Marhofn 212.12 - May 2010

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The Pigeon Detectives featuring Jimmy Cliff

Martin Richardson (+96=824)

The year started well, with superb hill-bagging weather - frosty nights and sunny days. I continued the region 26 onslaught that I had started in the last days of 2008, bagging a further seven Marilyns in the first three days of the year. Later in January, I snuck up on Benbeoch as dusk fell on Burns night, guessing (almost) correctly that the workers would be at home getting ready for a night out. Just as I reached the main site road, a JCB trundled around the corner. It was too late to duck and hide, but the driver just gave a friendly wave and passed by.

The plan for the third week in February was to concentrate on Corbetts and Grahams in Wester Ross and the northern Cairngorms. However, there was so much snow around that if I could actually get up the road, there was practically nowhere to park, as the snow-ploughed drifts were too high. My car had to be towed twice, and I made frequent use of the spade I had with me. Even when I could park, the snow was so deep and untouched by anyone else that I floundered around like a beetle on its back. In the end I gave up on the bigger hills and went for the lesser heights of Banff and Aberdeenshire, thinking the snow might be less of a problem nearer the coast - how wrong I was. Bennachie was a major expedition rather than the Sunday afternoon dog-walk I suspect it usually is, not helped by my Leki walking pole snapping in half on the way up The Buck.

Easter was spent on the Mull of Kintyre, Islay and Jura in almost perfect weather conditions, with the views and sunsets being particularly memorable. The only negative moment was struggling to find a route off The Slate, having lost my map earlier. To escape a ravine I had to get over a rusty old barbed-wire fence that would not take my weight. I ended up with my leg firmly impaled on the spikes and a visit to Campbeltown hospital for a tetanus jab.

In May I had ten days in Coigach and Assynt and learned all about the Moine thrust. I did contemplate trying to get a Bilbo out of Quinag with 776m Sail Ghorm, and then engineering it so that Sail Gharbh became my median Marilyn, but in the end I settled on Suilven for my 778th. This involved a paddle along Loch Veyatie in my inflatable canoe, from near the graveyard at Elphin, and camping at the mouth of Uidh Fhearna. I then followed the rather obvious and eroded path from Fionn Loch up the steep side of the hill, but managed to return by a more direct route. I paddled out the next day and was relieved to find that we could get a car down to the fish farm rather than portage the boat back up the waterfall to Cam Loch.

On the long journey home I passed by the Corran ferry and mused on the fact that only six days later I would have to come all the way back to attend the splendid annual dinner and AGM at Strontian. That weekend gave me a chance to pick off some great hills around Ardnamurchan and meet, on every hill, at least one person who had been or would be at the dinner.

A weekend trip in July gave me the chance to finish the region 27 Marilyns and my final New Donald. The final region 27 Marilyn was the elusive Ailsa Craig, teeming with sea-bird life. When I found a severed ringed bird's leg on the shore I wondered what rare breed it could be from. There was slight disappointment to later learn that the numbers on the ring identified it as a homing pigeon from Lanarkshire.

The final New Donald was Beninner. The stream was in spate and the crossing seemed impossible, however just as I was about to give up, my iPod offered Jimmy Cliff's 'Many Rivers to Cross', and I came upon a large rock in the middle.

Still smiling at the coincidence, I stood on the rock and then slowly slid down it to end up lying mid-stream, with my main concern being trying to keep the MP3 player from ending up underwater.

The next lengthy excursion was to Arran. I had been there before, back in 1974, but at that time I did not keep a record of which of the Corbetts I had done. To be on the safe side I decided to do the lot and also polished off all the Marilyns on the island, including Sail Chalmadale. The most memorable moment was walking down the length of Glen Rosa in the dark and torrential rain and not being sure whether I was on the path or in the stream. The other main memory was seeing a stag a few feet away from the front door of the butcher's shop in Lochranza.

More weekend visits saw me whittling away at the cluster of hills in region 1 and finishing off region 26 in the very windy Fintry hills over the Baggershambles weekend.

The final major trip of the year was a Christmas hit to rage against the Marilyns on the Cowal, where the only excess factor was the snow. Once again I was pioneering my way through deep snow on the lesser hills, so hopes of a hundred for the year were dashed. On the very last day of the year I met up with Ursula Stubbings and we shared the struggle through the ice and snow on Creachan Dubh. We met up for a couple more days, but that is a story for another decade.

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