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Nick Armstrong 1987-89

three peaksFrom Colin Armstrong, who started the Forbidden Corner near Middleham.

'Nick was eleven years old and at the Inter-American school in Guayaquil.  He had passed an exam to gain admission to Malsis preparatory school near Keighley in Yorkshire, with the idea that he should progress to Sedbergh at thirteen......Time was beginning to hang heavy for Nick and me, as the first day of school drew near.  The dreaded day arrived on the 17th September.  We drove off from home.  It is an hour and a quarter's drive and the silence was oppressive before we were halfway there.  My cheerful 'You'll enjoy the rugby' or 'Only six weeks until we see you at half-term' did not have the desired effect.  We had visited the school with Ceci at the end of the previous term and met John Clark, the headmaster.  Nick had been shown round by two other boys and left them with a cheery 'See you next term'.  But that seemed an age away. Now it was for real.

Together with dozens of other parents, I helped Nick to lug his trunk up the stairs and put his tuck box in the right place.  Then John Clark summoned another lad to show Nick where tea was being served.  He whispered to me: 'I think you should just say a quick goodbye and leave while he is busy.'  Nick seemed quite composed so I gave him a quick embrace... and burst into tears!  It was not at all the thing for a father to be sobbing like a baby.......

Malsis had a tradition that, at the end of the summer term, senior boys, parents and staff would camp out in a field near Settle before climbing the Three Peaks of Whernside, Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough, a gruelling 28 mile hike.  Nick had phoned to say that all the fathers of his friends were going to do it so I could not let him down.  This was May 1988 and the event was in early July.  I was not given to indulging in sport of any kind, my only exercise being riding round Mapan at the weekends and the occasional walk with the dogs on a Saturday evening.  If I were to enter the Three Peaks walk, I had to do something to improve my fitness, so I bought one of those gadgets that you put in your pocket and which records the distance you walk...........

The great day arrived, I picked up Nick and met up with Jane Gower and her two sons, James and Matthew, and pitched our tents together.  We had met Jane and Peter Gower the previous summer.  We had asked John Clark whether any other parent lived near us so that we could make contact and Nick would know someone before starting school.  He said that, by great coincidence, the Gowers had a house at the pretty village of Scrafton in Coverdale, which is only two miles from Ferngill.  We telephoned them and both adults and children have been good friends ever since.  Peter was an executive with Shell.  All the Gowers enjoyed the outdoors and long-distant walking was a regular feature of their lives so the prospect of the Three Peaks challenge did not overwhelm them.

As neither Jane nor I knew the other parents, we were somewhat left out of their jollifications as they appeared to be whooping it up with wine and drinks on the eve of the struggle.  I had great admiration for their apparent stamina as they seemed rather well fed and portly to be seasoned hikers.  Breakfast was to be cooked by John Clark at five o'clock and then we were free to break camp, drive to the Three Peaks Cafe in Ribblesdale and go round the course at our own speed.  The average time for completing it was eight hours, which would bring us back to the starting point for a mug of tea.......

We were among the first away.  Within minutes of the start, it  became apparent that I was going to be a dead weight for the group.  Jane was fit, the three boys were fit, I was by no means so.... We agreed that Jane and the boys should go on ahead.  Nick, who would have liked to continue with them, loyally stayed with Dad.  I had climbed many a Lake District mountain while at Huyton Hill but forty years had passed without my trying it again.  I had forgotten the effort needed to climb scree runs, the aching knees on almost vertical paths, the wet feet splashing through bogs.  My outfit was totally wrong.  Far too much clothing was slowly discarded and hung around the waist, the stick was just something more to carry.  My boots were flat-soled and no help in gripping the track.   

We toiled  up Whernside and down again, then tackled the long walk past the Ribblehead Viaduct and up Penyghent......The mystery was the whereabouts of the other fathers, the carousers of the night before?  All was revealed at the first checkpoint.  There they were, standing by their Volvos, handing out tea, lemonade and chocolate. 'Come on, you're awfully slow', ‘You've done nothing yet', 'The worst is still to come' and other cheerful phrases were cast at us.

I was exhausted........ 'I'm going to opt out after lunch', I said ..... A group of boys came over to me.  'Sir, are you going on to Ingleborough?  The headmaster says we can't climb it without an adult because it's clouding over.  And you are the only adult left.'  Moral pressure indeed, and Nick was looking at me expectantly too.  'Yes, I'm going on'. I said.  Going up and down Ingleborough was a nightmare, the final stretch being across limestone pavements.  These are said to be in danger of being destroyed by walkers.  The sooner, the better for me - these pavements conspire to twist the ankles of the tired.  And boy, was I tired!  We made it to the Three Peaks Cafe in a not exactly record-breaking nine and a half hours.  Mugs of tea and ham, eggs and chips cheered us up and I drove Nick and some friends back to school for the last few days of term.  Then, with eyes like slits, I drove home and lay in a bath of hot water for hours.  After this, to Ceci's great amusement, my knees would not even support me.

I vowed never to attempt such a thing again.  But stupidly I did so the following year, taking both Nick and Diana.  This time, I was at least better kitted out in shorts and trainers.  I went on the understanding that, as soon as Diana was tired, we would opt out.  The little wretch did not tire and, once again, we finished the course in nine and a half hours.'

Colin Armstrong, after working for ICI, developed Agripac, Ecuador's largest distributor of agrochemicals, and is British Consul in Guayaquil, Ecuador.  He is pleased to allow this extract to be used.  He is a member of the famous Armstrong racing family, his father Gerald and uncle Fred being successful trainers in Middleham and Newmarket respectively.