December 2016: Glen No

The idea: Fly to Glasgow, drive to Glen Coe, climb up loads of Scottish mountains
The reality: Miss our flight, drive to the Peak District, sleep in a cave and climb up a waterfall
Location: Stansted Airport Departure Lounge and The Peak District
Essential kit: Sleeping bags, hiking boots, waterproofs
Less-essential kit: Passports and boarding passes
Kit we wished we’d had: A magic ball that could predict the future
Cost: £40 for flights (to Glasgow). £20 for car hire (in Scotland). £100 for petrol.

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At 630pm on the 14th of December, 2016, we made a bold decision. Thanks to traffic on the M25 (or as we now call it, the road where dreams go to die), we’d only just arrived at the airport for our 7pm flight to Glasgow. This meant we had half an hour to get through security or miss out on three days of scrambling up mountains in Glen Coe – the trip we’d been building up to all year. Our chances were slim, but we made a run for it.

By some miracle, we got through security in ten minutes and everything was going our way until we hit the departures lounge. If you’ve ever been to Stansted airport, you’ll know that it’s not designed for people in a rush. The walkway through Duty Free resembles a never ending river, with a new perfume to smell on every bend, and a pyramid of Toblerone standing at every tributary, essentially blocking any shortcuts. Add to that the hazards of stag groups walking 12 abreast, elderly tourists towing a year’s worth of luggage and an altogether too-polite British attitude that strictly forbids running in crowds, barging, or even asking whether it would be ok to “hurry the jolly flip up”, and it seemed as though we’d probably have to accept defeat.

Caves are notoriously damp, rocky and covered in bat shit. In December they’re also cold. None of these traits make them the perfect place to sleep, but what they lack in comfort they make up for in adventure points.

But not quite yet. Not while we still had our secret weapon. As the crowds cleared and we approached the sign that told us our gate was a ten minute walk away, I relieved Jake of his heavy bags and gave him a look that said, “you can do this”. Despite the fact that it was now 645pm, he sprinted off with so much purpose that we were sure he’d make it. So sure, that we slowed to a gentle jog and allowed ourselves to imagine sipping the £5 can of Bulmers we’d purchase from the inflight menu in celebration of our achievement. When we finally caught up with Jake, however, he shot us a look that shattered our appley dreams. On approaching the gate, he was asked by a member of staff where he was going. He replied “Glasgow” and the man chuckled “no you’re not”, and that was that.

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Sitting on the benches of the departure lounge, dripping with sweat, we took a moment to let it sink in. We were no longer going to be exploring Glen Coe or Kinlochleven this December, or sitting by a fire after a long day of hiking, sampling Scotland’s finest single malts. We weren’t going to get a refund on the flights or car hire, and the hours we’d spent planning this trip were lost forever. None of us had ever missed a flight before and, as we contemplated the fact that we were five hours from home, we felt like the worst adventurers ever. By the time the sweat had cooled, however, we started to think about how we could make the most of this situation. After a few phone calls we’d arranged a night’s stay at Jake’s brother George’s house, who lives on the edge of the Peak District, and we’d taken the first steps towards salvaging this adventure.

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We used the 3.5 hour journey to Sheffield to hatch a plan that involved climbing a peak in the Peak District and swimming in a lake in the Lake District. So, on Thursday morning we left George’s house and headed straight for the nearest peak. As it turned out, however, the peaks of the Peak District aren’t particularly peaky. Summiting the first took all of about 20 minutes, and we felt that continuing in this fashion wouldn’t really be enough of a challenge. We’d prepared ourselves for the extremes of Glen Coe in mid-winter and knew we had to create an adventure in the Peaks worthy of replacing it. It was at that moment that we decided against driving another three hours to the Lake District and chose instead to track down the nearest cave.

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Caves are notoriously damp, rocky and covered in bat shit. In December they’re also cold. None of these traits make them the perfect place to sleep, but what they lack in comfort they make up for in adventure points. How many people have actually slept in a cave? And of the few that have, how many would say they regretted it? Sleeping in a cave would not only mean that we’d salvage the adventure, but also that we’d gain access to the exclusive ‘I’ve slept in a cave’ club. Fortunately for us, Jake had spotted a good cave when hiking in the Peaks a few months before and so the plan was set. We’d do a little bit more hiking, find a pub for dinner, then lay our sleeping bags out on the floor of the cave and try to get some shut eye, keeping our fingers crossed that we hadn’t chosen to set up camp in the nest of a wild, mythological beast.

As soon as we’d decided on this plan, our luck began to change. Thor’s Cave happened to be very close to The George at Alstonefield pub, which is known to serve some of the best pub food in the country (after all, what would an adventure be without a wild mushroom pithivier or authentic bakewell tart with pear reduction) and there was a car park roughly 500m away from the entrance of the cave, which turned out to be almost exactly the range of Nick’s drone. When we reached the cave, we spent an hour or so climbing up rocks, exploring nooks and crannies and trying to play a game of cards before finally settling on a few good sleeping spots. With sloped sides and giant pools of mud everywhere, it wasn’t the most comfortable place, but the gentle dripping of water echoing around the numerous vacuous chambers in the darkness soothed our tired bodies into a quick sleep. As per usual when sleeping outside, this didn’t last long. The spot I’d chosen was a soggy, three foot, uneven patch of dirt, but, even when I found myself staring at the roof of the cave in the middle of the night, it felt amazing to know that we were spending this one night in such an extraordinary location.

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Thor’s Cave provided one of the best morning views we’ve ever experienced. If we needed any reassurance that we’d made a good decision as we were packing our soaking wet tarpaulins into our mud-caked bags, it came as the sun rose from over the Peaks in front of us, filling the cave with a deep orange December glow. After allowing the sunlight to warm us up for a second or two, we climbed up the side of the cave to get a better view. Walking down from the cave roof, I started to feel all the aches and pains caused by the rocks we’d slept on the night before. Thankfully though, we’d decided to spend the day climbing up a waterfall at Wildboar Clough – a grade 2/3 scramble that was estimated to take five hours – and everyone knows that extreme exertion is the best way to cure physical ailments.

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After an hour long drive to the north of the Peak District, we found ourselves standing in a rocky gorge, looking up at a waterfall with only one way to go. As a complete newcomer to scrambling, I’d asked Jake lots of questions on the drive over, most of which ended with “but, will I die?” Half an hour into the climb, however, it seemed as though I needn’t have worried. We were making great time up through the gorge, skipping over small rocks and pulling ourselves up bigger ones without any problems. It was only when we reached the end of the climb that things started to get a little hairy. Between us and the top of our climb stood a 25ft waterfall that we’d need to climb in order to complete the challenge.

It seemed as though our only choice would be to climb up through the flow of water, like three large salmon being drawn upwards by the promise of good mating in the pools above. With no such reward waiting for us at the top however, and a good chance of severe injury, enthusiasm for this route was pretty sparse. In everyone but Nick, that is, who would never turn down the opportunity to be the only person brave enough to do anything. While he sized up the climb and looked for the driest handholds, I sussed out a route up the side of the waterfall and took a spot at the top to from where I’d be able to watch the whole thing play out. I got myself into a position where I could offer a hand up the final part of the waterfall if he should need it, while Jake stayed at the bottom to document the whole thing.

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For all but a brief 30-second panic, when he couldn’t find a hand hold and knew there was no easy way down, Nick made light work of the climb. Jake chose to follow in my footsteps rather than Nick’s and we patted ourselves on the back when reaching the summit, injury free. It felt good to have slept in a cave and climbed up a waterfall when it would have been so easy to have turned around at Stansted and gone home, missing out on any sort of adventure at all this month. All we had to do now was find a route down from the top of the waterfall and breathe in as much clean air as possible before making the long drive back down to the South Coast.  

Though it didn’t turn out how we expected it to, this trip was one of the most affirming of the whole year. When we started Everyday Adventure in the hills of Wales in 2015, our biggest hope for this blog was that it would make us commit to doing more of the things that make us happy – extracting the most from every minute of free time and banishing the excuses that so often stand in the way of getting outside more. Over the course of the last year, we’ve learned that adventure takes dedication and commitment. Even the things that make us the most happy can sometimes feel like hard work, especially when things don’t go to plan. It was tough to find enthusiasm for a new trip after missing our flight to Scotland but, because of Everyday Adventure, we ended up exploring one of the most beautiful parts of the country and made memories that will last forever. ▲

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