My name is Laura Beston, I live in the West of Ireland, a stones throw from Connemara and the West coast where I spent many days throughout my childhood climbing mountains, walking along rivers, exploring rock pools and swimming in the freezing sea off many of the beaches dotted along the coastline. At almost 20-years-old I now spend the vast majority of my time in Dublin where I am studying English Literature and Film Studies. As cringe-worthy as it sounds, I want to be an explorer. I want to travel the world and see everything there is to see, camera in hand, and be able to share these experiences with people. I often thought that being an “explorer” was something I could never do, you needed money, you’d never make a job out of it and this blog is essentially hoping to prove that wrong.
As a child I loved adventure. Walk past a tree and you’d see me struggling to pull myself up onto it’s lower branches. If there was anything resembling a rock face I’d be eying it up or trying to climb up it. I was very lucky to have been given so many opportunities to explore the outdoors with my mother. I’ve been hiking since I was about three and summited Croagh Patrick in Westport, County Mayo when I was four years old. Croagh Patrick became a regular climb for me, with me completing the Mayo Autism Action Croagh Patrick Seven Day in a Row challenge where people would climb the reek everyday for seven days to raise fund for Autism supports in the county. I did this for four years and through it became a regular fixture on the Reek. For several years we would climb the reek on New Years Day. On one year in particular we were all rewarded with snow and possibly the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen from the summit. I eventually had the insane idea of climbing it for the 100th time on my 18th birthday which meant a summer of driving out to the holy mountain and reaching its peak three times a day.
On the summit of Croagh Patrick, New Years Day 2010
The extent of my climbing wasn’t just limited to the peak of Croagh Patrick in Clew Bay. Although, I was lucky enough to complete the Tóchar Padraig a 26 mile walk starting in Ballintuber Abbey and finishing in Murisk. My first time when I was 8 resulted in me getting turned away at the foot of Croagh Patrick due to severe weather conditions. Undeterred I returned at both ages 10 and 11 to complete the walk and both times took part in the Western Way Marathon two weeks later. I continued to push myself further, aided by my wonderful mother who drove me everywhere and anywhere to fulfil my dreams and satisfy my craving for adventure.
In 2004, at age 8 we were in America and decided to climb Eagle mountain in Minnesota as well as taking a road trip up to Canada where we camped close to Lake Superior. Then, in 2007 when I was 10 my Mom and I visited Scotland with one of her climbing friends, where we climbed Ben Nevis twice from two different sides in two days. Later that year in August, then 11, I climbed both Snowden and Scarfell Pike over three days meaning I had climbed the highest mountain in each of the countries of the British Isles aged 11. Earlier that summer in June I summited Mount Teide on a trip to Tenerife also adding the highest mountain in Spain to my list of achievements.
On the Summit of Carrauntoohill when my sister Aoife climbed it for the first time, August 24 2010
Closer to home as of the 26th of August 2007 (it was a busy year for me!) I completed my challenge of climbing the highest peak in every county in Ireland alongside my mother. A year later on a trip to Crete, refusing to let another spectacular walking opportunity surpass us my Mom and I took on the Samaria Gorge, descending 1200 metres through the breathtaking Crete landscape trekking 11 miles to reach the sea.
Samaria Gorge, Crete, July 17 2008
As a result of all these challenges I had begun to make a name for myself in climbing circles and was invited to take part in a trek in France raising money for a local charity which offered support to people who suffered from cancer. On the 16th of August 2009 at 13 years old I reached the top of Mount Buet, standing at 3096 metres high in the French Alps.
The summit of Mount Buet (3096m), August 16 2011
Upon this trek I had one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Sitting outside the cabin which we were staying for the night, sipping on a can of coke I looked across the mountains as Mount Blanc was sporadically illuminated by lightning as shooting stars dashed across the sky over head. This trip was when I fell in love with travelling and truly became aware of the wonders there are out there. The Alps were something entirely new and I’d gotten a feel of what it would be like to be an explorer. Our trek ended in Chamonix after 52 kilometres and countless memories.
Dusk in paradise, the morning after a spectacular scene in the Alps, Le Grenairon, August 16 2009
The group returned to France to tackle another challenge two years later. At age 15 I was much stronger and was ready for the challenges that the mountains would throw at me. We took on a mountain by the name of Haute Cime which would mean crossing the Border into Switzerland. our first two days were filled with low visibility and rain. On the third day we were rewarded with beautiful views of the mountain we were about to summit as we left our lodgings at Caban de Susanfe. On the 15th of July 2011 we reached the top of the mountain at 3257 metres.
Exploring the summit, Haute Cime (3257m), July 15 2011
The landscape and weather were always changing as we learned throughout the first two days as we trudged through the rain. However, I must say that the final two days were worth the wait as the sun beamed down rewarding us for our hard work. We even encountered a trampoline at our accommodation and snow when the sun was shinning!
Snowballs in the sun, Trek back from Haute Cime, July 16 2011
After this trek my climbing adventures gave way to part-time jobs and study for my secondary school exams but it didn’t end entirely. I was delighted to travel about the country with my sister Aoife who is 25 and has an intellectual disability when she too attempted to climb the highest mountain in every county in Ireland. We were so proud of her when she achieved her goal. Aoife continues to enjoy mountain climbing and has represented Ireland in the 3000m 5000m running events and 4x100m relay in the Athletics at the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles in 2015.
At age 18 I took on a new challenge in the form of a cycle. This was an adventure for me as I’d never cycled a racer bike before. On the morning of Christmas 2013 Santa had left me a racer bike and a very limited amount of training began. With the arrival of the summer holidays Mom started to bring me out on long cycles in an attempt to prepare me for the challenge I had laid out for myself, cycling from Mizen to Malin, from the most southern point of Ireland to the most Northern point. Terrified of the prospect, I set out to county Cork in July 2014. Setting aside an optimistic five days for the challenge, which I suspected would take seven we set off on the morning of the 29th. I was amazed when only 72hours and 653 kilometres later we were cycling up the hill to Malin Head. I was realising that I only had to set my mind to something no matter how physically challenging and that no matter how much it hurt I could do it. My Mom and I met some incredible and kind people along our challenge and I was so thankful for all of her support.
About to hit the road, Mizen Head, July 29, 2014
Throughout the years I’ve also been to many places each time trying to see more of the country and experience the culture in a different way to how the typical “tourist” would. In 2012, my whole family (Mom, Aoife, Lorraine and I) went to Lake Garda with the Travel Department. We saw all the sights from Verona to Venice to Lake Garda itself. From this we gained confidence and in 2013 Mom, Aoife and I went on a trip to Tuscany by ourselves and saw Rome, Florence, Luca, Pisa and much more. The following year we ventured to Berlin and visited places of historical importance, beautiful lakes and Potsdam. After my Leaving Cert (final exams in secondary school) I decided to make the summer count and went to France with Mom, Austria and Germany with a youth organisation and Los Angeles with a few days in Los Vegas taking in the Grand Canyon when we went to support Aoife in the Special Olympics. I am just back from a week in Iceland which was preceded by a weekend in London with my friend Susannah. My mother has taught us a lot and travelling has become an integral part of our lives. You can do it cheap and the world is your Oyster so hopefully I’ll be able to share more of my past experiences with you and many more as they unfold.
Laura the Explorer