Reaching the top of Ben Nevis and catching sight of the spectacular views over the highlands took my breath away and, for a moment, I felt quite choked up.
It was the last of the Three Peaks that my husband Alfred and I had climbed within a week and while for many people that would be a huge achievement, for us it felt extra special.
Because we’d done it as a family – with our children, six-year-old Ankini and Visi, just three.
Growing up, I wasn’t particularly sporty but my love of the outdoors was born when, as a student at the University of Leeds, I signed up for a charity challenge to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. It was an amazing experience.
So when I met Alfred, and learnt about his love for outdoor adventures, we clicked. We often spent weekends hiking around new places, laughing, talking and bonding as we explored. We even decided to climb Mount Sinai, in Egypt, for our honeymoon.
When our children, Ankini and Visi, came along, we kept walking. We took them to the Yorkshire Dales, the Peak District and the South Downs. Walks gave us time together as a family, all while enjoying the beauty of the countryside.
We even took Ankini up Mount Snowdon when she was just three years old.
During lockdown, we kept our walks more local, but as soon as restrictions permitted, we went back to hiking further afield.
In summer 2021, we decided to raise money for the Beryl Thyer Memorial Africa Trust (BTMAT), a charity I’d volunteered for when I was a medical student. They provide vital cancer treatment for children with Burkitt Lymphoma in parts of Africa. Their founder was an avid walker and we decided that that was quite a fitting way to help their cause.
That was when Ankini, who was learning about mountains at primary school, came up with the idea of climbing Snowdon again. Visi, who was three, and completely oblivious of the challenge of climbing this mountain, seemed even more excited.
Having just come out of Covid restrictions and with little hope of going abroad, Alfred suggested that we could visit the Lake District and the Highlands, as a mini tour of the UK, as well. The idea of doing the Three Peaks was born.
We were all excited but seeing the kids’ enthusiasm filled me with slight trepidation. Getting both of them up these mountains would be the ultimate test of our patience as parents.
We planned to start with Snowdon and if it went well, we’d try Scafell Pike, and then Ben Nevis.
Friends and family thought we were bonkers. Some tried to sponsor us not to go through with it. Others volunteered to babysit for us so that we could go as a couple. But the children were too excited to be left behind.
We planned to take a baby carrier to carry Visi in, in case he got tired, but after we’d been on the road for an hour, we realised we’d forgotten it. It was too late to go back and so we continued our drive to Wales without it, feeling even more nervous.
On 7 August 2021, we started our walk from Llanberis, at the foot of Mount Snowdon. The weather was dull but the children still seemed excited, in the bright yellow puddle suits we’d bought especially so we wouldn’t lose them in the bad weather.
An hour into the walk, it started drizzling and while we expected a dampening of spirit along with the weather, the children played with each other, chased insects and attempted to jump in puddles.
Four hours later, we reached the peak. Despite the thick fog, we were delighted.
‘Why don’t more people who look like us enjoy the countryside?’ Ankini asked. I told her honestly I really didn’t know
Sadly, that was when the real downpour started and, after just a few minutes, we headed back down to the car. The kids were so tired, they fell asleep on the drive back to the hotel.
The next morning we drove to the Lake District where we spent the afternoon visiting the local funfair. The weather forecast seemed a lot better than Snowdon and the kids voted to do Scafell Pike the next morning.
It’s a steeper mountain, but compared to the weather at Snowdon, the walk was a lot more pleasant. Two hikers even recognised the kids from Snowdon and gave them high-fives. Others stopped to congratulate them.
One thing we all noticed, though, was that not many Black or Asian people were hiking. ‘Why don’t more people who look like us enjoy the countryside?’ Ankini asked. I told her honestly I really didn’t know.
The total walk took about eight hours, with regular stops and snacks, but it was definitely worth it.
The next morning we drove off to Scotland, where we had two full days of rest before driving to Fort Williams to tackle Ben Nevis. We’d been warned about the dangers of this mountain and had told the kids we might have to turn back should the weather get bad.
We started our walk from Fort William at 7am and, with the rocks and steep slopes, it was tough. At one point Visi fell asleep on a rock for 10 minutes.
But once he’d woken up, he was determined to keep going, carrying his little toy rescue truck. By the time we got to the top, the weather was good, the views were fantastic and we were all exhilarated by the achievement.
Some hikers congratulated and took pictures with the children. We celebrated with a family hug and some lunch.
Even now, I’m so proud of our achievement – and the fact that we raised £3,000 for the charity.
Ankini is more passionate than ever about walking, as she knows it doesn’t pollute the environment like driving does, and she insists we walk the one-mile to school every day and encourages other children to do the same.
Since then, we’ve also completed the 13k circular hike up Kinder Scout from Edale, this time accompanied by our new addition, three-month-old Abimi. She was in her baby carrier, of course.
For us, walking really is a family affair.
Lorreta Besong has published a children’s book, Nain and Tabe’s Mountain Adventure, chronicling Ankini and Visi’s Three Peaks adventures.
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