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It was not until Easter 2013 that the first foray to the hills was made. With plenty of snow around but with none, thankfully, on the roads, my wife Sue and I made our way north. After the four-hour drive it was with relief that we made our way up the aptly named Cold Fell. Not the most spectacular of hills, but being our first outing for several months and in such good winter conditions, it was a perfect start to the weekend. After a fine day on the hill, it was pleasing to know we had somewhere special to stay that night, the Premier Inn by the M6.
Next morning we made our way to Glenridding. I used to know this area of the Lake District extremely well, having spent many a weekend in the vicinity during the 1990s .This was my first time back since then, so it was not a bagging day but a day to get re-acquainted with an old friend, Helvellyn. Winter boots were in order, so it was so slow going as we made our way up Greenside Road to the youth hostel. From there we followed a number of people who were carrying their skis to the tow on Raise. It was then straightforward to make our way on to Helvellyn. It was not a day to enjoy the solitude of the hills, because groups of people were converging on the summit from every direction. However, even the curmudgeonliest of souls would have been captivated by the scene; Striding Edge and Swirral Edge swept down from the summit and Fairfield, St Sunday Crag and a host of other Lake District tops jostled for attention in a wonderful 360-degree panorama.
We stayed on top as long as the cold allowed and then made our way down over Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon Pike to Grisedale Tarn. A short way below the tarn is Ruthwaite Lodge, a climbing hut where I spent a weekend as a novice hillwalker circa 1986. As I approached the hut I could see a number of people were congregated outside. I thought there was a group using the hut, but not so. It had been converted into a temporary cafe, which offered hot drinks and cakes to passing walkers to raise money for Macmillan nurses. After a few hours above the snow line, some refreshment was definitely in order. As I made my way inside I was anticipating some Jaffa Cakes and Swiss roll, but I could not have been more wrong. There was a multitude of plates filled with home-made goodies. I could have munched my way through quite a number of the delicacies, but I showed restraint by restricting myself to one piece of divine Rocky Road to see me back to the car.
That night we stayed in Brough as I had obtained a permit for Mickle Fell for the following day. Mickle Fell could not be more different to Helvellyn. To begin with, there is the novelty of contacting the guardhouse on starting and finishing the walk. Then, apart from one other pair of walkers, we had the hill to ourselves. With no great mountain architecture on view from Mickle Fell and definitely nobody selling home-made cakes, it was the sense of openness and the desolate nature of the landscape that was appealing. A neat counterpoint to Helvellyn.
A few weeks later and we were in Braemar. The advantage of having a wife who does not always want to walk is that I can occasionally do linear walks. Therefore, I was able to link Mealna Letter, Monamenach, Creag Leacach and Glas Maol. I also had great days on Beinn a'Bhuird, the hills at the head of Glen Callater and, not to be outdone by its celebrity bigger brothers, Carn na Drochaide. However, star of the show was Cairn Toul. Even by cycling into Derry Lodge and having good paths to walk on, it is a long way to Cairn Toul. The walk is a bit of a slow burner in that it is not until you are 8km from Linn of Dee, where the path gradually starts to turn towards the Lairig Ghru, that the scenery changes from the pleasant to the dramatic. Firstly Beinn Bhrotain and the Devil's Point make themselves known and then Cairn Toul reveals itself, looking distinctly alpine in its heavy cover of late snow.
Some elevenses were consumed in the shelter of Corrour bothy before embarking on the steep climb up Coire Odhar, with views back across the Lairig Ghru to Carn a'Mhaim and Ben Macdui. Right turn at the top, the Devil's Point can wait until the return and it is on to the stony slopes of Stob Coire an t-Saighdeir. About halfway up the slope there was a small promontory. I casually made my way to it for the view I hoped it would offer. On reaching the edge my breath was taken from me by what was revealed. Cairn Toul, which had been out of sight since the bothy, was now close at hand across the snowy wastes of the corrie. The view was majestic. I was honoured to be able to view it. Does that sound like a romantic Victorian description of being in the mountains? If so, no apologies made. We crossed the snow line with magnificent scenery ever present, including some good close-ups, from a safe distance, of the cornices, and then over the plateau to Braeriach. Before long we were on the top. Ours were the only footprints in the summit snows. We were able to sit in the shelter of the summit cairn for some time enjoying the experience. I know in my walking life there will be a limited number of times to enjoy such occasions. I tried my best to imprint the view into my memory. I also took a piece of granite that sits on a window ledge at home as a memento.
July was spent on Harris followed by Lewis. The first week we enjoyed a cloud inversion on Chaipaval and walks on the hills and beaches in the vicinity of our cottage on the Huisinis road. This cottage had one convenience I could get used to, a hot tub; something I sneered at when booking the cottage, but on arrival found addictive. After a day's exercise, to lower oneself into the hot water in the privacy of the garden with views of Tiorga Mor was delightful. The cottage on Lewis did not have a hot tub, but it did have a sun room with views across Uig Bay with the hills as a back drop. To assuage curiosity built up over several years, I cycled the length of the track that splits the Uig hills to look at Tamanabhagh Lodge. It is a spectacular setting 13km from the public road and surrounded by the sea and wild hills, but the lodge itself is a rather dull looking modern affair. The end of the week turned into a scorcher. A walk over Griomaval, Cracaval and Mealisval was very thirsty work, but a fitting way to end the holiday.
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