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Many factors contributed to 2012's fashionably low new Marilyn tally. Firstly, Rachael's last half year at home meant just 27 new hills in the first half, compared with 49 in the second. I miss her greatly despite Skype links to Guyana, but not the homework and revision support.
Secondly, John Mackay, Alan Holmes and Brent Lynam organised a compelling set of Haswell-Smith island bagging trips, taking in 22 new places for me and a couple of impromptu immersions to amuse the rest of the party. I lucked into one of the sights of my life watching a herd of deer career down the Flodaigh Beag hillside, into the sea then swimming off to South Uist. David Attenborough, eat your heart out.
Thirdly, I had left various out-of-the-way odds and sods hanging such as three Marilyns on Jura, and one on South Uist, both of which really needed a week to visit due to ferry logistics. Jura was dispatched after the excellent annual meet that Alan Holmes organised at the Ardbeg distillery. Alan has a long record of making great events happen for the RHB community, but really surpassed himself this time having recovered most of the boating events via a mainland alternative boatman after the Islay operator let him down three days before the event, while we were on an uninhabited lump in Loch Roag.
Our lovely Jura cottage was at the end of a deeply unlovely rough track, hopeless for normal road cars. The blurb had oddly neglected to mention this. Jura's road was worse, though I rapidly learned how to change a wheel after breaking a tyre in an Atlantic-sized pothole while the local flying carnivores stripped the flesh off anything exposed. It was great to run into lots of familiar people that week on hills or in Craighouse. Colonsay was also a brilliant diversion, the Hump, Carnan Eoin, being particularly fine. Also, an excellent bookshop to kill time before the ferry back to Islay.
South Uist's Hecla was the apex of another wonderful island week, with a drought so tough that no midge showed all week, the peat was cracked into savannah-like hexagons and farmers were struggling to keep their stock hydrated. Brian Ewing was great company to the spectacular Hump, Beinn Ghot, and the Uisinis lighthouse with its road from nowhere.
As a final excuse, a week in the Dales gave no scope for new Marilyns, other than borders raids on the way down and up. It was very sporting of a couple getting wed that day to arrange a piper at Stobo kirk to see us off Penvalla, while Andrewhinney Hill gave superb views of the Grey Mare's Tail waterfall between bouts of cardiopulmonary overload on its vertiginous flanks.
In hindsight, Craignell is much more easily done from the west than from the NX500730 car park that I tried. Tonderghie Burn on the 1:50k map has no relationship with reality. The gorge is much deeper and sheer-sided than shown. It is not smart to amble up the wrong side of it on the forest road like I did. I eventually found a way down and up the very steep sides, but then there was a kilometre of unkempt path-free forest to thrash through to the relative relief of deep tussocks followed by knee-deep heather and an ambiguous top.
The gorge is worth the grind at least one way, but I would still be trying to get down now if I had reversed the route. Margriet picked me up by Clatteringshaws Loch - she had breezed up and down Millfore while I was making a meal of Craignell.
Meall nan Damh, a superb ridge easily accessed from the Callop track, had an unusual ice-scraped rock exposure, where one set of deep gouges was at right angles to the grain that the main ice sheet had imposed on the rest of the mountain when it was having its exterior decoration done.
Worst hill of the year was the Hump, Skipton Moor, which has an atrocious first 800 metres or so of path out of a housing estate. It is more like a Chieftain Tank proving ground than anything for pedestrians. Sustained boggy going above this does not really recover the situation. Surprisingly good Hump of the year on the same trip was Lindley Moor. The top is by a nondescript utility compound in pleasant but unremarkable woods. The trig, some 400 metres further on, is perched on a remarkable gritstone boulder assemblage, and certainly gave this reluctant scrambler a good challenge.
Worst approach road of 2012, without doubt, was the minor horror show over the Ribble from Stainforth on the way to the Hump, Smearsett Scar. The hill and continuation to Pot Scar is of course wonderful walking blessed with god's own rock, limestone. The Ribble bridge has a smear of paint's clearance for one car on both sides, cannot be easily reversed out of, and is the stuff of recurring nightmares. Stainforth Force with its leaping fish is worth getting to, but I would use any other means except a car another time.
The November bagger weekend organised by Iain and Moira Brown was a good conclusion to the bagging year, during which I was treated with great kindness by some new friends.
Most of the others were racing round Humps or Marilyns that I had previously visited. I fancied new ground. On a lovely clear frosty morning I headed up to Maesglase which I had been saving for good conditions for a number of years. The cliffs of Cribin Fawr round to Craig Portas surpassed all my expectations, but by the time I reached the top it was 2pm. I had the beginnings of a daylight issue. I had been two kilometres behind other walkers for much of the day but they kept going, past the top. I realised from the map that they were heading on past yet more wonderful cliff scenery and a spectacular cascade to Bwlch Siglen. I wondered if I could maybe blag a lift back up to the pass, if not then get a taxi from the pub in Dinas Mawddwy.
When I caught them up, they asked where I was from; I played the Aberdeen gambit, followed by climbing Marilyns to the next obvious question. It was a positive sign that they had heard of these. We got on to talking Munros and one of them, Dewi Jones, mentioned that he was in the first two hundred registered Munroists, but that a lot of early completers had not registered. I mentioned that non-registrants were one of Dave Hewitt's projects. Dewi said he knew Dave well. I remembered a TAC article by Dewi about rock cannons and we spent the rest of the walk down in animated conversation. The guys kindly gave me a lift to the pub for a pint, then back in the early dark to retrieve my car. This great kindness made an already great day, weekend and year all the better. Diolch Clwb Dringo Porthmadog and many happy returns for 2013, your 60th anniversary.
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