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1999 closed with four English Marilyns remaining. This year they finally succumbed during botanical forays south: Wight in May; Hants in September; Butser Hill providing an agreeable finish (10 Sep) verging on the scenic as the morning mists cleared from the South Downs. However the main project this year was the Grahams. The campaign I guess started in desultory fashion soon after Fiona Graham's TGO list, although my first was apparently the Pap of Glencoe, the day after my first Munro (Ben Nevis) in September 1991. The route to completion in 2000 took in some of the best parts of Scotland. After a few winter long weekends, Easter took me to Cromarty (pre-Madonna): I recall jogging west beside Loch Glass in the sunshine, with skein after skein of pinkfeet geese flying NW along the glen, headed maybe for Greenland; then four Grahams and 20+ miles later tottering rain-drenched to the car.
Early May weekend was Mull. The abiding memories here are of the sub-2000ft Marilyns: returning east from Creachan Mor marvelling at stunning cliff-top scenery; Beinn na Drise and my first British white-tailed eagle; jogging the length of Ulva with the mail for Gometra House, on an unfeasibly hot day (every other trip to Mull was wet), before settling down with a pot of tea to wait for the boat and feast on the view of Ben More and its satellites.
June was Skye: no Grahams left, but the remaining Marilyns were visited in between helping Yiannis Tridimas complete the Cuillin round in two hours less than my time last year. Two botanical highlights were stumbling upon a colony of a rare marsh orchid on the way off Beinn na Cro, and tracking down alpine rockcress at its only UK site. This plant was discovered by Irish botanist H C Hart in 1887 while on his honeymoon. The same year, Hart discovered Collie's Ledge with John Mackenzie (some honeymoon) a year before Collie did.
July brought a welcome return to the far north after an absence of some years. After a few days plant-hunting, the hills themselves almost turned into a surveying exercise, with arctic bearberry turning up on a pleasing number of summits. Ben Stack had haunted me since Corbett days -good to get there at last.
September was the western isles: the previous trip in 1993 had included Clisham and, fortuitously, South Uist's only Graham, Beinn Mhor. With the benefit of a wider (lower) remit, I was impressed to find top-quality hills and big days out, not only in the Clisham range but also on Pairc and in the Mealisval group.
My bid for daftest weekend award was in October, combining the four Glen Kinglass Grahams with the north Arran Marilyns. Again the Arran trip had a botanical bent, with two endemic whitebeam (tree) species, as well as a very fine Graham. Even now the bizarre outlines of the Corbetts seen from the north are etched deep in my memory.
This conveniently left three Grahams for Christmas. One of them was the remote An Cruachan (12B): a December 1999 attempt had ground to a halt in deep snow. However, tamer conditions this year combined with a useful tip-off regarding the Strathfarrar approach, left the way clear to the planned Boxing Day completion. And Beinn Damhain (1D) provided a suitable venue: on a bright crisp day I was joined by some of the usual suspects, and a particularly obliging golden eagle. Thanks all -a pleasant finish to a fine set of hills, high enough to feel challenging yet obscure enough to provide crowd-free access to the best of Scotland's scenery.
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