A FORMER Worcester News reporter is believed to have set a hill-walking record by climbing 1,001 mountains across the UK and Ireland.

James Forrest, of Cockermouth, Cumbria, has walked up 446 mountains in England and Wales, 273 in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and 282 in Scotland over the past two and a half years.

The triple-crown of peak-bagging expeditions saw the 36-year-old walk almost 5,000km and climb the height of Everest from sea level more than 30 times. It is thought the feat is the fastest completion of these 1,001 mountains.

In 2017 Mr Forrest climbed all 446 mountains over 2,000ft in England and Wales – the so-called ‘Nuttalls’ – in just six months, the fastest ever time. He repeated the feat in 2018, bagging all 273 600m mountains in Ireland and Northern Ireland, known as the ‘Vandeleur-Lynams’, in just eight weeks, another record.

And he finally completed his 1,001-mountain challenge by bagging all 282 ‘Munros’, mountains over 3000ft in Scotland, on Saturday, October 19.

He said: “I feel absolutely ecstatic. It has been an epic adventure and an incredible, life-changing journey. Just a few years ago I was a bored office worker, living in a city, feeling down and depressed. But I managed to flip my life upside down and follow my adventure dreams. I now live the adventurous life I’ve always dreamed of – and it’s been amazing for my physical and mental health. Mountains are good for the soul. I love the freedom, the fresh air, the isolation, the unpredictability, the escapism – and this three-year journey has let me truly experience these joys. I’d whole-heartedly encourage anyone to make walking and spending time in the mountains a regular part of their lives – it truly can be life-changing.”

Mr Forrest has spent the last six months climbing all 282 Munros in Scotland, alongside his girlfriend Nicola Hardy, 35, from Sheffield. Together they climbed their first Munro – Ben More on the Isle of Mull on April 16 – and, after walking more than 2,000km and climbing a whopping 150,000m, they completed their final Munro Ben Lomond, in the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, on October 19.

Ms Hardy, 35, an IT programme manager who quit her job to take on the challenge, said: “I’m so proud of the achievement, there were times when I thought I wouldn’t make it to the end.

“I felt exhausted after six months of intense physical exercise. It was certainly a long way from spending eight hours a day sitting behind a desk, five days a week.

“It has been a truly eye-opening experience. I feel like the stresses and strains of daily life have slipped away and been replaced by freedom, adventure, fresh air, and a real sense of fulfilment. Both my physical and mental health have improved significantly since I started hillwalking.”

Over the six month Munro-bagging challenge, Ms Hardy and Mr Forrest spent 109 full days walking, 52 nights sleeping in a tent, and once climbed seven Munros in just one day. They once walked 20 days straight without taking a break, and averaged nearly 30,000 steps a day.

Mr Forrest, who is now a freelance adventure and travel writer, added: “Exploring Scotland has been simultaneously amazing and terrible.

“The midges have been hellish and the Scottish weather has, at times, been utterly apocalyptic. But the Scottish landscapes have been awe-inspiring: wild, rugged and just stunningly beautiful – when the sun shines, it might just be the best hiking paradise in the whole world.”

Mr Forrest said his favourite areas to explore in Scotland were Knoydart, Glencoe, Torridon and the Isle of Skye, and his favourite peaks included Buachaille Etive Mor, Sgurr na Ciche and Liathach, as well as the Cuillin Ridge. His favourite moment was climbing the In Pinn, the only Munro that requires technical climbing skills, above a perfect cloud inversion on the Isle of Skye.

His favourite peaks from his other challenges included Tryfan in Snowdonia, Wales, Blencathra in the Lake District, England, and Mt Brandon in County Kerry, Ireland.

Mr Forrest added: “My 1,001-mountain journey has been an incredibly tough challenge, both physically and mentally.

“The hardest part has been coping with Britain’s far from ideal weather – it’s funny even saying this aloud, but I think I might have climbed over 500 mountains in rain and all-encompassing cloud, with no views from the summit. I must be mad.

“But I don’t really mind. The good times have far outweighed the bad, and I’ve got a huge list of mountains I want to come back to and climb in good weather.”

The adventurer’s 1,001-mountain journey, however, hasn’t been all smooth-sailing. He has encountered his fair share of drama from brutal storms, mountaineering mishaps, and collapsing tents to getting lost in remote locations, being chased by cows, nearly stepping on a poisonous adder and falling ill after drinking unclean stream water.

But he says the “rollercoaster ride” of the adventure has been one of the appeals of his challenge.

Mr Forrest’s life of adventure began in 2016. After 10 years of living in Birmingham and working in an office as a charity manager and then a newspaper reporter, he decided he was unhappy with his lot. So he set about changing his life. He quit his job, sold his house and went backpacking around the world. He travelled through New Zealand, Fiji, Australia and South-East Asia, before returning to the UK where he relocated to the Lake District, started his career as an outdoors writer and launched his 1,001-mountain mission.

“I love my new life and I’ve never ever regretted any of the decisions I’ve made”, he added.

Mr Forrest has also written a book – Mountain Man: 446 Mountains. Six Months. One record-breaking adventure - published by Bloomsbury.