Marhofn 196.11 - May 2009

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Avoiding the touch (on the shoulder)

Graham Illing

My annual Marilyn trip in May took me to Shetland, with Tove. Setting this up turned out to be a major logistical exercise, but it was well worth the effort trying to understand the impenetrable Shetland ferry timetables (the lady in the tourist office admitted she couldn't decipher them either). The flight from Glasgow to Sumburgh nearly didn't happen because the plane door wouldn't shut. A tin of Vaseline later, the door shut, only for the overload alarm to sound on the flight deck. After a dramatic false take off and much revving of the engines, the light went out and we raced off to Sumburgh. Sadly, clouds covered much of the Highlands, preventing a bird's-eye view of the Scottish Marilyns that I had been eagerly anticipating, but the Cairngorms peaked through as a token effort. We arrived in Sumburgh in bright sunshine. Bagging the first new Marilyns of the year, we made our way to the luxurious Lerwick youth hostel. The next day our initial plan failed to deliver, due to roadworks. The compensation was Ronas Hill in perfect sunshine and the fun of entering my first summit cairn.

Monday provided a perfect day for flying out to Fair Isle. The views from the plane over the southern Mainland and then Fair Isle were magnificent. Best 56 quid I have spent in ages. We enjoyed a very friendly welcome and then made a circuit of the island, taking in Ward Hill. It was amazing to look down into the sea and watch seals hunting for fish amongst the kelp. Like the baggers in 2007 we were impressed by Sheep Rock and glad it was only 132m high. We tackled the hills to the east of Lerwick the following day, the highlight of which was the fabled Isle of Noss and Noss Head. Fortunately a new jetty has been built to enable the island wardens to ferry you over in a little inflatable boat. The bird life is fantastic, the stars of which are the puffins. We made an anti-clockwise circuit of the island, rounding a corner for the magnificent view of Noss Head. It looked like the north face of the Eiger, but the smell of ammonia confirmed that it wasn't snow covering the cliffs. The summit view over the massive colony of gannets was truly impressive.

The south face of Noss Head (photo: Tove Illing)

The south face of Noss Head (photo: Tove Illing)

Our luck ran out on Wednesday when the weather closed in, preventing us flying out to Foula. A quick change of plan and we were off to complete the north of the Mainland and bag Vord Hill on Fetlar. We can recommend the Windy Dog cafe if you are awaiting the ferry. They have a great attitude to customer service: 'This is not Burger King. You don't get it your way, you take it my way or you don't get the damn thing'. What this really means is you get some tasty home cooking.

After a quick trip up Hill of Arisdale we headed for Unst, where the weather was dire. Those hoping to drive up Valla Field will now be frustrated by a locked gate near the top. That will be as nothing to the new fence that has been erected around Saxa Vord. We had heard in the hostel that it was being built. Driving up the road to Saxa Vord reminded me of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, with the gang visiting the planet of Magrathea and the ever more outrageous deterrent messages, ending up with the complimentary nuclear missiles for the most enthusiastic customers. Like previous baggers we drove past all these notices until we were confronted by the new fence. We passed the final notice attached to the fence, which amounted to 'we really do mean don't enter'. Fortunately the gate was open, so I said to Tove 'well I'm going, are you coming?'. They breed Norwegians tough, so she raced me up the hill. With the cloud nearly at sea level, we made a dash for the summit trig point in heavy fog. Emerging out of the gloom were some workmen who didn't stop us but indicated 'security will be here in 30 minutes'. A quick photo at the trig, a check there was nothing higher and we were off! Future baggers had better try to get permission, as crossing this fence will be impossible unless you have SAS training. We still had time for the famous bus shelter at Haroldswick, followed by Underhoull broch and Muness Castle.

Friday was the make-or-break day for the trip. We raced down from Yell to catch the flight out to Foula. Time passed by at Tingwall airport as the flight was declared off, then on again, allowing only two hours on the island, and finally a full day with a strong possibility that we wouldn't get off that evening. The other day-trippers cancelled but we went for it. He who dares wins! We arrived on Foula to a very unfriendly welcome. It seems day trippers are not welcome. As we got off the plane there was a huddle of islanders, with stage whispers of 'here are the day trippers, they won't get off tonight'. If that was to be the case, there were no offers of help. It was a cloudless day on Foula, allowing a full circuit to enjoy the fascination of this remote rugged island with huge cliffs. The Mainland had been covered in cloud all day, but fortunately it cleared just in time for Biggles to come and get us. Tove was delighted we had escaped Foula as it meant she could visit the Lerwick wool shop and avoid a cold night in Foula church.

Royl Field was the final Marilyn of Shetland our trip. The free afternoon allowed us to visit the island of Mousa with its world-famous broch. It was a privilege to be able to freely enter the broch and find a complimentary torch, enabling an exploration of all the rooms within the broch's double-skinned wall. We concluded the trip with a quick visit to St Ninian's Isle and to Sumburgh Head, to say goodbye to all the puffins. Our flight home marked the spectacular end to a great trip. I hope I have not used up all my good luck tokens, as I have plans for the five islands south of Barra next summer.

It was great to meet everyone at the annual bash in Builth Wells. Thanks to all who organised the Friday barbecue, Saturday dinner, excellent camping and fantastic weather. The down side of Saturday evening was discovering that two region 42 Marilyns had relocated themselves! Poor Alan took the brunt of this frustration. Later I took the opportunity to sneak out of my sister's 40th birthday weekend to re-bag Botley Hill and Chanctonbury Ring and restore my total.


With unbagged Marilyns so remote now, the year's bagging focused on completing the Deweys. This required another visit to the Isle of Man, for an excellent walk along the North Barrule ridge to Snaefell. The list was completed on Wether Cairn on 19 July. Weather was mixed but job done, signifying another set of hills I wouldn't have thought of visiting.

Huayhuash trek

Our annual expedition was a challenging trek round the Huayhuash circuit in Peru, with ten passes between 4000m and 5070m in some of the finest mountain scenery I have seen. We got to see the famous Nazca lines and also visited Joe Simpson's base camp, looking across the Sarapococha valley to see where Touching the Void took place. Anyone interested should go soon, as peaks are being removed wholesale to meet the world's insatiable demand for minerals.

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