Marhofn 230.13 - May 2011

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Donald the first, second and third

Colin Crawford

The Donald list lurks deep within Munro's Tables, noted by few people and ignored by most. Even today, when hillwalking has become a sport for the masses, it's possible to walk for hours in the Southern Uplands of Scotland without meeting anyone at all. In contrast to the thousands who claim completion of the Munros, a mere 137 folk are listed as having collected the 140 current tops in the list.

They are hardly popular. And yet, for me, they are the friendly hills of home, the gentle domes which first lured me into the wilder places and which lifted my eyes as I grew up in the small town of Biggar back in the 1960s. They were the first list which I completed and the only one to which I can claim a second round. By the time Marhofn is published I would hope that I may have added a third round to my collection. I calculate that I have gathered in excess of 600 Donald Tops in 30 years - maybe that statistic suggests that I have a certain fondness for these hills!

There are perhaps reasons for the obscurity of the Donalds. The Scottish Highlands represent a lure which quite eclipses the lesser attractions of the south and most folk, having made the long drive north, will wish to capitalise in the more rugged territory beyond the Highland line. Even Scots living in the nearby cities seem rarely to venture southwards, and those who know them best tend to be locals who live in their environs. Galloway apart, they present a rounded and retiring aspect; excitement is not a term which many would adopt in describing them. Nor do the criteria for listing them aid in advancing their popularity. I won't outline it in full, but mention of a '17-unit rule' and that slippery phrase 'of topographical merit' do not lead one to expect a crisp definition of what constitutes a hill or a top. Yet they do score over the Munros and their almost wholly subjective interpretation - Percy Donald did at least spell out his terms, archaic and obscure as they may seem today.

Personally, I find the rough crowd as compelling as anyone else, yet think it a mistake to view Donalds through the same prism. A shift in perspective is required. They are not hills which reward with drama but with intimacy, and many have noted that the tops are perhaps less attractive than the many green glens which separate them and thrust deep into their flanks. These glens were never abandoned and neglected, as with Highland glens, and signs of human presence are all pervading, be it walls and pasture land or sheepfolds and barns. A few remote hill farms remain inhabited and it is not unusual to enjoy a friendly crack with a shepherd on the hill. So the Donalds enjoy an amiability and familiarity which contrasts with the sometimes cold indifference of the wilder regions to the north.

Having been raised within their embrace, I find myself drawn back constantly to walk again on routes which I've strolled many times before. I am not a notable repeater of hills and tend towards an exploratory approach in search of novelty, so there is probably an element of sentimentality in my resorts to the hills of my youth. I will admit that my first round of Donald Tops was wholly calculated; the second crept up on me gradually until I couldn't resist tidying up; the third will be partly the result of recent circumstance. My mother required a lot of support in the latter half of 2010 and forays to distant places were necessarily restricted, so more time than usual was spent in the Southern Uplands. It is surprising how many tops can be walked on an early morning outing or long summer evening.

There was another factor though in hastening me towards a third round. Some chance correspondence with John and Marian Mackay revealed the fact that Marian was in pursuit of a Donald round and that, in supporting her, John would be aiming for his second round. The idea of joining them to celebrate first, second and third rounds together almost invented itself. We compared progress over the months of 2010 and settled on Millfore in Galloway as the final summit. I fear that there was no lengthy consideration of an appropriate hill, Millfore being forced upon us as one of the few to remain outstanding on all our schedules. So, all being well, in March 2011 the three of us will ascend this modest Donald and Graham and will achieve a mildly notable 1:2:3.

By then too, I hope to have gathered in a few errant tops which will allow me to claim a complete and utterly unplanned round of the 140 Donald Tops within a year. Truly, obsession takes many forms!

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