Peak 2: Whernside
Posted on November 8, 2018
Vision Africa – A small charity with a big purpose!
By Peter Leverton
Peak 2: Whernside
Elevation: 2,415ft / 736m
Coordinates: 54°13′40″N 2°24′12″W
Difficulty: Easy (Clearly Google has never walked the Yorkshire Three Peaks)
On Saturday the 18th of August myself and team of 7 other adventurous individuals banded together to beat the Yorkshire Three Peaks in an effort to raise money and awareness for Vision Africa – this is the journey of Vicky, Sarah, Tony, David, Arunima, Matin, Josh and Peter.
The top of our first rock ridden adversary was quite the social bubble; at least twenty to thirty people were gathered around. From people toting absurdly large backpacks (no doubt containing bungee cords, travel grills, a four man tent, the family gold fish and some bread crumbs to feed the birds along the way), to a group of exceptionally skinny men wearing all too revealing short shorts and loose vests multiple sizes too large that flapped wildly in the weather. Everybody was shuffling to the trig point for photographic proof of their excursion; it was like watching people queue up for the first coffee of the morning at Starbucks except they were serving blisters, not Frappe’s. I myself felt no need for a photo; I much prefer to live in the moment not the selfie. However in the spirit of comradery I joined for a still shot and stretched out the biggest grin I could under the wet and windy conditions. Vicky, seemingly immune to the elements in her turquoise vest top, was kind enough to take the photo of us all together, her hiking sticks waiting obediently by her side. It was much easier to smile watching her hair repeatedly slap her face. I can’t understand how women cope, if my moustache so much as tickles my lip I immediately shave it smooth as a peach and embarrassingly reduce my age by a decade, Vicky seemed to be all but eating her pony tail and thought nothing of it… I wonder sometimes if I am just a little bit of a drama queen. I digress, Vicky snapped the shot, gave us the thumbs up for our efforts, we all simultaneously relaxed and quickly meandered away from the trig point allowing for the half naked runners to shiver their way over for their turn. I can’t speak for everybody, but it certainly felt like there was an air of satisfaction between us all. Pen-Y-Ghent had not taken that long to summit, two and a half hours at most I should think, this perhaps made us over confident, it was the still just the beginning… We had two more peaks to go and they weren’t going to summit themselves.
Just keep walkin’
I am the first to admit that I am no professional, but in my 23 years of walking I’ve learnt that the key to reduce suffering during long walks is to keep moving your legs. If you stop for more than just a few minutes your legs begin to act like they’ve never heard of ‘walking’ and feel insulted at the very prospect of attempting it. My legs are particularly quick to throw a hissy fit, I insisted we keep moving for that very reason. I begin leading the way, climbing over a stile connected to the stone wall running the length of the peak. I was empowered with the experience of leading the group for a change; I had to make the most of it while I could. Josh and David were hot on my heels, David looking like a man born of the mountains, stomped on ahead with his big, solid boots designed for crushing steel, his backpack swinging heavily side to side with every stride, he donned a military looking bandana and shorts of appropriate length (thank goodness). Josh on the other hand… to be quite frank he looked like a football fan severely lost on the way to Old Trafford stadium. They made quite the incongruous pair as they sauntered past, stealing my lead and deflating my confidence like a whoopee cushion. Rather than match pace with them I held back for Sarah who was approaching behind me. With another 10 hours of walking to go it was about time I conversed properly with my team members, getting to know who there were and their motivations, Sarah was a good place to start.
I ended up spending a lot of my time walking with Sarah; I’d be lying if I said Jelly Beans held no influence on our companionship but more on that later. This was the onset of our friendship and I used every conversational bone in my body to get to know her, asking deep and meaningful questions that really open people up like “how was your porridge this morning?” or “how about those Camp site toilets?”, “do you fold the toilet paper or scrunch it up?”.
We started the decline together trudging down a loose and stony path, she was wearing a professional looking jacket and had her signature cap on with a dark blond ponytail tightly tucked underneath. She wore breathable ¾ length shorts that must have left ¼ of her lower half terribly cold. I took particular note of her pink frilly socks poking out of her boots like pink little dandelions; she was stylish in a practical sense and it was clear she put more thought into her outfit than I. We started by discussing work, myself at Sheffield Mutual, her as a Teacher, from there we branched into schools and the education system where I found out she went to school with my Sister, a remarkable coincidence because I went to school with hers. We discussed, dance and theatre, I learned that she is an avid performer and a lover of the arts. As the walk when on topics came and went. While we talked about fitness briefly where I made unsuccessful efforts to convince her to join me at a Park Run, when we debated movies she made futile efforts to talk me into watching Legally Blonde. We differ greatly as individuals but she was exceptional company, especially considering her terrible taste in films. She started to inventory everything that she brought on the trek at one point, “I borrowed these trousers from my friend back in Doncaster, and I took this jacket from my boyfriend – he said it was waterproof but clearly he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The boots I stole from my sister and these pink socks are also hers but she hasn’t realised I’m wearing them yet, I bought a water bottle but it leaked so I borrowed this one…” and so it went on, from head to toe she talked me through ‘her’ gear, only none of it was hers besides the cap wedged firmly on her head in case of a second escape attempt.
We plodded down the grey stone path together descending into rain; the long awaited friend who wasn’t invited to the party but showed up anyway, drank too much, clogged the plumbing, flooded the house and got everybody’s socks wet. The uncomfortably fine rain sieved down into vicious, bullying torrents of wind, throwing the specks of water around with vast, immediate shifts in direction, one second it’s showering on your back and a split second later there’s a loud “WHOOSH” and your face is assaulted by thousands of grains of moisture. Both Sarah and I made the rookie mistake of not having our water proofs on, I know, I know, common sense dictates that if water is falling from the sky you wear a water proof – I put this faux pas down to our enthralling conversation distracting us from the elements (it sounds better than admitting to a lack of common sense). We threw on our waterproofs about 10 minutes later than we should have, successfully prevented ourselves from getting any wetter whilst ruling out any prospect of drying off, it was the closest one can get to feeling like soggy Weetabix wrapped in cling film. After we both spent a full minute wiping our noses we agreed that the worst part was not knowing if your nose was running or if it was just the rain pouring around your nostrils, I’m still not sure to this day.
I looked around to see if any of our companions were in sight but once again the team had split into its little factions, David and Josh in front and Tony, Vicky, Runi and Matin at the rear. Truth be told the only people I could see was two gentlemen talking to each other behind us, moaning about their achy bones, “we’re about half way around now I think” one of them said, (I’m fairly sure half of three isn’t one, but I didn’t want his parade to suffer further rain so I kept this information to myself). I rudely interrupted (the only way I know how) and asked them if they planned to summit all Three Peaks, “that’s the hope” the taller, dark haired man said confidently, “ask me again in an hour” the other, shorter and obviously less enthusiastic man said, whilst he clutched his knees to stop them falling off. I chuckled along with them for a short while, making new friends is not my strong suit and before long they continued past us. I assume they made it around since I never saw them again after that. I like to think the taller man said “we’re half way around now” a good three or four more times before a heated discussion about distance, time, fractions and the wobbliness of knee caps erupted.
The ground started generously levelling out soon after they were out of sight. Sarah pointed out how we were now below the clouds and mist and had a wide, panoramic view of the bulging, giant hills of the countryside. It was beautifully layered with a gentle slope coming down from our right wearing a luscious green coat of grass, glazed with dew. In front of us the path rose up slightly and then dipped behind another hill, beyond that you could see much higher rocky mounds reaching up and cutting into the clouds. Far off to our left there were a few little cottages dotting the landscape built in such a way that they seemed to fit perfectly in place with the surrounding environment – it was one of those moments where all I could think was ‘this is what I live for’.
I’ve had a growing fondness for the outdoors since I turned 23, almost like a switch in my head, I changed me from an avid gamer with countless hours on ‘Call of Duty’ into someone who is out trying to make the most of every minute. Since this abrupt change in priorities I’ve never felt better about myself – I recall one such outing where I joined my flamboyant sister-in-law (I only have the one sister-in-law but she exhumes flamboyance from every orifice like a wet sponge left out in the sun) on a walk from one side of the Isle of Wight to the other, East to West I believe, It was roughly 9 hours of walking and we appropriated somebody’s dog to keep me distracted from the lady skipping, singing and cartwheeling her way across the island. I can’t remember much from the walk but the key thing I’ve learnt is that if you’re going to walk in the same direction for half of the day in the middle of summer you really ought to put sunscreen on. I was butchered by Ultra Violet radiation all down my left side, I was red raw on one side and anaemic on the other, it made me look like a Batman villain crossed with a Drumstick Squashie. I shut myself inside like a hermit waiting to shed my embarrassment along with my skin. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again to avoid a day stuck at home.
The Flat Bit
Between Pen-Y-Ghent and Whernside there is a meeting point where the road reaches a T junction draped in parking spaces. The key attraction was a ‘Hot snack and drinks’ pop-up shop and a pub three minutes up the road. This junction was where we were set to meet Vic Hancock Fell, the UK National director of Vision Africa who promised to bring along some delectable and refreshing foods. I had never met her personally before the walk though we did share a couple of comical comments over social media. Despite my lack of knowledge of her, my opinion of anybody devoted to charities is set high.
The plan was to meet up with Vic at 10:30. As with most plans it had gone terribly askew. My watch made it 10:35 and the alluring aroma of coffee had yet grace my senses… I turned to Sarah to give her the news of our tardiness. Neither of us knew how far away we were from the meeting point and at this point we had been walking for at least an hour after reaching the base of Pen-Y-Ghent. We turned right onto a road a while back for the sole reason that everybody else seemed to be going that way and followed the road so avidly it may as well have been yellow bricked and populated with helium dependent children with a passion for repetitive song.
I was starving at the time but refused to eat until we met up with Vic. Stopping for food would only make us even later so I staved off the hunger with an entertaining game of count the banana skins. I should explain, this game materialised after I recalled a blog I read a few days prior to this walk that informed me of the national calamity of the banana skin. Did you know banana skins take 2 years to completely decompose? According to the blog that is a big deal. People carelessly throwing them away during walks sparked a sharp increase in complaints of gorgeous views stained by the sight of the ungainly peels (not to mention the countless comical slips that must be occurring across the UK). I mentioned this nugget of information to everybody individually in the hopes it might make for a good ice-breaker; if nothing else it established a precedent for my weirdness. It was actually really surprising how many banana skins there were dotted around. I counted about sixteen just on the way up Whernside, after that I stopped counting and simply declared “BANANA SKIN!” every time I saw one, much to the surprise of passing herds of sheep.
I likened the walking of this bland stretch of grey, flat roads to that of walking though the Australian outback, of course with much less searing heat, sun and Dingoes (and much more dreary clouds, chilling winds and sheep). There were a couple of occasions where Sarah would perk up with surprise “Look Peter, over there!” she’d point excitedly, I’d look up hoping to see maybe a burger van full of greasy meat, sizzling onions and melting cheeses or perhaps even a port-a-loo, only to see in the distance a small collection of cars lingering at the edge of the road in a half-hearted attempt at a congregation. We’d soon realise it was other exhausted walkers abandoning the trek early. This churned up quite the mental struggle for me. I’ve mentioned how the peaks are as mentally demanding as they are physically exhausting but to see people jumping ship before they even got within sight of the second peak… it instilled doubt in both of us.
It felt like half the day had passed filled with nothing but mindless walking, we emerged around a lazy S bend and saw in the far background a stretching brick bridge reaching across the flats of the countryside, the bridge was supported by a row of stone arches that bounded across the flats while above them a passing train gently chugged its way across. I was at that moment struck with a memory from the last time I did the walk; I knew straight away we were close to the meeting point. I wiped away all the moisture that collected on my watch and had a quick glance, the time was 10:50am; I weighed this up in my head and quickly came to the conclusion that if we got a move on Sarah and I could make a fashionably late entrance. Things were looking up again! Before anything else I took a moment to enjoy the scenery, it was quite remarkable in spite of the weather, I felt like I’d stepped right into a moving oil painting. I took it all in with a deep breath then passed the good news to Sarah, from there we power walked with an air of confidence all the way to the meeting point.
There was a stream to our right which ran parallel to the path we were following, the sound of the running water brought my mind splashing down into the pressing realisation that I’d drunk far too much coffee, I did my best to ignore this fact for a further four hours. The road hit the T junction and Sarah quickly spotted David and Josh on the other side of the river. We turned right where the road crossed over the river and met up our chieftain and his lackey.
They said they had been waiting for about ten minutes and made a big sarcastic laden deal of waiting for us. Thus far much to our amazement there was no sign of Vic, I wondered if she had abandoned the wait for us and nipped up to the pub, we were quite late after all (it’s certainly what I would have done in her situation). David was perched on the edge of a podium with details of the area on it such as the wildlife, the height of the peaks and directions to the nearest McDonalds. His boots were off, his shirt half unbuttoned and he was nurturing a polystyrene cup of coffee as if it was his own offspring, he looked more than content with life. We greeted David and Josh then David gave us a situation report, “I’ve walked up and down the road keeping an eye out for Vic and but I’ve not seen her yet… Does anybody know what she actually looks like?” he said, now lovingly massaging his foot before sipping his drink. In the brief time that I had known Vic I had seen a total of one photo of her no bigger than a postage stamp. Confident in myself I said I’d definitely recognise her and that I would declare so when I found her.
In the mean time I ate a banana, quenching the hunger that had been plaguing me since we came out of the clouds. It was a delicious banana by comparison to perhaps an avocado and in eating it I had given myself an ample opportunity to further discuss the overabundance of banana skins around the countryside. Josh, enthralled by my random facts, was quick to ask what my intentions were with the banana skin I now held…Thinking back on it now I’m fairly sure my brain made a ‘whirring’ noise as I tried to think my way out of the situation, I glanced around frantically but I couldn’t see a bin anywhere, Sarah was now looking at me with the same expectant look as Josh. The pressure was on, my brain raced for a solution, my hands became red and I could feel my ears surge in temperature, sweat started roll down my forehead, it was my GCSE’s all over again. My brain, now desperate to somehow show up my impatient audience, decided to commence with a not altogether perfect plan. It was like a reverse Mexican stand-off, Josh and Sarah vs me, eyes shifting eyes darted between faces. A gust of wind whipped past us and like a spaghetti western played backwards I quickly thrust the peel down and straight into my pocket, staring Josh straight in the eyes the whole time. The peel was squished into my right trouser pocket, the mesh pocket lining grated against the inside of the banana skin; bits of banana began to ooze against my leg. I remain fixated on josh’s eyes; in my head I was trying to figure out why I thought this was a good idea. Some larger bits of banana mushed up against my leg, it was an indescribably uncomfortable sensation. I’m sure I let out a slight twitch in my eye but I continued to stare him out for a good few seconds, after which I immediately snapped out of my trance and pretended like the whole ordeal never happened. Sarah and Josh laughed maniacally at my humiliation and later on, out of sight of prying eyes, I transferred the peel into a plastic bag to then be disposed of in the next bin along the path (several hours later, after the smell of banana down my leg had washed away, one finally appeared).
While waiting for Vicky, Runi, Tony and Matin, we were approached by two ladies, both dark haired, slim in their figure and carrying lots of Lucozade. The short of the two wore thin framed spectacles that lay high on her nose and amplified her big dark eyes, she clearly wasn’t a trekker judging by the jeans and trainers. She Spoke with an accent I couldn’t quite place but it was a pleasure to listen to, “Hello, I’m sorry to interrupt but I’m waiting for some people and I was wondering which direction you guys came from”, David was first to answer her and followed it up with a gesture to the road we had just arrived from. “That’s wonderful, I don’t suppose you’ve seen a group of about eight come through?” she replied smiling in the most pleasant of ways. I felt there was something distinctly familiar about her… “Is your name Vic?” I asked feebly for fear of making a fool of myself in front of these two new strangers. I spoke so feebly in fact that my question fell on deaf ears; fortunately I wasn’t the only one to have their suspicions about this lady. David who exhumed confidence said “you’re Vic from Vision Africa?” it was a half question half statement but he made it work, Vic sighed with relief. After not recognising the lady I was positive I would recognise I elected to fade into the background… so much for not making a fool of myself (a motto I appear to be subject to all too frequently).
Vic happily introduced herself and we all reciprocated in turn, as rude as it is I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the 2nd lady that accompanied Vic but we exchanged smiles and went through the standard pleasantries and it was quite the pick me up to have two supporters there pampering us with flapjacks and Lucozade. Vic was fantastic, she was most kind in the words she said in my first blog that I created during my fundraising efforts, not only that but she brought snacks, water and even offered me a dry hoodie, such gestures reassure me that chivalry can go both ways. We chatted briefly and she informed me of how I’d developed fame within Vision Africa (Vicky had sent me a video a few days before the walk showing a school group in Africa about to go to a music competition, they took the time to film a message of support for me with all of them cheering “GOOOOO PETER!”I can honestly say I’ve never felt quite so humbled. It was surreal to know people so far away were sending me this message of support). I blushed and shied away, I’d hate to let the fame go to my head, that when you start writing about events in your life thinking people will be interested to read it.
No more than ten short and cheery minutes later Vicky, Runi, Tony and Matin all arrived together. Reunited again we all had a quick catch up; those of us who had been waiting the longest began to make a move, shuffling our legs to break the stiff crust that had formed around our joints. Matin joined myself and Josh, Sarah was ahead of us with David and we left the remaining four to tend their legs a while longer. Tony had suffered a few jarring knee pains and relished the break while Vicky and Runi chatted with Vic. We didn’t see them again until the bottom of Whernside.