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The 2014 bagging year took me to opposite ends of England. In April I went to Cornwall for the first time and bagged all five Marilyns. The most memorable were Watch Croft, which I thought was a great hill, and Brown Willy. This was climbed with Mark Trengove and we also took in the Tumps of Rough Tor and Louden Hill. The weather was sunny, the views were beautiful, the company was excellent and this was one of the best bagging days of the year.
In August I was based in Wooler and Kirk Yetholm for a bagging trip to Northumberland and the Borders. The most memorable hill of the trip was Sighty Crag, which turned into a real epic. I had started in sunshine and had even put sun cream on. An hour later I was sheltering in the forest while hailstones the size of 5p pieces pelted me and thunder rumbled. My first objective was Christianbury Crag, a Tump, but when I got there I saw that in the conditions there was no way I could get up to the top of the highest pinnacle. The sky was apocalyptically black as I slowly made my way over the rough moorland towards Sighty Crag. Before I made it to the summit the storm broke again with a vengeance. The rain was unbelievably torrential and I saw lightning heading for earth in several directions. I crouched down for an hour while the rain hammered down and the air sizzled but the storm showed no signs of stopping. Any sane person would have turned tail and headed back to the car as soon as possible but I carried on to the summit. I would have taken some summit photos but I had stupidly left my camera in an outside pocket of my waterproof jacket. After over an hour of torrential rain it looked as though it had been in the washing machine, which was the fate of a previous camera I owned. I stayed long enough to set foot on the summit then started the descent, terrified that I would be struck by lightning. Actually I was really scared that I was going to die.
On the way back to the forest I had to cross a beck which was only a few steps across. It was a raging mass of boiling white water and, putting a stick in the water at different points, found that it was between waist and thigh deep.
Heading upstream I eventually found a crossing place that was only knee deep and I went for it. The strength of the water was tremendous and without the sticks I would have been knocked off my feet. In the forest I met a forester who, in ten years of working in the area, had never seen a walker there before. When I got to the car I felt thoroughly traumatised and all I wanted to do was to go home. Instead I headed for Wooler, which was a scary two-hour drive in heavy rain along little roads that were waterlogged. By the end of the day I was thankful to be alive.
The rest of the trip was less dramatic. I enjoyed the ascent of The Cheviot and vowed to go back in the future to explore these lovely hills in more detail. I also enjoyed the Simonside hills but the best view was from Linton Hill. The view of the Cheviots in the evening light was sublime and I could hardly tear myself away.
In between these two trips was a trip to the Highlands with Mark Trengove, with a few nights near Ullapool and one night in Helmsdale for the Marhof annual dinner. The highlights of this trip were Conival and Ben More Assynt, two fantastic mountains, but I also enjoyed hills such as Meall Dola and Creag Thoraraidh which I never would have climbed if they were not on the list.
A broken toe, injured in a household accident at the end of June, took me out of action for three weeks but I still managed some great hills in the summer and had some great walks with James. I became amazed at his stamina and walking ability at the age of four. A 13km round-trip to bag Rogan's Seat seemed short compared to some of our later trips to the Lakes. A round of Grisedale Pike, Hobcarton Crag and Hopegill Head was a precursor for some impressively long days for a four-year-old.
In July we went up Bowscale Fell, Bannerdale Crags, Blencathra and Souther Fell, a 15km walk with 950m of ascent. In September we went up Grasmoor, Crag Hill, Hopegill Head (again) and Whiteside, also 15km but with 1130m of ascent. We also had a great day on Swinside and Cat Bells, where James coped with a tricky wet scramble. He clearly has the makings of a great bagger. James and I also had some great days out with Mark, including the Eildon hills, Corse Hill, Mynydd Rhiw and Disgwylfa Fawr.
My last trip away during the year was for Chris Watson's Munro completion on Ben Lomond. The Watson-Tomkins Effect was impressive and made for a memorable day, with persistent heavy rain and winds gusting to 120 kmph. The weather could not take away the feeling of camaraderie and celebration felt by all at Chris's achievement. The celebratory dinner capped off a brilliant day, with good company, great speeches and wonderful food. Other hills bagged during that trip were Cairnpapple Hill, which was more pleasant than I expected, Meikle Bin and Stronend. The climb up through the cliffs of the latter was particularly good but mist made for a tricky descent.
The last Marilyn of the year was Round Hill on the North York Moors, in December. A dump of snow and a cold sunny day made for perfect winter conditions. James thought the snow was wonderful and enjoyed playing in it. I had parked in the Claybank car park where, unknown to me until it was too late, the surface was sheet ice. It took 15 minutes to make a few metres and James was afraid we would be stuck there all week and he would miss school. A couple of walkers eventually came along and kindly pushed the car out of the car park.
For 2015 the Hall finally beckons and I should also complete the Marilyns of England (seven to go) and Wales (eight to go).
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