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Rum: 'You must be a Marilyn bagger, we reckon', they accused. I'd been on Rum for the day climbing Orval and Mullach Mor. I'd met this elderly couple at the top of Kinloch Glen as they were en route for Minishal. We'd conversed. It was only when I was back at Kinloch Castle, about to use the loo outside the hostel entrance, that I was accosted.
'But how do you know about the Marilyn list?' I asked.
'I'm on it' replied Harrold Thomson (Munroist 202), introducing his wife Connie (Munroist 238) who is also active on the hills. Excellent.
Rum is famous for its scientific research on red deer, but have you heard about the research conducted by Central Lancashire University in Preston? They'd like to find out how long a particular species of earthworm lives. As you do. There are 15 species of earthworm on Rum, all imported with half a million tons of soil without the natural predators. Hence big worms at Papadil and longevity perhaps. Colour segment injections identify, or tag, individual worms. 'But how will you ever find the earthworm again?' I asked the three scientists I'd met en route for the boat in the pouring rain. 'They each have a home burrow and we use GPS to relocate them.' So now you know.
Barra: I'd climbed Beinn Tangabhal, Theiseabhal Mor and Beinn Chliaid, making use of public transport, and was returning by the school bus to the Barra ferry pier. My only fellow passenger was a museum curator and island archeologist. An interesting companion.
'Why have you come to Barra?' asked Andrew.
'I'm climbing the so-called relative hills' I replied.
'Ah', he said, 'the Marilyns'.
'How do you know about the Marilyns?' I asked, impressed.
'My friend Janet Clark. She was miffed when the other ladies got to Muldoanich last year and she didn't. I tease her about it. She's just retired so will have more time in future.'
En route to Barra from Eriskay, the CalMac captain had ordered 'dead slow' as he spotted a basking shark on the port side. As we idled along it came in for a closer inspection and glided right by us, its white mouth wide open; its floppy fins and size impressive. My closest encounter by far.
North Uist: Best view of the year was of the St Kilda group from North Lee, with shapely Boreray etched in my memory. I met Harry Kirkwood from Ayr taking a break from cycling the Western Isles with his wife. 'The only problem is that my wife's gears are broken. I'm riding her bike on a fixed gear to Stornoway for repairs, and the prevailing winds have not prevailed.' Harry is collecting Corbetts. I told him of the magic of the Marilyns, of which he had not heard, and what a good investment The Relative Hills of Britain could be.
Shetland: If you haven't done Shetland yet, don't miss the chambered cairn, intact and easily entered, on Ronas Hill, or the contrast between a vibrant Fair Isle (Ward Hill) and a wild but community-less Foula. And don't miss the xylophone boat at Unst ferry pier for Yell. That was great fun.
Have you heard of the Marilyn drive-thru? My conscience blushes to think of what I have done. I may be beyond redemption. I went an innocent young lad to join a band of merry Marilyners on Shetland. I came back ethically bankrupt. Given the choice recently at Brora I chose the drive-in option of Creag nam Fiadh, with keeper's permission. It's got an interesting private railway level crossing to negotiate, and hut circle archaeology.
There is a behaviour curious to Marilyn baggers. A two-car group of us reached the top of the wonderfully named but drab hill, Cruachan Glen Vic Askill, for Lindsay Munro's 900th on Skye in September. An exhausted but valiant Janet Munro remained at the rocky top as the others spread out over every imaginable hump, lump and bump to check that Janet's resting place was indeed the highest point. Trigs and cairns may reassure, if you can find them. The trig on Strathfinella Hill (7) is proud and upstanding but afforested; the Hill of the Wangie (9A) trig elusive, and the vanessa trig on Airds Hill (3B) forlorn, forgotten and not on top. The best I could find on a bitter January day was a frozen pile of twigs. The joy of thrashing through forestry plantation only gets you pine needles down your sweaty back - worse than sackcloth. Drumcroy Hill (5) proved a stonewall certainty, with some previous Marilyner erecting a couple stones on top of the wall corner.
It was on a forestry road en route for A'Bheinn Bhan (18B) that I startled a roe deer. On approaching the spot, there lay a new-born fawn, stock still and ears flat. The mother barked her distress from the nearby woodland. There's something beautiful and awesome in new life. I moved on to permit reunion and further bonding. I experienced my first pine marten on Carn Daimh (21A), an ecstasy of orchids on Eriskay, and voluminous voles on the slopes of Beinn a'Chaoinich (10A) in October. Friends taught me new flower names to add to my meagre botanical knowledge. A spitting fulmar on Foula was a real treat. The yellowish gunge thankfully missed, due to some neat footwork. It's reputedly foul.
Deep in Clan Forbes territory, I met Davy the head gamekeeper on Lord Arthur's Hill (21B). Stories of a 'caper' shoot in the early 80s with 17 cock birds shot, and another of hundreds of hares slaughtered. The hares have wisely deserted, and a cock capercaillie lecht is but a distant memory.
On Ros Hill (33) I met 33 ageing gang members of the Whitley Bay Rockers, leather-clad with their gleaming Triumphs and Harley Davidsons on their annual outing. And the one that got left behind turned up ten minutes later, so I gave him appropriate directions for the convoy and Lindisfarne.
A good year. Especially meeting some new faces behind the names on the list, as well as those from other walks of life.
'It goes without saying that some things are better left unsaid'
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