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I was sitting in a Leicester Jazz Club in May 1982, and next to me was a big hairy chap reading a book on the Isle of Skye. He said he was off the next day to climb his last few Munros. 'How nice', I said, not having a clue what he was talking about. But my life was about to change forever. I was 50 years of age, divorced, working full-time, with three grown-up children, a house that needed renovating, and along comes a mountaineer who was good at DIY and electrics. The first thing he did was fix a plug, then he introduced me to the wonders of the British hills. Although I walked everywhere in Leicester, I had never climbed a hill in my life. Snowdon was my first, and after that I stopped smoking. I was romantically bought a pair of boots for Christmas, then taken on luxury trips to bothies, walks over miles of black bog, scrambles up rocky crags and glorious snowy ridges, then over to Skye to scramble over his beloved Cuillin and to get acquainted with the midges. I was hooked, and a new world opened up for me at 50. My new friend had by now completed the Munros and Tops, and although we walked all over the British Isles he was keen to show me the best of the Scottish hills. I had some unforgettable times, like...
I could go on and on... The beauty of it all was overwhelming at times. I then thought we should attempt the remaining 90-odd Corbetts my friend hadn't climbed. This took us into new areas, and it was quite emotional when we climbed the last top, Clisham. It was on this holiday that we first learned of the book The Relative Hills of Britain. We were returning from a visit to Sron Ulladale when we noticed someone running down from Tirga Mor. He said he was doing a few Marilyns and was in the Hall of Fame. 'Good for you' my friend said sarcastically. But the seed was set in his brain and he was soon studying the book and working out new trips. It never entered my head that I would ever complete 600 hills and get into the Hall myself.
Although I initiated my friend's attempt at the Corbetts, hillwalking for me wasn't about ticking off a hill in a book, and it never will be. It's the sheer joy of being out in the open air, the sun, the wind, the rain, the smell of the hills, the distant views, dinner at the end of the day. In September 2000 however, things took a turn for the worse. We were walking up to Cir Mhor on Arran, and were a couple of hundred feet from the top when I slipped on a gravelly slab on the path, snapping my femur six inches above the knee. Two hours later I was in a helicopter heading for hospital at Kilmarnock. The assurance of the members of the Arran Mountain Rescue Team that I would soon be back on the mountains helped to get me through this traumatic experience. One member said he had broken both the bones in his lower leg and was now as good as new. I kept these words with me over the following months. I had a pin inserted from the hip to the knee, but the bone wouldn't heal and the operation had be re-done in Leicester in February 2001. The months of physio and exercises at home paid off, and in July I felt confident enough to slowly walk up Rhos Ymryson in south Wales. The Marilyns now encouraged me to recover fully, and it was with mixed emotions when we reached the summit of Mullach Mor on the island of Rum on a gloriously sunny 1 October 2003. It was my 600th Marilyn. I had entered the Hall of Fame at the age of 71. Only the 14th woman and the 97th person to have done so, but the first to have started at 50. A chance meeting opened the door for me to experience the beauty of the British hills. If, by reading this, one or two others are tempted to get out into the hills, it would make me very happy indeed.
Alan Dawson adds: I feel I ought to mention that Jennifer Thomson asked me to record her first Marilyn as Ben Nevis in 1992, when she too was aged 50. However, being a suspicious and hard-hearted pedant, my ruthless interrogation revealed that she had climbed Schiehallion, Farragon Hill and Ben Lawers while at Breadalbane Academy in Aberfeldy. Then, after a very long gap, she began bagging with Ben Nevis.
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