Road Tripping up the PCH

Nick & Bee Say: One of the best things about California is the sheer variety of landscapes on offer. From sandy beaches, to mountains, forests, and deserts, it truly has it all. One of the most scenic ways to explore it is driving up the Pacific Coast Highway, a trip we’ve been lucky enough to do on several occasions, including during our epic 6 month backpacking trip that launched this site.

Now we can do it on the weekend, and take the time to see some of the places we drove through before. Case in point, wine country! We took ourselves to Paso Robles, looking a lot like Tuscany, for some wine tasting, then drove past to visit the magnificent elephant seals, who call California home too.

Bookending this trip is a quick look at what else we’ve been up to – mini golf at a castle, and hiking with the Los Liones trail with ex-Angeleno Katie, who had had looked after us on previous visits to LA.

Oh, and we return to the UK next month for a bit! See you all soon!

Venturing In Ventura

Nick & Bee Say: Hello everyone! Hope 2016 is treating you well. We certainly seem to be racing through it already… Over here in California the El Nino storms briefly came in with a period of rain and cold weather, but the temperature is now soaring again and shorts and t-shirts are the order of the day.

This meant we decided to take a road-trip up the coast. Ventura is a city about 2 hours lazy driving on the way to Santa Barbara. We didn’t know anything about it really, so it turned out to be a amazing discovery for us, and a place we’ll be sure to check out in future. But don’t just take our written word for it, see for yourself below.

We’ve also had our second visitor while here, Nick’s brother Phil! He came over for a few weeks, and we used his trip here to basically eat everything. Our trim Latin America days are long behind us. We’ve also become quite the avid basketball fans since moving, almost as much for the halftime entertainment as much as for the game itself. Behold the madness…

Hiking the Hollywood Sign, Sandstone Peak, Joshua Tree & more!

Nick & Bee Say: Happy 2016 everyone. We’re in a busy season with visitors at the moment, so sightseeing lots of exciting things. Our first guest was Craig, who had previously joined us on our Guatemala adventure, and was back for more. Over his three weeks here, we took in a whole variety of destinations, including a memorable week where we managed the mountains, beach, and desert. All of which are in easy reach of Los Angeles. So here’s our latest vlog detailing our adventures, including a Christmas Eve hike behind the Hollywood sign, a New Year’s Eve in Joshua Tree National Park, a secret side of Venice, and our favourite LA hike in the Santa Monica mountains. Enjoy!

Christmas in California!

Nick & Bee Say: Merry Christmas everybody! While no doubt many of you reading this will have been wearing warm winter clothes for weeks, and preparing for some snow, us in So Cal have been a little…hotter. We’re used to that though, seeing as we spent Christmas 2013 in Cartagena, Colombia. So we’ve still managed to get into the holiday vibe, and this year have incorporated a very special film into the festivities (spoiler it’s Star Wars!)

Here’s the latest in our Los Angeles YouTube escapades, a little Christmas bonus for you. We have a few blogs to come in the new year about weekend escapes from L.A. but in the meantime have a brilliant Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Twentysomething Burnouts are now on YOUTUBE!



Bee & Nick Say: Whilst we will still be keeping the blog trucking, we’re branching out into YouTube to capture some of the crazy whirlwind life adventure we are on. We are totally new to this (hence the Blair Witch camera shakes and questionable editing!) but will do our best to share some of our shiny new lives through the power of video. Feel free to send any questions, queries or requests for things you’d like us to film! Here are our first forays – Our Last Week in London / First Week in Los Angeles.

Living in California

Nick Says: Hello! Sorry for the slight pause there on the blog – turns out getting married (woohoo!) and then moving your entire life to the other side of the world is fairly time consuming. But we have lots to talk about, so let’s get started…

While we may have travelled for months at a time over the years, neither me or Bee have ever lived permanently in another country. About the closest I’ve come was 6 months in Australia, where I rented a room in Melbourne for 2 of them. But setting a up a home somewhere else? Brand new territory. So how can I sum it up so far? Exhilarating, terrifying, overwhelming, incredible. The superlatives are endless. And the cliche true by the way, visiting somewhere and living there are very different things.


At some point, we will do a ‘how to’ guide for those who move to the USA – we’ve had to work out lots of things that would have been handy to know, from getting a social security number, to leasing a car, and finding an apartment. But for now, let’s give you highlights of what we’ve been up to in since moving here.


Moving to Los Angeles so soon after our wedding meant we had to put our Honeymoon plans on ice for a bit (yes, I realise California isn’t a terrible alternative…). But we still wanted to decompress and celebrate our new marriage a bit, so we took our first weekend here to drive 2 hours south down to Laguna Beach. It was truly magical, and the perfect introduction to our new life as Californians. A beachside resort down in the O.C. Laguna Beach feels very much like an outsiders view of California distilled. It’s got the beautiful beaches, the beautiful sunkissed people (some with more work than others), the laid-back arty vibe, with the local gallery showcasing paintings of a giant grasshopper riding a motorbike down the Pacific Coast Highway, and some of the most dramatic sunsets I’ve seen in a long time, and as anyone who travels knows, you see a lot of sunsets. So take my word for it, these are very special.

We decided to treat ourselves and stayed at the Casa Laguna Inn & Spa, which was set a little bit out of the main town. During summer months though, a free trolley bus operates up and down the PCH, with a stop just outside the hotel, which meant we could ride to where all the bars and restaurants were located incredibly easily. The trolley itself looks like something from the beginning of the automobile age, made of wood and with no windows. Enjoy that sea breeze!


As well as sunning ourselves on golden beaches, eating incredible food such as crab stuffed jalapeños wrapped in bacon washed down with jalapeño margaritas from fancy Mexican restaurant Carmelita’s, or having dessert generously paid for by a couple who sat next to us at another fancy restaurant (as a welcome to the USA gift!), we also stopped for lunch at a super cute diner just down the road, which required us to possibly illegally trespass over a fence into what seemed to be a school, in order to reach it by foot. They do not make things easy for pedestrians over here.




When not stuffing our faces (USA! USA!) we found time to enjoy the hotel. From our little balcony at the back of our room, we had a view of the Pacific Ocean. Mornings would find us sat here at the little table and chairs provided with a cup of coffee each just admiring the view and not quite believing any of this was real. Despite being on the highway, the hotel felt amazingly secluded and peaceful. Done up in Spanish colonial revival style, they brilliantly told us the historic part of the house was from the 1920s (our flat in London was from the early 19th Century I believe). Getting fully into the relaxed zen vibe, Bee had booked us onto a ‘togetherness’ massage – which meant we were massaged while lying next to each other. I think it was meant to be extremely romantic, but we were far too English to fully relax ha! Much better was the bit after where they turned on the hot tub, which is outside and also overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and gave us a bottle of champagne. So we downed the bubbles, and watched the sunset from our own private jacuzzi. One week in and we’d changed.



Of course, it hasn’t all been swigging champers in hot tubs and enjoying the beach. We’ve also been exploring L.A. Which due to the fact it was about 40 degrees when we got here, actually did mean enjoying the beach. Making the most of our rental car, we spent the next weekend up in Malibu, an easy 45 minute drive north up the Pacific Coast Highway, with spectacular views of the ocean to keep you occupied while sat in the occasional traffic jam. While Zuma beach is probably my favourite, a wide expanse of golden sand which you can walk along for miles, and never feels crowded despite its popularity, a little treasure trove of a beach is definitely Paradise Cove. To avoid the $40 parking fee (yep…) I would recommend parking up the hill on the PCH itself, which is free. Then it’s a quick 5 minute walk down a hill to the beach itself. It’s set up like a mini resort, with a restaurant serving food, and a shop selling beer for you to drink while sunbathing. The sun loungers and chairs were all free to use (I double checked with one of the many helpful and friendly staff) which was a unexpected bonus, and it was pretty easy to while away an afternoon here. No sunset view to be had, but one of my fave beaches so far.



But there’s fun to be had at nighttime too in L.A. Which is lucky, as at the moment it gets dark about 5pm so that’s a lot of hours to fill. One of our favourite discoveries so far is First Friday’s in Venice. Venice itself is infamous as the weirder side of L.A. Head down here if you want to see Muscle Beach, t-shirt hawkers, and a Sikh man in full turban rollerskating along the bike path playing an electric guitar with a mini amp strapped to his back. Basically, it’s the Camden Town of Los Angeles – but by the sea and sunny. Anyway, every first Friday of the month around 20 of the best food trucks in the city all gather together for a big event. It used to be 70, but then it got a little bit out of control, loads of people got drunk and caused mayhem, and they scaled it back down. Still, it’s pretty epic and has a fun festival feel. It also introduced us to the best food we’ve had since arriving here, Howlin’ Rays Nashville style hot chicken. Words will never describe the taste sensation it was. Also a fan of this food truck was a pretty famous face. Bee noticed a man in the queue looking pretty intently at us, having clocked our British accents. Then Bee whispered to me, “is that Chris Martin?’ You know what Bee, it was. Then seemingly to make sure we really knew it was him, the Coldplay frontman started singing and dancing in front of us. I genuinely am not making this up. We snapped a paparazzi shot of him, but as it’s got one of his kids in the background I won’t put it up. We then saw on Twitter that he’d gone into a local shop and offered everyone free chicken. Incredible scenes.






It’s not all been eating (mainly it has). While we were staying in Miracle Mile for the first month (a pretty central area which seemed to be 25 minutes away from everywhere else in the city) I took myself off to the La Brea Tar Pits for the afternoon. If you ever visit then I definitely recommend a trip here – the park is free, but the museum is worth your $12 for sure. They have millions of fossils on display, perfectly preserved skeletons of mammoths, sabre tooth cats, and other giant creatures, plus real tar (asphalt actually) which bubbles up from the ground all over the park, so watch where you step. It’s a fascinating look into the natural history of a place we associate with modernity, entertainment, and urban sprawl.


Bee Says: Thank you for bearing with us on our life hiatus! As Nick said, we might have ever so slightly underestimated that leaving one job/house/city, getting married and moving around the world to a new job/house/city/life/culture basically feels like stepping onto the waltzers. It feels like we are only just starting to know our heads from our toes again! And now that we have, we are really excited to share our little corner of the world with you again. There’s more to talk about than we can possibly expect you to read in one sitting without an intravenous of coffee, so I’ll pick a few highlights and then I promise we’ll be back soon(er) with new news. As Nick mentioned when we first moved here we were living in an Air BnB in Miracle Mile for a month. Whilst the location was great (and when I say great you can read “walking distance from an Umami Burger) we quickly learnt that living in an Air Bnb is far from ideal on a long term basis. The apartment was sweet, but absolutely fit to bursting with someone elses stuff! Which meant we couldn’t unpack, I was having to try and dress appropriately for a new job every day without the ability to even properly unpack my suitcase and generally we felt like intruders in someone elses home. It has made a HUGE difference to get our own place.

Whilst I was at work Nick had the daunting task of house hunting; pretty overwhelming when we were shiny new off the plane and unaware of good areas, good deals or what was what. We were under the time pressure of having to find somewhere before our Air BnB ran out and to reduce my commute. Everywhere we viewed was not quite right; the most not right being a flat that looked lovely online only to turn out to be somebody’s GARAGE they had converted?! As the realtor said “you need to pass through the family home to get in and out, but they are ever so nice” we started to get a little bit of the fear that we’d never find somewhere. Lady luck shone on us though, and one day Nick saw an advert on “hot pads” with no photos, no text and just a phone number. Luckily he persevered and rang the mystery number, making an appointment to view. We turned up to a beautiful block decorated in batenburg shades (in typical me style I decided I wanted to live there based on how cute that would look on Instagram) and found an open door to an apartment with no one inside. After a quick scout around, we couldn’t believe it when we realised the place was a two bedroom apartment yet on the market for a one bed price. A Guatemalan lady called Paulina soon found us lurking inside an we basically leapt on her and signed up there and them, forcing a deposit on her as more and more couples arrived to look round. Being the first over the stoop gave us first refusal and the rest is history! Amazingly (and unlike in the UK) in the week between signing and moving in, Paulina worked her socks off to get us new flooring, an A/C unit and a professional clean. We also both have a walk-in wardobe! Living the Cher from Clueless dream.


Having a proper home has instantly got us feeling more settled. Another key to the LA puzzle is the fact it’s in an area we are completely besotted with. Culver City is actually its own independent city in the county of Los Angeles. It’s the original “Hollywood” where the film studios were first set up – such as MGM in the 1920s. Its motto is “The Heart Of Screenland” & The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, King Kong and ET were all filmed here. It’s so the “real Hollywood” that in 1937 the Culver City Chamber of Commerce petitioned to have the city name changed to Hollywood (as the sign had become so iconic) but it was declined. As a result, studios such as MGM started placing “Made in Culver City” front & centre of the credits before all their films!




The area is safe, pedestrianised (RARE for LA!) and super buzzy. To get a sense of it… The Wonder Years filmed its outdoor scenes on our street! The area is super well maintained; fairy lights twinkle from the palm trees and there is a real community atmosphere. We are walking distance from my work, a Trader Joes, an In-n-Out burger, a coffee shop that makes a mean Mexican Mocha, gift shops, banks, about 40 restaurants, an Arclight cinema and a Cold Stone Creamery (lethal). We also have a diner, S & W Country Diner, that is everything you’d wish from a local hangout. Kitsch decor, booths, a menu as long as your arm and insanely friendly staff who remember you and your preferences! We go every weekend and it’s basically our new second home.



What with all this eating, we are also fortunate enough to live next to Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. This is a great hike that takes you up some gruelling vertical steps (where we regularly see the USC Trojans training!) to take in a 360 view of LA from the top. We tend to head up there at 6.30am to catch the sun rising, and I could honestly sit there for hours just watching the planes take off and land over at LAX… the sea lapping in the distance and the Gotham-like towers in Downtown. It’s always a wrench to head back down and into the day.



An unexpected event is that we have both become big Clippers fans. Obviously there is an endless choice of sports to get into in America but basketball zoomed into our hearts the quickest. When we first moved here, Nick’s old housemate and our good friend Laura was spending her last month as an Angeleno before moving to NYC. This was perfectly timed for us to team up on a ton of our firsts/her lasts together. One of these was an introduction to the Clippers. From the moment we arrived at the Staples Centre, I knew I was about to become addicted. Firstly, basketball is easy to follow. There are no crazy rulebooks to digest and it’s obvious when someone is winning. Secondly, it’s so much more about the experience than the sport! We saw fireworks, we saw babies racing across the court to win their parents a jeep (!) we saw the National Anthem being sung, we saw “kiss cam” where the big screen display people who must then kiss on demand (I think they try to go for the people they have sussed are couples…) we saw randoms from the audience come up to try and score a slam dunk, we saw celebs lazing on the front row… the list is kind of endless. There is way more faffing about with entertainment than actual spot. That said, the sport is really nail biting. We witnessed the Clippers win 67-66 by scoring with 0.03 seconds to go… the crowd went CRAZY! It’s super good fun and the key – it’s cheap. You can get nose-bleeder seats (where the best atmosphere is I reckon!) for as little as $8 (about a fiver!) and we can ride the metro there and back, which costs about £2 return. No wonder we are averaging a game a fortnight! Those Clippers work hard too, they play about 5 games a week and are even playing on Christmas Day.




Another great experience was heading to the Día de Muertos celebration at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. We had wanted to visit the cemetery for a while; it’s iconic for being the final resting place for more Hollywood founders and stars than anywhere else including Johnny Ramone and Toto the dog from Wizard of Oz. It’s a surprisingly tranquil and beautifully maintained place; it isn’t tacky at all which is what I was fearful of. There are various cultural events and celebrations throughout the year, but Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is one close to Nick and I’s heart after we celebrated it with locals on Isla Del Sol in Bolivia. Day of the Dead is a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular the Central and South regions, but also acknowledged through various other parts of South America and the world. The holiday is used to gather family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help “support their spiritual journey.”





Ever since I learnt about the holiday I’ve been completely in awe of it. To me, it seems such an incredibly healthy and necessary way to talk about and deal with mortality. It’s actually how even the British used to deal with death (we learnt this at Highgate Cemetery tour) by creating mausoleums and huge shrines that were visited and decorated in a not dis-similar manner. However after World War 1, for obvious reasons, this changed dramatically to the more private, sheltered and intimate attitude to death we experience now. Having a day dedicated to talking about and remembering those we have lost is such a beautiful thing; and my favourite part is that this is a real celebration. There is amazing food, dancing, music and costumes. Everywhere has their own approaches (in Bolivia they fly kites) but the positivity is infectious. At Hollywood Forever we listened to an amazing Mariachi band playing The Smiths covers, we brushed off our Spanish to chat to some of the wonderful artists and people crafting, and we felt incredibly privileged to join in this special moment of the year, in such an amazing location.


So that’s a little glimpse of Los Angeles life. We’ve been packing it in right? Don’t worry, we still have time to nest on our new sofa and binge watch Master of None and Jessica Jones. I’ll leave you with a classic Bee and Nick quote. Driving back into LA from a weekend away we were driving through a nice looking neighbourhood. Nick: “These are such lovely houses. What area is this? Why don’t we live here?” Bee *checks Google Maps* “This is Beverly Hills.”


We Are Moving To LA!!!

Bee Says: Crikey, ok. Where to start? I guess the beginning would be a good place and trust me the beginning is really really recently. Before we went travelling I worked for a great visual effects company setting up their social media and digital marketing. This job took me out to their West Coast office (I blogged at the time about it here & here) which was a hoot. I loved the studio in Los Angeles when I visited; really soaking up the family-mentality and collaborative, supportive approach to work. I also appreciated the quality of life that the employees there seemed to strike a pretty perfect balance at; sure they worked super hard… but there was a big importance attached to going surfing, or to leave on time & go on an adventure whether that be to the desert, the mountains, the beach or the “wild west”. However time ticked by and I left that job to take the opportunity to travel South & Central America; and this blog was born! The end of our trip saw us back in… LA! And as you probably remember; we rather left our hearts there.


We’ve had a few conversations since we got back from travelling about the future. Another epic backpack excursion doesn’t seem financially viable as it took us 3 years to save for the first one! We’ve also both enjoyed elements about getting our teeth back into our careers (although less about being back in pesky pricey London!) and so we have multiple times talked about wishing we could relocate to another city… another country… namely LA. However; it seemed like that ship had sailed. That moment had passed. That door had closed. Or so we thought.

I was approached by a colleague that I grew close in my previous role. And it just turned out they had an opening for a Head of PR & Marketing in their West Coast office, based in Los Angeles. And they wanted me. *insert general life imploding and ALL the feelings*


I’ll skip over the business bits; but safe to say there were processes and long phone calls and interviews-but-not-interviews and negotiations and discussions. Overlaid on this were the soul searching, deep-digging conversations Nick and I had to have… and pretty quickly as all this has occurred in the space of weeks rather than months.

So yeah. We are moving to LA! We will head off rather promptly after our wedding in September; making the move a sort of perma-honeymoon. Obviously there are cons as with any life decision (I will miss my friends and family desperately, I’ll be sad to leave a position at Penguin that I’ve worked blooming hard at and colleagues I admire, we are going to be oh so far far away etc) but ultimately this opportunity feels like to us like we have won the lottery. What a way to start married life? With a whole NEW adventure. There is something so intoxicating and alluring about moving to California. The lifestyle, the trips we can take, the sunsets, the fact we will do our “grocery shopping” in TRADER JOES. I could talk about my thoughts and brain whitterings endlessly (and am sure I will – obviously we’ll be documenting this process in the usual method of blogging away) but they tend to revolve around “will I need black tights in LA”, “shit, I need to relearn to drive stat” “am I going to lose my northern accent?” “what the heck is a sloppy joe?” and “will we make new friends ok?”


It is such a huge relief to have this out in the open. We actually haven’t told anyone bar family up until this point so please don’t be offended if you’ve seen us recently and we didn’t spill all (even when drunk – how impressive?!) We just didn’t want to tell anyone until we had our interview with the U.S consulate and our visas accepted. Because honestly until then it was all still pie in the sky – and I knew it wasn’t a done deal until we had that stamp. We wanted to just know for sure before doing well.. this! Getting excited! The whole process has been mind-blowing in that we’ve been working with an attorney (ooh la la) and I really extra appreciate that her last name was Cohen (fans of The O.C hands up). But here we are, and we are official, and it looks like California here we come…


Nick Says: LA!!!!!!! That’s about all really. It really was too much of a great opportunity to say no to. It was the right time, in the right place. So while I’ll be sad to leave behind the UK (again), I cannot wait to go and explore a new part of the world. So expect a North American focus from TwentySomethingBurnouts over the next few years, as we see what the USA, Canada, Mexico and all the others have to offer. I’m already planning road trips, train trips, and back country adventures. I reckon we’ll be perfectly positioned in California to make the most of our time there. And for those who find themselves on the West Coast, look us up and we’ll go grab some fish tacos.

I loved my time in LA, way more than I expected to, and can’t wait to go back there, but this time to see it as our new home. It’s going to be a challenge for sure, but we’re lucky enough to know a few people who have lived abroad (and some in LA too) and will be asking them for all the advice we can. So see you all in LA! But before we go, we have the small matter of our wedding to sort out…


Russia in Ten Days – Part Two

Nick Says: As you last left me, I was winding my way to the north of Russia towards the White Sea on a night train. Well I say night train, but it was bright light outside at 3am when we got on. For those heading this way at this time of year, a sleeping mask is a must. Travelling on a long distance train in Russia is a must too. Train travel is my favourite method of transport, and I don’t think I could ever get bored of it. Not even when I spent 3 days on the Indian-Pacific in Australia basically looking at a desert… One day we’ll do a post here about great train trips to take, but for now – RUSSIA.

DAY FIVE: After a very hot night sleeping in tiny bunks, we got off the train at Kem looking slightly weary. Kem is not the nicest place in the world. It was a former transit centre for the gulag, and looks a bit like one still. However, it’s the jumping off point for boats to the Solovetsky Islands, so a necessary destination. We went to the supermarket, loaded up on supplies, and jumped in a 4×4 with blacked out windows with a taciturn Russian man who then drove us to the dock. Once there we discovered a slight flaw in our plan, the boat had sold out. Undeterred, we bought the return and waited for everyone else to board. One thing I noted about Russia is that they love officialdom here. Everyone seems to be responsible for something or other here, with about 10 people doing the work of one. There’s even a person who sits in a little glass booth at the bottom of the metro escalators to make sure no-one misbehaves on them! But anyway, this boat was no different, with our official here a seemingly by the book lady. Our hopes at sweet-talking our way on seemed slim, especially when she turned away some latecomers. But then Alastair worked his magic, and we were on-board! But without any tickets. Apparently we were told we could pick some up from the office if we wanted, but seeing as the boat was leaving right now, and the office was a bit of a walk away, it seemed like a good idea to just get on board and let her keep the backhander…



With little room onboard, we found a space for ourselves outside on the deck, wrapped up against the wind, and watched the world go by. We passed uninhabited archipelagos, fed trailing seagulls bits of food (one of the highlights of the boat passage according to our official), and slowly watched the Solvetsky’s come into view. The outline of the monastery was unmistakeable, and it looked massive. We’d learned a great bit of history about the place – in 1855 three British ships sailed into the harbour, made a load of demands to the monks, shelled the place for 9 hours, didn’t do any damage, and agreed to go away. There’s a monument on the island to it, called the Negotiation Stone. I would discover it was a mosquito ridden hell hole later that day.

But first we disembarked on the island. My first impressions of the place were that I could well imagine it as a gulag. The sky was overcast, the wind whipped us, and the bleak wooden buildings looked forbidding. But the sky was beginning to lighten, and the island quickly revealed itself as a truly beautiful location. After several nights of not much sleep, we had decided to go and stay in a guest-house. From his previous visit, Alastair knew a good one. So it was we found ourselves at Vladimir’s. An ex navy captain who had decided to settle on the islands after he retired, we soon realised this gruff outdoorsman had the soul of a poet – he had built all the cabins and carved incredible pieces of furniture, full of intricate designs. We were staying in what seemed to be his own house too, so he would come and sit at the kitchen table with us while we drank tea, and tell Alastair about the island and his life. Sadly my Russian had not advanced enough in four days to understand what he was telling us, although he helpfully did show us a lot pictures on his phone to illustrate the point.



It was then time to understand the history of the islands a bit better. To do that we went to the Gulag museum. One of the first gulags in the Soviet Union, the Solvetsky Islands became a prison camp in 1921. It’s remote nature proved to be the perfect place to house supposed enemies of the state, and escapes were rare and almost always unsuccessful. The museum unflinchingly told the story of the prisoners, through photos and often their own words, supplementing this personal narrative with harsh facts about the labour expected, and the survival rate. It was truly sobering, and an element of Russia that I found hard to reconcile. This was a beautiful place, with so much to offer to tourists, yet with a dark and brutal past, enough for the place to be named ‘Island of Hell’.


After this, Mark went off to rest up his swollen ankle, but duracell bunny Alastair refused give into any sort of weakness like that. So we took a two hour cycling trip around the island, including to the Negotiation Stone where mozzies would attempt to eat my face, before allowing ourselves the sweet embrace of a bed and hot shower for the first time in days.

DAY SIX: The easy times were over. Big Brother (as we had begun to call task-master Alastair) quickly had us out of bed and marching to the islands camping site to pitch up our tents again. Then it was time to get back on our bikes, this time donning wellies, as we set off to cycle to a neighbouring island called Muksalma. Why wellies? Well the track down to Muksalma is a swamp-ridden pot-holed watery mess, which involved carrying your bikes as much as riding them. It was glorious. Pushing through, we eventually emerged to find a stone causeway created by monks hundreds of years earlier to connect the two islands.




Muksalma was home to an abandoned building which served as the female isolator unit for the gulag, so we took a look inside. It had some seriously creepy vibes going on. We then attempted to cycle to the other side of the island, but were turned back by the fact the path became a swamp, and we were attacked by mozzies every time we stopped. I could see the disappointment in Big Brother’s eyes. He does not like to shirk a challenge. Even if the challenge is a silly idea.

On our way back to Big Solvetsky, we were stopped by a Russian woman, who asked us if we were hungry, and then proceeded to give us some sweets called ‘Zephyrs’ a marshmallow like treat. A completely random act of kindness, but one which was totally in keeping with all the people we had met on the trip. Again and again I found the people of Russia (or at least the ones I met anyway) to be amongst the friendliest and generous of folk I’ve encountered around the world. I guess I half expected to find them more guarded and even a bit distrustful of tourists, so it was a pleasant surprise to have that proved a ridiculous notion, and one which probably betrayed my own suspicions of Russia!

Later that evening, as we were pedalling about the main island, we discovered Olga, Olga, and Maragrita, the Russian girls we had befriended on the bus to Petrozavodsk. Together we then went and explored the monastery, which is currently undergoing extensive renovation work, and even got to look in one of the massive towers, before being evicted by a security guard. We had once again strayed where we were not allowed.



That night provided us with a feast fit for kings at one of island’s only restaurants. It was full on traditional Russian fare aimed at the tourists, complete with the wait staff dressed in ‘authentic’ garb, bear pelts on the wall, and bear’s flesh on offer on the menu. It was massively expensive though, so no bear was consumed by us. I wish I could say it was also due to moral reasons too, but I once ate dog in Korea so I’m forever damned.


Then it was time for the Russian girls to show us how to properly camp. They mocked the way we made our fire (although ours actually stayed lit, ha!) and questioned why Alastair was sawing wood with his Swiss Army knife. When he replied ‘it’s Swiss technique’, Margarita took the wooden log, stamped it in half and replied, ‘Russian technique’. A good point well made.


DAY SEVEN: Some days you have just click. This was one of them. We woke up late, and realised that we wouldn’t be able to make the low tide in order to reach an island where you can whale watch. But who needs whales anyway? Especially when the sun had finally decided to shine, and we had a whole island to explore. First off we got on our trusty bikes and made our way to the boat station. In the middle of Big Solovetsky is a series of freshwater lakes, connected by canals (made by those industrious monks again). For the princely sum of 900 rubles, or around £10, you can hire a rowing boat for three hours and paddle around to your hearts content. So that’s exactly what we did. Rowing out across the wide lakes, the steering our way through forest lined canals, with mirror like still water, was a truly beguiling experience. If you want to get away from it all, I couldn’t think of a better place then in the middle of a lake, in the middle of a remote island, which is in the middle of the White Sea, in the middle of the Russian north. As we rowed back, the sun beat down and the water looked far too inviting. So we did the sensible thing and dived off the boat to have a swim. Far warmer then Lake Ladoga, it still took my breath away, so after brief paddle I scrambled back aboard in an undignified manner. But the feeling of leaping off the boat and hitting the water is exactly why I travel. Complete and utter freedom.




After eating fresh fish pies (in the shape of fish no less) which he had bought from the bakery near the monastery, we then embarked on a 30km bike ride to the highest point on the island. To say it was tough would be bit of an understatement, but it was also the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike, and made me realise that you don’t just have to crash one and break your wrist when you ride (see previous trip to Berlin…).

At the top of Sekirnaya Hill was one of the most tragic things I’ve ever seen though. The mass graves of prisoners who died in the isolator unit here. The mosquitoes swarmed, and it was easy ti imagine the agonies of prisoners who would be placed naked outside and fed on by the swarm. There was also a steep set of stairs on the other side of the hill – after guards were forbidden from executing prisoners, they would instead arrange for them to have ‘accidents’ and plunge to their death from the top.


But as we cycled off, down hills and tracks, and past shimmering lakes, we were reminded again that the dark past existed alongside some the most beautiful wilderness I’d ever seen. I guess that crudely sums up Russia.

After finally making it back to camp, it was time for a traditional Russian treat. The banya. A cross between a sauna and a steam room, the banya is also much more than that. The banya house consisted of several rooms. Each one was increasingly hotter. The first was were you could sit and chat around a table, drink beers, and hang out. Then there was the changing room. Next came the showers, and then finally the banya itself. You take your beers in with you, put on a banya hat made of hemp, and then pour water over the hot rocks to really get the temperature going. And we really got it going, upwards of 80 degrees Celcius. That coupled with the beer was enough to send you a bit sideways. But then of course as soon as you get too hot, it’s time to rush out and pour cold water over yourself. And that is almost all there is to a banya. Well, apart from the fact you also whip each other with birch branches to ‘stimulate the blood flow’. I meant, seems legit to me right? So there I was, basically naked in a steam room, whipping two of my friends. Thank-you Russia. Sadly I was too busy filming to take a photo, but luckily Mark snapped a steamy effort which you can see right here.

I have never been more relaxed than after an hour of banya time, and the rest of that evening passed in what can only be a daze. I’m not sure it even really registered that we got back to the camp only to find we’d been raided by some sort of beast, and all our supplies eaten…

DAY EIGHT: Today Alastair had arranged for us to go a guided tour of a nearby island. Thinking he had finally taken pity on us, we were looking forward to a relaxing boat trip, and quick stroll about the place. But the beautiful weather of the day before had gone. In its place was icy rain and howling winds. As I stood on an isolated island, looking at a stone labyrinth built in pre-historic times for unknown purposes, and listening to our guide speak Russian, which I couldn’t understand, all the while being pelted by the elements, I wondered what I was doing out here. But I don’t think I was alone, judging by the cheer that went up when the guide announced the end of the tour.

The all too soon it was back on our boat in order to return to the mainland. Once back at Kem, we took the opportunity to visit an abandoned church on the shoreline. If there’s one thing Russia has plenty of, it’s abandoned buildings. But when they all look as hauntingly beautiful as this one, it’s not so bad.



Our man in the blacked out 4×4 once again appeared to drive us back to the train. While previously silent as a tomb, he was now the life and soul of the party, explaining pretty much his whole life story, extolling the virtues of fishing, driving incredibly fast, and giving us many, many handshakes. As we surmised, he was either an evening type of guy, or he’d been having a nip of something before driving out…

Then it was back on-board another long distance train, this time for a 15 hour ride all the way back to St Petersburg. We were in a slightly better class of accommodation this time, due to the train being fairly booked up. This meant that we had a four person compartment. Nominally there was also a girl in there sharing it with us, but she was asleep when we got on at 8.30pm, and pretty much remained so until midday the next day. So basically we had the place to ourselves. At the end of every carriage on the trains is a samovar for boiling water. So bring yourself a mug, tea, and coffee, and it’s all good. Although if you do buy a tea, it gets served to you in these amazing ornate mugs which shit all over the paper cups we get in the UK.


Oh, and also bring vodka to drink. I would say it was to help me sleep, but mainly I wanted to drink vodka on a Russian train as it seemed a cool thing to do. As was buying Russian train slippers from our attendant. The same stony faced attendant who while sternly addressing me and Mark, would break into a huge smile every time she saw Alastair and ask him if he wanted to buy ‘biscuits’ from her. The minx.


DAY NINE: We rolled back into St Petersburg at lunchtime. After dropping our gear off, it was time to finally see the sights of this city. But not before we had gone into a pie shop and had a two course pie lunch. Priorities after all.

After feeding, our first port of call was the Winter Palace, which houses most of the Hermitage museum. The Hermitage is so massive, that not even a huge ostentatious palace is enough to contain it. I know it’s on every single must see list, but I really can’t recommend this place highly enough. From the entrance hall, to the state rooms, to the hallways, the extravagant wealth and opulence of Imperial Russia is absolutely incredible to behold. It makes you realise just how vast the power of the Tsars was, and how large the gulf between the nobility and the peasants truly was. Something on this scale is impossible to even imagine in the UK, but in Russia it feels almost natural. A huge palace for a huge country. Nothing is done by halves here.




However, we were unable to see everything we wanted to at the museum, as we were once again politely but firmly evicted while trying to look at Siberian art. I think it was near closing time, and the attendants wanted to go home.

Then it was time for a walking tour of the city. St Petersburg is several islands, connected by canals and the mighty Neva River (which flows from Lake Ladoga). At certain times in the night, the bridges are all raised to allow cargo ships through, meaning if you’re in the wrong part of town from your house, you can be cut off for hours.



Proving it’s still the Russian city of artists, we met up with some of Alastair’s friends at the Dostoyevsky Day celebrations. With a local jazz act playing, giant posters depicting various covers of his books had been put up to honour the man. From there, we headed to a pretty old-school cafe, which housed photos of various Russian leaders past and present, as well as busts of Lenin and Marx, wearing jaunty hats and ties. While the food was questionable, the drinks were not, and we all toasted the trip, watched a group of Russians come in and chant ‘vodka, vodka’, before being replaced by a girl who wept at her table and was consoled by the other patrons. It was like some sort of play, and seemed totally fitting for the place.


DAY TEN: Our final day had dawned. We just had time to go to a old Soviet donut shop (which had opened in the 50s and remained basically the same ever since), and see a couple more St Petersburg sights, before we had to return to the airport and catch our flight home.

So, Russia. I had been constantly surprised at every turn. Yes there is the cult of Putin and the t-shirts with his face on. The politics of the place are a joke. Low level corruption is obviously rife, and I’ve read plenty about industrial scale bribery at the top level. It’s a place which deserves better leadership. But then don’t most places?

Russia is a huge country full of amazing people which constantly defies expectations. I saw so many incredible things I’d never even knew existed before this trip. I started to grasp just how big this place is. I took a train for FIFTEEN hours and barely made a dent in the map. RUSSIA HAS A PACIFIC COASTLINE! I find that fact pretty crazy. I would love to come back and explore more. I can see why Alastair made it his home. But I’m glad I got to see this part of it at least. I hiked, biked, rowed, swam, and was whipped with birch branches. I drank vodka toasts with real Russians in Russia. I went to a remote island in the middle of the White Sea. I stood on the shores of Europe’s largest lake at 1am and it was light. I had the best time.


Russia in Ten Days – Part One

Nick Says: Greetings! How is everyone? Unlike Bee, I haven’t been climbing many mountains in not much time recently, but I have been off adventuring to far off destinations. Northern Russia to be precise. And what did I think? Well it was one of the friendliest, ruggedly beautiful, and enjoyable trips I’ve ever been on. I met incredible people, journeyed to remote destinations (via many, many types of transport), and saw some sights which will remain with me forever, both spectacular and haunting.

I’ve been planning to go to Russia for years, specifically to see my good friend Alastair, aka the International Gentleman Traveller, aka the IGT. A friend of me and my brothers, we first met in Albania back in 2009, and bonded over jumping into an icy waterfall more times than was sensible, down more shots of rakia than was sensible, and singing about beards more than was… well you get the picture. Since then we’ve met up in Luxembourg and Switzerland (plus shhh, the UK), and he’s lived in Oman. But he always seems drawn back to Russia and the city of St Petersburg, and it is there that our journey would begin.


But first I needed a travel buddy – I always like sharing an adventure with someone. With Bee busy with important business (more on that later), there was only one man to call. Mr Mark Williams, writer of the brilliant Inane Babble of a Backpacker blog, and my fellow backpacker on a 9 month trip round Australia and South-East Asia, rumpled adventurer on a road-trip around Western Europe with me, my brothers and the IGT, and fortuitous companion on a lovely day out in Florence when we happened to bump into each other at the train station, and got to eat overpriced gelato.

Anyway, I digress. With Mark joining me we were ready to go to St Petersburg. And go we did, although on a somewhat delayed route which led us to Warsaw, then Riga, then finally St Petersburg, and taught us not to fly with Polish Airlines again anytime soon. Although Riga looks absolutely lovely.

DAY ONE: Somewhat relieved to have made St Petersburg the same day we set out, Alastair wasted no time in ferrying us into the city, and then walking into town to find a feed. It seemed to me to be basically daylight despite the clock reading 11pm (although in later days I would recall this light at almost pitch black compared to what we would see), and the streets if not exactly buzzing for a Friday night, then definitely busy with a wider group of people than the drunks you would normally get at a similar time in England. Although of course, this being Russia we did enjoy a few drunken treats. First there was the old man in the airport who shouted at me for not having a good enough beard, then there was the fat topless man who wandered out of a park as we were walking into town, then there was the guy passed out ON the bar when we went to get a drink. But he didn’t seem to be doing anyone any harm, so he was left there. I just collected my change over his gently snoring body.

But it wasn’t just to soak up the smells of drunk men that we had ventured out for. No, we were being led to some food. Alastair took us to a Georgian cafe, a cuisine I had never tried before. And now I want to eat it for the rest of my life. In particular khachapuri, a cheese stuffed bread. I’m drooling just writing about it.

DAY TWO: We would be back in a week or so to look at St Petersburg properly, but this wasn’t a city trip. I had come to Russia to answer the call of the wild, test myself against the elements, and prove to myself I had what it takes to survive a wilderness trip. I woke up ready for it, roared my challenge to the day, and promptly went to a really nice cafe in a old bread factory now turned into a delightful arts centre where I had a delicious mocha and some lovely pancakes.



Then it was on! We went to Finland Station (where Lenin arrived to lead the Russian Revolution, and where they still have the locomotive that transported him) and caught a three hour local train north to Priozersk. It was there that any notion I had of this being an easy trip was stripped away. With our full backpacks on, it was time to march to the shores of Lake Ladoga (largest lake in Europe, and 15th largest in the world. That translates to the fact it was bloody massive and basically an inland sea). But what I didn’t expect was for this to be a three hour sweaty hike through the forest, in which we sometimes followed a track which barely lived up to that description, wandered into a swamp, were attacked by mosquitoes, and relied on a compass to get us to where we going.For such a massive lake, it was difficult to find. But find it we did, at around midnight! I may have hated lugging the beer around, but now I couldn’t imagine tasting anything sweeter as we grilled chicken on a fire, and toasted the day. The light was ethereal, the camping truly wild, and I felt a million miles from anywhere, let alone London and work. I had arrived in Russia, and it looked glorious.



DAY THREE: We woke with a boat to catch. Cue another forced march with full backpacks through a forest, which ended with us stumbling into port via a restricted zone, and being questioned by a concerned but polite security man as to how we got there. Now myself and Mark speak about two sentences of Russian between us (namely, ‘I don’t speak Russian’, and ‘I am English’), which could easily prove a problem if you’re considering this journey yourself. But luckily we had the IGT, who’s language skills are legendary, and he was able to help us in every situation. Which in this case meant pacifying the security guy, then making a deal with a captain to let us on his boat and take us to the island of Valaam. In what would become a pattern, we never actually got a ticket whenever we paid someone money to travel with them. I’m not saying it wasn’t legitimate, just that we seemed to pay the driver/captain/random official directly (and quietly) whenever we had to travel and there wasn’t much room for us…

11379183_389117104617236_1225572720_nOnce ensconced aboard the hydrofoil (or meteor in Russian) all we had to was kick back and enjoy the crossing for two hours. Before we knew it, we were pulling up alongside beautiful religious buildings perched on a shoreline. We had arrived at Valaam, home of a legendary monastery and our home for the couple of days. It really was a magical place to arrive at, and as Alastair pointed out, if this had been located anywhere in Western Europe, it would have been swamped with tourists. But this being Russia, I bet most people don’t even know it exists. I know I didn’t before the trip. It would be a recurring theme of the journey, realising how little I knew about the world’s largest country. From its geography, to its people, and its culture, Russia was a mystery.

But one thing I was learning quickly, is that everything is bloody massive here. What I thought would be a quick jaunt across the island to find a campsite turned into an epic trek (I was beginning to notice another pattern here too. Alastair was trying to break us, weak London metropolitans that we were, and reforge into Russian outdoors men. It was doomed to failure). We crossed fields, rivers, and hiked through forests, until we came to the wild eastern side of the island. Once again, the sweaty toil was worth it as we gazed out across the water. Granite cliffs steeply rose from the lake, the sky seemed endless, and the sun shone down upon it all. I don’t know whether your image of Russia was of snow and vast stretches of emptiness, but spend a day on Valaam and you’ll never view Russia the same way again.



We found what we thought was a great spot to camp, pitched the tents, and then set off for an evening stroll to look at what we called the mini-monasteries on the island, the small hermitages that the monks retreat to in order to ponder spiritual matters away from the hustle and bustle of the ‘crowded’ main monastery. We also discovered a bombed out Finnish military base from the 1930s, a fishery, beautiful lakes, and a vehicle known as a ‘loaf’, the Soviet answer to the VW camper-van. It is a thing of beauty, and I must possess one.



We returned to our camp, got a great fire going (me and Mark were inordinately proud of it) and were just about to cook up some food, when we noticed a small motor dinghy seemingly approaching us in the water. At first we took no notice, as we laughingly dismissed the notion that they would bother to send patrols around the island. Turns out that they do, and we were camped illegally. Cue us being politely evacuated onto the boat, and given a swift trip around the headland to an official campsite. Which actually turned out to be brilliant.


This campsite already had  a fire going, and sat around it were Anya, Boris, and Oleg. Anya was Russian, while the guys were Armenian, and they had met as students in the 80s during a Soveit exchange programme. Now they meet up every year to have adventures. It was a glimpse into the good the Soviet Union accomplished when it was true to its ideals. They were quick to welcome us to camp, share their food, and pour us vodka, which we drank out of old, ornate shot glasses that looked like egg cups. My first vodka in Russia! And of course every shot was preceded by long and verbose toasts to friendship and the like. It was an incredible evening.



DAY FOUR: Lake Ladoga is a very, very cold lake. I know this because we decided to go for a swim and a wash in it. Well I say ‘we’. Myself and Alastair managed ok, while Mark kind of sat down, made a weird gorilla noise, screwed up his face, and quickly got out. I’m not sure he enjoyed his dip.


After camp breakfast, we staged a coup against Alastair and refused to walk back to the main monastery. So we walked a little bit and found a taxi to go in instead. An old beaten up Lada driven by Captain Vyacheslav from Ukraine (may not have been an actual captain), he expertly navigated pot holes and expressed his sadness about the fighting in his homeland. While not explicitly in your face, Ukraine was never far away from the agenda, but officially referred to as ‘the situation’ and the like. I found people’s opinions divided on the matter. Some would wear patriotic t-shirts supporting the Russian annexation of the Crimea, while others would roll their eyes at the mention of Putin.

We then toured the monastery, which was the usual restrained religious affair. For those who think Catholics get a bit carried away sometimes, they don’t have anything on the Orthodox church. They love gold. They also love cats, as there were loads of them running about. One woman had decided to give them all sausages too, which resulted in loads of feline running about the place with sausages in their mouths, while gulls looked on enviously.


Then, as ever, it was time to move on. Valaam had been an unexpected and picturesque joy, and a great starter for the rest of the trip. We hopped aboard another hydrofoil to the town of Sortavala, where we picked up a bus to the city of Petrozavodsk. We also picked up some new Russian friends, Olga, Olga, and Margarita. They were heading in the same direction as us, and spoke English. They were also a little bemused to discover two English guys who spoke no Russian heading up to the far north of their country. It was a common reaction.


We arrived at Petrozavodsk, the capital of Karelia, around 11pm. With a train to Kem to catch at 3am, we had a few hours to explore. And of course with it still being daylight at this time, we could have a good look at this city. What seemed to be a starkly Soviet place revealed itself to be an interesting city perched on a spectacular lakeside setting with a penchant for modern art. Statues littered the promenade, and a chalkboard on one of the streets invited passers-by to grab a piece of chalk and answer the question, ‘what do you want to do before you die?’. But Petrozavodsk’s finest accomplishment was a reversal of art. In what seemed to be a former theatre, is the world’s most ornate KFC. I leave it below with no further comment.




Then it was time to jump on our night train further north, as we made our way to the shores of the White Sea, and readied ourselves to journey to the Solovetsky Islands, home to a giant fortified monastery, ancient stone labyrinths, and one of the original gulags.

To save this becoming too much of an epic, I’ll save the Solovetsky Islands for part two. In which I have a day involving rowing, wild swimming, mountain biking, and being whipped with a birch branch in the Russian equivalent of a sauna.

Bee Says: How can I possibly follow this? Nick is right; after my Three Peaks Challenge I was happy to hand over the Bear Grylls baton to Nick, Mark and Alastair whilst I spent my week doing two things i) My Bee Do and… ii) recovering from my Bee Do! My Bee Do (most definitely not a hen do, but the same pre-wedding party concept!) was probably one of the best weekends of my life. I was whisked off to a country manor in the Peak District to spend 3 days with my favourite 18 people in a haze of prosecco, cupcake decorating, rambling in the sunshine, Wes Anderson movie marathoning, garden lazing, bare foot dancing in my own private disco (bucket list item – tick!) and endless surprises! I was absolutely spoilt rotten and cannot believe how much effort my maid of honour (made of honour) Lol had put into getting every tiny aspect spot on! I still look through the photos every morning and relive it in intricate detail. I am so, so very lucky. Not even the slight worry about Nick’s wellbeing in Russia could take away from the weekend. I was a little concerned he might try to live-out his number one dream of fighting a bear (I know right?) but luckily he is back in one piece with all digits in-tact for our big day!

8 Things I learnt from the Three Peaks Challenge

Bee Says: My company, Penguin Random House, is hot to trot on all things charity. At the start of each year every single person in the business has the opportunity to vote on a list of nominations for the charity of the year, and then the year is jam-packed with opportunities to band-together and raise money for that one cause. This year the charity is Mind, who in their words seek to “provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem and campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.” I was thrilled when Mind were announced as our chosen charity because I have experienced through friends & family how debilitating and devastating mental health problems can be – and how crucial it is to have access to the right people and support. With this in mind; when an email whizzed around the company in March asking for people to sign up to the Three Peaks Challenge I was quick to jot my name down; without giving an awful lot of though to what this would entail. A nice summer ramble, I thought. A bit of a jolly with my colleagues, I thought…

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What is the Three Peaks Challenge when it’s at home anyway? Well I soon learnt that it consists of climbing the three highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales. Those three bad boys stack up as Ben Nevis (1344m), Scafell Pike (978m) and Snowdon (1085m) and well, as if it’s not hard enough to lug yourself up three mountains; the stakes are raised by racing against the clock to complete the set in under 24 hours. The challenge racks up a total of 480 miles of driving, 25 miles of hiking, climbing a total of almost 3000 vertical metres, and.. 0 hours sleep. Sounds like fun… right?

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I thought it might be useful to share a few hints, tips and tricks I picked up through my experience in case you are considering something similar. I would HIGHLY recommend it – just book yourself a decent massage afterwards.

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1. You honestly don’t need to train that much

When I first signed up to the challenge and shared the news; I was met with bewildered and horrified faces and comments ranging from “isn’t that just for top athletes?!” to “you’re going to surely DIE”. So just to clarify, whilst the challenge is “challenging”, you just need to be at a basic level of good fitness. The event itself is actually so much more about psychological strength and grit (and ability to scoff scotch eggs at record speed). We did get given a 16 week training plan by Mind – which wasn’t ideal as we signed up with only 11 weeks to go! – but really the key suggestion was just that you do regular exercise of any type (be that walking, swimming, pilates, running, cycling… anything that tickles your fancy really) and that prior to the event you do a few mammoth walks, I did a 13 and a 19 miler, just to test the endurance of your legs. I have to say that by far the most important and useful training I did was taking the stairs at every opportunity. It’s 7 flights up to my desk at work and 3 flights up to my flat; and that was the bit that felt most similar to the vertical hiking of the peaks. Aside from a few super-hero-standard fitties, everyone in our team of 21 was a similar level of fitness and it was definitely an achievable challenge for people who are “quite active but also like sitting about eating crisps and watching Netflix”.

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2. You can never, ever predict the weather

You might think that a June weekend would be the ideal time to partake in this challenge; especially a June weekend where the rest of the country basks in a tropical heatwave. What I learnt (and maybe should have known but I was always very bad at geography, and… science) is that no matter the conditions on the ground, each mountain has it’s very own micro-climate. At best; the summit will be stuck in a cloud because it’s so high up there. At worst; you’ll experience 5ft of snow on Ben Nevis, hail, rain, wind gusts of up to 40mph on Scafell Pike and temperatures that plummet well below freezing. So ignore the weather forecast and pack for every eventuality; taking doubles of everything and waterproofs even if there is a heat wave. Trust me on this; as someone who climbed Scafell Pike with gloves that were soaking and then started to develop actual frost crystals (and turn my hands into white fat sausages) by the top. Even if it appears sunny and lovely as you embark; weather fronts can come in fast and furiously. It’s also always going to be pretty cold at the summit; and if you need a rest or hurt yourself and are sat about for any length of time – you need to keep warm and toasty.

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3. Invest in some decent kit

The Three Peaks Challenge (or a similar event) will end up costing a chunk of change. I under-estimated this bit; although the good thing is that I will re-use most of the kit and it’s that type of snazzy outdoor wear that is built to last. The challenge itself cost £80 to sign up for; and then a minimum donation total of £550. This is because Mind don’t want to lose money on paying for the aspects such as bus, guide, accommodation in Fort William on the Friday night before you start, water etc. Mind provided us with a handy kit list and luckily I had some of the key bits – most importantly a good warm AND waterproof jacket. Mine is this Madigan beaut from Craghoppers which is so reasonably priced and has an Aqua Dry outer coat (which honestly repels water, it never gets wet!) and a micro fleece for 3 in 1 warmth, wind proof and water proofing. Also it’s definitely worth investing in some proper ankle height walking boots, again that are properly waterproof and will stop you coming a cropper on any crags. The only luxury item I found it totally worth buying was some walking poles! I had previously been a special sort of idiot who thought these were only for “old people”. These metal rods are crucial for navigating up and down mountains and not shredding your knees. You can even start to convince yourself you look pretty cool with them in a Where’s Wally kinda way.


4. Waterproof gloves are a thing. And a very good thing.

I didn’t actually know waterproof gloves existed but boy do I wish someone had told me. I would buy yourself a pair, if only to avoid standing in a service station desperately trying to dry a pair of wet-dog stinky wool gloves under the hand dryer at 2am.

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5. The UK is SO beautiful.

One of the absolute best bits of this challenge is seeing bits of the UK I would never usually visit. It may have been a whistle-stop tour but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get a really good taste of the diverse terrain, the beauty, the views and the sights that the highlands, the lake district and Snowdonia have to offer. There was plenty of gazing out of the mini bus and time to plan future trips back to all these places to see them properly (just perhaps not the mountain bits) I think the most exciting place for me to visit was Glen Coe and the surrounding area of Scotland. Having never explored past Glasgow and Edinburgh; that scenery seriously packs a punch! It’s unlike anything anywhere else in the UK. Volcanic looking peaks, snow, ski lifts!, waterfalls cascading down the side of anything high, epic lochs that last as far as the eye can see, BIG sky and air that’s so fresh my London-riddled lungs could actually feel the difference with the first breath.



6. Treat yourself to a Camelbak

This experience has been a real education in kit. I SO wish I’d known about the holy Camelbak when we were backpacking. It’s such an obvious solution to the pain of carrying about heavy bottles of water and having to stop every time you want a swig.The Camelbak is a hydration system; which is a posh way of saying a plastic pouch that can carry 3L of water, attached to a plastic hose you can dangle over your shoulder and then easily slurp from at any moment (see the blue pipe thing below). You can even drink whilst you are walking! Genius. I am now intending to fill my Camelbak with gin & tonic and fit it to my sofa.


7. Distraction is key

I could not have completed the challenge without Katy Perry. That is a fact! I am so relieved that I packed my ipod and loaded it full of happy pop songs; because at the points where my brain was screaming at me that I couldn’t do it, I could drown that all out with some Roar on repeat. I also listened to a bunch of my favourite podcasts – Undisclosed, Watch the Thrones and You Are Not So Smart. Somehow having voices nattering in my ears made it feel less lonely as I clambered about something that resembled the surface of Mars (that’s you Scafell!) I mentioned earlier that the challenge is a psychological one, and I can never really put into words how gruelling it was. The tiredness of my legs and body honestly paled in comparison to the battering my brain took as I went through various stages of ~the fear~ and self doubt and wanting to throw my sticks down and give up!

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8. You can never have enough snacks

I went shopping for snacks three times leading up to the challenge (as this was the bit I was most excited about) and still munched my way through nearly everything. Protein bars, fruit and nuts, snickers, oatcakes, twiglets, pork pies, scotch eggs, babybel, flapjacks, jelly babies and anything else that can deliver you a quick boost of sugar or energy needs to be in your bag and belly. I feel quite sick even looking at this photo now, and think I’m retiring from both mountaineering AND snacks.

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Well that’s just a few of my thoughts. It was equally the best and worst thing I have ever done; but I am so proud of my team for hulk-smashing their way through the challenge! We went with a great company called Adventure Cafe (and in fact I’ve pinched a few of their photos here – thanks guys) Everyone was amazing at cheering each other along at bleak points, lending out woollens when the temperature dropped and generally keeping morale high and a sense of humour when things looked wet and wild. We were also lucky to have two fantastic guides who we were totally reliant on to get us up and down safely; and deliver that tough love of “no you cannot stop for jelly babies, it’s too cold to stand still”.

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I’m currently just £10 short of my sponsorship target, so if you are feeling generous – my page is here and every penny counts. In total, my group will have raised over £10,000 for Mind… and that makes every moment I’ve woken up in the night this week with leg cramp worthwhile!