03 December 2021 by William Renwick
Will Renwick, President of Ramblers Cymru, reflects on his epic attempt to climb all of Wales’ mountains over 2000ft in one continuous, self-supported journey
How it started
It was a BBC news article that started it all off: two men had walked a route linking up every single mountain within Wales in aid of Mountain Rescue. As soon as I saw the map showing their squiggly line from south Wales to north Wales, like the scenic route someone might take on the drive home when they’re not in any particular rush, I knew I wanted to have a crack too. Over the last ten years, I’d just about walked all of Wales’ long-distance paths – the established ones at least – but I just felt there was more for me to see. Places like the Radnor Forest, Berwyn Mountains and the Arenigs, where no paths had taken me before. This route, I realised, would lead me to all these corners – and more.
The problem, however, was that such a route through Wales would take at least a month to complete and I knew I just wouldn’t be able to manage that amount of time off work. But what if I ran it?
It didn’t take me long to reach out to the two walkers, Mike Myerscough and Matthew Murray, to ask them if they had a GPX file for their route and fortunately they were happy to share it with me. With the route sorted, the next thing to overcome was my lack of experience in long-distance running, particularly with all my camping gear on my back. I managed to get a good, long winter of hill running under my belt, but a few things got in the way after that. What I really mean is that I got a bit lazy. As a result, I ended up going into this huge challenge grossly under prepared but still telling myself that my experience as a long-distance walker would serve me well.
It almost finished before it got going
Less than two days after setting off from Swansea Bay with trepidation tinged with excitement, I was in a bad condition. My left knee had started to jar a little and by overcompensating on my right leg, I’d managed to damage a ligament in my ankle to the extent that it had quickly become difficult to put pressure on it. Still, I managed to limp through the Brecon Beacons in four days, giving myself a day off in Hay-on-Wye where I deliberated over how far I needed to go to show everyone I’d made a decent enough stab at getting through it all. Pumlumon, I figured, would be just about far enough to save face.
Somewhat miraculously, as I passed through the vast moorlands of the Cambrian Mountains my body seemed to adjust to everything and the injuries started to subside – enough for me to be able to reach Pumlumon feeling in relatively good shape. Camped on the mountain’s summit with the Brecon Beacons in view behind me and Snowdonia ahead, I felt, for the first time, that maybe I could actually reach Conwy to complete the challenge.
The toughest part of the challenge
Snowdonia brought a few stumbling blocks, as you’d expect. In south and mid Wales, the 2000ft mountains had been laid out quite conveniently for me, but that really changed in the north. So did the weather. The week and a half that followed was probably the hardest of my life, but it was also at this point in the journey where it really felt like an adventure; where my navigation, planning and sheer endurance was tested to the core.
Fortunately, I was always motivated. The main thing that kept me going was seeing the fundraising total for my chosen charity, Mind Over Mountains, shooting up day-by-day. I was also just constantly spurred on by this excitement to discover what lay around each corner.
Kindness made all the difference
Then there was the help from others. On big challenges, I’ve always found that interactions with nice people can turn a bad day into a good one and there were a couple of examples of this in Snowdonia. I’d had one particularly rough stretch, rummaging around for summits in thick mist around Aran Fawddwy. All my gear was wet, I was almost out of food and was faced with two more days of running through the Berwyn Mountains before I could find anywhere to resupply. A hefty 20-mile diversion to find a shop seemed on the cards. As luck would have it, however, out of the blue, a stranger sent me a message saying that they’d seen from my tracker that I was near their house and I could stop by if I needed anything. Their house – one of only a handful in this wild part of Wales – was right on my route. Thanks to this kind hill farming family, I ended up with my first night in a bed for 16 days, warm soup in my belly and snacks to fuel the next few miles ahead of me.
About a week later, I’d had another long, wet and windy day, this time in the Moelwynion, and I’d raced down as fast as I could from Cnicht in order to get to Beddgelert in good time before the pubs stopped serving food. Getting into the village at 8pm I’d figured I’d done well, but it turned out that every pub had shut their kitchens – the down season had well and truly arrived. Just as I was thinking about heading back into the night to fire up my stove for another evening of noodles in my tent, a lovely couple who’d overheard me speaking to the bar lady offered me sandwiches and a pasty that they hadn’t gotten round to on their walk earlier in the day. They even gave a donation to my cause. It turned out they were fellow Ramblers members, part of one of the Manchester Groups. Good people in the Ramblers, that’s for sure.
Reflecting as I got to the end
I gave myself a moment to reflect when, four days later, I was stood alone on the summit of Tal y Fan, the last mountain on my list. I’d been on quite a journey since the first mountain, Carreg Llwyd, just over three weeks and 500 miles before, and I was in quite a sorry state – pretty much just skin, bones and blisters. I felt proud of myself for achieving something that I really didn’t think I had in me and even prouder to have, at that point, raised £11,000 for a small charity that does incredible things by providing outdoor experiences for people who are struggling with their wellbeing.
All that was left from there were downhill miles, with a bed, bath and a very long rest all lying beyond them.