Working alongside Livewire all year, Caitlin and I had been getting increasingly jealous as the plans for their annual charity-fundraising/travel-adventure event got underway. Eventually, our itchy feet and desire to see how far we could get from campus got the better of us, and Team Concrete was born. One awkward photoshoot and some travel insurance later, and we were all set. Armed with one bucket and a charity T-shirt each, we had 48 hours to raise as much money for Teenage Cancer Trust as possible.
30 minutes: UEA
Leaving the square was an experience in itself: complete with music, cheerleaders, and the realisation that every other team seemed to have a plan, at least to get them as far as Ipswich. Livewire didn’t expect us to make it beyond King’s Lynn, but their laughter was ringing in our ears as we hitched our first ride: to Norwich station, in a police car driven by Norfolk copper, Tim.
He seemed understandably bemused by our plan to “just go wherever anyone will take us really!” but happily drove us into the city, while warning us of all the dire things that could happen to two solo female hitchhikers.
Undaunted by his predictions, however, we marched into the station, intending to talk our way onto a train. Met with the implacable face of Greater Anglia customer service, we attempted a new strategy, and snuck our way onto the platform to try our luck with the staff on board.
1 hour: Norwich
The lovely Clare from East Midlands trains was more than happy to take us with her to Liverpool, and even let us collect money from all the passengers throughout the six-hour journey. We scored our first foreign currency donation: 100 Swedish Kronor – and were even offered a trip on a ferry (if we could make it to Hull).
8 hours: Liverpool
Our time in Liverpool, however, didn’t get off to such a great start. We wasted time walking to the port, or where we thought the port was, before realising that a) the ferries departing to Ireland left from a completely different area of the city and b) the next one left at 3am. Slightly downhearted, and hungry, we changed tack and went in search of food and a hostel.
Unfortunately, the dead-eyed John Lennon paintings weren’t the only terrifying aspect of our night there. We were given the keys to our 12-person room, and headed upstairs hoping to shower and collapse into sleep, only to find a man sitting alone at the table in the dorm. The unusual nature of our trip seemed to interest him, and his questions about what we were doing got increasingly personal, ending with: “So no one knows where you are?” Coupled with his constant staring at us, and unnerving smile, I was absolutely convinced he was going to murder us in our beds. Caitlin was less worried, but also slept with her keys under her pillow.
Luckily, while he did spend the night laughing in the darkness at the glare of his phone screen and pacing around the dorm at 4am, we survived unscathed, if sleepless and unwashed.
24 hours: Glasgow
The ride to Glasgow the following morning was far more enjoyable, particularly zooming through the beautiful scenery of the Peak District at 70mph. Not wanting to hang around though, we headed straight to the station and talked our way onto another train, this time heading to Inverness.
We had permission to stay on until Perth, but we weren’t going to let this stop us, and wasted no time in making friends with Gwen from ScotRail. By this time, our whiteboard had changed message over seven times, and we were desperate to take a final photo of ourselves as far north as possible at the end of the challenge – so we cheered when she told us we could stay on the train. Especially as this meant we would be going over the same bridge in the Cairngorms National Park as the Hogwarts Express.
36 hours: Inverness
No one, least of all ourselves, could believe we’d only been in Norwich a day and a half ago. We’d gone from being the laughing stock of the Square in Norwich to travelling over 860 km, the furthest away within the UK. We had no hope of actually winning the challenge (Dubai being pretty hard to beat) but the bucket now weighed the same as a small, overweight child and took two of us to carry.
Wandering through the pretty toy-box town towards our beds for the night, we were torn between appreciating the Balamory-style houses and bridge over the river, and beginning to panic about how we’d actually make it home again, especially as we’d both managed to forget our railcards. Although it was nice to see a view other than the third floor of the library, staying in Inverness forever probably wasn’t an option.
48 hours: Edinburgh
After posing for a final photo, we decided to pay for a coach to Edinburgh, and figure out the remaining few hundred miles back to Norwich when we got there. Despite watching the 10:10am bus to Edinburgh drive away from stand 3, as we stood over a drain at stand 1 brushing our teeth for the first time that weekend, we somehow made it to Edinburgh station. And whether it was down to our powers of persuasion or the clanking of our now quite ridiculously heavy bucket, we did it.
Talking our way onto the third long-distance train of the weekend felt like quite an achievement, especially as this one was heading home, where clean clothes, shower gel, and food other than Big Macs awaited. The final leg of the journey, from Peterborough to Norwich, dragged on, but we did continue getting donations, and raising a few extra quid was motivation enough to keep chatting away to other passengers, rather than passing out on our rucksacks.
60 hours: Norwich (again)
Collapsing into bed was all we could think about as we left the station, but as we waited for our taxi there was still time for one final donation, and it certainly wasn’t from someone you’d expect. An older woman approached us, wrapped up in a scruffy winter coat and scarf, asking for money for somewhere to sleep for the night.
We explained that we’d put all our remaining spare change into the bucket before we got off the train, and despite our protests she insisted on dropping in a handful of her own coins, while telling us about her son, who had died of cancer as a child. We’d encountered so many kind people along the way, but this was certainly a contrast to the few, mostly well-dressed men in suits, who had batted us away.
It was a very poignant reminder that no matter how far we’d made it, the most important thing was the total raised by all the teams, and the research and care that that money would be spent on.