Marhofn 153.08 - May 2006

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In Praise of Corbett Tops

Bert Barnett

Corbett Topping was the game in 2005, the last few Tops were nicely spread over Scotland, and luck with weather gave a good year's walking. Revisited Munros and Corbetts were approached from new angles, and although I sometimes missed the benefit of a path, it felt like climbing a new hill. The Monadhliath required a number of return visits, but the going was better than the map had threatened. I normally avoid routes where the contour lines are spaced out, and not surprisingly there were miles of undulating moorland around Strathdearn. Most were uneventful, but in March I had a bit of a scare when I plunged up to the waist through snow and ice into a black pit. After wrestling free and wringing out, I was mighty relieved not to require winching out.

Chasing the Corbett Tops has made me realise that the lure of distant farmyard bags has waned, in preference for long days on the local high ground. The great beauty of collecting Corbett Tops is that you reap the benefits of the high hills while avoiding the Munro conveyor belt, as the routes and timing do not fit the standard bagger's criteria. I find great pleasure in travelling counter to the flow. My aversion to vocal intrusion on the hill is well known amongst my friends, and the Marilyns have served me well in this respect. When Alfred Wainwright was on Desert Island Discs, Sue Lawley asked, 'And what is your favourite kind of music, Mr Wainwright?' and he answered, 'I much prefer silence'. For me that certainly applies in the hills, and whilst I have to accept that I cannot have the hill to myself, I only hope the rest are going in the opposite direction.

On a murky December morning came the day for my final Top, and I picked up two old pals for the ride. After crawling along with the morning Glasgow traffic, we sailed to Brodick with the hills ahead barely visible in the dreary winter mist. Off the bus at Glen Sannox, we headed up the north ridge of Goat Fell into a magical scene of cloud and mountain. Apart from the eastern half of Arran, the cloud was covering Scotland, with a few peaks in Arrochar gradually peeking through. What circumstance other than bagging would have taken me to that place on that day? The ridge was magnificent, and we were so taken with the conditions that we lost track of time for the ferry. For the first time in many years I ran down the hill, for about two miles. But for the good fortune of a lift from a woman from Brodick Castle estate, we certainly would have missed the boat.

Since then I have been revisiting the Corbett Tops which I thought I had crossed many years ago, some in the 1960s, and this has produced more excellent days, and certainly no penance for not recording every step in my youth. Some of these ridge tops could not have been missed, but as others could have been bypassed in mist I felt it proper to check these old haunts. So for those of you looking for a new avenue that is not tree-lined, I thoroughly recommend that you buy the wee blue book, Corbett Tops and Corbetteers from TACit Press.

Cnap Coire Loch Tuath, CTM in 15A (photo: Bert Barnett)

Cnap Coire Loch Tuath, CTM in 15A (photo: Bert Barnett)

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