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I'd been admiring the wonderful solifluxion terraces on Sgurr nan Clach Geala (14B), wondering at their formation, only to meet another retired Dawson (Ian) on Sgurr nan Each. His Cambridge undergraduate thesis was on Norwegian solifluxion terracing (in 1956 right enough). It's all about angle of slope, material and slippage of surface thaw over permafrost (not unlike some avalanches I suppose). With such geographical speciality he'd gone on to a successful career in Cold War military mapping. Interesting people on the hills.
Steve, originally a geologist, told of his self-employment as a supplier of seeds to forestry nursery folk. Like pine seeds. Thought I was on to a good thing till he explained you need to climb mature pines to collect cones. Fallen cones mean seeds scattered to the four winds. Maybe I could do hawthorn? As we companionably climbed Curleywee (moving from greywhacke to shale on my last Donald), he told me of his market gardening at Garlieston. 'If you get the soil acidity right, anything is possible'. He'd been on a friend's completion on Beinn Sgritheall a couple of years back. Twenty minutes after popping the champagne another completion group unexpectedly turned up. Quite a party!
Black Hill (36) by the slabs to the leaning trig. It's March and Claire and her 66-year-old Dad are doing the 268-mile Pennine Way for charity, armed with Wainwright's guidebook. Navigation lessons the night before they left! Claire works for the R&A (Royal and Ancient) in St Andrews. She's in charge of product compliance to the technical rules of golf, testing balls, clubs etc. I wonder if she does tees?
Retirement gives you time to pursue your interests, 'tis said. Like setting the route for the Welsh ultra-marathon; 25 mountain miles in under four hours, or 7.5 hours if you're walking. Marr and I had puggled up Drosgol (31A) to enjoy the peaceful setting. An ATV with the organiser aboard turned up to collect the orienteering tri-flag and pin-punch. He's obtained grant funding for the new bridge over the Afon Llechwedd-mawr. There's an aluminium plank over Afon Hyddgen, 100 metres up from the confluence with Afon Henggwm, marked by an orange-topped pole. The route over Plynlimon and Drosgol, amongst others, had previously taken in Disgwylfa Fawr before ending where it began at the visitor centre. Until a competitor asked, 'who's the masochist that included that hill so late on in the marathon?' So now it's left in peace.
But those four aren't Marilyn baggers, you complain? From Glen Sletdale I noted a walker descending Carn Garbh (16D). Perhaps the owner of the caravanette? Poised to cross a burn via a grassy boulder in the middle, I noticed just in time a beautiful 15-inch adder sunning itself contentedly. Does it swim? And then I met Peter Malone, retired vet to a Lochcarron croft and 1000+ Marilyner to boot. Despite soggy underfoot conditions (and a toad that appeared at our feet) he wore running shoes. 'I've laid a stone at where I think the top is'. I obliged by adding a second. Do cairns accrue gradually or are they built in a day?
MODFA G6DTN was on top of Cyrn-y-Brain (30C). The call sign of Dave, a SOTA (Summits on the Air) Mountain Goat recipient for 1000 points on VHF. He's currently accumulating on shortwave. Two points for this hill (three extra winter points before 15 March). Just in case you're wondering, the Mountain Goat trophy is in etched glass. Mantlepiece clutter - but then I'm jealous!
Ray Dimmock is pictured on the cover of OS17 Explorer Snowdon map. Deservedly so. He retired to Rhyd-ddu and no day is complete without lunch on the hills; Tryfan 500 times; Snowdon masses more, previously a voluntary Snowdon ranger and mountain guide. I didn't know all that when I met this bronzed white-bearded chap in shorts and boots relaxing on the sun-kissed Nantlle ridge. Except he wasn't admiring the glorious mountain landscape or the flock of swifts feeding above, he was grieving. He and his long-time partner Midge had gone camping on Dartmoor in February. Her fitness disguised rampant cancer. She never returned home. She'd died 17 weeks ago to the day. Ray is lost without her.
The next day I set out from our base in Beddgellert to conquer Moel Hebog. As I crossed the Welsh Mountain Railway switchbacks I paused to check my route. Up behind came a familiar figure. Ray's neighbour had been driving to Beddgelert so he'd cadged a lift, intending to walk home over Moels Hebog, yr-Ogof and Lefn. His stories of Himalayan recceing for a tour company and of Bolivian adventures on eight first ascents and five second ascents guided me up to the summit. Midge seemed ever-present. At 70, Ray questioned why Midge was taken first, being ten years his junior. He showed me her photograph, her last photograph, by a decorated spruce on Dartmoor. Lovely lady, deeply missed.
21st March proved an interesting day in the run-down mill towns of Lancashire. I approached the top of Hail Storm Hill through the quarried area. A couple were standing looking all the world like Marilyn baggers, debating if this or that might be the top. Gordon and Adrienne Coventry of Ilkley, with 580+ Marilyns to their names. At three a month - welcome to the fabulous Hall of imaginary Fame!
I took their recommended route for Freeholds Top. The well-built, well-equipped lad coming off looked like Andy Tomkins because he was. A day off parental duties with 19-day-old baby James, and Andy's doing this Marilyn, a Hump, a Dewey, a nappy and a diddely-poo. Oh the joys of fatherhood!
Interesting signs this year. I approached Creachan Mor from the main road. Well, it's a main road for Mull. It's early February and the bus from Craignure is empty, except for the bus driver and me. I crossed the top of the impressive Eas Mhor waterfall. The first sign announced stag stalking Sep- Oct; hinds Nov-Jan: 'If you must walk stick to the main track and wear high visibility clothing'. A second sign proclaims a 'healthy tick population' capable of transmitting Lyme Disease 'even in the winter months'. Don't say you haven't been warned. You'll be relieved to hear I survived being neither shot nor bitten. I was smitten. The hill has fantastic volcanic and coastal features with hidden lochans.
You'll probably have seen the warning signs approaching Brown Willy (40) from the scrambly Showery Tor and Rough Tor. Beware the 'quaking marsh' and the ecologically necessary adders. Not deterred yet? Don't they have a mysterious hungry hound too?
On Beacon Hill (31B) the fading sign reads 'Human Urine: £5 per litre'. Are they buying or selling? Crown property too. The Royal 'We' for sale? The crofters collected it to shrink the tweed. Their own you understand. After soaking, the women kneaded the cloth to shrink it, working round a table singing together. Early walkers liked their tweeds.
If you get round to doing Conostom on Lewis, may I recommend it from the east, directly up Gil Uilisgir. Part way up and above the allt on its north side is a shieling. The structure is intact, bar the roof; four-feet high walls and lintel. Rounded one end, seven doocots inside the walls, like Scara Brae. Cosy for two.
Freed from my Marilyn shackles, our annual spring week in Keswick found me on Crinkle Crags and Bowfell for the first time. Using the climbers' traverse, I reached the cool water spring at the bottom of Great Slab. As others toiled up the rubble between the slab and the mountain, I passed them on this smooth graded escalator. It's a grand way up. To reach the top of Helm Crag the next day was another first which many visitors studiously avoided.
From the Ullapool meeting I decided to reclimb fantastic Stac Pollaidh using the original route we'd been taken up by Eric Langmuir as Moray House students. The scar of the old path was skirted to approach the red sandstone pinnacle ridge from the south. I took a cleft to the left and found myself scrambling up one of the Stac's numerous prominences, bereft of good holds. I was beginning to think this less than a good idea (certainly not Langmuir's way) when I glanced up. Sitting cross-legged on the main ridge watching my woeful antics was a walker. 'You won't want to go right to the top, there's an eight-foot drop on the other side', he said.
'Ok, I'll come up and look'.
'You don't mind me watching?', asked my guardian angel.
'Not so long as you don't laugh if I get into trouble', I replied.
The rock joining the pinnacle to the main ridge lacked everything - footholds and handholds; very exposed and smooth. I asked my guardian angel to keep watch as I attempted a reverse descent. A rucksack can be a liability in such circumstances. By the time I'd reascended the correct route he was gone. I've named my ascended pinnacle 'Top Notch', but it's really what I think of my walking friend.
At the meeting Alan gave us a list of New (metric) Munros. One of three I hadn't done was Beinn a'Chumhainn. On the glorious 17 June I left the bike on the Strath Ossian approach to the rebuilt lodge. Walking up the glen of Uisge Labhair the temptation grew with the proximity of Ben Alder. I've got the light and fitness. Enough fuel? Magnificent remote mountain, ice-cold springs and its grassy plateau bulk gouged out below Lochan a'Gharbh Coire. Pick-axed trig? Picked up the New Munro on the way out. Don't miss the dog cemetery at Strathossian Lodge (AD: best place for dogs in my opinion).
I had feared my 1500th might not be in my beloved Scotland. Early October brought an easterly influence and I needed no second asking to head back to Lewis. The SMC 'Corbetts and Other Scottish Hills' avoids recommending Mealisval's 'broad slabby buttress' on its north-eastern slopes. It's magnificent dry. Being the sabbath I had Cracabhal, Teinneasbhal and Tahabhal all to myself and the ptarmigan. A grand round of the glacial rock basin holding Loch Reonasgail and the moraine deposits and outwash to the north. I could not have asked for better. Walking on sunshine!
One final observation. When you park on Kit Hill (40), have a look at the information board. It defines Marilyns accurately. It indicates there are approximately 2010 in Britain and Ireland. Roughly speaking.
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