Marhofn 133.07 - May 2005

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The way to 1000 and beyond?

John Barnard

I don't remember the exact date, but it was sometime in the mid-90s when I was browsing in Nevisport at Fort William and noticed a well-thumbed book entitled 'The Relative Hills of Britain' by Alan Dawson. On taking a closer look, an update sheet dated February 1995 fell to the floor. After returning this I quickly scanned the pages and immediately thought 'not another damn list'. However, I don't know why but I reached for my debit card and promptly bought the book. Perhaps I thought I would be able to amaze my friends with facts like the highest point in Suffolk.

Back home a few days later I thought I would have a look at my new purchase, and spent some time reading through the detail. I had already completed the Munros and Corbetts, so was looking for a new challenge anyway. However, I got to the section on sea stacks and knew immediately that if I started this project then it almost certainly would never be finished, so what was the point? And that was it! The book was closed, put on my bookshelf, and laid to rest. Or so I thought.

Some time later I received an email from Dave Hewitt pointing out that if you had completed the Munros and Corbetts you were well on the way to being in the 'Marilyn Hall of Fame'. This was an opportunity not to be missed, so I pulled down 'The Relative Hills' from the bookshelf, blew off the thick layer of dust, and did a detailed count through my various shoddy records. I was short of the 600, but only by 50 or so. There were quite a few Marilyns within easy distance of home which would boost the numbers, so I could do those and then have a rethink. This meant that my first deliberate Marilyn was my 546th - Hope Mountain (30C) in May 1999, about seven miles from my house.

In my terms progress to 600 was slow. Munros for the second time were completed, and I joined a project with a longstanding group of hillwalking friends. This project has gone well, and the current plan is for six of us to have a simultaneous Graham completion on Druim na Sgriodian (18B) in September 2005.

Anyway, in February 2001 I achieved notoriety by ascending Blackhope Scar (28A) on a bitterly cold snowy day. It was even too cold to drink the single malt on the summit, so we had to shelter around the back of a bothy on the descent to make the wee drams more palatable.

This is when I thought it would all end, but it did not. I do not know what triggered it, but then I decided I was doing Marilyns. I don't remember any significant mental problems at the time, but I think retirement was a major factor in the decision. 800 was reached on Benaquhallie in darkness on a very wet 26 October 2002. Afterwards I stayed at the bunkhouse in Braemar, where a Scotsman was so impressed with this performance that he poured me a full tumbler of whisky, even though he had never heard of Marilyns before.

I began to regret not having kept good records of the hills I had ascended. Yes, I had dates and ticks on lists, but when asked, 'which route did you take up Ben Whatever?', I would not have a clue. Even worse, I had a cupboard full of 35mm SLR cameras with enough lenses and filters to make a professional photographer jealous, yet I could never be bothered to take a camera up the hills. Well, at the start of 2004 I changed my routine and began writing detailed notes of each ascent in a clean A4 hardback notebook. I don't envisage this notebook winning any literary prizes, but it is fascinating to read about hills I have climbed yet have no recollection whatsoever of doing, and that's just within the last year.

Having hotted up the pace, with the encouragement (or rather lack of discouragement) of a supportive family, suddenly the Upper Hall was on the cards. In July 2004 my family were staying with my parents in Surrey, so we took the opportunity to do a few Marilyns along the south coast. However, I had to be careful because if I had not called a halt my 1000th would have been Crowborough. Nobody would take me seriously if my photographs of a significant mountain event were taken in a back garden by a compost heap! Therefore, with a little more planning, I reserved the occasion for Thorpe Fell Top in August, on the way to our summer holiday in Yorkshire. I had never thought that Yorkshire moors in August would be closed for shooting (I thought only Scottish people did that), but we arrived at the start of the walk to find a notice prohibiting access. Too bad - it was late afternoon and I felt that all the grouse and pheasants would have been annihilated several hours earlier, so we would be unlikely to have problems. So it proved, and we had a very enjoyable ascent in the late afternoon sunshine. I rather expected someone might bring along the single malt, and was delighted with the quality of choice that my wife had made.

Another highlight of 2004 was Hamish Brown's 70th birthday celebration in October. This was the first time I had met other members of the Hall of Fame, and a very enjoyable occasion it turned out to be. Now I am mumbling about doing 1500 as the next significant target. I thought I would slow down after 1000, but the problem seems to have got worse.

Sometimes there are particular hills that test your sanity. A weekend in Crianlarich allowed me to tackle Cruach Lerags (19A). I have a 1984 map which indicates the summit is at the edge of a wood. Not any more; it is now in a wood, and the ascent took an amazing amount of crawling underneath pine trees to arrive at two insignificant bumps, looking like a scratched porcupine. Can anyone tell me how pine needles get inside your underpants when you are wearing overtrousers and a long cagoule with the hood up? (If anyone finds a Silva Expedition 4 compass somewhere in the pine trees on the SE face of the hill, then it is mine.) Mind you, there are some hills completely clear of trees that can test one's resolve. I found The Fruin (1E) particularly tedious; the heather was very energy-sapping and I was pleased the ground was partially frozen, otherwise continuous bog would have added to the drudgery.

I expect anyone reading this account will have detected a hint of irony in my writing. Despite this, I have really enjoyed the challenge of the variety of hills that Marilyn bagging has posed. 'The Relative Hills' is now one of my most used books, and I enjoy reading the annual newsletter. Well done, and keep up the excellent work.

John Barnard (left) reaches 1000 on Thorpe Fell Top

John Barnard (left) reaches 1000 on Thorpe Fell Top

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