Marhofn 183.10 - May 2008

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Life after Grahams

Michael Curtis

Having been preoccupied over the last few years with completing the Grahams, a lot of time in 2007 was spent venturing above 2500 feet. In retrospect it was a vintage year.

In February we went to the Tomdoun Hotel where they were offering four nights accommodation for the price of two. The hotel is full of character and proved to be an excellent place to return to after a day on the hills. With snow these days being hoped for rather than expected, it was with delight we awoke one morning to a decidedly white vista. This enabled us to enjoy the best in winter walking for a couple of days. Particularly memorable was the view down the northern slopes of Spidean Mialach, resplendent in winter white, and the panorama of peaks visible from the summit of Gairich.

At Lochcarron in March winter dominated initially, with snow in abundance. I had great fun on the Marilyns of An Sgurr and Bad a'Chreamha, just outside Lochcarron. In the conditions their presence was just as dramatic as that of hills twice their height. The Munros of Moruisg and Sgurr nan Ceannaichean provided a challenging day, as several times on the ridge between the two I found myself floundering up to my waist in snow. A day of rain then washed a lot of the snow away and was followed by the arrival of high summer. Beinn Bhan was tackled beneath a perfectly blue sky. Coire na Poite was particularly impressive to wander around; a place with significant atmosphere. The summit plateau was reached by going up the spur to the north of Coire an Fhamhair. The remaining snow proved troublesome in places, but soon we were enjoying stomach-tightening views down the cliffs as we walked along the edge of the corries. The following two days brought similar weather. As we sat sunbathing on top of Maol Chean-dearg, with hardly any snow visible, it was hard to believe the week had started in deepest winter.

A'Phoit and Beinn Bhan (photo: Bert Barnett)

A'Phoit and Beinn Bhan (photo: Bert Barnett)

A week in Scourie in early May turned out to be one of the best weeks walking I can remember, with a host of classic hills in the best weather imaginable, as well as a visit to Sandwood Bay. By the time the weather changed I didn't mind, as it was a chance to rest my overworked feet. I'll try to restrict myself to a few highlights. With good weather prevailing, my wife was anxious to have a go at Suilven. It was a long, hot walk up Glen Canisp, enlivened by the sighting of a couple of adders and a grass snake. We were then faced with the steep climb up to the Bealach Mor. Once there we were glad to sit down and enjoy our surroundings. The summit could wait for a while. After spending a good half an hour lounging around, my wife got up to stretch her legs and happened to look back down the path. She said that a couple of people were coming up, and that one of them seemed to be wearing very little clothing. Nonchalantly concealing my interest, I asked if this person was male or female. At the response 'female' I tidied myself up, as casually as possible, and awaited events. After a few minutes a young woman emerged onto the bealach. Her attire consisted of a pink bikini top that was straining to contain its contents, and white shorts that were both very short and very tight. Nothing was left to the imagination. Her male companion also appeared but was conventionally dressed. After a perfunctory 'hello' I turned my back on them. Call me a prude, but I was embarrassed by her appearance. After this we got back to what should be ogled on Suilven, the scenery.

Since my first visit to Foinaven in 1994 I've always wanted to walk along the A' Ch'eir Ghorm ridge, and this was the ideal opportunity. So, after visiting Ganu Mor I walked along the main ridge, squinting against the glare given off by the quartzite rock in the bright sunlight, and gingerly made my way down onto A' Ch'eir Ghorm. I was glad to find the going easy once on the ridge and made my way to the end to enjoy the grandstand view of one of Scotland's most unusual and breathtaking mountains.

I've now been up Quinag three times, and each time it's been in glorious weather. It's a great hill, with something to keep one interested the whole time. This was the first time my wife had been up it, and she thought it every bit as good as Suilven.

Spidean Coinich from Sail Garbh, Quinag (photo: Bert Barnett)

Spidean Coinich from Sail Garbh, Quinag (photo: Bert Barnett)

Our main holiday in 2007 was to Barra and the Uists. It was our first return to Barra since we had our honeymoon there five years ago, and we had a great day on Heaval (where I had proposed to my wife), as well as several relaxing walks along the beaches. I can also highly recommend the cafe in Castlebay for a snack. Romantic that I am, I had treated my wife to a 'cruise' when we had our honeymoon on Barra. My new bride stoically put up with a rolling, pitching and yawing boat on the long trip to Barra Head. Therefore, my wife was undoubtedly delighted when I arranged a boat trip to visit the remaining island Marilyns south of Barra. My cunning plan this time, however, was in booking a RIB that whisked us from one island to the next quickly and smoothly. Mingulay is definitely the pick of the bunch, an island I'd like to return to when we celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.

A surreal episode happened while we were on Barra. We were halfway up Beinn Tangabhal when I was sure I could hear music. After a couple of minutes the source was pinpointed as a green van travelling on the road to Vatersay. We put this out of our minds and continued up the hill, but while coming back down we again heard the music. We hurried down the hill and were within sight of the road when a van drove slowly past with loudspeakers on the roof and 'Sheila's Homemade Barra Ice Cream' on the side. This wouldn't happen on a Sunday in Lewis!

You only have to climb the most inconsequential of hills on North Uist to appreciate that it consists of as much water as land, giving a landscape of most unusual views. It was pleasing to find that, ten years after my first visit, time had tainted my memories of the hills. I had taken my wife up Eaval on our last visit to the island in 2001. At that time I was under the impression the hill was a watery conundrum, being unaware the approach from the north was straightforward, so I had arranged a boat trip from Grimsay. This time we walked in along the northern path, which proved a delight as it wound its way between and around all the bodies of water. Once on top we spent a long time enjoying the view along the chain of the Long Isle and across to Skye and the mainland, with an intricate pattern of lochs and lochans clearly laid out beneath us, something Slartibartfast could have created.

Most of my new Marilyns came from three trips to the Southern Uplands, an area I'm beginning to like more and more. It obviously cannot match the Highlands, but the area has a charm of its own. The walking is mainly uncomplicated (Cairnsmore is an exception, I agree), it's relatively unfrequented, there's a huge choice of hills to go for and it's a lot nearer for me to get to.

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