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Looking through my logs for 2014 there seems to be long stretches of the year when Marilyns did not feature as much as I thought they had. As I get to a point where the mist occasionally clears enough to get glimpses of the end of the Marhof road, one thing I have noticed is that the number of region and section completions accelerates - eight regions were completed during the year. Two of them (regions 19 and 21) have only taken five years from first Marilyn to last, whereas two others (regions 13 and 16) have taken 24 years. The essential difference between these two pairs is that the latter have Munros in them whereas the former do not - a reflection of different priorities in earlier life. There are a couple of regions that are destined to take 35 or more years. Mind you, there was a region in Wales that took 44 years. And there is one region that remains unvisited - indeed, I have only ever seen it from a distance across the sea.
My trips to Scotland were book-ended by attending various landmark celebrations. There seems a curious obsession with holding these in the Bermuda Triangle-like area around Coulter and Lamington. For each, I would either be on my way to more northerly unbagged-Marilyn-infested grounds or on my way south from them. Hence the mid-March Roberton Law multi-celebration came at the tail-end of a three-week tidy-up in regions 1 and 3, my first Marilyn quest of the year.
The next (and long, i.e. late April - mid June) haul of Marilyns was prefaced by attending Rob's 80000000000th P30 landmark - Cow Castle. The haul started with getting all those Corbetts and lesser hills around Rest and Be Thankful that I suspect any lowland Scot has bagged before they are fully weaned. For me, this area is just too far for a weekend visit and too near for a fortnight holiday when there are other playgrounds further north. And it is not that I had not been there before. You visit an area for a week, ten days, a fortnight and dutifully walk up every hill in sight - and then afterwards look at the map and there still seems to be an overwhelming number of dots left - where each dot represents another to get.
This time there was a good reason why I had hung around though - I needed to get the CalMac boat from Oban to Castlebay. A series of Alan Holmes organised boat trips were in the offing. This resulted in all Barra Isles being bagged in a single splendid day - meaning that all my remaining Marilyns were now on the Scotland mainland (except for six in one region as already mentioned). Douglas Law and I went Hump bagging around Barra - curiously, almost everywhere we went we came across other baggers on the same mission. There was a bonus boat ride to the Hump island of Fuidheigh. Then it was off to spend a few days on Coll and Tiree bagging Humps, P30s, trigpoint pillars and island extremities in fine weather. I think it was the first time that I have bagged a sand-dune with enough prominence to count as a P30.
Then it was north - I spent a day accompanying/hindering a friend in her bid to do the coast-to-coast challenge by making her go over the top of Cnap Cruinn on the Spean Bridge to Fersit stretch. Whilst I was there I spent a few days gathering up Marilyns along the rest of Glen Spean before meeting up with another friend at Inverness railway station. And then it was a tour of region 16's splendours - including even more of Alan H's boat trips for the Rabbit islands and other islands north of Tongue. I must confess I cannot really recall ever noticing the islands before - and I bet the majority of those people who do know they are there have not actually visited. Indeed, we met a farmer in his fifties on top of Ben Loyal, climbing his first ever summit - his farm faces Rabbit Island and he had no idea how you could get there.
The islands turned out to be a lot more interesting than I had anticipated and despite their close proximity each has its own individual character. Eilean Iosal is particularly worth a visit for the dramatic geological formations.
Ben Armine turned out to be my 1400th and, curiously, I had the same experience in the same place as Peter Collins in that on the return to my vehicle one of the tyres was flat.
I spent my birthday with a two-day visit to Orkney with the sole purpose of joining a boat trip out to the Hump on Gairsay.
The Marhof annual dinner was followed by a rushed crossing to the west coast and a CalMac ferry to Lewis for another and lengthy boat trip to Sula Sgeir and North Rona. With hindsight, two boat-loads with 24 people landing on Sula Sgeir at the same time seems not a good idea. It was like a coachload of men on a pub-crawl walking through a maternity ward. It was almost impossible not to stand on eggs or newly-born chicks as the parent birds spat regurgitated stinking half-digested fish at us.
I quickly learned to hang behind long enough for the birds to run out of vomit. Among the hundreds of closely-packed birds was the all-too-obvious litter and detritus left by the guga hunters. I know I reached the summit but I have no memory of seeing the lighthouse on it. By contrast North Rona, despite its remote location, seemed civilised and genteel.
Almost unbelievably, the next day we were back on the Scottish mainland embarking on a series of boat trips to islands off the western coast including Gruinard, Oldany, Handa and various smaller islands. It all seems a blur to me now - did I really do all that in one year - and this account is only up to June so far.
I spent the rest of the summer travelling, in my motorhome, through the Balkans to Greece and countries by the Black Sea, bagging Ultras, Majors and country tops in ten different countries. The highlight was finding a small village near Graz in Austria called Marhof - and there was a dilapidated building that could well be the Hall.
Originally, I had planned to include Crimea in Ukraine - however, a little war put me off. I would have stayed longer, however the motorhome developed a very loud and odd problem in the gear mechanism - it was particularly noisy when I went uphill, which is quite a lot in this game. And I was booked to have a go at the Marilyn region of islands I have already alluded to above.
Obviously, once again, I was allocated to the wrong boat which this year did not even set off. I had already driven up near to Kyle of Lochalsh before I heard the trip had been cancelled. So my third Marilyn trip of the year remained on the mainland and I spent a fortnight mainly sweeping the left-overs in region 13 and a few from neighbouring regions, whilst sleeping overnight in my car.
I returned home to collect my repaired motorhome. A few days later it was back north for Chris Watson's damp bid to complete the Munros and an enjoyable evening in The Winnock hotel. As I was in the area I stayed another fortnight, shaking some of the dust out of regions 4, 5 and 6. The weather did not really improve so I set off home - only to return north again a week later for the Alwinton bagger weekend. From there I went back up to Scotland and familiarised myself with the Speyside hills - each hill seemed to have its own distillery. The weather was mixed and then deteriorated - when it turned to a load of deep and wet snow I decided to go home for a week.
However, once again there was yet another landmark ascent - Colin Crawford's 5000th Hump, where he mesmerised us by playing a set of bagpipes. The week I had spent at home had left me feeling stir-crazy so I went back to regions 6, 7 and 8 for another week or so.
Once again, after a fortnight at home I was feeling hemmed in, so straight after Christmas I finished off the year working steadily along the north side of Loch Arkaig.
In those rare weeks I am at home I try to have a least one bus-pass day. The challenge is to try and use the local bus services for free and get to previously unbagged hills - these days that means P30s - and home in time for tea. This is particularly tough as the bus pass cannot be used before 9.30am - however, it has been surprising how far it is possible to get and how interesting the bus rides themselves are. In 2014 I had to relax the rules and allow for cheap rail journeys using a senior railcard to get further afield as there was nothing left close by. I can see that within a year or so I am going to run out of unbagged hills close enough.
My plans for 2015 include a long trip to Australia, New Zealand and Java, followed in the summer by a motorhome trip through the Alps and the Italian Apennines. So I suspect that I will not be completing the mainland Marilyns in 2015. And, as for the unvisited region - I am not holding my breath.
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