The history of the event below is taken from Chris Barber's book, 'The Seven Hills of Abergavenny' first published in 1992. We've updated the article to reflect the changes to the event that have taken place since 1992.
The Three Peaks Trial has been organised as an endurance walk since March 1963 and is the third oldest event of its type in the UK after the South Wales Seven Peaks 47 mile Marathon Walk(est. 1946) and the Tanners Marathon (est. 1960) in Surrey. If you know of any others older than the Three Peaks Trial then please let us know! Originally it was designed for the walker of limited experience who was interested in testing his or her stamina and skill at map reading. It was felt that this route was ideal for such a purpose being very safe, with well established tracks and yet requiring careful map reading to ensure that the most suitable route was followed. Being a circular walk with Abergavenny in the centre, retirement from the event was no serious problem.
In the early days of the Three Peaks Trial it started from Crickhowell Youth Hostel (now defunct) and the majority of the entrants came for the weekend. A briefing was given on the Friday evening and the walk commenced at 8.00am the following morning, the object being to visit the summits of the three dominant peaks of Abergavenny: Blorenge, Sugar Loaf and Skirrid Fawr. The route from Crickhowell was approximately 22 miles in length and entrants were offered the choice of walking it in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. Certificates were presented to all entrants who completed the route successfully.
The First Event - 1963
The very first event was organised by Chris Barber. It was advertised in a YHA magazine and it attracted twenty entrants. It was to have taken place in February, but unfortunately severe snow conditions caused the event to be postponed. The six entrants who managed to brave the elements and arrive at Crickhowell Youth Hostel were taken on a caving trip on Mynydd Llangattock, a limestone escarpment above Crickhowell, instead. It was their first experience of this activity and they all enjoyed themselves so much that they were quite pleased that the walk had been postponed. One of the walkers had brought a pair of home made snow shoes to wear on the event, but to his disappointment they failed to survive their initial test on the journey to the cave through deep snow, falling to pieces after the first hundred yards!
A month later on Saturday 9th March, the first successful Three Peaks Trial was held. This time the weather was wet and windy. Twenty four people took part and they found conditions on the slope of the Blorenge so uncomfortable with unceasing rain and a powerful wind that fourteen of them decided to call it a day on reaching Abergavenny. The remaining ten walkers, still close together, headed for Skirrid Fawr. By 2.30pm nine of them had passded through the checkpoint on the summit, where the marshall had been trying to keep warm for two lonely hours. The tenth walker was accounted for later on, at 'The Crown' in Pant-y-Gelli! By now the rain had turned all the roads into watercourses, making it necessary, sometimes to take to the fields.
In the late afternoon the weather brightened considerably and all ten walkers reached the summit of the Sugar Loaf where they were served with hot coffee on a snow covered ledge. From there they descended to Crickhowell and the first man home was Alistair Mackinnon who completed the twenty two mile route in about eight hours.
The event was enjoyed so much by those who took part that it was decided to make it an annual walk for the following three years at least. In 1964 it was advertised widely and there were so many applicants that due to the limitations of accommodation at the Youth Hostel in Crickhowell (for initially it was a YHA members only event) it was decided to hold two separate events in March and October of that year. This twice a year programme was maintained for several years.
People of all ages, shapes and sizes came to tackle the walk and they were often accompanied by canine companions. Neville Tandy (well known now as the organiser of the Reservoir Roundabout and the Mid Wales Marathon took his seven year old son on the walk one year and the plucky lad became the youngest person to complete the walk, much to the embarrassment of some of the retirements! Groups of Gwent Police Cadets and youngsters from Bodenham Manor School in Herefordshire regularly entered the event and it became part of their training programme.
In 1975 a decision was made to transfer the starting point of the event to Abergavenny, where the Tredillion Scout Hut in the Fairfield Car Park, near the centre of the town provided excellent facilities. By moving the start to Abergavenny the route was shortened by about five miles and the amount of road walking was pleasingly reduced. A few years later the Youth Hostel at Crickhowell closed, so a change of venue would have been necessary anyway.
To relieve problems of erosion from the event in 1999 a new 17 mile linear route was added. A bus takes walkers to Llanthony Abbey from where they return to Abergavenny crossing the Three Peaks of Bal Mawr, Pen Cerrig Calch and Sugar Loaf. This is a more demanding route both physically and in map reading skills so has been named the Platinum Route. The traditional Three Peaks is now called the Gold Route. In 2007 a further option was added. For those walkers who find Three Peaks too demanding then there is a Two Peak option, the Silver Route crossing Blorenge and Sugar Loaf only.
Then in 2008 the 10 mile 'Bronze' Route option was included again for those who find the full Gold Route too demanding.
The Three Peaks Trial is now firmly established on the walkers calendar and regularly attracts as many as five hundred entrants. It has been organised since 1977 by Cardiff Outdoor Group.