which is only a five minute drive to the base of Ben Nevis, our first peak to conquer the following morning. That night I didn’t sleep very well, mostly going over lists of things in my head making sure we had enough water, food and the right clothes. That morning we had an early wake up call followed by a hearty breakfast and then hit the trail!

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Ben Nevis is the highest of the three peaks and begins closest to sea level meaning it has the greatest vertical ascent of the three. We had pretty good weather ranging from sun to light showers and saw all types of people competing in the challenge. We even saw a group of who looked to be in the military carrying a tub up and down the mountain! The most incredible thing happened just as we reached the summit when the clouds parted to reveal the most beautiful view of the valley below. Seeing as you are against the clock, we had only a few minutes at the top before we headed back down. Partly due to the size of our group and a few injuries that happened on the way down, once everyone completed Ben Nevis we found ourselves behind schedule as well as loosing 8 people from our group who could not continue on. At this point, Reid, myself and the two others still ready to go had to make a decision if we wanted to keep going- something we all really wanted to do- so we decided to continue on our own.

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After we dropped the part of our group that could not continue off at the airport, the four of us plus our two guides continued on our roughly six hour road trip south to Scafell Pike in England’s Lake District. This next climb was going to be a bit of a challenge since we would have to climb in complete darkness due to the fact that we were significantly behind schedule. Luckily one of our guides was from the Lake District and knew Scafell Pike like the back of his hand. I almost think that climbing in the dark made it better for me mentally because I couldn’t see exactly how steep the climb was beyond the few feet that was visible from my headlamp. Our climb started around 11 pm and once we summited we were the only six people at the very top, a big difference from the busy trails of Ben Nevis. It was pretty amazing to sit under the stars surrounded by the quiet but once again, we couldn’t linger too long and began our descent. I hope to return to Scafell Pike one day during the daylight so I can see the trail that we actually climbed.

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After Scafell Pike and another five hour drive later we found ourselves at the base of the final peak of the challenge, Snowdon in Wales. We were greeted with the most glorious blue skies during this hike and I think that really brought everyone’s mood up. I’ll admit, that my legs were pretty creaky when we first started- I think I was walking about the pace of a ninety year old. Even though I was in the most pain physically during this climb (my knees were giving me trouble) I still found this peak to be my favorite of the three. The landscape was insanely picturesque and it also helped knowing that we were so close to the end though this was the only hike where we summited and descended via different routes (which meant that on the way down you weren’t really sure how much further you had to go because there weren’t any familiar markers). All in all, when we made those final steps to the finish, I had never been so happy to see the such a smelly van in all of my life. Having 6 boys (2 guides, one driver and three hikers) plus myself traveling in a small space for over 24 hours did not make for a clean vehicle.

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From there, we were driven to the nearest train station and hopped on to the next train to London (boy did I feel bad for the other passengers in our car as I’m sure we did not smell of roses). I spent most of the trip staring out the window at the passing landscape and dreaming of soaking in a nice warm bath and eating something other than nuts, dried fruit or beef jerky. The memories of the previous two days washed over me and I basked in the accomplishment of having climbed all three peaks. I couldn’t believe we did it and I’m so glad that we did. If you are ever thinking of trying this out, please drop me a line! I am more than happy to act as a sounding board or give advice for your adventure!

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Skibo Castle

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This summer Reid and I were invited to spend the weekend way up north in Scotland’s eastern highlands at the glorious Skibo Castle, now a private club that was originally built by Andrew Carnegie. The words private club tend to conjure up images of stuffy establishments that can make you feel out of place, but that could not be further from the truth. From the moment we arrived at Skibo, Reid and I could not have felt more welcomed and accepted and I think that is a big aim for everyone who works there or is a member there.

A quick flight from London to Inverness followed by an hour drive north and we had arrived at our destination. Once we had gotten over the shell shock of staying in such a beautiful location, we took advantage of exploring the grounds and everything on offer at the club. Besides never having been this far north in the UK before, the weekend was full of lots of firsts for me… my first time to go clay pigeon shooting (also my first time to shoot a shotgun), my first time to see and partake in falconry (the snowy owl took quite a liking to me), my first time participating in a ceilidh (traditional scottish dancing) and my first time hearing a toast given in honor of the haggis.

When we weren’t trying out new things, we filled our time with meandering walks, taking advantage of the spa and pool, and of course golfing (though that was just Reid, I’m not really blessed with any golfing skills). By the time the weekend came to an end, I’m surprised Reid and I were actually able to pry ourselves away and head back to London. It was a once in a lifetime experience that we are forever grateful for and will never forget.

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Islay

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Itinerary: A five day trip to the Scottish Isle of Islay, known as the Queen of the Hebrides, to celebrate my husband’s 30th birthday.

Travel time: We took two flights- one from London to Glasgow and another from Glasgow to Islay (on a tiny puddle jumper). There is a ferry option too if you don’t like small planes or want to bring your car with.

Accommodation: We stayed at the most wonderful bed and breakfast called the Kilmeny Country House which is situated on 300 acres of farmland and is run by the lovely Margaret (literally everyone we ran into on the island knew her!). The drive up to the house is straight out of the opening credits to a movie with a long, tree-lined road that leads up to the house which is perched on top of a hill. Each morning we were warmly greeted in the dining room by Margaret or her husband and offered the most delicious breakfast all served on fine china- it felt like something from a different time.

Highlight(s): Islay (pronounced eye-la) is home to 9 working whisky distilleries and is where we decided to celebrate Reid’s 30th birthday. Over the course of our trip, we visited Bruichladdich, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Bunnahabhain. The entire island is very small, so presumably, you could visit all of the distilleries within a long weekend. My personal favorites were the Bruichladdich and the Laphroaig distilleries. Every distillery offers tours varying from your basic ones that cost about £5 and include a few drams of whisky to the more in depth that can range in price depending on what’s involved (all of which is available on each distilleries’ websites). I think I enjoyed the Bruichladdich distillery so much because one- it was the first distillery we went to and everything was new to me, two- I love their branding it (It has a much more modern and clean feel than some of the others) and three- the whisky was delicious! On our visit to Laphroaig, we had booked spots onto a more in depth tour with a small group that ended with us being able to bottle our own whisky directly from the cask to take home.

When we weren’t tasting whisky, we took our time exploring Islay by eating at a the different pubs/restaurants/cafes, hiking around the lochs, and just taking in the insanely beautiful and rugged scenery that surrounded us. On one of our drives, I was behind the wheel ticking along on a single lane road when I managed to run our car into a ditch. There was no oncoming car, no sharp turn, no bad weather, no whisky was involved- I just have really bad driving skills when it comes to driving on the left side of the road. Luckily we had just passed a house and the lovely old man who lived there (whose accent was so thick neither Reid or I could understand him) hooked our car up to his four wheeler and dragged us out of the ditch without a scratch on the car. To this day I wish I had taken a quick photo of him.

This trip gave us just a little taste of Scotland and given how easy it is to get here by car, train or plane, I can see us visiting more and more in the future!

 

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*shot on a Contax 645 with Kodak Portra 400 and a Lomo LC-A with Iflord XP2*

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