Jennifer Thomson (1942-2007)

Jennifer Thomson
Jennifer Thomson near Balquhidder  

"We'll remember the hill of Coraddie, and the one who is missing there still. In wind and in rain and in sunshine, we must leave her alone on the hill"

Jennifer set out from the Colintraive Hotel to climb Beinn Bhreac in March 2007. It is not known if she knew of the higher nearby Coraddie, promoted since Alan's book was published. Conditions deteriorated rapidly while she was up there into gale-force blizzards. She hasn't been seen since and so, sadly, it is probable that the life of a dear friend of many RHBers ended in the mountains that she loved. What follows is my tribute to a brave, capable, experienced and independent mountain woman, assuming, desperately though I wish it were otherwise, that we won't meet again.

Jennifer grew up on a farm beneath Schiehallion, and walked locally from an early age. She excelled at her studies and was a natural and entertaining communicator. She gained first-class honours in agricultural chemistry from Glasgow University and taught generations of chemists at schools in Perth, Kinross and Auchterarder.

She started bagging seriously once her daughters Katy and Fiona had grown up, and was helped to explore Scotland widely by the long school summer holidays. She rattled off the Munros in just four years, and within three further years became the 20th woman known to have completed the Corbetts, on Rum's Ainshval on 8 August 1999. On that day Jill Adam gave her a copy of RHB, which would take her to many new summits. She duly took her place among the fine crop joining the Marilyn Hall of Fame in the 2002 Marhofn.

She loved the company of other walkers, topping the 14 friends on her last Corbett with more than 40 from the Perth club at a hill-top celebration shortly after her 600th Marilyn. She was usually at the Marilyn baggers' annual gatherings from 2001 onwards, where it was always great to hear how she was doing over a pint or three.

In later years she did not drive, but still climbed a further 250 hills through lifts from supportive friends, public transport and hitching. Neither a foot broken at home in 2004 nor serious leg-muscle damage, sustained getting onto Muldoanich in 2006, kept her from the hills for long. She was very comfortable with all ages, happily pitching into trips with people fifty years her junior, all of whom she made feel important to her. She remained sociable to the last time I met her, with another large bagging crowd on Alison Richardson's 600th Marilyn, Pressendye.

In March 2007 I was chilled to hear, on the local evening television news, that a walker had gone missing, fearing it likely to be an RHBer due to the area mentioned. When there were no follow-up bulletins, I hoped that whoever it was had turned up fine, but sinking confirmation of the worst followed from Alan on the Monday. He phoned to see if I'd heard from Jennifer, as she was booked to join a party that I'd organised to go to Islay and Jura the following week. No joy.

Tellingly, dozens of RHBers and more friends from the Perth hillwalking club pitched in to support the emergency services in the unsuccessful searches. No-one can doubt the strong bond this terrible event has illuminated between those who share what can sometimes seem the most individual of pastimes. Brent, Stewart, Roderick and all the RHBers that they coordinated spent some 1500 hours over many following weeks and weekends combing rough hill, dense forest, awkward coast and treacherous ravine. Many dropped their own agendas (sometimes for months) to try to help a friend in trouble and her family, sadly to be frustrated by the astonishingly rough, inaccessible, overgrown and hazardous ground that makes up this seemingly innocuous bump on the map.

Jennifer's family and friends' thanks to everyone for their efforts are heartfelt. There will be (or was by the time you read this) a memorial walk on Coraddie for Jennifer on 13 April 2008, when many will share their recollections of our friend. She will remain deeply missed by many for years to come, but she will live on in our memories and in the bagging records of the Hall of Fame and the SMC for as long as people follow her footsteps into the Scottish hills. Foulis Wester church was packed out with family and friends to celebrate her life on 24 November 2007. It seems fitting to close with a few moving lines chosen by Jennifer's daughter Katy:

'Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then you shall truly dance.'

Thanks to Jon Foote for permission to include an excerpt from his beautiful song Coraddie. The closing lines are from Khalil Gibran's The Prophet.

Jon Metcalf

Both Sides Now (for Jennifer)

I saw a hill in shade and light
Saw a hill in day and night
Saw a hill and walked its flanks
And looked up and down steep-sided banks
Both sides now
I stood on top and held the view
Saw a hill that came anew
Saw the Fawn and the Diver Young
And sang a song that remained unsung
Both sides now
I saw a hill from winter through to spring
Saw a hill with nothing new to bring
Saw the woman who was once a wife
And looked at the hill that took away a life
Seen both sides now

Brent Lynam

Articles by Jennifer Thomson