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It was the end of March when I caught the train to Oban with visions of backpacking across the hills of Mull in the warmth of spring sunshine and camping in midge-free evenings of lengthening daylight. Mull had different ideas. I arrived in Craignure in icy rain under skies of racing black cloud. The next morning dawned crisp and clear, ground and tent white with a hard frost. Fine views of Ben More mirrored in the calm water of Loch na Keal for the walk from Killiechronan to the Ulva ferry. I traversed the hills of Ulva under blue skies to Gometra and looked out at the Treshnish Isles and Staffa rapidly fading into an approaching bank of ominous greyness. I was camping on Ulva that night so, not in any hurry, I returned along the southern side of the island and was delighted to find an excellent little path picking its way across the crumbling basalt cliffs.
The weather on Corra-bheinn and Cruach Choireadail was less kind, with wet snow driven by 130kph winds. After crossing the rocky summit of Ben Buie, followed by an exciting descent of a snow-filled gully, I was rewarded at Lochbuie with flat grass to camp on and Flora's venison casserole for dinner. I fell asleep to the relentless sound of waves crashing on the beach and awoke to the drumming of rain on the tent. The rain continued for the traverse of Druim Fada and Maol Ban, however I did glimpse views of the Firth of Lorn and the mainland beyond. That evening saw me hammering tent pegs into the astro-turf pitches at the Shieling campsite and wondering if I would make it back to the mainland the next day as the CalMac ferry was on amber alert of disruption. The ferry ran to schedule. After a short dash through rain to Oban station, I had time in Glasgow to buy a pair of dry shoes and settle into the warmth of the Wetherspoons Counting House for food and a beer or two before the 18:40 train back to Birmingham.
Reminiscing over the previous 12 years, the pursuit of Marilyns has taken me back and forth across Britain to some of its most wonderful places in the most varied of weather. There have been brief moments when trudging across bleak wet moorlands in darkness, or with fingers numbed by cold fighting the wind to fold the map onto the next sheet, when I have asked why. The answer is never far away - perhaps a snipe unexpectedly taking flight or the ghostly curtains of greenish lights shimmering in the northern skies; the friendships made through enjoyment and adversity and the excitement of exploring new places. But, most of all, it is standing on that piece of hallowed ground where so many others of the group have also stood, as have our ancestors before us - the highest point. With only 14 Marilyns left to climb and no Marhofn for encouragement, I will have to start looking elsewhere for such challenges and enjoyment.
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