Marhofn 84.04 - May 2002

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2001 Reviews:

Alan Dawson

Good start to the year with a survey of Baystones to confirm its new summit and status, a new Hewitt (Place Fell) with Mr Hewitt, convivial company on Top o'Selside, a wary stroll under the whirring blades of Kirby Moor, and an atmospheric evening ascent of Little Mell Fell in frosty misty blackness. This was spoiled only by an inquisitive police constable wondering why a blue van was parked on a lonely road at night - one of four routine PC interrogations in the first half of the year.

Having given up working to spend more time walking (amongst other reasons), I was looking forward to a jobless spring for the first time in 25 years, with the freedom to head off to the hills whenever the weather was irresistible or I just felt like it. I managed one stunning afternoon, 1 March on a shimmering icy Cruach Ardrain, before the countryside curfew set in. It was only seven weeks till the next hill, but in a March of near-perfect weather it felt much longer. Even then the drive to Ben Gulabin took longer than the walk (breaking a general rule) but it was worth it to find somewhere walkers were still welcome.

By May it had become possible to find hills to climb in the Highlands (with careful choice of route) but it wasn't easy, and the lurking unease at possible discovery and confrontation removed the feeling of freedom which was one of the main reasons for getting out in the first place. Still, it was better than being in England, and the few havens of welcome, such as Invercauld and Ardgour, were greedily consumed.

Sociable occasions at Laggan and Morar were thoroughly enjoyable and memorable, but by the time my 1000th Marilyn came along in mid July I was ready for a different sort of summit celebration, happy just to lie down on the top and look up at the clouds for a while.

The Barra trip in late July was amazingly successful, and I became so engrossed in the superb surroundings that I forgot to keep track of various bagging landmarks until the summit of Sandray, which turned out to be a 500th, a 1200th and a 1300th, as well as Ann Bowker's 1545th. Most memorable for me was Muldoanich, where the combination of rarely-visited island, difficult landing, steep ascent and lowest hill all helped to provide a buzz of excitement and satisfaction.

Eaval on North Uist was also spectacular, not quite as inaccessible as the map suggested, a superb hill perched on the edge of everything, with crystal views over ribbons of land and loch, and beyond to the fantasy islands of Hirta and Boreray.

The weather stayed so good that I ran out of hills unexpectedly early on the Uists, even including a subbie and 124m Rueval, and had to evacuate to Skye for four more new hills, reaching 44 for a frenzied month of bagging, compensating for the enforced idleness of spring.

Western Isles apart, some of the most enjoyable walks were those where only one hill had been planned but the weather and time available made the siren call of a second summit irresistible, e.g. Creag Dhubh / Creag Liath (9B) and Stob an Aonaich Mhoir / Beinn Mholach (5).

Even more satisfying was the unlikely but intended combination of Beinn Dubh Airigh with Beinn Bhreac (19A) from the shores of Loch Awe, sniffing out viable routes though the forests guarding both summits. After enjoying a long track plod through fine rain and mist, the sight of a surprisingly large Beinn Bhreac looming above the gloom was quite uplifting. The return along the Kames River brought even greater reward, as it turned into a tremendous steep-sided gorge, with the only feasible descent route veering wildly from one side to the other, then clinging uncertainly to the steep vegetation way above the torrent, with tightly-packed trees masking potential escape routes.

The most voluptuous hill was Sron Smeur (4B), whose steep northern slope was so densely coated with varied and unknown plants that I looked carefully at each foot placement, trying to avoid standing on something rare and delicate. What a difference a fence makes.

Most arduous terrain was undoubtedly on the east side of Cairnsmore of Fleet, approached via the Clints of Dromore to facilitate Donald-mopping. Bad idea. Even in late October the lower ground was barely walkable, so at the height of summer the vegetation must be impassable. (I admit I had been warned - 'it's brutal in there' - now I believe it.) Only on nearby Cairnsmore of Dee have I found such vicious, frustrating and almost bottomless terrain. However, the most unpleasant summit by far was Hill of Persie on 21 July. Nothing wrong with the hill, but the combination of excess fly density and no breeze made it close to unbearable, even on the summit.

The most unexpectedly enjoyable hill was An Cabar (14B) in late May, where the pleasant forest track led up to unspectacular big wide open grassy spaces, a joy to wander over - steady rhythm, solitude, freedom of movement, peace of mind (or was it just relief to be dry after a dowsing on An Staonach). From the rocky summit the glimpse into the back of the Fannichs provided an unfamiliar aspect of well-trodden territory.

I was pleased to be present for the initiation of three new Hall of Fame members during the year: Lynda Woods, Helen McLaren and Alan Castle. Three quite different types of hill in different parts of the country with different groups of people, but all united by an intangible bond of something or other. And the year was rounded off by my own entry to Donaldistadom on a perfect December day, with another motley collection of well-wishers. May there be many more such occasions.

Lynda Woods makes her way up steep rock on Sgurr Bhuidhe, baby in one hand, dog lead in the other

Lynda Woods makes her way up steep rock on Sgurr Bhuidhe, baby in one hand, dog lead in the other

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