Taking mental well-being to the top of all 100 UK counties
On July 23rd 2017 I completed my biggest journey yet and raised over £25,271 for mental health charity Young Minds UK. Climbing to the highest point of all 100 UK counties in 72 days, with 48 ceremonial counties in England, 13 historic counties in Wales, 6 in Northern Ireland and 33 historic counties in Scotland.
4,782 miles on bike, 484 miles on foot, 8km by kayak, 383,871ft ascent, 13 times the height of Everest, and only 1 flat tyre…
#ClimbTheUK involved cycling between the highest points before walking up them (sometimes cycling to them directly) and even kayaking across to the Isle of Wight before mountain biking to its’ highest point! I was almost entirely human-powered barring any essential ferries.
Most of all, by touching every corner of the UK, the challenge gave the opportunity for people of all ages to get outside and take part, joining me to climb their own county high point, or perhaps their first mountain. Over 1,000 students were engaged through six talks at schools and events during the challenge. My daily updates not only show-cased the amazing opportunities for adventure and places we have in our home country, but shared an open account of mental health on a daily basis. This open-ness quite literally got people speaking about their mental health challenges; helping to reduce the stigma, one conversation at a time. The extreme physical nature of the challenge aimed to break down the idea that mental illness could be a sign of weakness – instead, talking about is the greatest sign of strength.
Mental illness is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with – far more difficult than climbing Everest. The earliest signs were of panic attacks, OCD and anxiety aged just ten, triggered by a brief bout of childhood epilepsy. A running injury in 2012 took away a coping mechanism and I sank into depression. I coped instead with an eating disorder – binge eating and bulimia. Years of various medication and treatment have brought me to manage this problem, even if it may never completely go away.
It’s fantastic that people like Prince Harry are also speaking out about mental health, to show that mental illness can affect everyone, anywhere, all over the UK. I have also decided to be open. People see the adventurer, athlete and ‘confident’ person speaking on stage but need to see the human side too. Many are afraid to seek help and speak out, which is the first step to overcome mental health challenges.
Even then, many still don’t get the understanding or support they desperately need. So we need to do something about it. This is why I chose Young Minds UK to campaign, provide training, research and ultimately provide better support for young people facing mental illness.
Can I have a go?
Go for it! Whether you want to do the whole thing faster, try all 100 or just even a few of the county tops at your own pace – it’s an amazing journey that showcases the best of the UK outdoors. I hope the info below is useful but I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.
What was your hardest county?
Undoubtedly the Scottish ones, but you’ll have to wait for my new book to find out more!
How fast did you go?
It was a mix of walking, running and cycling – usually walking up hills and running down them to save time. My average pace on the bike was around 13 mph.
Did you have a support vehicle?
No. I carried my gear on the bike and only used motorized transport in the form of ferries to N Ireland, Orkney, Shetland and the Isle of Arran with a brief drive back to my route on the Isle of Wight when my bike broke. On two days I had some supplies carried by friends who were walking with me that day. Where speaking commitments meant I had to divert off route I always returned to the exact point I left off.
Yep! Over to the Isle of Wight, about 4km each way, with support from Tackt-Isle Adventures.
I hired a mountain bike from them which was waiting for me on the beach, and I left my own bike at Lepe beach in the New Forest.
How do you define a county?
Good question and not a simple answer. Each country in the UK has different classifications. I will be climbing the 48 ceremonial counties of England, 33 historic counties (shires) of Scotland, 6 former administrative counties of Northern Ireland and 13 historic counties of Wales. Confused yet? Some county tops were on the border of two counties, hence the list adds up to 97 rather than 100.
How many people joined you?
I had around 150 individuals supporting me at various stages of the challenge for walks, cycles, simply saying hello, or putting me up for the night. Huge thanks to each and every one of you!
How many miles a day?
My longest day was 18 hours, the biggest day on the bike was 122 miles, and up to almost 20 miles on foot! View my daily tracks here.
Where did you sleep?
I stayed mostly in youth hostels and camping in a tent (including wild camping) – with hotels, B&B accommodation and the luxury of friends or family spare rooms for a few of the nights.
What kit did you bring?
I was self-sufficient for the duration of the trip – see my blog post here for the full list: https://alexstaniforth.com/the-5000-mile-adventure-kit-list/
Try it yourself!
The full list of UK counties and schedule for my county tops challenge #ClimbTheUK is below.
You can still view the entire day-by-day route from my live tracker here!
Please note some tops were on/close to the road and were reached by bike, so don’t have a route to download. View the full collection here>
Accommodation was kindly provided by YHA England & Wales, SYHA (Scottish Youth Hostel Association) and HINI Hostelling Northern Ireland.
|13th May||SHINING TOR (CHESHIRE)
CHEEKS HILL (STAFFORDSHIRE)
KINDER SCOUT (DERBYSHIRE)
|14th May||HIGH STONES (S YORKSHIRE)
BLACK HILL (W YORKSHIRE)
BLACK CHEW HEAD (GTR MANCHESTER)
|15th May||BILLINGE HILL (MERSEYSIDE)|
|16th May||GRAGARETH (LANCASHIRE)
WHERNSIDE (N YORKSHIRE)
|17th May||SCAFELL PIKE (CUMBRIA)|
|18th May||MERRICK (AYRSHIRE)
KIRRIEREOCH HILL (KIRKCUDBRIGHTSHIRE)
|19th May||CRAIGAIRIE FELL (WIGTOWNSHIRE)
Ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast
|20th May||SLIEVE DONARD (DOWN)
SLIEVE GULLION (ARMAGH)
|21st May||CUILCAGH (FERMANAGH)|
|22nd May||SAWEL MOUNTAIN (TYRONE/LONDONDERRY)|
|23rd May||TROSTAN (ANTRIM)|
|24th May||Ferry from Belfast to Cairnryan
Ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick
|25th May||GOAT FELL (BUTE)
Ferry from Brodick to Ardrossan
HILL OF STAKE (RENFREWSHIRE)
|26th May||BEN LOMOND (STIRLINGSHIRE)|
|27th May||BEN VORLICH (DUNBARTONSHIRE)
BIDEAN NAM BIAN (ARGYLL)
|28th May||BEN NEVIS (INVERNESS-SHIRE)|
|29th May||CARN EIGE (ROSS AND CROMARTY)|
|31st May||BEN MORE ASSYNT (SUTHERLAND)|
|1st Jun||Ferry from Scrabster to Kirkwall|
|2nd Jun||WARD HILL (ORKNEY)
Ferry from Kirkwall to Lerwick
|3rd Jun||RONAS HILL (SHETLAND)|
|5th Jun||Ferry from Stromness to Scrabster|
|6th June||MORVEN (CAITHNESS)|
|7th June||CARN GLAS CHOIRE (NAIRNSHIRE)|
|8th June||BEN MACDUI (ABERDEENSHIRE/BANFFSHIRE)
CARN A-GHILLE CHEARR (MORAY)
|9th June||MOUNT BATTOCK (KINCARDINESHIRE)|
|10th June||GLAS MAOL (ANGUS)|
|11th June||BEN LAWERS (PERTHSHIRE)|
|13th June||BEN CLEUCH (CLACKMANNANSHIRE)
INNERDOUNY HILL (KINROSS-SHIRE)
WEST LOMOND (FIFE)
|14th June||CAIRNPAPPLE HILL (WEST LOTHIAN)
CULTER FELL (LANARKSHIRE)
BROAD LAW (PEEBLESSHIRE/SELKIRKSHIRE)
|15th Jun||WHITE COOMB (DUMFRIESSHIRE)
MEIKLE SAYS LAW (E LOTHIAN)
MEIKLE SAYS LAW (BERWICKSHIRE)
|16th Jun||BLACKHOPE SCAR (MIDLOTHIAN)
THE CHEVIOT (NORTHUMBERLAND)
CAIRN HILL WEST TOP (ROXBURGHSHIRE)
|17th Jun||CURROCK HILL (TYNE & WEAR)|
|20th Jun||MICKLE FELL (DURHAM)|
|21st Jun||BISHOP WILTON WOLD (E RIDING YORKSHIRE)
NORMANBY LE WOLD TOP (LINCOLNSHIRE)
|22nd Jun||NEWTONWOOD LANE (NOTTINGHAMSHIRE)
BARDON HILL (LEICESTERSHIRE)
|24th Jun||ARBURY HILL (NORTHAMPTONSHIRE)
COLD OVERTON PARK (RUTLAND)
|26th Jun||BEACON HILL (NORFOLK)|
|27th Jun||GREAT WOOD HILL (SUFFOLK)|
|28th Jun||GREAT CHISHILL (CAMBRIDGESHIRE)
CHRISHALL COMMON (ESSEX)
|29th Jun||DUNSTABLE DOWNS (BEDFORDSHIRE)
HADDINGTON HILL (BUCKINGHAMSHIRE)
NE SHOULDER PAVIS WOOD (HERTFORDSHIRE)
|30th Jun||HIGH HOLBORN (CITY OF LONDON)|
|1st Jul||BETSOMS HILL (KENT)
NE SHOULDER WESTERHAM HEIGHTS (GTR LONDON)
LEITH HILL (SURREY)
|2nd Jul||BLACK DOWN (WEST SUSSEX)|
|4th Jul||Kayak to the Isle of Wight (and back)
ST BONIFACE DOWN (ISLE OF WIGHT)
|6th Jul||LEWESDON HILL (DORSET)|
|7th Jul||HIGH WILLHAYS (DEVON)|
|9th Jul||BROWN WILLY (CORNWALL)|
|11th Jul||DUNKERY BEACON (SOMERSET)
DUNDRY HILL (BRISTOL)
|13th Jul||MILK HILL (WILTSHIRE)
WALBURY HILL (BERKSHIRE)
PILOT HILL (HAMPSHIRE)
|14th Jul||WHITEHORSE HILL (OXFORDSHIRE)
CLEEVE HILL (GLOUCESTERSHIRE)
EBRINGTON HILL (WARWICKSHIRE)
|15th Jul||WORCESTERSHIRE BEACON (WORCESTERSHIRE)
TURNERS HILL (WEST MIDLANDS)
|16th Jul||BROWN CLEE HILL (SHROPSHIRE)
GREAT RHOS (RADNORSHIRE, WALES)
|17th Jul||CHWAREL Y FAN (MONMOUTHSHIRE)
BLACK MOUNTAIN (HEREFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND)
|18th Jul||PEN-Y-FAN (BRECKNOCKSHIRE)
CRAIG Y LLYN (GLAMORGAN)
FAN FOEL (CARMARTHENSHIRE)
|19th Jul||FOEL CWMCERWYN (PEMBROKESHIRE)|
|20th Jul||PLYNLIMON (CARDIGANSHIRE)|
|21st Jul||ARAN FAWDDWY (MERIONETHSHIRE)
CADAIR BERWYN (DENBIGHSHIRE)
CRAIG BERWYN (MONTGOMERYSHIRE)
|22nd Jul||HOLYHEAD MOUNTAIN (ANGLESEY)
|23rd Jul||MOEL FAMAU (FLINTSHIRE)|