Marhofn 58.03 - May 2001

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First Fifteen

Ann Bowker

We spent the war years in Taunton, one of the flattest parts of Britain. There was always the distant backdrop of hills crowned by the Wellington monument but we never ventured there. After the war we moved back to London but continued to revisit the south-west for our annual holiday in Minehead. Eventually sea and sandcastles became unsatisfying and we started walking. Dunkery Beacon was our first real hill and I felt at the time that it was a major summit. On the same holiday we also bagged Selworthy Beacon though I saw this more as a coastal walk along beautiful grassy cliffs. It was a big disappointment to return more recently and find it little more than a cow pasture.

The following year we moved our annual seaside trip to Llandudno. We had a guidebook to North Wales and I spent hours poring over it with my father, selecting one of the routes up Snowdon. We rejected both the boring slog alongside the railway and the supposedly hazardous Pyg and Miner's tracks in favour of the Snowdon Ranger path. I can remember the aching limbs of that ascent, which was done in sandals. But it was all worth it for that magical moment when the ridge was reached and we were suddenly looking down on the northern lakes and ridges. At that moment a mountain lover was born. We also met at that point six mistresses from my school who were no doubt as dismayed to meet one of their little brats as I was to be reminded of the place.

Next year we abandoned the seaside altogether and stayed in Grasmere. We must have climbed several hills but only Helvellyn has stuck in my memory. Once again a painful ascent for legs unaccustomed to such effort, this time on the steep drag up to Dollywagon Pike, and again an inspiring view of exciting ridges and dreams of one day coming up over the thrillingly named Striding Edge.

At new year 1950 we made our first visit to Scotland, staying in Edinburgh and making an attempt on Arthur's Seat. We couldn't even cross the road to get onto the hill because of sheet ice.

Another Lake District visit was based on Ullswater. Again this trip was notable for failure to reach one of our planned summits and for a salutary lesson. We walked up onto the ridge of High Street into thick mist and then decided to turn back without visiting the summit, so we just turned round and walked back the way we had come. Or so we thought, but when we dropped out of the mist the lake below was Haweswater. My father was not amused, as he had to organise a taxi to take us back to Ullswater. And all the time I had a compass in my rucksack. From that day on I've always used it! But on this same holiday we did reach one notable summit, Cross Fell. This expedition was my idea as I was a keen bird watcher and had read an evocative article about ring ouzels on this hill. We didn't see any but we did bag the summit.

One further holiday with parents took us to mid-Wales where we climbed Cadair Idris by the superb ridge around the Llyn Cau corrie. My father determinedly announced 'this will be my last mountain' - and so it was.

I was anyway ready to break away, and my next holiday was a group holiday in Ambleside where the main purpose seemed to be to achieve the religious conversion of the participants. We did a lot of walking though with a choice of walks each day. I nearly opted out of Helvellyn, having done it before and having gone with a friend who was a good deal less enthusiastic about mountains than I was. I did go up it though, so it became the first hill I climbed twice. Later in the week Scafell Pike was offered only to those who had got to the top of Helvellyn. I thought it extremely unfair that we were not told this on the Helvellyn day, as I would have been really furious at losing this chance to get to the top of England.

At college I associated with the presbyterians despite having no particular connection with this sect. They took over Kendoon youth hostel for a week at Easter. The first walk was the Corserine ridge but the real challenge was Merrick. Three members of the group went there and back in a day and received appropriate admiration for the feat. A couple of days later we arranged to use the school bus to give us a lift part way but it still meant climbing over the Corserine ridge in both directions. I paid my first visit to a bothy en route and was the only female to complete the climb. This was another significant moment in my progress towards infatuation with the mountains.

On leaving college I acquired a car in which I visited Scotland with two friends, mainly motoring and sightseeing but taking the opportunity to make the obligatory ascent of Ben Nevis and also of Schiehallion. These two hills thus became my first Munros although I had never heard of such things until much later.

My first job was based near Slough, hardly an ideal situation for an embryonic hillwalker, but fortunately a few of my colleagues were enthusiasts, walking mainly in Wales. Margaret and I made a good combination as I had a car and she had the experience. On our first visit to Snowdonia we did the Snowdon horseshoe, finishing of course over Y Lliwedd, and next day went up the north ridge of Tryfan, Bristly Ridge and over Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr. It would be hard to imagine a more perfect introductory weekend to the delights of scrambling.

I signed up one Whitsun for a holiday at the Ramblers Association centre, which then existed in Ballachulish. At the time I worked for the Civil Service and we had an extra holiday on the Friday to celebrate the Queen's birthday. Not being willing to waste a single day of my valuable leave I went up a day early, stayed at Crianlarich youth hostel and climbed Cruach Ardrain in 'ard rain. That evening I met the other members of the party including one Rowland Bowker, which leads neatly on to the next chapter...

Final Fifteen

Alan Dawson: Rather neatly, Ann now has exactly fifteen Marilyns left, after finally getting to Ailsa Craig on 5 May 2001. The remaining fifteen are all island summits too: six in the St Kilda group, the five islands south of Barra, plus Pabbay, Taransay, Canna, and Garbh Eilean in the Shiant Islands. Rowland is missing all these plus the Inaccessible Pinnacle, Stac Pollaidh and Trallval.

Ailsa Craig (photo: Ann Bowker)

Ailsa Craig (photo: Ann Bowker)

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