One of the Last Great British Adventures…….
Nick Beighton Royal engineer, double amputee, paralympian and 1/4 of the Beeline Britain describes his adventure across the cairngorms and the impact the journey had on him – a man without legs.
Many of my childhood memories are of setting out with my dad and brother and sisters on a days adventure in the hills of the Lake District or abroad in the Alps. That joy and sense of freedom that comes with getting up high and leaving behind the trials and worries of day-to-day life is deep seated in me and pretty central to who I am.
As such it was all the harder to reconcile my life before injury with what I perceived my life with no legs would be. It was one of my biggest sources of sadness and regret, lying in hospital, to contemplate a future with out that emotional release and to not have the physical ability to do that one thing which meant so much to me.
So it was, that in early June we found ourselves in Blair Athol having just spent a week constantly moving from North Wales up through the Isle of Man and Lowland Scotland. I was feeling the burn in my shoulders from the relentless use and the fatigue was starting to creep in. The trouble was the next two legs were likely to be the hardest for me. In all the other disciplines, having no legs was not much of a hindrance but walking over the second highest mountain in the UK, they would come in pretty handy so I was apprehensive about how tough it would actually be.
First of all we had to complete a long day, with me in a new off road handbike, up the length of the Glen Tilt river valley and over the watershed in to the Dee valley and the Linn of Dee. We set off early to ensure plenty of daylight to complete the journey, and the first hour of the ride was an exercise in pain management. My body was feeling the effects already and a cold start at 6am is not the best remedy, coupled with the fact that I had not used this particular hand cycle before and it was built for someone about a foot smaller than me and with arms half the length! I had a bit of a sense of humor failure after the first few hills on a rough landrover track, and started to doubt my ability to finish the day. Thankfully, I finally started to warm up and shake of the aches and pains and the hills fell away to be replaced by the most incredible scenery. As the beautiful Glen Tilt opened out before us all grumbles faded.
After finding a secret stash of goodies left for us by an old friend of Ian’s we had to switch to leg power as the trail became too narrow and technical to ride. This involved a number of shuttles with the handbike and me on my stubbies. We made slow but steady progress over the next 3-4 hours until we reached the upper Dee. By this point we were all beginning to feel the effects of a few hard weeks of journey and it was a relief to be back on the bikes for the last few hours ride out. A couple of fun river crossings later (not sure why I always got to go first!!)and after 10hrs and 40km we pulled into Linn of Dee and a well-earned rest day in Braemar after a really satisfying day in the hills.
A 5am start saw us leave Linn of Dee on the bikes again for the short ride into Derry lodge and the long climb up to the summit of Ben MacDui, which at 1309m was the high point of our epic journey. After a pretty deep river crossing, funnily enough with me testing the water, we ditched the bikes for our support crew to collect later and ventured forth on legs and stubbies once again. My apprehensions started to surface again as I though of the day to come but I pushed them to the back of my mind and concentrated on the rhythm of swinging through with my crutches and being as efficient as possible. After about 2 hours we approached the bottom of what we had affectionately called ‘heartbreak hill’ on the recce, a significant steepening and the start of the climb proper. After a quick break I descended into a world of pumping tunes on my ipod and sweaty hard work. In typical fashion I decided the best approach was just to smash it up and attack the hill as hard as I could! There was some deep burn going on but the rewards were to steadily gain height and slowly see the most beautiful vista open up around us as we climbed above the surrounding mountains and the full glory of the Cairngorms revealed themselves. For me this was the most incredible feeling and a rush of happiness spread over me. To be somewhere I thought I would never be again and to enjoy the space and peace of the mountains was supremely fulfilling. If I could do this then what else could I achieve?
We summited Ben MacDui and spent a while savoring the view before turning north to reach Cairngorm. By this stage the weather was coming in and the rain started to lash down, turning it into a proper hill day! My wrists and elbows were becoming pretty sore and so it was a hard slog for the next few hours with head down. The last climb up to the summit of Cairngorm was done with minimum fuss and a last surge of energy as some of the crew and Anne met us and offered the last bit of encouragement. In swirling mist and rain we topped out on our second Munro of the day and the exciting prospect of a rapid handbike and mountain bike decent!
30 minutes after a breakneck ride down, with no end of jumps and power slides, we reached the car park at the ski center and so the end of a truly memorable 12hr day in the mountains.