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On 3 January, Oban, rain streaming down the hostel windows, the howling wind sending roof slates crashing into the car park and burying themselves like cleavers in the neat front lawn. That day I clawed my way up the heather slopes of Beinn Donn and Beinn Sgluich, the latter giving fine views out to Lismore and Loch Linnhe. The next morning I joined the convoy of utility company vehicles heading over to Mull where there was no let-up in the gale-force winds and lashing rain for the next five days. Luckily there are plenty of relatively low Marilyns on Mull, though I did fight my way up and down the rocky 591m Beinn a'Ghraig. The hills of Arran are superb and a visit, in June, claimed Sail Chalmadale but the onslaught from midges in Lochranza campsite convinced me to turn my attentions further south.
10 December, 15.15 and Glen Orchy is already deep in shadow, the iron-hard ground white with frost. Crossing the suspension bridge over the dark cold waters of the river I have little doubt I will be returning in darkness as I set off for Beinn Donachain. Along the boggy riverside path brown oak leaves glisten with frost, the oaks give way to conifers and soon I am climbing the open hillside. The sun sets into a pale orange glow and the valleys darken. Snow-topped peaks rise ghostly into night skies. There is soon the distant glimmer of light as Bridge of Orchy comes into view, the vague outline of my goal still a long way off. It is a superb night to be out alone under the star-filled skies, absolute calmness, only the gentle squeak of snow underfoot. A steep ascent then the gradient lessens and I arrive at the tiny summit cairn, lights twinkle in distant villages, it feels so very, very late though it is only 17.00. A few moments in the total silence, before I retrace my footprints back through the snow to Glen Orchy and the warmth of the tent.
11 December and, in contrast to January, snow glistens in the brilliant sunshine, -3C and not a breath of wind, sitting beside the summit cairn of Meall Tairbh, all around stretch high snow-covered mountains, a jigsaw puzzle of peaks, it takes a few moments of thought to locate and name at least some of them. The horseshoe continuing over Beinn a'Chuirn and Beinn Suidhe is a very fine walk and with the sun sinking into golden skies I make a fast descent down a snowy gully on the east side of Beinn Suidhe, pick my way along Glen Curra and back through the forest, strangely eerie in the silence, clouds of breath lingering in the stillness and reflecting in the head-torch beam. I enjoy a superb week with snow-covered peaks, hardly any wind and blue skies streaked by cirrus and bands of altocumulus but the days never feel cold in the blinding bright sunshine. It is on the Thursday when I reach the trig point of Torlum and with a delight tinged by sadness complete the hills of region 1, for it is a region which seems to have put up a long and fair fight.
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