The Munros - Being the 284 Scottish Mountains that exceed 3000 feet. © Steve Smith

 

Preface

1990

1991

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

Appendices

 

 

 

Preface (Why I did the Munros)

 

Asthma always got the better of the little sporting talent I had. From the age of two I was hit by three to four severe asthma attacks a year. Incapacitating me for around four days at a time I was unable to walk across a room without assistance or manage the stairs without either being carried or just taking one step at a time.

Being academically bright did not spare me the scar of the school playing fields. Asthma, eczema and severe hay fever, differentiated me the most. The sadistic regimes of team selection would leave me stood alongside a rather tubby lad - the games teachers relishing in our humiliation as the two captains decided which would be the least disadvantage. I would be put in goal where paradoxically I had some talent. Quick reflexes enabled me to pull off the odd good save but shattered confidence would see the ball to trickle between my legs. To the sounds of my jeering class mates the games teachers would write me off as a "no hoper."

This was back in the 1970s when I was one of a very few asthmatics. The disease was little understood and I was exposed to triggers such as cigarette smoke and dogs. The medical profession prescribed tablets to take during an attack that would induce immediate vomiting to rid me of asthma. At other times I was placed in a steam filled room to try and drive my asthma out. Both approaches simply caused more breathing problems.

By the late 1980s I had graduated, had a good job but yearned for a sport that I could do. I found a group of friends that were interested in hill walking and I organised the booking of a holiday cottage for a week of walking. I bought the OS map covering the area of Scotland, Loch Mullardoch in Glen Cannich, where we were due to visit. In a quiet moment I made use of the company photocopier to copy the details for my friends. Back at my desk a work colleague, John Pennifold, started taking an interest in the map and what I had copied. Still being relatively new to the company I was a bit nervous of telling him all in case he took a dim view of this misuse of works property. Instead, as ever, my fears were groundless and he started to ask me if I was off to climb Munros. I had to admit that I did not know what a Munro was, he told me that they were Scottish peaks over 3000 feet and there were 277 of them in all. For some reason, that I have never been able to fully explain, I knew instantly that I was going to do them myself.

So that’s how my road to conquering my childhood demons began. Twelve years, 1700 miles of walking, 570,000 feet of ascent later, soaked, blown over, frozen, lost and scared more times than I care to remember I compleated (sic) and became Munroist number 2599. I’m sure that the previous 2598 souls that broke the trail before me have just as interesting stories. But this is my account of all those wonderful views, challenges and interesting people that I met along the way.

 

1990

 

The radio crackled into life “Helicopter on its way for an uplift.” Andy and I looked at each other, our expressions both saying ‘well, we’ve done it now.’ We looked back up the mountain, into the swirling mist. Nothing. Just the silence of the lower slopes of Carn Mor Dearg – my first Munro. Somewhere up there, maybe still over 4000 feet where the accident had happened, was the rest of our party including Andy’s brother, Ady with a deep cut to his head.

          “Cheap coat, cheap rucksack, expensive boots and they don’t fit.” I muttered to myself. It was early morning, no idea of how the day was about to unfold and I was disillusioned. This was my first determined crack at a Munro and I was struggling. Struggling beyond what I had ever imagined. The pull up the main Ben Nevis path was far harder than I had envisaged, the pain in the fronts of my upper legs was fighting my bodies wish to immobilise itself. My calf muscles ached and the blood was thumping against my skull. And I was at the back. At the back again, just like when I was at School - the last time I did any regular, fitness contributing, exercise.

          Through the thick mist and the wind flapping my hood into my face I could just make out the others. The rest of the party were fitter and all had at least one Munro under their belts – conquered on a holiday the previous year to Loch Mullardoch in Glen Cannich. I had failed due to struggles with my health and fitness largely brought on by asthma restricting my breathing. Today I was determined, whatever the pain I wanted a Munro.

          At the junction in the path, which can either take one onto Ben Nevis or round past Lochain Meall an t-Suidhe, the others were waiting for me. A fellow walker, descending, passed us.

          “What’s it like up there?” I asked.

          “Very windy, did not make it to the top.” And he was gone.

          I looked at the map, “we could go past this small loch and try and do Carn Mor Dearg instead.” I really wanted a Munro today.

          I half expected the others to pooh, pooh the idea but it got a nodded agreement.

          The walk past the loch gave me some relief, lochs by nature being flat. A drop down into the glen preceded the real climb and my real introduction to Munro bagging. No paths and just under 2000 feet of ascent in about a mile. The climb was painful, my upper legs ached with each step and I had to pause every few paces to catch my breath. Gulping in the air intake of a seventy-year-old man – at the age of twenty-four all my restricted windpipe would allow me. My toes and heels felt sore and I was feeling damp. Every time I sought sustenance from food I wrestled with my rucksack. Financial worries had turned me to the cheap end of the outdoor equipment market and I was paying for it. A jacket made of thin material, which was not up to the ravages of the Scottish weather, and a rucksack that was best undone in laboratory conditions. But then there was the new boots, purchased two days previously and the top end of the market. But I’d got one size too small and my feet were in fair mood for rubbing in the mistake.

The others waited for me before the final pull to the minor top of Carn Beag Dearg. Apart from David, noted for never conforming, who was so well out in front that we had to use whistles to rendezvous with him. Then we hit winter, late for May the 7th.

          The wind whipped snow up into our faces, I felt miserable, cold and angry that I could not keep up. Taking up the rear I used the footprints, in the snow, of the others to reassure myself that I was on track. Over the summit of Carn Dearg Meadhonach, continuing along the bleak snow swept ridge, where, in appalling visibility, we reached the Munro summit of Carn Mor Dearg. The celebration was little more than a miserable photograph in the driving snow.

From the summit three alternative routes beckoned us and there was duly a three way split in opinion. I wanted to go back the way we came, Andy and Ady wanted to go on to do Ben Nevis, the others wanted the route to the CIC hut in the glen below. We compromised on the option of the CIC hut as going on to do Ben Nevis, even with my dogged determination, looked completely non viable.

The drop from the top of Carn Mor Dearg towards the CIC hut is very steep and we had to negotiate rough and rocky terrain intermixed with snow and boulder fields. We found a good stretch of snow and had fun sliding on it. Ady took this a stage beyond caution and went for a deliberate bum slide. My memory is of him hurtling past me, in the half-light of the blowing snow, just to hear a loud crash a few seconds later. He landed standing upright between two large boulders, blood pouring from a head wound. At first it looked very bad but, upon reaching him, we were offered some degree of relief as it appeared that all his limbs were okay and it was just his head to worry about, in more than one sense.

Whilst Ady was tended to by the others Andy and I had taken a straight line off the mountain to the CIC mountain rescue hut where a wind powered radio had put us in touch with the police in Fort William. After they sent a patrol car out, to get a better signal, we managed to convince them that it was a head and not a hand injury.

The fear of the RAF helicopter crew landing and wanting us to take them to the accident site was now daunting. Could we navigate our way back up? Was I strong enough to re-ascend? I started to feel tired, drained, weak, exhausted. The rush off the mountains and making the call to the rescue services suddenly caught up with me. I slumped down with my back to the hut and gazed back up the mountains.

          “Voices,” said Andy.

          “Are you sure?” I replied.

          “Yeap, they’re coming off.”

          A few minutes later the voices became dim figures emerging from the cloud line to the open glen. Ady was going under his own steam with dried blood caked about his head. Andy and I were relieved not to have to deal with the helicopter crew ourselves. After an exchange of stories we all sat and, after a tense wait, we could make out the distant buzzing of a helicopter and a minute or so later it appeared as a very distant pinprick through the mist. Gradually its shape grew bigger and did justice to the mechanical nature challenging noise that preceded it.

The helicopter did a circuit over us and dropped a flare on the only suitable landing spot, just across a stream from the hut. On the second time round the pilot skilfully lowered his machine amongst the rocks whilst Ady was guided to it. With the rotor still spinning, poised for a quick get away before the mist closed in, a crew member leapt out and examined Ady, gave us the thumbs up and helped him aboard. Seconds later the craft was airborne and we watched it disappear back into the mist. We were left in silence, the drama over - returned to nature with a three-hour adrenaline sapped walk out ahead of us.

It gave me plenty of time to think. I had set myself a personal challenge of doing the Munros before I had even set foot on one of them. But now with Ady injured, the poor weather at the top and the sheer physical effort required to climb a Munro I was quickly reviewing my ambition. I was downcast. Since graduating I had tried squash, badminton, running, a mixture of sports. I really wanted to find a sport that I could do, on my own terms but my asthma continued to frustrate. I hoped that doing the Munros could be it, but it felt as if asthma would, again, take the upper hand over my sporting ambitions.

Back in Glen Nevis the police met us next to our Mini bus and I could sense the sage like glances of an older policeman probably mirroring his annoyance of, yet again, having to deal with a bunch of youngsters that had overstretched themselves. He viewed our kit, it looked passable to his eyes. Perhaps not my jacket, but my boots escaped me from criticism. If only he knew that they were too small, inadequate and both my big toe nails were poised to come away. I sensed he wanted to give us a ticking off but we were reasonably, if not perfectly, kitted out and knew exactly where we had been when the accident had taken place. Ady had only been able to give them a rough idea "that it happened somewhere on Ben Nevis." The policeman was quoted as saying "I would not walk down the high street in those Doc Martens he had on."

 

Munro Count: 1 out of 277

 


 

1991

 

“Shall we zigzag?”

Andy looked back at me, quizzically.

“All the best paths zigzag up mountains,” I replied. We were well beyond territory that a path would care to grace.

“Okay.”

We turned sharp right and traversed for about a hundred yards, rising gently before doubling back to a point thirty feet above our conversation.

“Is that better?”

I nodded, but paused for breath and to allow the tops of my legs to catch up with the pain.

          We were on the last stretch of our approach to An Socach, about six hours into the day and 2000 feet left to ascend over a slope averaging a one in seven gradient.

          I was glad to be walking with Andy, much fitter and stronger than me but more than willing to travel at my pace. We had drawn lots for this walk, the four of us staying in a cottage in The Kyle of Loch Alsh - Andy and Ady Glover, David George, the remains of a Peak District activity holiday group which in three years had dwindled from eight to four people. When something is good you feel it will last forever. Little by little it ebbs away, like a dying flame. At first you do not realise that something you held as special is drifting apart. You try a little harder then realise you need to let go and move on. Savouring the present, not prolonging the past.

The night before we had come up with the idea of two of us walking from Killilan through to the dam near Benula Lodge on Loch Mullardoch whilst the other two would drive the car round to the dam and do it in reverse in the hope we would meet somewhere on the 21 mile route taking in four Munros. I had drawn to be with Andy and to start from Killilan.

My legs were killing me, blood was thumping round my head and again I was wondering, “Why am I doing this?” Not even one Munro of the four done and I was struggling well beyond the bounds of a hobby. We slowly made progress and reached the summit in just under nine hours before the demoralising drop and painful ascent of An Riabhachan, summiting shortly before 1900, very late in the day, barely half way, for getting across to the dam at the head of Loch Mullardoch.

          “We could drop down to the shore of the Loch,” I suggested.

          Andy’s reply was slow in coming, it meant missing the last two Munros.

          “Do you think the other two are too much for you Steve?”

I nodded.

“Okay,” I cringed at the disappointment in his voice but knew that he would accept it in his usual gentlemanly manner. Just a few moments for him to re-factor his day and we were off, cutting down to the shores of Loch Mullardoch by the cottage that sits north of the throat in the Loch. This cottage is only accessible on foot or by its own motorboat.

“Looks like the cottage is inhabited,” I said.

“Yeap.”

“We could ask if they would give us a lift up the Loch,” I replied.

“Do you think they would?”

“We could offer to pay.”

“What time does it get dark?”

“It’s July the tenth today?”

Andy nodded.

“Just past midsummer’s, quite late then.”

We both paused.

“I’ll pay, you ask,” I offered.

“I haven’t got the bottle.”

“Nor me, that’s why I’m offering to pay.”

Shyness got the better of us, instead we opted for a five mile walk up the shore which only had a vague path in places and was very tough going. Treating it like a route march, trying to ignore the pain in our legs, we trooped along.

For the last two hours I was able to flash my pathetic torch and get a response from Ady and David flashing the headlights on the car, confirming our suspicions that they had not done the walk in the opposite direction. The route along the shores was very wearing with no real opportunity to pick up a brisk even pace. We tried walking hard for a few minutes at a time but were quickly thwarted by undulating terrain and difficult tributaries to manipulate. I played games in my head of trying to judge the remaining distance against our pace and came up with estimated times of arrival between 2300 and 0200.

I felt the walk would never end and knew that I had over done it and with darkness also came exhaustion. I tried to put it from my mind and kept just concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other but the necessity of frequent rests gave me too much opportunity to dwell on our situation.

I cursed myself for the stupidity of taking on this walk, this had been my big idea, too ambitious. Something that I have fallen into before, like the final year project on my degree; I could not keep it simple and instead designed and built something that took every spare moment that I had for six months. When I was 16 I scraped all the money I had together and bought a new bicycle. The next day I took it for a test ride, 150 miles. Setting off at 0630 and arriving home after 2200 barely able to pedal, so exhausted I could not speak, just managing to point out on the map where I had been to my Mother’s shock as she prepared me soup. Soup that I could only just manage to pass through my lips before a night of hallucinations and a racing heart.

I was overcome with a sense of relief when the dark shape of the dam at the head of the loch became more focused, our haven where David and Ady waited for us in the car. Within a quarter of a mile of the end I had to rest from exhaustion by way of laying down in the heather, I simply could not go on and my heart felt as if it were racing inside my limp body. Andy stood over me, “You need to get up Steve, keep going.”

“I can’t,” I replied.

“We are nearly there.”

“My heart’s racing, go and tell the others.”

Andy peered down at me through the half light “Okay, try and rest. I’ll go and tell the others.”

Lying, alone, half drunk with tiredness, with the heather scratching the back of my neck, I realised how much I had overdone it. It was my ‘bright’ idea to do this walk, clearly now proven to be poor judgement. I tried to move my legs but they were just dead appendages. My heart was racing and I could not regulate my breathing. I just laid back, accepting that I was now reliant on David and Ady finding me. A dreamy twenty minutes passed with hallucinations flirting with lucidity. Slowly my strength started to return and I came to my senses and managed to struggle to the car. I fell in through one of the back doors and found Andy half asleep. David and Ady soon appeared from their aborted attempt to find me and we set off back. The fact that they must have walked within a few yards of me calling out, and I never heard them, hit home just how remote the highlands are.

On the trip back to our cottage, in The Kyle of Loch Alsh, we got stopped by the police, it was very late and at the time some IRA prisoners had just escaped from Brixton Prison and this would have been a recognised route for them to escape back to Ireland.

After an early morning feast I amazingly slept until 1145 the following morning. Years later Ady told me that they had waited for about five hours for us at the dam, only having one tape they now knew the words to all the Abba tracks by heart.

We felt that we wasted much of the holiday and just had a few trips around with no further Munros to add to an earlier failed attempt at the Five Sisters Of Kintail. We did not get over to Skye, the classic destination from The Kyle Of Loch Alsh, until the last day of the holiday. We also crashed the car twice, once David reversed it into a picnic table causing about £1000 of damage to the car and about £5 worth of damage to the picnic table. Another trip out was a revisit to Loch Mullardoch so that Ady could do a time trial up the road from Cannich. This was because he was too young to drive the hired mini bus in 1989 and missed out on the time trials that we did then. Therefore it was his turn to try his hand at the Cannich to Mullardoch road in a Ford Sierra. At one stage in the road is a wooden bridge, just before we hit it I said "the wood will be wet Ady." I meant this just as a warning but Ady thought it was best to apply the brakes as hard as he could and we slid all over the place and hit the side runners of the bridge denting the wheel and losing its trim. The collision was so great that we thought that there would be much more damage to the car but we were lucky with the little damage that we caused.

 

Going Solo

 

During 1991 my company based me in Glasgow to continue working on a computerised 999 call taking project for Strathclyde Police. The proximity to the Highlands added nine new Munros to my list. This may sound a good start, given that I achieved none in 1989 and only one in 1990, but I always felt that I could have made more of an effort.

The project infiltrated my life and at a very young age I was given a lot of technical responsibility. This primarily came about because all the senior technical staff had left leaving me at the tender ages of 23 through to 26 having more responsibility than I otherwise would have had. The skills shortage threw me in at the deep end with a multimillion pound project and I was left to sink or swim. I think I bobbled about on the surface for the most of it. The project was late, became very political and all of us working in Glasgow were under a lot of pressure. However the strife and the common cause bonded us with the customer to make the project a success. For myself I felt a student in the university of life and welcomed the chance to sharpen up my technical skills.

I made friends with one of the police officers on the project, Willy Newlands. Willy soon discovered that I was an apprentice Munro bagger and he took me up the popular Ben Lomond, the most southerly of the Munros, on the May bank holiday.

After the Kyle Of Loch Alsh holiday I increased my Munro tally by six. For the first of these I thought that I would be brave and on Saturday August the 10th I took the train from Glasgow Queen Street to Tyndrum Lower arriving in time to start walking at 1100. I almost did not make it because the guard failed to call the stop and my carriage was not lined up with the platform. By pure chance I happened to look out of the window and caught sight of the tail end of the platform, leaping to my feet I made a mad dash to get out before the train set off again.

On the platform I had my usual panic of making sure I had collected everything together and nothing was left on the train. The sudden rush of adrenalin did not aid my mental state of venturing onto the hills alone, hills covered in cloud.

I found the going tough but was thankful that I could rest whenever the notion took my fancy. I was soon into the cloud and the rain. With my map case letting in water and my gloves becoming a squelching mass I made progress. After much worry of solo navigating, with the continual unease of leaving the security of the railway station behind, I reached the summit of the first Munro of the day, Beinn Dubhcraig at 1500. I then set off for Ben Oss and reached its summit in a further hour. Here a crowd of other walkers turned up, one called out "here is another one" - my god how many were they doing I thought, any sense of pride in having soloed two was relegated to mere inner satisfaction.

It had rained all day and by this time I had got very wet and the poor visibility did not aid my comfort. I cut down via Coire Bidhe and was pleased when Tyndrum came into view through the heaviness of the mist and rain.

The Little Chef restaurant in Tyndrum, a trap for the holidaymaker motoring north, proved to be my sanctuary. I ordered myself a massive feast, a reward for my days efforts, and once devoured I spent a long time in the loos drying myself off with the hand dryer. I then just sat at the table hoping that the staff would not ask me to go back out into the rain, fortunately I was left in peace. When it was time to leave I ventured back to the station and waited for the welcome sight of the train.

Working at the Police Headquarters in Glasgow meant that we were in frequent meetings and informal discussions with the police. Willy Newlands often stopped by my desk for a technical discussion about an issue or a brief social chat. He brought the subject of further Munros up so one evening I studied the only map I had with me, that with Ben Dubhcraig and Ben Oss on it. Willy dropped by my desk again and broached the subject of a further Munro bagging expedition during a weekend. I was keen and we started to talk about which Munros to do. He mentioned a few names and I knowledgeably chipped in a few for good measure. After a while Willy tipped his head back and roared with laughter as he said, “Steve, we can’t be just doing the Munros on your map.” He should have been a detective.

On Sunday August the 25th Willy drove myself and Mike Linnett, a contractor working for us on the project, up to do Ben More and Stob Binnien. It was after breakfast when we set off from Glasgow and I perched myself in the back of Willy’s Ford Fiesta. After a while I felt uncomfortable as my nose began to run and my breathing tightened. I then noticed dog hairs. “Willy, do you have dogs in the back of your car?” I asked.

“Aye.” Mike and I swapped seats and I was able to travel in more comfort with the window slightly down.

The two Munros of the day were near to the village of Crianlarich and we parked in a lay by at foot of Ben More, setting off walking at 1015. I found the climb tough going and Mike and Willy frequently got far ahead which I found frustrating. When they waited, and I would catch them up, they would take it as a cue to move on. After a few occurrences of this I asked them to wait so I could catch my breath but I did not dare even twitch in case they saw that as a cue to move on. This evoked feelings from childhood, when on bike rides I would often lag behind and my friends would wait for me to catch up. Once caught up they would set straight off again, having had their rest. I’d question this and be told that as I had been going slower then I must have been exerting less effort and therefore did not need a rest. They assumed that our bodies were equal and that I was merely dawdling.

We reached the peak of Ben More in less than three hours and went on to claim Stob Binnien in just under a further hour. There were reasonable views on the way up but both summits became covered in cloud in between the arrival of Mike and Willy then myself some twenty minutes later. My breathing problems denied me a view from the clear tops. I found trailing behind Mike and Willy quite demoralising and decided that there were definite advantages to solo walking, finding my own pace, not worrying about dropping back behind other people, being able to rest and savour the view when it was there.

Finally for the year, Sunday September the 22nd, myself, Willy Newlands, Mike Linnett and a chap nick named Snigger tackled An Caisteal and Beinn a'Chroin. From the road south of Crianlarich we set off, on the six hour round trip, in good weather which held until I was approaching the first summit whereupon cloud and a subsequent down poor ensured that we got the brunt of the wind and rain which lead me to get a reputation for attracting the bad weather.

I commented at the top of Beinn a'Chroin that I had now done 10 Munros and had only 267 to go. A fellow walker then kindly told me that a Corbet had just been reclassified to a Munro so I still had 268 to go! I realised at this stage the sheer enormity of the task that lay before me and I had elected to participate in a somewhat gruelling hobby. A Corbet is the next series of peaks being those below 3000 but above 2500 feet. Subsequently the information supplied by the walker, about the promoted Munro, proved to be incorrect and, for the time being, the total Munros stood at 277.

Munro Count: 10 out of 277


 

1992

 

A Winters Walk

 

The year 1992 brought more determination to have a crack at the Munros. I achieved fifteen in three separate trips which more than doubled my total to date but in real terms only a scratch at the surface. The first was Ben Wyvis and to be my only Munro walked in the winter equinox – in Scottish mountaineering the term ‘winter’ is more often lent to describe the conditions rather than the time of year.

Starting at 1000 I made steady progress, the need for frequent stops for rest had not gone but my body and mind was better able to cope with it than in previous years. Just over two and a half hours later I was walking the very windy summit ridge.

During May I hired a cottage on my own for a week in Drumnadrochit. I made life easy for myself by taking the train to Glasgow and hiring a car from there on. The cottage was a bit too modern for my taste but comfortable nonetheless.

On Sunday May the 24th I took in Toll Creagach and Tom a'Choinich, starting from Glen Affric at 1045. After some initial groundwork I struggled a bit on the approach to the first Munro, Toll Creagach. My navigational skills have never been that hot and I was unsure of my bearing. I really wanted to press on but it was becoming a reality that I would have to abandon all the hard climbing done so far and return to the car. Feeling uptight in exasperation I pleaded to the god that I have never believed in to clear the clouds so I could see the peak. My prayers were immediately answered and the cloud blew off the summit for no more than fifteen seconds, plenty of time to get a fix and proceed. I could imagine a committee of white haired old men in the sky raising their eyebrows at my request and passing on a message to the weather god to "let him have fifteen seconds then close up again, the rest is down to him."

During those few seconds the clouds swept down off the mountains and performed a striptease with the sky I thought how easy it would have been for people in ancient times to truly believe that the mountains were mystical and produced the weather (which of course in a sense they do). The Inca tribes believed in mountain gods that had to be pacified into giving their peoples good weather, they even went as far as making child sacrifices in pacification. It’s very easy to scorn this behaviour but putting myself in their shoes, with the limited scientific knowledge available to them, it would be very easy to think that a storm ranging down off a mountain was because the mountain gods were angry with them.

I reached the top of Toll Creagach in just over three hours whereupon the weather cleared, evidently I was in favour, to reveal fantastic views down Loch Mullardoch, one of my favourite places. I then took an hour and a half to walk to Tom a'Choinich, completing the Munros that I had abandoned in 1989, before the descent back to the car to complete the seven hour round trip.

The following day I was due to meet Willy Newlands but I was unable to get through to confirm the arrangements. I travelled down to the tentative meeting place in case he made it but no luck. Therefore I was in Glen Coe and decided to do Sgorr Dhearg - Beinn a'Bheithir and Beinn a'Beithir - Sgorr Dhonuill. I started at 1130 from South Ballachulish and reached the first Munro in just under four hours after missing my way and ending up on a very scary steep bit. I nearly considered not going for the second summit but soon changed my mind and in fact reached it just an hour and a half hour later. The weather had been perfect all day with fantastic views until I stood on top of the second peak whereupon a thunder storm closed in and I watched the forks of lightening dance off the peaks about me until I decided that it was getting a bit too close for comfort and headed down. It was a fantastic sight and one that will live with me forever. The power and beauty of nature had combined to give a magnificent spectacle.

Deciding that my Munro tally was a bit low I contrived to make the numbers a little more respectable by taking in the Glen Shiel ridge with its seven Munros in a day. So at 0810 on May the 28th I set out from the Cluainie Inn on the A87 and reached the first Munro of Creag a'Mhaim at 1105. Then Druim Shionnach at 1155, Aonach air Chrit at 1252, Maol Chinn-dearg at 1419, Sgurr an Doire Leathai at 1525, Sgurr an Lochain at 1610 and Creag nan Damh at 1755. By the fourth Munro I got the first hint that all was not well with one of my knees. Considering the situation, and being at the point of no return (that being the easiest way off was to complete the ridge) I continued. By the fifth Munro the mild knee ache became pain which I controlled to some degree by tying my scarf tightly around it, by the sixth excruciating and by the seventh I was hopping along with a crutch fabricated from a broken ski/trekking pole that I had found. I was in agony and was the last person around, fellow walkers had long since streamed past me – any sense of pride had been lost, I’d have asked for help. The very lonely steep descent took an age, by twisting my body on each step I could keep my body weight on my good leg and just use the leg with the poor knee as a counterbalance. Thanking the weather gods for holding a mixture of clear and sunny spells, with the odd rain shower from a wandering cloud, I began to appreciate the deep meaning of the old adage that ‘adversity introduces a man to himself.’

I did not get back to the A87 until 2000 where I felt nauseas with the pain, the seven miles back to the car were not possible, my inner soul had got me off the mountain and plonked me down on the verge in a place of relative safety. Realising what my body was telling me to do I stood up and for the first time in my life stuck out my thumb and relegated myself to a once a noble pursuit now, post Thatcher, regarded as an occupation for the great unwashed. A number of cars passed, nobody stopped. I started to slowly walk, I did not want this, I could not do this. I happened upon a lay-by and I discovered the art of hitchhiking. Back tracking to a hundred yards before the lay-by I allowed potential savours the chance to view me, make a decision and pull into the lay-by. It worked, within a minute I was safely ensconced in the back of a car being co-driven by two Italian girls who could speak very little English and I could speak no Italian. The drive felt like ages and underlined the extent of the days walk. On a couple of occasions I tried to tell them that I had been on the top of the hills that day but they misinterpreted top to be ‘stop’ and I had to explain that no I really wanted this lift!

Back at the cottage the pain in my right knee made it apparent that there was to be no more mountains this week.

 

August Bank Holiday

 

My final trip to Scotland of the year was with Ady Glover and we chose the August bank holiday weekend as a convenient time. We hired a car for the weekend and drove up from Wiltshire, stopped off in Glasgow then headed for the Highlands. We planned to walk for at least two of the days but in the event we made our only walk of the weekend on the Saturday August the 29th. We started from Arrochar (Succoth) at 1025 and reached the summit of Beinn Narnain in just under three hours.

Unfortunately my knee complaint had not healed and it started to hurt very badly on the descent. I struggled up the second Munro of the day, Beinn Ime, and got there in a further two hours. By this time I was in a lot of pain and had had enough. Unfortunately Ady wasn’t hearing me and I got talked into going up Ben Vane, a day trip in its own right. We got there at 1835 and we were far away from the car. I felt ill with the pain and full of anger. Ultimately I should not have given into Ady’s persistence in going for the third summit but I did and in retrospect I blame myself for being too weak willed to say no. At the time I blamed Ady but largely managed to keep my feelings to myself. Ady only realised my pain near the summit and offered to swap rucksacks as mine was much heavier than his. It is amazing how ones perception of events can vary as years later Ady mentioned that he “had to carry me up Ben Vane,” my recollection is that I was very slow and we swapped rucksacks for only the last few minutes of the ascent. His idea of “carrying me” was to keep about 100 yards ahead of me and occasionally wait for me to catch up. Once at the top I realised the extent of my exhaustion and our predicament in terms of time; 1835 is very late in the day for being on the summit of a mountain. After a struggle down the hill with my knee feeling like a pin jabbing tribe of pygmies had settled behind it we got to the hamlet of Inveruglas (on the A82) at 2130, miles away from our car and with no accommodation booked. The prospect of a ten mile walk along the dark road was daunting especially as the previous clear weather had now yielded to drizzle and rain. To add to the despair the only phone box was accepting nothing but operator and 999 calls. I felt extremely low, exhausted, angry at our predicament. I got Ady to beg with the operator to give us free phone calls to the Arrochar Hotel and a Taxi firm. Very luckily both of these businesses answered first time and came up trumps.

I learnt a big lesson on this walk. I must trust my own instinct if only to have myself to blame. Ultimately I should have said no to Ady.

The rest of the weekend was not so successful in terms of the weather for it rained heavily the next day and we just drove about visiting a few odd things. As we had a hire car Ady wanted to drive it as fast as possible in contrast to me who gets freaked out by fast driving. At one stage we were heading down a steep hill in driving rain, as we approached the bottom of the hill I was yelling at Ady to slow down. He was doing 110mph. I was concerned that there would be standing water at the bottom of the hill, fortunately there was not and we survived which gave me the opportunity to yell at Ady some more. Thinking back to this event, the walk the previous day, the car crash we had on the bridge in Glen Cannich in 1991 and Ady’s bum sliding activities that resulted in him being helicopter rescued off Carn Mor Dearg in 1990 leads me to the conclusion that the gene that allows one to sense danger has malfunctioned in him.

 

Munro Count: 25 out of 277

 


 

1993

 

Alone in Glasgow

 

In December 1992 my partner, Gisella and I moved from our rented house in Great Bedwyn into an old property in Marlborough that we bought to do up. This meant that I changed Doctors and during an introductory appointment I mentioned about the problems with my knees. The Doctor examined them and then she asked me when I got the problems. “Oh after five to six hours of walking up mountains,” I replied. I could sense her desperation to hit the buzzer and shout “next”. I’d have to seek out alternative treatments but I feared whether this would prevent me from ever finishing the Munros. I resolved to plod on; the need to do them was real and powerful. Very little would stop me.

In the May I had a short spell between jobs and elected to spend some of it Munro bagging. I arranged to depart on May the 29th. The day before I confided in Gisella that I was nervous about the drive. Just the length of it I guessed.

I set off early, 0630, and soon discovered that I was very tired. I stopped at various service stations and bought food that I did not want just so that I could force a rest. I felt myself lose concentration a couple of times so I stopped and dozed for a few minutes. I could not get it out of my head that I was not happy with this journey. I pressed on and the day passed by with the miles. As the M6 ended and Scotland began so did the A74. It was undergoing a major upgrade with some bits up to motorway standard and other bits still the old dual carriageway with interspersed road works. Consequently the traffic was pulsating between fast and slow sections. Still feeling tired I stopped in a lay-by. As I came to rest another car pulled in and just clipped my wing mirror. A very minor incident, with no damage done, but it added to my state of anxiety.

Once suitably rested I continued with the journey. Soon, in my rear view mirror, I could see an MG Midget. I am very fond of the MG marque so slowed down to let it pass enabling me to get a better look at it. The Midget nipped by and was off into the distance. I remained in the inside lane as I was able to maintain an adequate speed. I was approaching an ever so slight incline when suddenly a black cloud of smoke mushroomed high in the air with a column of similar smoke propping it up like a nuclear explosion. It did not look good at all. Within a few seconds it was all in sight and I pulled up. A car angled towards the central reservation was a complete fireball and another car to the left had its front on fire.

I killed my engine and, for some unknown reason, grabbed my wallet and sprung out of the car. The fire in the first car I saw had engulfed it to such a degree that barely any metal was visible. It was roaring with thick black acrid smoke being flung out of the furnace. A woman with smouldering hair was standing to the left, she was bent forward and bringing her arms up and down whilst screaming "help me, help me, my bairns." A man to the right of the car was picking up some tool debris that had obviously been strewn when the cars collided. He picked up what looked to me like a hammer and was shouting, "I'm going to kill you, you bastard." I looked to my left and saw that this anger was directed toward the driver of the other car who was standing by his fire bound vehicle. The first man started to run towards the other with his hammer. I diverted my path and blocked him and with my arms raised said "it’s no use, it’s no use." I went to see what could be done. Nothing. The car was so alight that to get anywhere near it would have been certain death.

The screaming woman and the man that I had blocked had managed to get out of their car but were unable to rescue their two daughters who were sat in the back. Myself and a rapidly expanding group of other motorists stood and watched our eyes slowly becoming accustomed to the darkness. I kept thinking that the kids would suddenly emerge from the car unscathed. My mind did not want to accept the reality as an option. They were clearly dead.

The driver of the second car was removing articles from his car. As the front was on fire, from the impact, I suggested that he and everybody else should move away from it. He said it was a diesel so it would not explode. Not being one to question his knowledge on the flash point of diesel I retreated and left him to it.

Both directions of the dual carriage way were blocked and we were about seven miles north of Lockerbie, of all places. We had to stand through each of the four tires exploding in turn sending out a punch of flame with it. The driver of the second car joined a group of us and asked if anybody had a light for a cigarette. He asked quite a few people not realising the tragic connotation of his request. During this time the father of the two children was on a bank opposite shouting abuse at the driver of the second car.

"Your dead pal."

"I'm going to find you, you fucking bastard."

"Do you know where we have been today you fucking bastard."

“Do you know?”

"To see the kids Granny, she is dying in hospital."

"You bastard. Your dead you fucking bastard."

And so the language and the abuse grew and with it the horror and the futility of the situation. I could sense the "C" word coming, it was almost a relief when it did. A woman was praying and saying "Lord have mercy on him, he does not know what he is saying." The driver of the second car said, "You can not blame him." This was a statement that I was questioned in detail on in the ensuing court case.

After what felt like an age the emergency services arrived, unfortunately the fire brigade last. Perhaps it was fortunate, if they had arrived first then the parents of the dead children might have tried to reach them in the tortured metal remains of their car instead of being sedated by the ambulance crew. I gave a statement to the police, for what it was worth. I think most of the witnesses were in shock, we all spent about three hours at the scene. The practical approach of the emergency services struck home the cruel reality of the situation. Some people at the scene, I heard, complaining about the waste of their afternoon. Some late arrivals, not fully aware of, or not suitably shocked by, the situation took photographs. There was no sign of the little MG Midget that I slowed down to see. If it had never been there I’d have kept up my speed and perhaps never known this had happened.

Once the road was cleared I carried on my journey to Glasgow. When I worked in Glasgow there was mirth about a hotel called Duncan's hotel around the corner from ours. It always looked very seedy and the joke was that if you were bad you would have to stay there. I had stayed there twice the previous year whilst passing through Glasgow on the way north. It was grim and run down but cheap. This time I was destined for it again. The grimness of the hotel was no longer amusing, it was now depressing. I went for a walk. When I worked in Glasgow it was the European City of Culture, there were always friends about, people to go for a pint with after work, a buzz, a good time. As I walked I now noticed the dirty buildings not the ones that had been cleaned. Where before there were friends there was now nobody. I crossed at a crossing and two lads in their van revved the engine and laughed as they succeeded in making me jump. Suddenly I was alone in Glasgow.

 

Half Hearted Munroing

 

I spent a few days being miserable about Glasgow and did not set north until Tuesday June the 1st where I joined Willy Newlands to do Meall nan Tarmachan and its famous ridge. Willy brought his two dogs along which he claimed, in his usual dry style, that he got to keep after losing a long, and bitter, custody battle with his wife. It was cloud and mist all day and I found it a bit of a struggle. The ridge, being in cloud and not being a Munro, was against my better judgement. When Willy and I parted company I felt sad and alone.

I looked around for accommodation and felt that the world was conspiring against me as all that was available was quite expensive. After about an hour of trying I saw a sign for a B&B on the road between Tyndrum and Crianlarich. I turned into the drive in a hesitant mood because I often find that the proprietors of these establishments feel that they have adopted you for the evening and any painful rule that they can think of on the spot will be relayed to you with the glee that they get from knowing that it is restricting you as much as running a B&B does to them. This was to be no exception. On arrival the chap running the place said that they only had a double room left. I said I would leave it before he offered to split the difference between the price of a single and the price of a double. Then followed the house rules as he directed me to my room. After about ten minutes of interrogation I just wanted my own space and was glad when he left me to it in my room. However he called by every few minutes by way of a sharp heart jumping knock on the door. Initially it was the extra rubbish that he had forgotten to tell me on the previous monologue but on the antepenultimate visit he complained about my wet boots soaking the newspaper that I had put beneath them. The penultimate visit included an observation on the odour of the deep heat that I had put on my aching knee, “You’re honking man,” was the greeting I got as I answered the door for what felt like the eighth time. By this time I was getting fed up and I think the annoyance showed on my face. The final visit was all too much to bear, I opened the door to see him standing there in his clan Marks and Spencer kilt informing me that I had better hurry if I wanted an evening meal. This time I could not help keep the laughter back, he was clearly put out by my seeing his dress sense as humorous and left me to myself for the rest of the evening. Years later I relayed this account to a friend who thought that perhaps he was gay and was trying to seduce me. Perhaps so, I was only 27 at the time and still had a bit of a baby face.

I rested on June the 2nd and was rejoined by Willy on the 3rd along with Mike Linnett. We attempted Meall Glas and Sgiuth Chuil, with an initial hiccup of a farmer being unhappy with Willy taking his dogs onto the hills because of the lambing. After kennelling was negotiated we started the ascent. Soon we found ourselves in deep mist and deep conversation about odd jobs we had done in our adolescence, e.g. paper rounds, cleaning shops etc. Each trying to win the mantle of ‘biggest mug’ we overlooked the fact that nobody was glancing at a map or even attempting the art of mountain navigation.

“Where are we?” asked Willy.

Mike and I looked gormless.

“You are the oldest Willy?” I added.

“What the fucks that got to do with it Steve?”

“And you are a policeman, if lost you should always ask a policeman,” chipped in Mike, backing me up.

“So, what you are saying,” Willy was drawing out his words slowly, “is that because I am an Officer of Her Majesty’s law and older than you two you are blaming me for the fact we haven’t a fucking clue where we are?”

Mike and I nodded in defeat. I was all for trying to bag them but the others could see what a fruitless exercise it would have been not knowing where we were in the mist.

Willy had to work the following day so Mike and I agreed to stay for one more day and found a hotel for the night. It was the same hotel that I had checked out of in the morning, having moved on from the Gay Gordons, and we were allocated the very same room that I had been in.

On June the 4th we tackled Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh. Starting from Bridge of Orchy at 1105 we reached the summit of the first Munro two and a half hours later and that of the second in a little over four hours into the day. There was a good view on the way up but cloud and gales on the summits. The top of Beinn an Dothaidh was atrocious and we could hardly stand as the rain bullied us all the way. Once the two soggy "mountaineers" reached the cars we headed for the Little Chef at Tyndrum for refreshment and a chance to get dry. This brought back memories of my first solo Munro bagging expedition where I had got the train up from Glasgow, got soaked and spent ages drying myself off in the Little Chef.

After Mike left to go back home to his parents in Edinburgh I could not make up my mind what to do. It was Friday, I felt alone, and I had to get back home sometime over the weekend. I set off and with a half hearted attempt to look for a hotel. In the event I ended up driving all the way back to Marlborough arriving at just after seven in the morning.

 

Munro Count: 28 out of 277

 


 

1994

 

Braemar

 

After a gap of three years the time felt right to arrange another holiday with David George and Andy and Ady Glover. I met David at his flat near Paddington Station, taking the tube to Kings Cross and then the train to Perth, changing at Edinburgh on route, rendezvoused us with Andy and Ady. We then did a big food shop and drove in Andy’s heavily laden Fiesta to Braemar, the poor car was only a 950CC and struggled on the hills while David and I sat wedged in the back amongst luggage and bags of food. We had taken a cottage called the ‘Knock’ near Braemar and found it to be a very up market place, very well done out. Unfortunately it had a television and it was always going to be a tough job to drag the Glover brothers away from the set.

Our first walk was as a foursome on Sunday May the 1st and took in Beinn Bhrotain and Mondah Mor. We started off by wondering whether we should walk down the private road, from the Linn of Dee, or chance it and drive.

“I think we should park here and not drive Andy.”

“Do you reckon Steve?”

“Nah, the gates open lets go,” replied Ady.

“But there is a loose chain and padlock,” I added.

“Who’s going to come and lock it on a Sunday?” retorted David with a hint of a condescending tone.

“Nobody else is driving down,” I replied.

“Go for it Andy,” added Ady.

“I’m not sure,” responded Andy.

“It’ll save us hours,” chipped in David.

Andy, always a sucker for a lazy option, stuffed the fiesta into first gear and we bounced our way onto the track with no guarantee that the gate would not be locked on our return. After a mile or so we could see a Land Rover in the fields to our left suddenly divert its course towards the track. I immediately thought ‘we are in trouble’ and was not surprised when the Land Rover blocked our path and the driver, clothed in deerstalker and tweed, jumped out of his vehicle and headed for us. Andy wound down the window as I tried to sink deep into the rear passenger seat and disappear. I felt myself cringe as the estate worker explained the bleeding obvious.

“You can no be bringing your car down the track, it’s private.”

“The gate was open,” added Andy with all the defence of a child handing a broken ornament to a parent.

“You’ll have to be turning around, it was lucky I caught you otherwise you’d have had your car locked in.”

So back we turned and, with the humiliation of other walkers strolling past, drove back to the public road where we parked up and set off on foot at 1030. By now I was keen to get going and I’d felt agitated towards the others as they procrastinated over donning walking boots and coats. Though I took comfort from the thought that had we continued then we would have been forced to leave the car at the gate, walk back to the cottage and then make a few cringe filled telephone calls to beg for the release of Andy's car.

We reached the summit of Beinn Bhrotain in just under five hours after crossing a few snow slopes that caused my head to hurt from the glare of the sun. David brought two CB radios with him so we had some fun by putting distance between each other and then holding daft conversations. After reaching the summit Andy and Ady turned back as they had arranged to meet two friends at the cottage so just David and I pressed on for Mondah Mor. We reached it at 1640, good going but alas a long way back to base. In places the snow was quite deep and I felt miserable as it tipped over my boots freezing my feet with melt water. Cutting back to the glen, for the outward retreat, we took in some very deep patches, giving David and I the opportunity to revert to our degree days when, as flatmates, we used to have snowball fights on the back streets of Brighton. Like Inspector Clouseau and Kato each promise of a truce was about as sincere as a used car salesman as snowball after snowball was pounded into each other.

The walk back was very long and arduous, we ran out of food for the last few hours which made the walk that much more tough. Reaching the Linn of Dee at 2230 still left us with a long walk back to the cottage, Andy’s Fiesta having long since conveyed the brothers back. This is where David is so useful because he had no hesitation in flagging down a car and asking for a lift. I admired his confidence just as I admired the way that the couple that stopped, to avoid running him over as he stood arms outstretched in the road, did not put up any resistance as we piled into the back of their car.

Back at the cottage we found the entire place locked up with no sign of a key or Andy and Ady. So tired and fed up we sat on the doorstep for about an hour until they returned.

After a rest day, which was full of the news of the death of Ayrton Senna, Ady and I tackled the three Munros that are readily accessible from the Glenn Shee ski area. Andy elected not to do these as his feet had blistered badly from the previous walk and David elected to combine a day of keeping Andy company with spending some time by himself. After winching Ady out of bed we started walking shortly after midday, navigating between the ski lifts we reached the summit of the Cairnwell in under an hour and a half. On the way up we found four pound coins and a fifty pence in change on the ground. The coins were very grey and the newest was dated 1985. We could only guess they fell out of some fallen skiers pocket many years ago and we promptly renamed our affectionate term for this pursuit, ‘Munny Bagging’ to ‘money bagging!’

These three Munros are some of the easiest to do as the starting point is so high, however this does not mean the summits are any lower and are therefore positioned to receive the full wroth of the Scottish weather. Today was no exception. On the way to Carn a'Gheoidh we made reasonable progress but we found navigation difficult in the hard rain and very strong wind. I felt many moments of misery with Ady, clearly stronger than me, being held back by my pace. With the tops of my legs aching the weather did not allow us to spend any recovery time at the summit, arriving and leaving at 1545 before pressing onto Carn Aosda which we reached in just over six hours from the start of the day. The wind on the summit of Carn Aosda made conversation almost impossible but we just managed to use the CB set to radio back to Andy and David that we were at the top of the last Munro. They had gone off for the day and arranged to pick us up from the ski lift car park. As we descended we kept in contact and when the ski area came into view, a murky grey picture that we could just peer at through the driving rain, we asked Andy to flash his headlights so we could see him. He did so which was a welcoming sight and allowed us to head for him. Although we could see them it apparently took a long time before they could make out the two grey silhouettes descending the mountain.

After another rest day May the 5th arrived and David and I decided to do Derry Cairngorm and perhaps another if time allowed. We did a long walk in from Invery then via Linn of Dee and Derry Lodge. This is a formidable building set against Scots Pine with the Southern Cairngorms as a backdrop. Derry Lodge is long abandoned but some attempt has been made to protect it by boarding the windows. Parts of the roof had now let and it is sadly going to decay unless the estate put some money into it for emergency repairs. It was tough walking down such a long track and the day was not helped by the weather being poor on top and I found it a real struggle. However I wanted to press on for Ben Macdui but David, quite rightly, talked me out of it. The approach to Derry Cairngorm was quite intricate with many cairns on route. Given that each felt like the summit (visibility was so poor that you could not see if we were on top) we were reliant on David's excellent navigation and his 1:25000 scale map that showed each cairn. The amount of iron in the rocks did not help as it threw the compasses so we could not rely upon them. We reached the summit at 1620 and arrived back in the Linn of Dee very late and David flagged down another vehicle for a free ride back to the cottage.

Throughout the week Ady’s late starts had become a source of frustration for us all. On one occasion we did not get out of the house until 1500 after Ady had taken his time getting up. The day of leaving was to be no exception with a reasonable start required for David and I to be able to catch our train from Perth. Ady’s procrastination meant that we missed our train and had a fairly long wait for the next one. Completely oblivious he volunteered to wait with us.

Unfortunately Perth railway station had been the victim of some vandalism to the extent that the gent’s toilets were only accessible by borrowing the key from the ticket office. All succumbing to the call of nature David obtained the key and we went to relieve ourselves. On the way out an old chap was walking in oblivious to the fact that the toilets were normally locked. David immediately locked him in much to the protests from Andy and me. Ady and David were cracked up with laughter when the poor old chap could be heard banging on the door after he had finished relieving himself. After about half a minute David went over to the door and called through “Are you locked in?” “Aye” came the reply, David called back “I’ll see if I can get a key.” With that David came and sat with us for a minute or so and then went and unlocked the door. Andy and I were very embarrassed but it is one of those things where David’s gift of carrying something through came off as the old guy was pathetically grateful to him for having “gone and got the key” especially to free him. It was very cruel and I was concerned that we would end up in loads of trouble. David's ability to get us into trouble is endless. When we were students, and flatmates, he wandered into my room and announced, "there is a disused military base just down the coast, do you fancy going to visit it?"

          It was a sunny evening and we had just taken our final exams. "Okay," I replied, having travelled around Northern France with him, visiting disused military structures, I knew this to be a hobby.

          "Are you sure about this?" I asked as we met with a barbed wire fence.

          "Yeah, we can soon climb it."

          With growing unease I followed him over and the ascent of a short, well-kept, grassy slope.

          Peering over the top of the bank we looked down upon a military barracks complete with armed patrols and dogs.

          "I thought you said..." but it was futile, David was hurtling down the bank. I caught up with him at the fence, "I thought you said it was disused?"

          "Let's get out of here."

          "Bloody understatement," I hissed back.

          As we drove off, passing a police car coming in the other direction, I reiterated "I thought you said it was disused."

          "It looked like it on the map."

          "Looked like it on the map, how could you bleeding well tell that?"

          "Well there were no red danger signs on it."

          "No red danger signs, I was expecting you to say it had 'disused military base' stamped on the map. Jesus Christ David, how would we have explained that one away? 'Oh sorry officer we just mistook this barbed wire fence and well kept grassy bank to be an error along with the missing red danger signs on the map'."

          "Well there's no need to be sarcastic," he replied.

          For a second, just a second, I felt sorry for him.

David and I arrived back at London’s Kings Cross Station in the late evening. I needed to make a dash across London to meet the last train to Great Bedwyn where Gisella was due to pick me up. We got on the tube at Kings Cross and were about to pull away when the carriage filled with smoke. Passengers were pouring out of the next carriage where it appeared the problem was. We took no time in joining in the spontaneous evacuation and as we were moving up the tunnels the public address system announced the emergency evacuation and closure of the station. I literally felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck. Kings Cross was the site of one of the worst fires in recent history and many passengers were wary and commenting about this. An old chap started to talk to David and said, “They had a big fire here a few years ago, scores of people killed.” David in all time under statement replied “You’d better get out then.” Once we surfaced the air was filled with the sounds of fire engines as the London Fire Brigade were throwing as many appliances as they could muster in the direction of Kings Cross. David and I did not fancy becoming part of the crowd scene so we hastened down to Euston and got the Tube to Paddington. We arrived with three minutes to go before my train left and I was without a ticket. So I dumped my rucksack with David and sprinted to the ticket office, got the ticket, sprinted back and made the train with seconds to spare. This fire, on the tube, was the third of four different fires that I was to be involved in over a five-year period.

 

August Bank Holiday

 

The next foray into the hills was a weekend away break where I flew to Glasgow on Friday August the 26th and met with Kevin Enright in a hotel near Queens Park. I was worried that Kevin would want to stay in the bar all evening but I managed to get out of a massive drinking session and instead had a good nights sleep before we were collected by our mutual friend, Mike Linnett. All three of us had worked on the infamous Strathclyde Police Command and Control Project therefore meeting in Glasgow was a convenient point. After our brief reunion, in the hotel lobby, Mike drove the three of us to Crianlarich where we found accommodation in a Bed and Breakfast. We tried a couple of places first and ended up settling on one where the guy decided that it was our divine right to be constantly talked to. His opinions always stood and anything to the contrary was greeted with a scowl.

However he did offer us some useful advice on the best route to tackle Beinn Tulaichean, fundamentally flawed due to a heavily flowing wide river being in the way. We forded that, getting very wet, before the long haul to the top taking about five hours. The weather was quite good on the way up but the top was in mist. Kevin found the walk a struggle, I did as well but I think it was tougher on him. We pressed on and after another hour reached Cruach Ardrain (which you could rearrange to be Cruac Hard Rain) from where we descended back to the car.

When we started in the morning a bull had got itself stuck across a gate in our path, obviously he had tried to charge it and broken the top two rails and was left straddled across the debris. As we crossed nearby he hardly gave us a look having long resigned himself to the fate of having the humiliation of the farmer setting him free.

Back at the guesthouse the proprietor, with all his expertise, came into action again. Our enquiries of the drying facilities that he had promised us were met with "Leave your boots on the pavement boys as otherwise it will make my house wet." He took great offence when I said that not only was I unhappy that the boots world not dry off on the pavement that it was not unfeasible that they would get stolen.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he said.

“Well my boots are new and they night prove tempting to somebody,” I replied.

He glared at me taking it as a complete insult to every Scotsman that had ever graced the planet. In the end I found myself apologising and conceding that the most likely source of crime in the Highlands would be English holidaymakers. It grated with me, especially as that kind of person is so used to going through life unchallenged that he manages to get his way. After this swift bit of renegotiating he took the boots in and dried them for us.

When we had taken the place we were greeted by his dog, initially I said that I was asthmatic and that I should not stay here. He reassured me by saying that the dog was not allowed upstairs. When we got upstairs after our walk his cat was freely roaming around.

Sunday August the 28th took in a miserable day of Ben Vorlich (Loch Lomond). Kevin decided to stay in the pub near Ardlui whilst Mike and I set out. We started at 1045 from Ardlui and reached the summit in just under four and a half hours. The weather was very wet, even my Gortex jacket let in water. Mike wanted to return by going down the south side toward the Ben Vane and Loch Sloy area. I wanted to go back the way we had come but Mike felt the longer route would be safer. I felt at the time that this was a mistake but as Mike was quite determined on his route compliance was a better option; he was genuinely worried about going back the way we had come, as there were some quite exposed places and the weather was very poor. My reasoning to go back the way we had ascended was that the alternative involved a long walk up the pavement less A82 where an equal danger was to be found by way of the motor vehicles in the pouring rain. Once on the A82 I was genuinely scared of the risk of being hit. This was the same ‘A’ road that Ady and I avoided by swift use of a taxi when bagging Ben Vane.

Graham Disselduff, another Strathclyde Police Command and Control Project veteran, was due to meet us at Crianlarich for the evening and I was hoping that he would drive past while we were doing the route march up the road, he did but within a hundred yards of Mike's car! Graham said he recognised my stoop from a long way off.

We collected Kevin from the pub, Mike and I had speculated on how many pints of beer he would have consumed and we were not surprised when Kevin greeted us with a sloppy lashed up grin.

“Six pints,” he exclaimed with pride.

“Just the one Munro for us,” I added.

“I’ve had a great day,” added Kevin.

Neither Mike nor I could retort with any hint that we had had a great day. In fact we had had a fairly dire day. Tired, wet and miserable, with only a total respect for each other having prevented a falling out over the route back, we just wanted back to the guesthouse for a shower. Kevin dutifully piled into Mike’s car sensing, through his beer filled view on the world, that further beverages would have to be delayed.

Once washed and feeling human again the four of us had an enjoyable evening before departing the following morning for Glasgow to kill some time before my flight. We parked on the edge of the centre and walked in and went to the cinema and watched ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral.’ From there we walked about a bit and it started to rain heavily. I suggested getting a taxi back to the car to avoid a twenty-minute walk. Kevin and Mike were non-committal. I said, "I'll pay for it." I got no response for they were already in the middle of the road flagging one down. From there Mike and Kevin dropped me at Glasgow airport for the flight back to Heathrow.

On the flight up a very attractive lady, I guess about the age of thirty-five, had sat next to me in the departure lounge and struck up conversation. I’m pretty hopeless at picking up signals but this did feel like flirting. By chance she was in the departure lounge for the return trip from Glasgow to Heathrow. She came across to me and I sensed an interest from her. We were in separate seats so on arrival at Heathrow I made for the baggage collection point. I knew that she had only hand luggage and thought it was best to try and avoid what could become a tricky situation. Whilst waiting for my baggage to appear on the carousel the public address system announced, on more than one occasion, "would Stephen Smith, recently arrived from Glasgow, please report to the customer services desk where somebody is waiting for him." I grabbed my bag and legged it! Now why did that never happen when I was single?

 

Munro Count: 37 out of 277

 


 

1995

 

The Big Ben

 

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Britain and being in Scotland is therefore the highest of all the Munros. Because Ben Nevis is special I intended to leave it to be my last Munro but during the run up to my thirtieth birthday, June the 27th 1995, I was looking for something memorable to do so decided that Ben Nevis would be the thing. I also wanted to celebrate with Gisella so we agreed to holiday together in Scotland during my birthday week. Gisella and I never spent much holiday together, this was to be only our third holiday in five years, mainly due to differences in interest. Touring around sunny cities was never for me and climbing Scottish mountains was never for Gisella. Whilst we discussed the holiday I was trying to find common ground so that we could both enjoy the week. I said that I was happy to just do the one Munro, Ben Nevis and she said she would be happy to have a crack at it. I was also concerned about money as we were currently in the expensive phase of doing up an old house and it was hard for Gisella to manage on her local government salary and she did not like the thought of me supporting her. Therefore I raised the possibility of camping for a few nights. Gisella gave me one of her quick ‘you must be kidding’ kind of glances and promptly informed me that her idea of camping was a bed and breakfast without en suite.

In the event we did not tackle Ben Nevis on my birthday as I had contracted the flu, mainly brought on by some swimming that Gisella and I did in a freezing rock pool at the very start of the week. Therefore the few days leading up to my birthday I spent bed ridden in a hotel in Drumnadrochit and it was not until some three days later, Friday June the 30th, that I did Ben Nevis. Gisella started the walk with me but the fear of falling and knee worries meant she had to drop out after an hour. It took me a while to persuade her to turn back; she was hanging on to turf for fear of falling on a slope that I regarded as an easy grade. She was determined to go on but I was very unhappy and I was glad when she conceded defeat and I was able to watch her walk back to her car, still in sight.

We had started near Glen Nevis Youth Hostel, a little after 0730, and I reached the summit at midday following the zigzag stone path all the way in the hot sun. All day the weather was sunny with haze and a little cloud. The views from the top were excellent, the ruined hut and the memorials at the top were very interesting and made it more of a pilgrimage than a mountain climb.

A German couple asked me "is it always this cloudy on top?” I replied "no" and attempted to explain how lucky they were to climb it without much cloud when in fact they were enquiring about whether the few wisps of cloud on view had any right to be there. It was a strange feeling looking northeast from the summit towards Carn Mor Dearg which was Munro number one more than five years previously.  I spent the best part of an hour taking in the glorious views from the top before starting the descent back into Glen Nevis. The zigzag path was tough on the feet and knees, the temptation to go fast was only bridled by the discomfort and consequently a more regular pace was achieved.

About an hour and a half into the return trip I met a couple ascending in the heat. He was about seventy, open necked shirt, which would not look out of place in an office, shorts and a white hat. She looked about ten years his junior, slim but out of condition. They might both have just walked off a bowling green.

“Much further to go?” he enquired.

“Err, a fair way,” I replied thinking that by the look of them they had at least seven hours ahead of them.

“We only set out at one o’clock, a bit of a late start.”

“Got much water?” I asked.

“One bottle.” I was beginning to get concerned about them. His face was red and covered in sweat, their footwear was average and the one rucksack was of no size to carry anything close to the right equipment.

“What about food?” I added.

“We had a big lunch, and have a few provisions. How long to the top do you think?” I was beginning to think that they would perish on route. By the look on my face they read my thoughts.

“Perhaps we’ll have a wander on for a bit.” And that is how we left it, presumably they continued for awhile to save the awkwardness in turning back with me.

I reached Glen Nevis at 1525 and took a further hour walking to Fort William meeting Gisella at the Grand Hotel where we were staying. In total I spent about six and a half hours up and back, the record for running the ascent and descent is about an hour and a half. I have spent much time just trying to make sense of how somebody can be that fit; it defies all belief to me.

 

August Bank Holiday

 

David George and I both felt that we had not done enough walking in the Cairngorms in May 1994 and therefore decided to do some walking together for this weekend. As time would be tight we decided to fly up and I drove to his house near Hampton Court on Friday August the 25th where we took his Land Rover to Heathrow for the flight to Inverness.

I did not want to take any spare footwear with me so I sat in the departure lounge wearing heavy leather boots and full gortex gaiters.

          “Afraid of flying over water are you?”

          I looked up to see the face of a typical self-assured, know it all, lump of a man.

“No,” I replied whilst secretly wishing I had the courage to tell him to fuck off.

          “You look an idiot in those boots, it’s summer now.”

          “Yes but I don’t want to carry spare footwear, so it is easier to wear them. We are camping soon after we land so time is also of the essence.”

          He sat back, smiled, crossed his arms, looked around at other passengers, trying to jolly them into a communal ridicule of me. I sat there wishing that the world did not produce people so unhappy with their own lives that they can’t just leave other people to get on with their own.

On the flight David and I got separated and I ended up sat next to a Tornado pilot, an interesting chat although he was taking full advantage of the free drinks on offer.

We arrived very late at Inverness and there was no chance of getting a train or a bus so we took a taxi down to Aviemore then beyond to just below the ski centre where we gave the taxi driver his well earned £40 and pitched up in David's tent. I found it tough to sleep as the tent was a new experience to me.

We started walking at just after 0800 and thought that we were losing civilisation for a few days however after two hours of getting wet trudging along, with the heavy packs, we reached the cafe at the top of the ski lift area. Amazingly it was open despite the horrible weather, it was too good an opportunity to miss so we delayed the ‘getting away from it all’ feeling for a short while and stuffed ourselves with drinking chocolate and cake. From the cafe it was an easier one hour of further walking to the summit of Cairn Gorm. From there we continued in the miserable rain and with me struggling with my full backpack we reached Ben Macdui at 1500. My breath intake is about 15% below the average that a person of my age, height, sex and weight should get, and I believe this really tipped the balance when it came to carrying a full pack. Ben Macdui is the highest mountain in the Cairngorm region and overall the second highest Munro. For many years it was thought to be the highest mountain in Scotland and I have heard some story that on discovery of Ben Nevis being taller there were some moves to raise its height, I have no idea if this is true.

We pressed on from Ben Macdui and decided to look for a suitable place to camp. At just after 1700 we strategically erected our tent, to the south east of Loch Etchachan, to maximise the full impact of the gale force winds that were to blow during the night. I only managed to get about three hours sleep due to the violent wind buffeting the tent and causing the material to flap wildly about my head. David and myself both had hooded sleeping bags, at one point I woke up to see a hooded figure sat up in the very dim light - “fuck me it’s the grim reaper" I yelled. We had picked the wind tunnel from hell.

In the morning we decided to leave our stuff in the tent and climb Beinn Mheadhoin with as little kit as possible. On route we discussed our options, me struggling with my backpack, the lack of sleep and miserable weather were hampering us. We did have ambitions of walking Beinn Bhreac, North Top and Ben Avon but realised that we would have needed at least one, if not two, extra days to do these. Therefore we decided to just walk Beinn Mheadhoin and leave the other three for a later date. We set off at 0830 and it took us just one and quarter hours to reach the rocky outcrop of a summit through poor weather. High wind rendering a proper rest at the summit impractical we descended a little, to another outcrop, and sat eating the rations we had carried in our pockets.  After a few minutes we were joined by two chaps who were making their ascent, we briefly shared our plans and experiences before they set off back down.

“David,” I said slowly.

“Yes,” he replied sensing the tone of my voice was leading up to something.

“You don’t suppose, those chaps just mistook us sitting here for the summit do you?”

Adding to the understatement he offered, “You could just be right Steve, just be right.”

“Should we go after them?”

“No,” he replied, “they’ll never know.” And I suppose they never will, unless they happen on this account and remember that they ‘climbed’ Beinn Mheadhoin early on Sunday August 27th 1995.

We got back to the tent at 1045 and I was very glad that the weather remained poor as I was able to snuggle deeply into my sleeping bag and listen to the Belgian Grand Prix. At 1330, and lap 28, there was a break in the weather and David wanted to get going. I was reluctant and despite my protests we got going with my radio stuffed inside the hood of my jacket, the wind was very strong but the rain did ease so my clothing dried out to some extent. We pitched the tent alongside the Fords of Avon Refuge Hut – open to those who wished to sleep in it. However it did not look very inviting so we preferred the tent instead. Life was much better at this point and we managed to get some rest.

The morning of Monday August the 28th brought in Beinn a' Chaorainn by walking without kit from the tent. We set off at 0920 and reached the summit an hour and a half later. There was no visibility at the top so it was nice when we dropped out of the cloud and could see the tent from the distance. We could see a chap wandering by, we speculated on the possibilities of him steeling items from it. We watched him for a while but fortunately, after some twenty minutes, he went on his merry way.

We got back to the tent at about midday and rested for about an hour and a half before packing up and setting off for the foot of Bynack More by its northerly access point. This hike took us three hours, by this time David had more than taken pity on me and was carrying the entire tent and stove by himself. At the foot of Bynack More we hid the kit amongst some rocks and free walked this Munro. It was such a relief to not have the pack that it really lifted my spirits. Bynack More is an interesting Munro with the Barns of Bynack situated as a wild isolated outcrop of rocks to the south east. The weather had eased by now and the views to the east were superb and I enthused about them powered on by miserable weather we’d had until now. We reclaimed our kit and carried on the path heading north and camping on high ground above Bynack Stable.

The following morning was a relatively short walk via the Glenmore Forest Park and a bus ride back to civilisation in Aviemore where we had a slap up meal in a cafe. David has always been a good mate but he does have the knack of putting his foot in it from time to time. Whilst queuing for our meal David spoke with an older chap in front of him. The chap was dressed quite smartly, David, overlooking the black tie, enquired, "Going somewhere nice?" The guy gesticulated towards a lady sitting at a table and in hushed tones he replied with "The wife's brothers funeral." David sat opposite me and said, "How was I supposed to know?" as I smiled and shook my head. From Aviemore we took the train to Inverness where we took the bus back to the airport.

Despite the bad weather I did enjoy my first experience of camping in Scotland. I learnt a few lessons, deciding that I will not bother with tins or crisps next time as the weight and size versus worth is not very good. It is worth remembering to camp above the line at which the midge can survive. This trip was pleasing as my knees behaved themselves; the exercises that the Doctor had given me obviously had an effect.

Shortly before this trip I had phoned up my parents. My Mum was out so I was able to have a longer chat with my Dad. I told him of David’s and my plans, he roughly knew the area we were going to as we had once been to the Cairngorms on a family holiday. Later in the conversation we got onto one of our usual topics, which is cars. He enquired as to how mine was running and I said fine and that I had just clocked 125,000 miles on it. He then mentioned something that I was vaguely aware of and that was in his first car he had got through three engines and had clocked 100,000 miles in five years. I said, "Hang on a second, you averaged 20,000 miles a year when you actually lived where you worked." He then told me the things he used to get up to in it, apparently it was nothing for him and some fellow young police officers to finish a shift in the early hours and then shoot up to the lakes, in his car, and bag Helvellyn. I never knew that, perhaps the love of mountaineering could be inherited. If it is then it is like malaria, once in the blood it is hard to get rid of. Later in the evening he phoned me back to say, "You know you have done Cairngorm before!"

"Really?" I replied.

"Yes, I've got a photo in my hand with you on top of it."

This was a surprise to me as I had no recollection of this trip, which apparently took place on a family holiday in 1978. I think the chair lift got involved somewhere along the line so I won't claim it as a genuine "bag." Although I could extend the length of time it took me to stand on top of them all by 12 years!

 

Munro Count: 43 out of 277

 


 

1996

 

The M74 and Youth Hostels Revisited

 

In the May I made my first drive to Scotland since the car crash that I had witnessed three years previously. The accident had left me nervous of long journeys, finding myself looking to make the trips by public transport whenever I could. However I was now beginning to feel more comfortable about driving again, putting some of the ghosts to rest.

Prior to the accident I had invested in a 1965 MG Midget, ‘invested’ being a political slant on a hobby known to require the emptying of ones wallet, on a regular basis, into the said machine. Knowing I had the courage to now drive to Scotland I had the MG Midget and my 1986 Toyota out on the drive eyeing them up. ‘What a trip all the way to Scotland in a 31 year old car, with the top down and the wind rushing through my hair, stories to tell and experiences to look back on. I would only need to take out the passenger seat to make room for my luggage,’ I thought. Gisella wandered out to join me on the drive and gave me a quizzical look.

“You’re deep in thought, what you up to?”

“Just thinking which car to take.”

“You’re kidding!”

“Well…”

“Doesn’t it rain a lot in Scotland?” she asked, clearly trying to outfox me.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“And you told me a month or so back that you were thinking of selling the Midget because of its unreliability.”

“Yeah, I guess it would be a good selling point if I said it had just made it to Scotland and back.”

“What happened when we last went out in it?”

“It broke down, only a wire off under the dashboard.”

“And the time before?”

“That was just that we ran out of petrol.”

“And why was that?” she added.

“Because the petrol gauge is broken.”

“Have you mended the lights yet?”

“Well, sort of,” I could sense myself losing, “I think I have tightened the wires up a bit.”

“And can you manage to put the hood up without me helping you now?”

“Just about, as long as I don’t have to do it in a hurry.”

“And putting the hood up in a Scottish downpour would not be regarded as a hurry?”

On Thursday May the 2nd I drove, in the Toyota, to just south of the Scottish border and stopped for the night at Dufton Youth Hostel before continuing on to Invercornan, south of Crianlarich on the A82. From here I set off walking and followed the Ben Glas Burn where, after three and a half hours walking, I broke off to the northeast to bag Beinn Chabhair. Just before the main ascent I came across three girls sitting by the loch Lochan Beinn Chabhair and I briefly said hello as I passed by. A few seconds later one of them called out "I don't suppose you have any plasters have you?" One of the girls had really bad blisters on her heals caused by new boots. As I had some proper second skin plasters I let her have two, applying the first myself to show her how they work, apologising for having to man handle her I left her to do the second in case I got thought of as somebody with a foot fetish. Foot fetish or not she called me a "hero" and a "life saver" which boosted my ego somewhat. They were a long way from their car and having had bad blisters myself I know how painful it can be.

The day was a nice start to this Munro bagging trip with clear weather and just a bit of snow falling. It was a chance to try out my Global Positioning System (GPS) that I had just bought. It proved to be a useful backup to conventional navigation techniques as it is accurate to about 100m, meaning that I could now worry less about getting totally lost.

Saturday May the 4th saw me take in Ben Vorlich and its neighbour Stuc a'Chroin from the starting point of Ardvorlich. I made a relatively early start from Killin Youth Hostel and got walking at just before eight thirty in the morning. At the start there was various signs up stating that you should only venture onto the mountains if you had an ice axe and crampons. As I had neither I was very wary. The dilemma stalled me for awhile but, given the clear day, I thought I could see a path up through the distant snow and ice so decided to set off. I found the climb a struggle and after a few of hours in people were streaming past me that had set off two hours after me. I muttered under my breath as my restricted windpipe caused me grief again. I reached the summit at 1230 from where I set off to Stuc a'Chroin. The route from Ben Vorlich necessitated a climb over an exposed boulder ridden rock face where I became very scared. Regulating my breathing I managed to keep my nerve, and composure before reaching the summit some two hours later where I was confronted by a fell race with runners streaming up the other side as though it were a jog to the local shop and back.

On getting back into my car after the days walk the decision to bring the Toyota, and not the MG, was reconfirmed to me as I reflected the cramped soft-top conditions would not have been suitable for Scotland.

 

Mountain Bunnies

 

I took the Sunday off and it was therefore on Monday May the 6th that I tackled Ben Chonzie. I set off from Invergeldie at 0900 and reached the summit just under three hours later, the views from the top were so superb that I sat there for half an hour taking it all in. This may sound a short period but it is never a good idea to hang about at the top as you can get quite cold. On the descent I witnessed a large number of mountain hares playing in the upper slopes of the Munro. I reflected that they should more appropriately be called ‘mounting hares’ as opposed to ‘mountain hares’ as there did appear to be rather an excessive number of them. I got back to the car at 1400.

The day of rest did me good as the I took was the longest end of the guide book time whereas my effort on the previous Saturday was a full three and a half hours over the longest book time. This was possibly something to do with the difference in the amount of ascent between the two walks, I am okay on the flat and can make a good pace but when it comes to climbing I really slow down as I can never make a consistent pace and normally have to rest every few steps. The weather was generally clear but there was a bit of hail and rain on the top and on the way back.

On May the 7th I planned to climb Ben Lui and its neighbour, however it was far too snowy and cloudy so I headed north a bit to do Ben Mhanach in the Bridge of Orchy range via a much more sociable south face. At this time of the year there is still an appreciable amount of snow about so it always pays to try hills from southerly approaches.

I parked on the edge of the road opposite where the West Highland railway viaducts before setting off on foot at 0840 passing under the viaduct and along the path. I did not start to climb for another three hours as the walk in was so long, it then took a further two hours to reach the summit. It was a lonely day as I only saw one other person during the entire time but I managed to have a quick chat with him.

Infuringlately it rained for the last fifteen minutes of the eight and a half hours walk. I piled into my car with wet kit wishing that the last fifteen minutes had been dry and windy. From there I went to stay at Crianlarich Youth Hostel. I instantly decided that I did not like the place and I had much preferred the more friendly atmosphere of Killin Hostel. I had got friendly with the warden, Paul, there and we had tried to fix the heating together which indicates the relaxed and friendly kind of place that it was.

A funny thing happened whilst staying at Killin Youth Hostel in that three young ladies propositioned me. It was early evening and I was returning to the hostel after a wander around the town. Earlier in the day I had noticed a poster advertising a ‘Miss Wet T-Shirt’ competition, in aid of some charity, at one of the local pubs. Since reading it I had forgotten all about it. Whilst walking back three girls, who looked to be in their early twenties, approached me. All three of them had been drinking and two of them were swigging from lager cans. One of the girls said "Are you no coming to watch me in the Miss Wet T-Shirt competition.” Now here was an interesting dilemma! This girl was quite up-front, in both senses of the phrase, and I must admit her offer did have certain elements that were tempting. However the thought of her exposing her breasts in front of a bar filled with jeering drunken men was somewhat off putting so I politely declined the offer. I later reflected that I had peaks of another variety on my mind whilst considering if this is quite how society should be going. When I was their age such a thing as a ‘Miss Wet T-Shirt’ competition was unheard of, and even if anybody had heard of it daring to host such an event in early 1980s Chippenham would have met with a barrage of objections. Considering that quiet backwaters in Scotland are probably more behind the times than the quiet backwaters of Southern England one can begin to comprehend the massive social changes that Britain has experienced in the last fifteen years, not even a generation. But perhaps I’m so far behind the times that, with the increase in teenage pregnancies, fifteen years can now be regarded as a generation. It could be that at my mere thirty years of age I’m showing a greater capacity for middle age than is healthy but I did go onto wonder how the girls parents or grandparents viewed this. On my grandparents mantle piece is a photograph of me at my graduation ceremony, what if I visited the girl’s grannies house?

“Is this your granddaughter then?” I’d enquire looking towards the mantle piece.

“Aye, that’s when she won Miss Wet ‘T’ Shirt Killin 1996. She’s come out well, don’t you think,” as the old lady burst with pride.

I took the Wednesday off firstly to rest my legs and secondly because I had spent the night being tortured with sleep deprivation through being billeted with the snorer from hell. I managed to move rooms the following day but the snorer saw me.

"I thought you had left why are you not in the same dormitory?” he enquired.

I could not see the point of saving his feelings and just said "Sorry but it was your snoring."

I had a nice day by taking the train on the superbly scenic West Highland line between Crianlarich and Fort William. I was very bored in Fort William, it is such a tacky place, so I found myself aimlessly wandering around Nevis Sport and had a go on their heart beat monitor, I came out with a rate of 57 which is apparently athletic. So either their machine is faulty or underneath I am quite fit.

On the train ride back I continued to read a book that I had picked up in a charity shop ‘Carve Her Name With Pride,’ it was uncanny to read that the central character, Violette Szabo - a British wartime spy murdered by the Nazis whilst held as a POW, had taken this very train ride during her training in the early 1940s.

Thursday May the 9th saw me take in Beinn Bhuidhe. I started from the A83 at 0920 and walked up the private road and reached the summit just after 1400. The map indicated a trig point, always handy for summit confirmation. Even though Beinn Bhuidhe’s is now toppled on its side, a fallen hero to a bygone age, it was still a useful marker. All trig points are redundant now, relics of a time where the servants of the Ordnance Survey would actually climb these hills and survey them. It was a lovely day and there were fantastic views with Ben Nevis many miles to the north. It was a very long three hour walk in before climbing and on the descent I was lingering contemplating the route march back whilst paddling in the gorgeous water fall fed pools of the stream that feeds the River Fyne. On approaching the private road I could see a shepherd unloading a trailer of sheep and lambs. I stopped for a chat with him.

"Have you been up on the hills?" he asked.

"Yes, it has been a lovely day" I said, whilst all the time thinking ‘go on offer me a lift - please please.’

"Did you do Beinn Bhuidhe?"

"Aye," I replied in a desperate attempt to not sound so much like a hated English holidaymaker.

"It has been a lovely day,” he added.

"Aye," I added whilst thinking ‘go on say it, offer me a lift. Oh please, I'll even support Scotland against England in Euro 96 if you like.’ I was just giving up hope and getting ready for the three hour walk back when, as he climbed into his Landrover, he said almost as a casual after thought, "Can I give you a lift?" Brilliant I thought, a lift and I could still support England in Euro 96.

Friday May the 10th brought in Beinn Achaladair and Beinn a'Chreachain. Beinn Achaladair was to be my 50th Munro and by way of a small reward I had booked to stay in the Grand Hotel in Fort William for the night. The next day, Saturday, I was due to head north where I was to meet some friends. Therefore I spent much of the day dreaming of the luxury of the hotel bedroom and the hills that I would walk with my friends and not concentrating so much on the walking. The day had started from Achallader farm, where there is some form of ruined turret, at just before 0830 and I reached the summit some four hours later. From there I did the two hour ridge walk to Beinn a'Chreachain taking in the minor peaks in between and then, due to my day dreaming, I set off down the wrong side. The first hint of trouble was when I found myself staring at a loch not on my map and to add to my problems my right knee had been playing up. So out with the GPS to navigate myself back on course, funny thing was that as soon as I knew I had made a mistake my knee stopped hurting and once I was back on course, a good hour later, it started to play up again. I got back to the car at just after 1800 and set off for Fort William.

The bedroom in the Grand Hotel had an en-suite bath and loo - yes! A bit more luxurious than the Youth Hostels but it was nice to try Youth Hostelling again as I had not been to one for a good seven years. I was concerned that I would be too old for them now, but the word ‘Youth’ is a misnomer as I was still one of the youngest there.

 

Mullardoch Revisted

 

It is amazing how one particular place can draw you. When in Scotland I often find myself experiencing the peace and tranquillity of Glen Cannich up which lies Loch Mullardoch. I first came here in 1989 with a large group of friends where we hired Mullardoch Cottage. I always fancied a repeat performance so this time I hired the same place for a week and roped in two original members of the 1989 party in the form of Andy and Ady Glover and managed to add Chris Howard and Mark Neale with Robin Bacon and his girlfriend, Kelly staying for just the first night.

The cottage was still owned by the same people, Carl and Ninon Lawaetz, although they now let it privately instead of via an agency. They are quite an amusing couple from Denmark with Ninon doing most of the talking as Carl’s English is not so good. Some months previously I was driving to work and listening to the ‘Today’ programme on Radio 4 when they started to discuss a love retreat that had hit the news, the broadcast went something like the following:

 

“… now this love retreat is in the wilds of Scotland and only reachable by boat across Loch Mullardoch and a few moments ago I spoke with the owner Carl Lawaetz:”

“Hello, Mr Lawaetz?”

“Yah.”

“This is the Today programme, Radio Four here.”

“Yah.”

“I believe you own what the papers are describing as the most remote love nest in Britain.”

“Yah.”

“Only reachable by boat we believe.”

“Yah.”

“Do you get many couples staying there?”

“Yah, zome.”

“And is it a romantic paradise?”

“It only haz the bunk beds.”

“Ah so not so comfortable then Mr Lawaetz.”

“No.”

“Do you take your wife there often Mr Lawaetz?”

“Yah, once a week.”

“For romance Mr Lawaetz?”

“No, I take her there once a week to clean it.”

At this stage I had to pull over as the tears of laughter were pouring down my face and I was in no fit state to be in control of a motor vehicle. Maybe you have to know Carl to appreciate the story so I shall pester you with no further details and instead carry on with the tale of my 1996 visit to Mullardoch cottage.

I arrived on Saturday May the 11th and other people arrived throughout the day so it was not until the Sunday that we could set out for the hills. Leaving the cottage at about 1000, a good start considering that the Glover brothers were built into the equation, we got to the summit of Carn nan Gobhar shortly before 1330 after a walk that most of us found hard going. The summit of Sgurr na Lapaich was reached at 1545 and we rested for awhile, chatting, familiarising with each other. Kelly was quite a character and would emanate the most outrageous farts and in her broad Australian accent announce “better out than in boys.”

Ady was looking west, pointing to the horizon asked “is that Skye over there?” It was quite an obvious one to walk into as we all started on “and that’s a mountain, and that’s a rock, oh look a bird.” Rob told us a great story about a walk he had done with a group of people, on the ascent they had teased a chap about the size of the rucksack that he had brought, as it was a day hike the need for such a large pack was relentlessly, yet humorously, questioned. At the top all was revealed, along with the last laugh, as he unpacked his paraglider, leapt off and was back in comfort within a few minutes.

Our walk back was very tiring especially along the shores of Loch Mullardoch, reminding me of the walk that Andy and I did during July 1991. Kelly kept our spirits up with some anecdotes of her travels including the bizarre acts of inmates at a nursing home in the USA. Kelly also made reference to a particular, and rarely executed, sexual act. Andy said quietly to me “that’s the second woman to mention that in this glen.” I thought for a second or so and realised he was absolutely correct for, in 1989, Alison Read had mentioned the same unusual act in the self same glen. This is a typical example of Andy’s dry humour, he is able to connect things up in a very funny way spotting humour that I never knew was there - as if women making references to sexual acts in Scottish glens was a normal thing to keep tabs of. Later in the week we were packing in preparation for a walk. Ady was chucking some food into his rucksack for both him and Andy. He called across to Andy “Andy, Penguin?” to which Andy rocked his buttocks on the chair and said “no just painful piles.”

On the Monday we hired a motor boat from the Glen Affric Hotel and motored down to the end of Loch Mullardoch and came up with the idea of a repeat performance for the Tuesday and use it as a launching point for tackling the three very remote Munros of Beinn Fhionnlaidh, Carn Eige and Mam Sodhail. We had problems getting the boat for a second day as the hotel owner, who by strange coincidence was a friend of a chap that did work on the house that Gisella and I owned, did not have any spare fuel. We were discussing this in the hotel bar when a customer piped up with "you can borrow my engine, it’s just in the shed half a mile from where you are staying." Over mechanisation, industrialisation, urbanisation takes many things away from the spirit of humanity. Trust being one of them - thankfully the Highland folk are still there to not just reaffirm what we have lost but to show what we could still get back.

We cast off at just after 0930 and got to the end of the Loch an hour and twenty minutes later. We reached the summit of Beinn Fhionnlaidh, taking just under a further three hours in good weather in a party consisting of Andy, Ady, Chris and Mark. From here we set off for Carn Eige and Mam Sodhail which took a further one and a half hours then just over one hour respectively. The weather at the top of Carn Eige was very poor with wind and mist. The conditions on the approach to Mam Sodhail were so windy, snowy and bleak that Chris and Mark dropped out and waited back for us. I must admit to being a bit dubious myself, as my hands were getting very cold. I don't blame Mark and Chris for holding back as if you are not that into Munro bagging it is not worth the risk and discomfort. When the three of us reached the summit we gingerly took photographs, sat and shivered while contemplating the return in the gale.

The descent was long and Andy started to develop a pain in one of his knees. Fortunately I had a knee sock to spare and a tube of deep heat. We plastered his knee in the embrocation and held it in with the sock. It improved things a little for him but not as much if the knee sock had been dry, it had also rained and the inside of my rucksack had become damp. As we descended we speculated as to whether the boat would still be there, we would have been a bit stuck without it. Fortunately it was and we launched it into the loch with a sense of relief that the final leg of the day was about to be embarked upon.

The boat ride back felt like an age, we were cold by now and the fun of taking the boat out for two days in a row had now totally lost its appeal. Loch Mullardoch is a flooded Loch because of the hydroelectric dam. Apparently when the water is low you can see the chimneys of the buildings lost when the loch was expanded on completion of the dam. A horrible, chilling, thought came into my head as we chugged back - what if I fell out of the boat and dropped down one of the chimneys?

I did not feel that the others wanted to do any further walking for awhile so the following day we toured around a bit, visiting this and that. It was not until Thursday May the 16th that I dared mention the word Munro again. I had to use my powers of persuasion to get everybody to buy into the idea and then only by selecting a straightforward single Munro. Therefore we selected a drive north to take in Fionn Bheinn. We started shortly after 1130 and reached the summit just before 1430 and got back to the cars in a little over an hour. We nearly climbed the wrong hill on the way up but used the GPS to settle the debate as to which one we were really ascending. The weather was good at the top but there was a bit of snow fall on the way back down and we noticed that a peak opposite that was clear on the way up was now covered in snow.

In all we had a good holiday. However it did convince me that large group holidays are not such a good idea anymore. It had worked much better in the past. Although this was good it was more noticeable that people become less flexible in their early thirties and trying to organise things to keep everybody happy was, at times, trying. However I got a lot out of staying in Glen Cannich again as it is a place that I really love. We had a meal in the Mullardoch House Hotel on the last night that was very nice where the owner told us that the dam had been walking down the glen and that over the last few years they have had to pin it.

I have given some thought as to why I keep returning to Mullardoch, in the time of doing the Munros (1989 to 2001) I visited it in 1989, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998. Maybe all these visits were because I had such a good time in the glen in 1989 but there was potential for more that was never quite fulfilled. Therefore I often go back there, alone, in search of it. When I get there only three of the four dimensions that I require are present, the fourth, time, is when we hired the cottages which has now gone and my friends are not there. I should just make the decision never to go back but something draws me and I often find my car nosing its way along the rugged beauty of this glen. It’s almost being predestined to be searching out some form of happiness that cannot exist in reality, the happiness of dreams. Where we play cards all night and all enjoy it, where we walk all day and love it. Cook huge meals and sit round telling tales of the mountains, experiences from the past and sharing jokes. I have done all these things in the Mullardoch Cottage holidays but not in a roll. The odd one here or there interspersed with periods of mental, but not physical, separation within the group sharing the cottage. But my mind yearns for the roll, a week of none stop laughs, entertainment and exercise.

 

Ben Lui Again

 

As the others packed their bags at the end of the Mullardoch holiday I was busy arranging things in my rucksack for a trip over the Squrr Fhuar-thuill - Squrr na Ruaidhe ridge.

          “Good luck with the Munros,” said Mark.

          Chris eyed my rucksack as I practised swinging it onto my back, “I’d hate to be stuck with having to do the Munros.”

We finished saying our goodbyes and I headed north to drive round to Strath Connon, my elected starting point requiring at least one night of camping. Before the turn into Strath Connon, at Marybank, there is a phone box from which I phoned Gisella to say what my plans were in the event of any problems. As I was walking away from the phone box it rang, I walked back and answered it in case it was Gisella calling me back with a sudden thought.

"Is Kevin there?" Initially I had a second of realisation that this was a genuine wrong number. By sheer coincidence I know my friend Kevin Enright from four different independent sources. Surely this was not a fifth, tracked down to a phone box in the middle of nowhere?

I had felt unease about this camping trip and when I was parking up in Strath Connon I started to feel a bit ill and also had an eerie feeling that what I was about to do would be a mistake, so I followed the route of caution and blew it out and instead drove south and stayed in a hotel in Tyndrum so that I could tackle Beinn a'Chleibh and Ben Lui on Sunday May the 19th.

I had a restless night through some Karaoke party taking place in the hotel bar and my mood was not improved over breakfast as the waitress got into a stand up argument with one of the other guests. The only common ground that they could find was their total agreement that they had “never been spoken too like that in their life before.”

Once off in my car I felt a bit better and after I had parked up I started from the same approach that I had looked at some weeks previous and observed there was far less snow on this occasion. It took me just over two hours to reach the summit from where an hour and a half of extra walking brought in Ben Lui. The entire high ground was extremely windy and I had to hold my rucksack down with rocks to stop it blowing away when I took it off.

On the descent from the summit of Ben Lui I chatted with a chap who worked for IBM in Edinburgh. He knew a chap called Alan Robertson who provided consultancy to us on the Strathclyde Police Command and Control Project, a small world at times. Further on during my descent I listened to the Monaco Grand Prix on my pocket radio, all was going well until Damon Hill's engine blew whilst he was in the lead. I got back to the car just before 1530 and a relatively short journey for a one night stay at Killin Youth Hostel.

I reflected how my mood had improved during the day, exercise is a great stress reliever. I can start a day feeling uptight but after a few hours of walking the endorphins are flowing around my body and I’m feeling on a high, harmonious, good about the world and my breathing feels easier. I think this might be a reason why life appears to be getting more stressful, the days of walking or cycling to work have long gone for many people. If we all did a bit more exercise then there might not be so many problems in the world. I feel very sorry for old and badly disabled people who cannot exercise, if I were in this situation I would become very frustrated, agitated, temperamental.

May the 20th brought in Meall Ghaordie, best approached from a starting point of Tullich up Glen Lochay. During the four hour walk I experienced knee problems so this was definitely to be the last Munro of this trip. It was very cold and misty and wet all day and I remember feeling a sense of being lonely and very cold at the summit. At the end of the walk I had to cut through a field where, in the distance, I noticed a guy with a Landrover was waiting for me by my car. I thought ‘here goes, I've done something wrong’. As I was approaching my stress levels rose and I prepared myself for confrontation. ‘Three, two, one,’ I counted myself down to within earshot.

"I saw you way up on the hill there and I hung on for you as there is a red squirrel moving her young into that tree there, I thought you'd like to see it." What a sad person I am, there was me thinking I was in trouble and all the time he was waiting to share an experience with me.

This Munro was quite a quick one taking about four hours in all so I was back at the car for just after 1230 and made it a straight drive back to Marlborough.

 

 

 

 

Bothy Life

 

Come late 1996 I realised that I had not seen Willy Newlands for over three years and Mike Linnett and I were keen to meet up with him again. Mike came over to my house in Marlborough and we drove up together on Saturday September the 7th. We’d both woken at about 0430 and laid in thinking that it was too early to wake the other, if we had known then we could have got a three hour head start. Either way we arrived at the Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe at the right time.

Willy arrived a few hours later so Mike and I had nicked the two best beds in the triple room that Willy had booked. We also had emptied our rucksacks out and generally made quite a mess of the place. Willy entered and his first words to us in over three years were "For fucks sake you did not waste a moment trashing this place." Willy had not changed. Me and Mike took a bet on how long it would be before he took the mick out of the fact that I had bought a GPS system; eleven minutes forty eight seconds. Willy appeared disappointed that Mike and I were too tired to spend the entire evening in the bar.

The Sunday we spent walking into Sourlies Bothy via Glen Dessarry. The walk in was very long and arduous. I carried a full pack and the heat was just blistering so I really struggled during the nine mile trek. The weight of the pack was too much for me even on this relatively level ground and all the time I was thinking about how I would cope the following day when I would have to carry this pack over the mountains. I took my mind off the pain during part of the walk by listening to the Italian Grand Prix but came to the conclusion that I am a jinx on Damon Hill when I listen Grand Prix on the radio whilst out walking as he crashed early on in the race.

The approach to Sourlies Bothy was a welcoming site. The Bothy is on the shore of a sea loch and surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery. The evening sun glinted on the calm waters of the loch and the place had an overwhelming sense of peace and tranquillity. From the point of first seeing the bothy and actually getting there was some three quarters of an hour, this is often the case in Scotland as the sheer vastness of the place makes distance deceptive. As I approached I had to tread carefully as there were many tiny frogs, no bigger than a thumbnail, in amongst the moist grass.

Willy's hot tip for bothy life is to get there first and lay out your sleeping bag. The reasoning is that at any moment a hoard of people could turn up and take all the best places. Even though I was the last of the three to arrive I had no such worries as nobody else was yet there. Later in the evening two chaps arrived, father and son, by canoe from Mallaig. We had a fantastic evening relaxing first by gathering drift wood and then by burning it on a beach fire whilst failing to ignite a railway sleeper which, judging by the state of it, many an eager bothy inhabitant had tried to seek comfort from. We all sat round chatting and admiring the most beautiful star lit night I had ever seen. Because we were so far from civilisation there was no ambient light to ruin the display. The Milky Way was absolutely fantastic and the event was set off with shooting stars and being able to observe moving satellites. Mike and I both have scientific backgrounds so we got into a discussion about Einstein’s theory of relativity. Willy was aghast - "Never did I think I would live to see the day when we'd sit far out in the wilderness discussing Einstein’s bloody theory of relativity" - arts graduates, typical!

Mike and Willy have developed banter between themselves that I can only ever be a witness to. Towards the end of the Strathclyde Police Command and Control Project we went out for a meal to celebrate and we all had a great deal to drink. Alcohol changes people in different ways and with Mike he just sits there smiling a lot. Willy just gets louder and more outrageous than normal. Willy took it on himself to start hurling insults at Mike, I must add that it was all being done for the sake of humour and nothing was meant by it. Mike could not defend himself, in fact he could hardly speak. Willy picked up on this and started hurling the abuse thicker and faster. Never have I seen a spectacle where a man has had to take so much abuse, it was a very funny moment. We were all cracked up as Mike desperately tried to defend himself and only ever got as far as saying "Well Willy" before the next barrage hit him. Whilst staying at Sourlies another example of this banter displayed itself. Mike and I retired to our sleeping bags first whereas Willy stayed up to enjoy more of the night sky. In the morning Willy said that from across the other side of the loch he had heard a rutting stag. Now a rutting stag has a distinctive sound something like a cow with a sore throat. Mike said "are you sure it was not a cow Willy?" The reply was a classic Willy line: "I suppose if it bounded across a mountain, forded streams climbed near vertical slopes, made its way along the shore of a loch and shagged three deer then yes it could have been a cow."

Bothies are extremely basic accommodation. They are normally little more than re-roofed ruined cottages. The floors and walls are bare, they have no electricity, water or toilet. There is no charge for staying in them, the idea being that you can just turn up for a night of shelter. Any improvement in facilities could be a mistake, as then people would start to use them as alternative holiday accommodation, which is not what they are intended for.

On waking at Sourlies I laid in my sleeping bag and looked around the grim looking single roomed bothy. I started to reflect on what life might have been like here when it was actually a family home. It must have been tough, especially in the cruel Scottish winters. Trying to imagine it with the modern world in mind is hard to conceive. I imagined having a family there with the trappings of modern day life just twenty miles away: Television, electricity, central heating and opportunity. It would just not work, as the grass would appear to be greener on the other side of the loch. Life back then must have been tough but perhaps less stressful than it is today. If you had nothing and nor did any of your neighbours then you would not suffer envy and jealousy, you would not yearn for more as more was just not an option.

I carried these thoughts with me as I got up and walked out of the door and looked up to the head of the loch where there were many other ruins that could only hint at the community that once lived there. I then remembered a conversation that I had with my grandparents some six years before in which they were describing life to me just after the war. They were living in a rented house and things were very tight. My Gramp was saying all the things they did not have, what they had to go without. My Gran then turned to him and said, "But we did not know that we were missing out, nobody else had anything either, we did not suffer stress like the youngsters do today." Sadly the people who once occupied these homes, now sad shells of hopes and dreams, probably did suffer extreme stress on the day of their departure. The depopulation of the Highlands was driven by the clearances where land owners, wishing to convert their land to more profitable pursuits, evicted the communities of crofters in a genocidal act of violence in which houses were burnt to the ground and the peoples left to fend for themselves. Many moved to Canada, where, in a complete irony, they built a better country not based on class.

We set off for Squrr na Ciche at 0800 on Monday September the 9th and I lost sight of Willy and Mike within forty five minutes. They reached the summit at 1100, I arrived at 1335 having abandoned my rucksack in the heat. They said it was the best day that they had ever had on the hills - the bastards. For most of the way I could barely put one foot in front of the other, the combination of the weight of my pack, the gradient, my asthma and the temperature rendered me virtually stationary. I had found my five and a half hour ascent very frustrating and extremely exhausting. From the summit we walked back to the saddle between Squrr na Ciche and Garbh Chioch Mhor where Willy kindly shot off and collected my rucksack for me. I left the rucksack between the two Munros whilst we scaled Garbh Chioch Mhor getting there at about 1530. The original plan was to have also done Squrr nan Coireachan and Squrr Mor and stay at Kinbreack bothy. I was clearly not up to it and offered to bivi the night in the hills whilst Mike and Willy went on. They would hear nothing of it and insisted that they stayed with me so we made an alternative plan of heading to A' Chuil bothy which is about half way between where we parked the cars and Sourlies bothy. Once this plan was made, such that we could remain together, we set off and in no time I lost sight of Mike and Willy as I again struggled with my rucksack!

The walk to A' Chuil was another four and a half hours so we did not arrive until about 2000 and I was very tired, for the last hour Mike dropped back and walked with me. Willy had gone ahead and we saw him collecting wood in the distance. I was still struggling and the last few miles were very difficult as we had the bothy in site but the ground was very peaty and difficult to cross. Many times we had to back track as we painted ourselves into a corner. As we approached the final few hundred meters Mike said, "You know they say that after a tough day of travelling whatever standard the accommodation is it looks appealing." I was poised to say yes in agreement about the run down ramshackle bothy we were approaching when Mike followed it up with, "fuck that little theory." I could see what he meant as it did look grim, but once inside the relief of being able to rest and to know that I did not have to wrestle with my rucksack again that day dispelled any disappointment with the bothy.

Mike and Willy had been suffering from midgies most of the weekend. Thankfully they always declined my body’s invitation to lunch. Even in the bothy Mike was suffering and pulling them off one by one whilst saying "Look mate I'm a vegetarian, don't eat me."

I mentioned earlier about bothies not having a toilet. This is not strictly true as each bothy does come fully equipped with its own latrine. A spade. I was hoping to hang on until civilisation but on waking the following morning I knew that nature was in no mood for any further delay. I pulled on some clothes and picked up the spade and headed for some nearby trees. This is where I learnt one of the hottest bothy tips, which is: DO NOT, I REPEAT DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES DIG IN SOFT GROUND. The reason being that if it is soft ground somebody else has been there before you. Hire a pneumatic drill take a pickaxe but whatever you do not dig is soft ground. This experience put me off and I was left to carry my thirty pound sack along with the problem back to civilisation. Civilisation was a grubby pub toilet but it was heaven.

The other thing that Bothies contain is "The Bothy Book." This is a visitors book where people can write in their thoughts and comments and funny stories. The one in Sourlies where somebody had written “English Bastards Out” upset me. The Scottish have a problem with the English brought about by incidents from the past. I can see the wrong in the past events but get upset with the fact that the English people of today appear to be being held accountable. It smacks of prejudice to me. This attitude appears common across Scotland, if you get into a conversation with a Scot on this issue they say that it is still going on in that there is under investment and that Scottish achievements are ignored by the media. Many Scots claim that if a Scottish person does well he or she is called British but if an English person does well then they are referred to as English. Conversely they claim that if a Scottish person fails then they are called Scottish and if an English person fails they are called British. I have listened out for this carefully in the media and believe that it is a case of selective hearing. I have heard examples of failed English people being called English and successful English people being called British. Possibly the root of this is media ignorance in the past and the image is now difficult to shake off. With regards to investment there are many places in England that are under invested and indeed the poorest British parliamentary constituency lies in London and the poorest county is thought to be Cornwall. I think because Scotland has such a strong sense of national pride and identity any example of being placed second to England rankles.

Whilst travelling extensively in Scotland I have seen graffiti telling the English to go home and stop ruining their communities and putting up the property prices. I can see the point but coming from the South of England I can see that our communities have been broken down and property prices have soared because of the influx of a migrant work force, some of which are Scots. I find the entire issue difficult to fully comprehend. It appears to me that the English of today are held accountable for the atrocities of the past British ruling classes, which I readily accept were predominately English. I'm all for Scottish independence and being an independent country within Europe, not because I want to see the back of them, far from it but it is because they are not happy seemingly playing second fiddle to England. On occasions Scots who want to say their piece when they realise that I am English have approached me in Highland bars. I always find myself agreeing with some points and disagreeing with others, then I always ask "So do you hate me because I am English?" to which they always say no and have been known to buy me a drink to compensate. So I find that the Scots normally accept me, warmly, on an individual basis whilst still maintaining that they don’t like the English. I now try and avoid getting into discussions about it as many of the arguments are raking over the past and although we must learn from history it is important to not allow it to form the seeds of hatred. Therefore I added a footnote to the “English Bastards out” entry in the Sourlies bothy book along the lines of “Stop moving down to the South of England pushing up our house prices and nicking our jobs” and thus restored the status quo between our two adorable nations.

I discussed this incident with Willy, always game to talk humorously about the issue, and we recalled that the first day I arrived in Scotland to work on the Strathclyde Police Command and Control Project was the day of the England versus West Germany semi-final of the 1990 World Cup. I made it back to the hotel on time and watched it on the TV in my room. For me it was heart breaking to see England go out on penalties, and the look on Gary Lineker’s face when he could not console Gazza’s tears has always stuck in my mind. On getting into work the next day I was describing my disappointment to Willy when he burst out laughing - "You expect us to have sympathy for England getting knocked out." This shocked me as I had never before appreciated how much it meant to the Scots seeing England lose. I always thought that because we were all British he would naturally have supported the England team, especially against the Germans. I guess that I should have read the warning signs when I watched the earlier round of the England versus Cameroon game. This was sitting in my house, down south, in the company of two other English chaps and my housemate Graham, a Scot. Graham is a quiet mild mannered man but when Cameroon went 2-1 up he leapt across the room and with clenched fist he was yelling "yes, yes YES!!" The three of us turned and looked at him in stunned silence as he sank back into his chair. I think the defeat of the English was his driving force more than any similarity between the Scottish male name of “Cameron” and the nation of Cameroon!

Euro 96 had taken place this summer and I was more prepared for the England Scotland rivalry. Graham, a fellow Scottish friend of his and I were lucky enough to get tickets for the England versus Scotland game. It was for the best that I went in with the English fans and they went with the Scots. What amazed me was how the Scots know how to enjoy themselves, many were kilted and at half time as the English fans stood around the Scots put us all to shame by their singing and dancing to the music. The final score line was 2-0 in England’s favour, I enjoyed the moment immensely, waiving my flag and soaking in the atmosphere. When I left the stadium that was that, I had enjoyed myself but that was all it meant, simply seeing England win. As I left I decided to roll my flag up as I had arranged to meet Graham and his pal outside of the ground. Never had I seen such two dejected soles, I could hardly get a word out of them, their heads were hung low and I could not console them. Bloody hell I thought, it’s just a game. Not with the Scots their national pride is so great losing to England is unbearable for them. That evening we went out together along with Frances, Graham’s girlfriend. On route to the pub Frances mentioned that she had watched the match on the television and bemoaned that when England scored the commentators, who were desperately trying to show no bias, cheered the goal.

“Frances,” I said after a few moments “that match was shown in Scotland too and would that have been covered by Scotland’s own commentators?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“And would they be have been unbiased or totally supporting Scotland?”

“Totally supporting Scotland of course,” she replied with no hint of any recognition of contradiction. I rest my case.

Fortunately the Bothy book at A’Chuil was much nicer with no nationalistic comments. One thing that did catch my eye was a limerick that somebody had put in it:

 

                                      Said Queen Isabella of Spain

                                      I like it now and again

                                      But let me explain

                                      By now and again

                                      I mean now and again and again

 

Mike, Willy and I parted company at Spean Bridge. We knew it had been a good one and were all sorry that the trip was over. Seeing Willy again after three years was really good and the introduction to Bothy life was a good experience and to become useful in my approach to other Munros.

After saying the goodbyes I intended to go off and find a place to camp for the night. I tried a couple of places that I thought would be quiet and where I would not be disturbed. Unfortunately each place had human beings in close vicinity and I began to doubt the idea. I have a general mistrust of people and would not sleep easy if I thought that my tent would be visible to others. After giving up on the idea I thought I would go for the opposite and find myself a hotel with en-suite. I soon spotted a sign for a hotel with vacancies at a price that suited. I went into the deserted, spacious, reception hall and rang the bell for attention. A neat lady appeared who on casting an eye over my unshaven, grubby, having slept rough for two days appearance informed me that they were full. I just about stopped myself from saying "would you like me to take your vacancy sign down on the way out?" To be fair I probably smelt a bit too.

I drove onto Newtonmore and found a good looking hotel called the Balavil Sports Hotel, what a splendid name I thought but decided against enquiring about the type of sports that leant it the name as I was sure that it would be disagreeable. The hotel proprietor was obviously going through a rough trading patch as I was immediately made to feel very welcome. After a shower a shave and a fresh set of clothes I felt, and looked, human again.

On this trip I tried out a new device to aid nasal breathing. I got the idea from watching Formula 1 motor racing where the drivers had all taken to wearing these strips of plaster across the bridges of their nose and Gisella kindly tracked some down for me. The idea being the gentle pressure opens the airways. I had some reasonable success with them in that for the first time that I could remember I could breathe through both nostrils. Normally I am fairly congested in the nasal region and take steroids daily to try and keep the airways open. The little strips of plaster did have a side effect in that when I removed them I had an interesting sun tan!

 

Over To The A9

 

In all I spent four nights staying in Newtonmore, needing the rest I bagged just three Munros. On September the 11th I took in Meall Chuaich which I started at 1030 from a lay by on the A9 and took three hours on the ascent. It was quite cloudy on top which did not add to the fact that the Munros in this area are quite boring rounded humps, most Munroists viewing them as mere necessities rather than classic walks. I added to the tedium of the day by failing to take enough food with me and was consequently starving on the descent, ruing the fact that I knew my car was also devoid of spare food. Slumped in the driver’s seat I was about to forego the ritual of writing down the walk times and a few brief diary notes in return for a prompt drive back to Newtonmore to eat. With my foot on the clutch pedal, my stomach rattling with hunger and my trembling hand about to turn the ignition key I remembered that Mike was eating a tube of Pringles during our drive up from England. I felt under the seat and located the tube amongst the debris of sandwich wrappers and drinks bottles. The joy I felt as I found that there was a full three inches of pure Pringles left was ridiculously high. I threw them down my throat whilst making my custom notes of the days walk. Thank you Mike, you were my hero at that moment.

On the following day, Thursday the 12th, I bagged Carn na Caim and A'Bhuidheanach Bheag, starting from a lay by on the A9. Again these were fairly tedious Munros, unlike the peaks around Sourlies that I had just been treated to. It took two and a half hours to reach the first peak then a two hour jaunt across barren ground to A'Bhuidheanach Bheag which was a lot longer than I thought it would take. A further two hours to the car did not help the tedium of the day.

I people watched in the hotel quite a bit, I often find hotels boring and alternated between the TV in my bedroom, walks down the main street in Newtonmore whilst looking forward to the evening bar meal as a treat. A coach load of middle aged and retired people was in, and by chance not too far from my home in Wiltshire. I idly listened to them exchanging stories and felt a sense of sadness about them. They were either all recently retired or in the last few years of their jobs. They spent much time describing their work, mainly blue collar and I felt that they were all looking for something in their lives that was not there, perhaps I was wrong. I caught a few of the men making longing glances at retreating waitresses and felt it was sad. On the final morning I was late down to breakfast and ate my food as the tale enders of the coach party got set to leave the hotel for good. The waitresses were clearing the tables when one of the old guys came back in and dropped a tip in a metal dish set aside for such a purpose. The waitresses did not hear, I watched him pick the coins up again and drop them from a greater height.

“Thanks then were off,” he said as one of the waitresses looked up.

“Right you are,” she replied and got back to her work.

After this there were no more new Munros for the year. On Friday September the 14th my friend Kate Taylor arrived meeting up with me at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel. On the Saturday we walked Ben Nevis, a repeat Munro for me and a hard slog to the summit with the crowds of people that do this mountain. It was cloudy at the top and I was disappointed that Kate did not get a view as she had travelled to Scotland especially to do it. Just for fun I got my GPS out to see how accurate it could be with the grid reference and the height of the peak. Immediately another walker said, “Your mobile phone won’t work up here mate,” and nodded at me sagely whilst reflecting on his superior intelligence.

On the Sunday we got a train round to Loch Ossian Youth Hostel with the view of doing Stob Coire Easain and Stob a' Choire Mheadhoin the following day. Loch Ossian is a very remote hostel, only reachable on foot from a railway station and definitely no vehicular access. It is a beautiful setting with the rustic hostel next to the water and the hills surrounding it like a group of familiar friends who can just sit in each others company and not speak a word. Unfortunately the Munros had to be missed as I awoke with a very bad throat so we walked back to Spean Bridge instead.

After the walk Kate and I stopped for a few nights in the accommodation block in Fort Augustus Abbey. Here one of those things in life happened which can only be described as uncanny. Kate's Aunt and Uncle were by pure coincidence in the next room to us, it was a good job that we were not having an affair! It was good to see Kate again, we have always got on well ever since meeting on a canoeing holiday back in 1988. That particular holiday was a near disaster because after only four days tuition we were taken high up into the hills of the lakes to canoe down the River Derwent into Derwentwater. On the face of it this sounds fine but the two instructors had failed to take into account that the river had burst its banks and in many places there were white water rapids. We set off in two parties, I was in the front one and the first person that we lost was the instructor! Another chap and I managed to pin his capsized canoe into a tree, which had until recently been quietly minding its own business growing in a field. I’ll never forget the instructor as he ran down the other side of the river calling out “Eh, I don’t suppose me sandwiches are still in the canoe” - at this stage three of our group were missing. Off we set again with an instructor bleeding from his head and entertained ourselves with out of control rapids and the odd canoe trip across a field to cut off a bend in the river. I caught up with one guy and we speculated if the second party had actually launched given that they’d had the opportunity to see us set off. As we pondered this a plastic bag of sandwiches floated past followed by a paddle, we looked at each other and said, “they’re in.” When I finally beached my abiding memory of Kate was her floating past with her arm in her upturned canoe laughing her head off.

When we got to sheltered waters we were ahead of the instructors and assessed that there were three people in total now missing from the amalgamated two groups and numerous canoes and paddles unaccounted for. On arrival of the instructors they assessed the situation, based on our information of people and equipment missing, and came to the staggering conclusion that the missing equipment deserved a rebuke in the form of “you wallies” whereas the missing people deserved not a mention. So a group of us set off on foot, two of the others soon turned up and we rescued a girl who had become entangled in a tree. Thinking back we should have complained officially, the subcontracted instructors appeared to be governed through fear by a chap who ran the holiday as a subcontract from the Youth Hostel Association. We were too polite and worried that the instructors would get into a lot of trouble and did not go further than protests that they had put us all in danger. I regret not making an official complaint because a few years later was the Lyme Bay canoeing tragedy which resulted in multiple deaths and brought a tightening up of procedures. However I believe that had we complained nothing would have come of it despite the danger we were put in, it always appears to me that the official bodies only ever winch themselves into action when there has been fatalities.

So after a wind down from Munro bagging I drove home on September the 19th for a flight out to Portugal with my friend Nick Green to watch the Portuguese Grand prix. We were hoping to witness Damon Hill winning the Formula 1 World Championship but alas he could only manage second place in this race and did not secure the championship until the next, and final, race of the season.

 

Munro Count: 65 out of 277

 


 

1997

 

Preparation

 

All along I knew in my heart of hearts that to achieve my aim of doing the Munros would require more time and dedication than I had previously put in. At the start of the year my tally stood at 65 out of the 277. On the face of it this may sound quite reasonable but it had taken eight seasons to achieve. At the current rate I would complete these confounded mountains in another quarter of a century, my late fifties. For some time it had been playing on my mind that to get close to finishing then be hit by some medical problem would be too much to bear. Indeed there is always the possibility that my asthma could hit hard at any point. Therefore there was only one solution, to get cracking.

For the previous two years I had been working as a freelancer for a company called Dopra developing a 999 call taking system for Hampshire Fire and Rescue service. I was getting a lot out of the project and enjoying the thrill of developing a computer system that would deploy fire engines onto the streets as a direct result of an operator taking a 999 call. Like all good computer projects it was running late and I kept agreeing to extend my contract each time the project over ran. During the winter it became clear that the customer would accept the project in late April, tying in nicely with the start of the summer walking season in Scotland. I planned not to arrange any further contracts and to head for Scotland in early May for at least ten weeks. It was also ten years since I had graduated, and therefore ten years of working in an office; definitely time for a break and no better than to extend the last seven years of snatched time doing the Munros into something more fitting of an expedition.

Arrangements were a little hectic. The first thing I decided to do was to get fit. Therefore I visited the gym regularly and some weekends put about four hours in. I also took my mountain bike for a few spins around Savernake Forest, sometimes staying out so late that I was zipping between the trees in the dusk - I was surprised I didn't kill myself. I also decided to try and get some movement into the joint between my big toe and my right foot. In 1987 I had injured it badly playing football (or to be precise I injured it by playing football badly), it had mended itself but all the muscles around the joint and down the instep had become very weak. Gisella suggested massage, which I did on a daily basis with various oils that she bought me from Boots. It did the trick as far as getting movement into the joint but the muscles still felt weak.

The next thing was to make sure my finances were in order for such a long trip away. Being a bit shy I was nervous phoning my accountant to arrange an appointment. I needed to get all foreseeable hurdles out of the way with my company before I went which meant I had to come clean and tell him what I was up to. I was expecting some talking to about how this trip would effect my income. But nothing of the sorts for he was quite enthusiastic and on meeting pumped my hand firmly and wished me luck. To add to the complications Gisella and I had decided to sell our house and had accepted an offer some weeks before my departure date. After four and a half years of DIY we had had enough and decided to sell what we considered to be ‘The House Of Hammer Horror.’ Fortunately the purchasers asked if we could possibly hold the house for them until the summer, July in fact. This could not have been better because a house move any earlier would have cut short my trip. Things were falling into place.

The next task was to take a good look at my kit and decide if I needed any more goodies from the sweet shop that is masquerades as an outdoor enthusiasts centre. So it was off to the Cotswold Camping shop near Cirencester that I went with credit card in hand to extend my collection of kit. I was aware that my Mother and Girlfriend had concerns for my safety. Therefore I decided to buy an emergency transmitter beacon. These are devices that are normally attached to yachts, which during a disaster the crew can activate. Once activated the device broadcasts an emergency signal on the 121.5mhz frequency that can be picked up by aircraft and specialised satellites. Anybody who remembers Tony Bullimore’s rescue way off the coast of Australia will know what a lifesaver one of these devices was for him. I asked at the counter for one.

"What do you want it for?" was the assistants reply. This wrong footed me for a second. I've bought many things in my life and had never been asked why.

"For walking," I said.

"In Scotland," I added trying to give some justification.

"They are really only for yachts, walkers should rely on the mountain rescue services."

"I know," I said, "but I walk alone and go out in the wilds of Scotland." I thought what else can I say, I know - "I only intend to use it if my life is in danger, I'm not intending to use it if I am simply lost."

The assistant relaxed and said he was happy to sell me one. Apparently there have been cases of groups of walkers using them when simply lost, annoying the RAF who I’ve heard have gone as far as scrambling Nimrods when one goes off. So I took possession of a brightly coloured handheld Jotron TRON 1E MKII device for a cost of about £140. Secretly it was not just my Mum's and Girlfriend's voices that drove me to buy this thing, also my own fears of breaking a leg high up in the mountains played a hand.

Earlier in the year I had watched one of the Wilderness Walks television programmes with Cameron McNeish and the Olympic gold medallist Chris Brasher. In the programme they praised trekking poles. These are telescopic ski like poles that you carry in each hand and use to take the weight off your knees. I decided to invest in a pair so what with the transmitter, a new stove, a pair of light weight boots and various other sundries I departed from the Cotswold Camping shop a little heavier in the carrier bag department but a little lighter in the wallet. I reflected that when I first started walking I always looked at the cheapest equipment and worked up. Time has brought an increase in experience and salary to the point I now always look at the most expensive kit and work down. So many times I have been in the mountains wet, cold and miserable wishing I had spent an extra £50 on a jacket.

I also invested in a new camera and doubled the value of my car by buying a CD player for it. It sounds a bit extravagant but I knew I would be spending a lot of time in my car and could do with some music of my own choice. I had never bought a tape player for my car so it was an easy decision to miss a generation of audio equipment evolution and plunge straight for a CD. As I had it installed about a month before I went to Scotland it meant that I could listen to music on the drive to work instead of having to listen to the general election coverage that seamed to dominate every radio station. At least the quality press had the decency to put the majority of their election coverage in an easily disposed of daily supplement.

I was uncertain how long I would spend in Scotland or how many Munros I would achieve. I set myself a few targets to which I would like my total Munros bagged to aspire. These targets were:

 

          70      because this would be quarter of the way.

          77      because there would be 200 to go.

          88      because this would beat my most number of Munros bagged in a year.

          93      because this was a third of the way.

          100     because it is a nice round figure.

          109     because this was greater than twice my previous total in a year record.

125            because in 1992 I set myself a five year plan of achievements, one of

which was to get my Munro total to 125 by the end of 1997.

          127     because there would be 150 to go.

          130     because this would be twice my current total of 65.

          139     because this would be half way.

 

Privately not breaking the 100 total would have been a great disappointment and exceeding the 125 total would be a bonus. Of course this all sounds very sad and makes me sound like the Munro equivalent of a train spotter. This is totally untrue because I don't wear a blue pac a mac and I never take a thermos up the mountains.

As a final boost to my forthcoming trip the National Asthma Campaign featured a small piece about my Munro bagging exploits in their quarterly magazine. This was as part of a larger article discussing the sporting exploits of asthmatics.

 

The first one of the trip

 

I set off for Scotland on Saturday May the 3rd, two days after Tony Blair's landslide election victory. I decided to spend the first night in Glasgow and trail around a few of my old haunts. I booked a hotel slightly out of town, as I needed somewhere to park my car. I arrived in the late afternoon and after a rest I decided to take a walk around the city. Firstly I thought I would walk to the Central Hotel where I used to stay and have a wander around the area. Now the Central Hotel is right on the Central Railway Station, which has its seedy sides. I took a few wrong turnings and soon found myself a little lost but only a few streets away from where I knew I wanted to be. Not a particularly dangerous area, but a little drab and seedy. Ahead of me a lady crossed the road and approached me. Perhaps she needs to know the time I thought, I hope she does not ask for directions as I'm not 100% sure myself.

"You looking for business love?"

Ah, I see. I had naively strayed into the red light district. I hastily fumbled out a no and thanked her for asking! I walked on and with typical male curiosity looked back a second later, she was nowhere to be seen. I am not that streetwise.

May the 4th saw me set foot in the hills for what was certain to be my longest Munro bagging trip to date. As part of the planning I decided to base myself in various areas for a week or so and complete the Munros in the vicinity. Therefore I had booked a spell in Killin Youth Hostel and decided to make my first mountain Ben Challum on the day of the drive up from Glasgow. It was raining and I opted for following a track for quite a way. The track was above a deep gully with a fast flowing Allt Gleann a' Chlachain stream in its base. I soon realised that I had made a bit of a mistake because I needed to be the other side of the gully so I cut down to the stream. This was my second mistake because in the base of a gully your field of view is restricted to a few meters around you. I knew I needed to branch to the north east but deciding at which point to take the plunge was difficult. The map showed many tributary streams feeding the main stream but counting these off as I passed them is not a reliable method as for much of the year these are dry and it all depends at what time of the year the OS did their aerial survey as to which they would have marked as streams. I decided to use the GPS, which quickly highlighted my next mistake in that in all my preparations I had forgotten to check the batteries. Never mind, I carried a spare set. Not quite, the old batteries were well and truly stuck in the torpedo tube battery cases. So it was just down to my navigational skills now. I decided to cross the stream at the next convenient point, this did not come for quite a while and then only in the form of a derelict bridge. The iron girders were narrow, too narrow to walk across. Many of the wooden slats were missing or rotten. This is where the trekking poles took on their third use of the day, I'll mention the first two in a moment. Whilst crossing the bridge I was able to test each plank as I went by striking it with a trekking pole before risking the weight of my foot. Many were unusable so I spent a while picking my way across with the stream in fast flow below. I was impressed with the poles as not only had they helped me across this bridge they had proved very useful on the up hill and down hill sections of the walk so far. They had also given me something to do with my hands, often when walking I don't know where to put my hands.

The escapade with the bridge reminded me of a story that Willy Newlands told me. A year or so back he had been out walking, with a friend, in the winter and it had become extremely cold. They were heading for a bothy and making steady progress before nightfall. Reaching the bothy was absolutely essential, as they did not have a tent. The temperature was very low which meant that spending a night out would have spelt almost certain death from hypothermia. According to their map the bothy was the other side of a river but there was a bridge marked. On reaching the bridge their hearts sank as they discovered that all of its wooden structure had been swept away and all that was left were the two six inch wide iron girders. The girders were too far apart to straddle so it meant tight rope like skills were needed. Unlike a tight rope they were not hundreds of feet above the ground, but their danger was in some ways more sinister. The river was in very fast flow and had risen to within a few inches of the girders. I know what Willy meant by "fast flow" - raging torrent. They managed to make it across but the phrase Catch-22 stayed with them for a long time. It was either death by hypothermia or risk the girders and try and avoid death by drowning.

Now back to the Ben Challum story. Having crossed the "bridge" I headed north east on a compass bearing. This was the hard slog bit. Most Munros have a section where you are going up exceedingly steep slopes for about one to two hours and this was no exception. It was misty and raining so I had to keep taking a bearing off distant objects, walking to that object then striking out again to another object. The lower slopes of Ben Challum were quite generous because there were many boulders to take a bearing on and walk to. Finally selecting one I put my head down and marched forth. On one occasion I glanced up and was certain that the boulder I was heading to had moved. Indeed it had, it was a sheep.

During the steep bits my age old question of ‘Why do I do this?’ came to mind.  I reached the summit at about three in the afternoon, as there was no view I turned straight around and got to the car at about 1800. Sitting in the drivers seat with my feet swung out onto the ground I took my boots off and a cloud of steam rose from each.

I was quite pleased with my first days walk. On a couple of occasions it looked as if I would have to abandon it but it all turned out okay. My troublesome knees gave a couple of twangs but I pacified them with deep heat. It was also the first time that I had carried the emergency transmitter. Paranoia caused me to check it regularly to ensure the pin, which you pull out to activate it, had not become dislodged. I could imagine strolling along and thinking to myself ‘There’s a lot of helicopters about today.’

 

Killin

 

I arrived at Killin Youth Hostel to find it amidst renovation work. It was good to see that the Scottish Youth Hostel Association is putting money into this non-mainstream hostel. Over the last few years quite a number of hostels have been forced to close because of lack of funds. After showering and eating I spent a frustrating evening trying to extract the stuck batteries from my GPS. I failed.

Another debate that I had with myself during the close season was how many consecutive days walking should I chance on my poor knees. As I had bought the most expensive knee supports that I could find, in the hope this would alleviate the problem, I decided to do a second days walking and then take the following day off. Therefore on Monday May the 5th I set out from the hostel to do Meall Glas and Sqiath Chuil. These two Munros live at the end of Glen Lochay, north west of Killin. The first thing I found was that the recommended parking place in the guide book was no longer accessible, the popularity of the sport is clearly causing land owners to gate their private roads so I could only drive as far as the end of the public road.

I started walking at 1000 in poor visibility, the mist cleared from time to time revealing two peaks. I was confused as to which peak was Sqiath Chuil and took a gamble, which fortunately paid off. However due to the hard slog I did not reach the summit until 1400, quite late in the day for then striking out to Meall Glas. The weather was poor with really bad hail and snow, it felt as if my face was being sand blasted at times. It was also really cold, I only just managed to be comfortable by wearing a T shirt, a normal shirt, a thick jumper, a thermal fleece and my gortex jacket. At one stage the wind whipped my map and compass, which were held by cord around my neck, up into the air. I managed to catch the map case but then was in a panic as my compass was nowhere to be seen. I could not believe that the wind was so strong as to blow a compass away. It is always a debate as to whether it is worse to lose your map or compass, I think I'd keep the compass as you can just head in one direction until you find some known territory. As the visibility was so poor I really needed my compass. After a few more anxious minutes of panic I discovered it had blown around the back of my neck - out of sight.

About ten minutes after this incident the map case decided to change personality and become a kite, using my neck as an anchor. The scene must have been comical as I was desperately trying to catch it whilst its cord twirled around my neck slowly garrotting me. However I was playing to an empty stage as, like yesterday, I did not see a soul on the hills.

A little further on the map case was again wrenched out of my grasp and the cord holding it around my neck ended up in my mouth cutting the join between my upper and lower lips. Things were a little against me and I seriously began to consider pulling out of doing Meall Glas. I pressed on and promised myself to seriously review the situation at 1600. When 1600 came I felt I had made sufficient progress so continued and reached my 68th Munro at 1720.

The walk back was tiresome as I misjudged a suitable crossing point over the river in the floor of Glen Lochay. I must have walked up and down for twenty or so minutes looking for a suitable place to cross. In the event the one that I plumped on made my feet much wetter than they already were. I got back to the car at 2000 damp and bedraggled but elated in having achieved the two Munros despite the conditions. I decided that the trekking poles were excellent and had vastly assisted my ascent and descent.

Arriving soaking wet and late at a Youth Hostel is not at all unusual so my appearance attracted no attention when I arrived back at Killin. On showering I discovered that I had a blister on each of my heels that had filled with blood. I popped them both and cleaned them up with surgical wipes and plastered them over.

Killin is a very friendly hostel and the new wardens made me feel very welcome. It was also a pleasure to encounter John Ward again. He was a chap that I had previously bumped into twice whilst staying at Mullardoch the previous year. Seeing a familiar face in unfamiliar surroundings always takes one a few seconds to place it.

"You are a retired school teacher," I said.

"And you are the man who hired a boat and took it to the bottom of Loch Mullardoch," he replied. I did not dwell too long on the double meaning behind "the bottom of Loch Mullardoch."

 

The One That Got Away

 

I took the following day off and visited the Teddy Bear museum in Calendar and the Motor museum at Doune. It always takes me a while to adjust to the friendliness of people in Scotland. At both places I was welcomed and forcibly given a discount at the motor museum because they had the doors open and it was a little cold! I also phoned Cotswold Camping, near Cirencester, to ask about the stuck batteries in my GPS. They straightaway knew the problem so I arranged to post it back.

One thing that occurred to me on my day off was that I am not too good at enjoying the moment. Whenever I get to a place I immediately look for the next thing to do and forgetting to take pleasure from the present. Therefore I am always hoping that the future will supply the pleasure that I wish for. Ultimately it means that I rarely truly enjoy myself. This maybe is why I enjoy Munro bagging because I am doing something for most of the day and therefore there is no opportunity to think ‘now what shall I do next.’

It was on May the 7th that I took back to the hills taking in Beinn Heasgarnich and Creag Mhor. This is one of the frustrating groups of hills where they are close enough to do in a day but are on different maps. Being more relaxed about my possessions these days I cut the relevant part out of one map and stuck it to the other with sticky plasters. I also made an earlier start after my experiences of Sqiath Chuil and Meall Glas. Striking out at 0820 I reached the intricate summit of Beinn Heasgarnich at around midday, or so I thought. I was following two other guys up in the mist by tracking their footprints in the snow. Suddenly the footprints disappeared without trace, I could only assume an alien abduction had taken place. I was a little unsure about the peak so walked parts of the ridge and finally settled on a small cairn as being the summit. The trek across to Creag Mhor was much easier save for a very steep descent off Beinn Heasgarnich. I decided that by this stage my body was loosening up a bit. I arrived at the second peak at just after 1500 and back to the car just after 1700.

On the second peak I got chatting to two guys who were doing the same walk as me but in reverse. I bumped into them back at the car and they had managed to do the entire walk in over four hours less than it took me.

I chatted with John Ward again in the evening and he thought that perhaps I had missed the actual summit cairn on Beinn Heasgarnich as the one I described he thought just marked the west end of the ridge. Secretly I was thinking ‘damn, he is probably right’ but spent awhile in denial about the possibility that I had not bagged this one. All the while I had a nagging doubt that I should have to return to this peak to claim it as a true bag. John is one of the walkers that are very precise about the pronunciations. I am useless at the Gaelic phonetics so it seamed that every time I mentioned the name of a mountain John would repeat it but in a different way. I think the pronunciations can become a figment of peoples imaginations as I have listened to one person pronouncing it, then used that myself only to be corrected by somebody else. Obviously it’s not how you pronounce it that matters it is just sounding convincing that is important. Personally I think all the mountain names were made up on the spot when the OS surveyors asked the locals during the nineteenth century. I'm convinced that some of the mountain names could be translated, from Gaelic, into such things as "Go away you silly little bald man with a theodolite."

I further chatted with John and mentioned that I had heard somebody scream in our dorm during the previous night. He said that it was because he had hit somebody who was snoring loudly. This was undoubtedly true as there are a few people, who I can only assume, are in the employ of the local guesthouses and hotels. They are deliberately planted in hostels to snore so loudly that they force other people to move out into a hotel or a B&B. Of course I jest but there definitely is a classic hosteller type who bores you to sleep all evening with tales of hostelling in the old days then keeps you awake all night by snoring and farting.

 

My First Walk On The Ben Lawers Ridge

 

The following day I decided to do Schiehallion but was thwarted by my trusty Toyota finally breaking down on me after 153,800 miles. I could have no complaints but by the time the ‘very nice’ man from the AA got me going again and I had arranged for the necessary spare parts to be sent up, it was too late to try for this mountain. This was the second time that Schiehallion had eluded me as I was due to do it with Willy Newlands back in 1991 but, for a reason that now escapes me, we failed to start it.

Therefore my next adventure to the hills was on May the 9th with a big plan of doing four Munros in a day. Near to Killin is the Ben Lawers ridge, which contains a total of six Munros. It was a clear day and I enjoyed the best of it with a 0815 start. I set off from the National Trust visitor’s centre and followed the well marked paths up onto the ridge. After about half an hour of walking I felt that I was missing something. I suddenly realised that I had set off without my trekking poles; it was too late to return for them. I reached the summit of Beinn Ghlas at 1025 and Ben Lawers at 1130. At this point I had the choice of going on and completing the east side of the ridge or double back on myself and do the two Munros to the west of the visitors centre. I opted for doubling back so took in Meall Corranaich and Meall a Choire Leith. In the final descent I got bogged down in an intricate area and ended up in a hollow and felt a sense of panic when I could not focus on a point to head towards. I calmed myself and logic told me just to use my compass to rise up out of the hollow and find the final stretch of the walk, which took me along the minor road back to the visitors centre.

I tried to hitch a couple of times but with no luck. I looked a bit bedraggled and any tourist driving past in their brand new Rover 620 with optional leather interior with walnut dash was sure to give me a miss.

 

My Second Walk On The Ben Lawers Ridge

 

You may remember that in my escapades of the previous day I had the choice of four out of the six Munros on the Lawers ridge. Today I decided to finish off the job and tackle the two most easterly Munros on the ridge: Meall Griegh and Meall Garbh. The best place to start these is from the village of Lawers on the road between Killin and Kenmore. However the local inhabitants do not favour their community being regarded as a public car park for hill walkers. Therefore the signs vary from ‘No Parking’ to ‘Daily Parking Fee - £ Astronomical.’ The problems of finding parking at Lawers are legendary - one chap, staying at the youth hostel, told me how he had once parked outside a farm at Lawers and on setting off discovered that the owners of the farm had a well rehearsed plan to corner any fiendish illegal parker. This involved employing two people and an easily bribed Alsatian dog. The victim would be allowed to park his or her car and ready themselves for the hills whilst the farm owners prepared the ambush. One particular farm building always had to be passed by the walker and it was here that any brief moments of parked car smugness were curtailed. On some form of cue the two people would run in opposite directions around the building whilst the third conspirator, the Alsatian dog, was set loose for the kill, preventing any break for the hills.

I could find nowhere to park so headed back in the direction of Killin and parked near a small hamlet. This substantially increased the length of my walk as I now had to spend the first few hours walking up a Landrover track to the shielings near some hydroelectric works. As I started out I noticed a Landrover parked about a mile or so up the track. I am always cautious and thoughts went through my head of maybe I'm in for a ticking off from the driver of the Landrover for cheating on the £5 parking charges at Lawers and instead parking totally free at the bottom of his Landrover track. As I got within a 100 meters he started the engine. Here we go I thought and tensed myself for an encounter. Instead he looked straight through me and headed down the track. As I approached the area in which he had been parked I noticed that there were a few animal pens. Curiosity got the better of me and I looked through the meshing of one of them to see the skin from the torso of a lamb. I reeled back in horror as I saw the rest of it, it had been delimbed and decapitated with its legs and head placed around the skinned torso in line with their original positions. Oh my god I thought, I've just encountered some inbred nutter who is doing tricky black magic with the livestock. The kind of bloke who reckons The Wicker Man is merely a documentary. I looked back down the track and the Landrover had parked near the bottom, near my car! Had he seen me look into the pen? What to do I thought, press on or go back? I decided to take the chance that there was some legitimate animal husbandry reason for performing this act on a lamb and decided to carry on. I kept the Landrover and my car in view for a long time until the gathering mist gave me some confidence that my Munro tally would not be halted at 74 and my delimbed and decapitated body would not be found in a few days time with my gortex jacket tossed to one side.

As I gathered height the wind reciprocated with ferocity. It began to become some of the worst conditions that I had ever encountered with the wind literally thumping the breath out of me and the snow and ice being whipped up into my face. I had to climb up a deep gorge of a streambed then negotiate a tall deer fence. Although I did not recall seeing any tall deer. Once on open ground I made for the line of an estate boundary fence. It was a fairly new construction but already was showing signs of the ravages of nature. I never understand why estates bother with fencing near the top of mountains. There are the remains of so many around the mountain tops that I would have thought the land owners would have got the hint that mother nature does not view them with anything but utter contempt. However they make useful navigation routes in poor weather so I shall say no more.

When I reached the fence I piled a few small rocks near one of the posts as a reference point for my descent and then struck out east for Meall Greigh, Meall Garbh being to the west. It was very difficult to find the summit as there were a few false tops on route and visibility was appalling. I was able to follow my fence for about an hour, only dispensing with its services to search for the summit. The search took up sometime and I was glad when my wanderings, in the mist, bore fruit in the shape of the top. Just an isolated point in space whereas the previous day, in the clear sunlight, it was part of a grand ridge.

Once I had taken the obligatory photograph I set straight off again, the conditions were so poor that resting meant I would get very cold. I made some mistake, I'm not sure where but I found myself not back at the fence as intended. Instead I was in deep mist with nothing to take a reference from. In these situations it is always best to take a compass bearing and head for it, I did this looking for my fence again. Still I could not find it and I started to have constant hallucinations that I could see it about ten meters in the distance but on getting there, each time, it had gone. This frustratingly continued for some time until I realised that my eyelashes were icing up and that every time I blinked it looked like a line of posts in the distance. After some further searching, both of the terrain and my soul, I found a fence, but not the intended one. Instead I stumbled across the tall deer fence that I had had to cross on my original ascent. Nonetheless it was a welcome sight and I was very relieved as I had started to become a little concerned that I was well and truly lost. I followed it around until I recognised my original crossing point. I struck north again and found the estate boundary fence with my pile of rocks still on century duty. Now I could follow it to the west with the confidence that it goes so close to the summit of Meall Garbh that I never need leave its friendly confines. As I plodded against the howling wind I noticed that ice spikes up to eighteen inches long had formed on the sheltered sides of each post. I also noticed footprints in the snow showing that humanity had been this way before although the fourth dimension, time, robbed me of any companion. I pulled the hood of my jacket as tight as I could to protect my face and eyes from the lashings of piercing ice that were being thrown at it.

 

                             The weather is lovely

                             The weather is fine

                             Apart from this blizzard

                             It’s simply divine

 

I kept plodding, it was a trudge and my morale was low. Then all of a sudden there was a "Hello." I jumped out of my skin and turned and there was a young lady with a broad smile. A lovely Irish voice followed it up with "I did not know how to attract your attention without making you jump. I saw you away back and could not believe that there would be another soul out in these conditions." “That’s okay,” I replied as a wave of pleasure went through my body relishing the thought of a companion to share these atrocious conditions with. I privately hoped that she would be able to accompany me for the rest of the walk, not just because she was a beautiful young woman but because my need for company had suddenly become quite desperate.

“Heading for Meall Garbh?” I asked.

“Yes, then heading back to my car. I just managed to get parked at Lawers.”

“Oh I had trouble parking there and ended up at Tombreck.”

“If we stick together then I’ll give you a lift from Lawers to Tombreck.”

This was just brilliant, company and a lift. After finding the summit of Meall Garbh we managed to continue shouting out a conversation until we got back below the deer fence and to the relative calm of being able to speak without yelling at each other. I lapped up the company. Her name was Michelle she lived in Edinburgh and she had just done her 74th Munro which was my 76th. She started her Munro bagging career in 1994. It transformed the day as she was an excellent companion having done a degree in philosophy, a subject that intrigues me a great deal. The lift from Lawers saved me about two hours walking and perhaps a fate similar to that that befell the poor lamb. Also she saved me an extra hour by being so fast that I was almost jogging to keep up with her.

 

The Secret Road

 

I took a rest day on May the 11th and found a road that is not marked on any road atlases. It is a private hydroelectric road, stretching from Glen Lochay to Glen Lyon, which appears to be open to the public by the good will of the owners. I deliberately drove to the summit to get good enough reception to listen to the Monaco Grand Prix. Whilst sitting in my car a hairy motor biker pulled up and spoke with me. He had a wonderfully soft Scottish accent. We spoke for a while and on hearing that I was from the South of England and trying to get up to do the Munros whenever I could, he told me of a book he was reading called ‘Burn on the Hill.’ It is about a man called Ronnie Burn, from the South of England, who during the earlier part of the twentieth century did all the Munros by getting up to Scotland during his holidays. I resolved to locate a copy.

It was May the 12th when I set off to try and bag Schiehallion. Schiehallion is a famous mountain because in 1774 the Astronomer Royal, the Rev. Nevil Maskelyne Frs, used the gravitational pull of the mountain to try and estimate the mass of the world. Schiehallion is also famous for its pointy shape and its distinct features make it readily identifiable from many miles away.

The day was fairly uneventful with the weather being mixed and the pull up Schiehallion being long and tedious with slippy rocks. I re-christened it Ben Plod. It was a significant point as it was my 77th Munro with 200 to go. In all it took me five and a half hours, and I was disappointed when, back at the Youth Hostel, a chap told me he had done it in three and a half.

One sad thing about Schiehallion is that it is becoming badly eroded. The path is now so wide that it could now be better termed a motorway than a footpath. Being a walker myself, therefore part of the problem, I cannot grumble.

The following day was to be another epic with four Munros planned. I always look at the guidebooks carefully where routes taking in greater than two Munros are described. There is always the chance that the route was done by some incredibly fit person and a mere mortal such as myself would struggle to do half the distance in the suggested time. The group of four planned was the Carn Gorm group to the north of Killin. I took my recently discovered hydroelectric road to connect to Glen Lyon and parked at Inverar where the local authorities had generously provided a nice little car park to resolve the parking problem. I traversed the horseshoe in a clockwise direction starting with Carn Gorm followed by Meall Garbh, Carn Mairg and Creag Mhor. The pull up to the first Munro was laborious and meant that I had to walk into the mist line.

Between Meall Garbh and Carn Mairg I followed the remains of an old fence across a few false summits. So indeterminate were the surroundings that I began to question whether I had inadvertently bagged it and missed the occasion. On one pause, to check the map, a chap called Hugh caught me up. He thought we still had a while to go which proved to be correct. Unfortunately in time honoured tradition he had set out two and a half hours after me and caught up with me within one and a half hours of his departure. This is where I get frustrated because people look at me as a tall slim male and cannot comprehend how I take so long over doing the mountains. Perhaps if I had only one leg I would ‘get away’ with it. We parted company at the top of Carn Mairg as Hugh wanted to go on and do the Meall Liath, which is only classified as a top. I made a tough descent through a slippery boulder slope. I met up with Hugh again at the top of the final Munro, Creag Mhor. We walked together back to our cars, which were parked side by side. The company was good and as the weather cleared for the final Munro the day was finished off on a cherry note.

The following day was to be last at Killin Youth Hostel as I planned to move on to Oban the day after. I had just two Munros left in the area being Meall Buidhe and Stuch an Lochain. These are an extremely unusual pair at the bottom of Glen Lyon with the road being so high that you end up returning past your car half way through the trip. I took the opportunity of sitting in my car to eat my lunch which felt very strange as often lunch is grabbed on some wind swept summit huddled below a pile of boulders.

The day was sunny and clear so there were good views from both of the peaks. On the descent from Meall Buidhe I met a couple of chaps with a dog, dogs always run ahead and back again so I am convinced that all dogs do a Munro at least twice in any single ascent.

I was tinged with a touch of sadness on my last night at Killin. I had spent eleven nights there in all and the wardens had joked that I was their permanent resident although I did not stay so long as to come out with such expressions as “Burglars Fawlty.” On this final night a group of us got chatting in the kitchen. One was a chap who had gone out to Australia in 1969 on a £10 passage and was now taking a holiday back in Britain at the age of 62. He was a keen cyclist and had been involved in an appalling accident a few years back in which he had lost an eye and damaged many of his joints. Nonetheless this plucky chap still rode a bike and was doing a UK tour. He told us that he had an 83 year old sister who had emigrated to Canada in the 1930s, he had met her only once but they still keep in touch. Also in the kitchen was a Canadian lady by the name of Barbara who joined in a general conversation about mountaineers and enjoyed my analogy that doing such mountains as K2 was like crossing the M1 on foot whilst drunk. Later I got chatting to Barbara outside and we went for a few drinks together. A week or so later Gisella was reading out my post to me over the phone when she said "Bank statement - you are in credit, junk mail, junk mail, letter from such and such oh and the love letter." "What?" I replied. "I'll read it to you." With that she put on a deep seductive Canadian accent. Apparently after I left Barbara had got my address from the warden and sent me a letter saying if I ever I was to find myself on the "other side of the pond" I would be welcome to stay. Lucky for me that Gisella totally trusted me that nothing that would cause her worry had occurred.

 

Oban

 

I spent May the 15th getting my car fixed and enjoying the drive over to Oban. Oban is a beautiful place and is very accessible by road and rail. It is also a gateway to many of the islands as the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry company operate from there. This makes it quite a populated place with grand hotels lining the harbour walls. Because of the greater population the Youth Hostel is very impersonal which meant I straight away slipped back into my default state of being very shy and skulky.

The following day I tackled Stob Diamh and Ben Cruachan. These are unusual Munros because you have to start them from sea level, most Munros are inland where you get a couple of hundred feet starting advantage. I was very weary climbing up Stob Diamh but I picked up speed on the ridge between the two Munros. In places the ridge was a bit narrow which was a little scary. As a reward for my perseverance the weather was excellent so I was able to spend over an hour on the top of Ben Cruachan enjoying the views. Here I met a pair of middle-aged retired couples. One couple had, thirty years ago, named their house Cruachan and therefore resolved to one day climb the mountain. I suggested that they should have called it "Lay-by on the A82" and saved themselves the trouble. The chap also said that he always resolved that when he got his wife to the top of Ben Cruachan he would take her round the back of a large rock and make mad passionate love to her. He followed that up by saying, "so if you will excuse us for 10 minutes." His wife glanced at him and he added, “okay then ten seconds.”

I kept away from the hostel for as long a possible. The previous night some old guy used the sink in the room as a urinal. I was not looking forward to a return. It improved a bit this night but some people set their alarm clocks then made no attempt to get up. This is the selfish side of hostelling where people can not comprehend that setting an alarm clock, then not getting up may just be a tad anti-social.

I took in Beinn Eunaich and Beinn Chochuill. I almost did not start as the wind was so strong that when I got out of my car I had to wrestle with my coat, I managed to get one arm in only to find the other one yards above my head flapping like a wind sock. I reeled it in, as a fisherman would a reluctant fish, before managing to slide my other arm in and bridle its anger. I was very slow climbing Beinn Eunaich, it took me four hours in cloud and mist in complete contrast to the previous day. I think the contrast in the days contributed to my sluggish pace. After the first Munro I got a second wind and I managed to hurry across to the next Munro and took a direct line off it back to the return path. This made the descent very steep but I decided that I wanted to get back to my car to hear the second half of Chelsea versus Middlesbrough in the FA cup final.

When I climb the mountains I spend nearly all of my time thinking about life the universe and everything. Today I began to think again about why I actually do this sport. A reason came to mind, just a possibility, in that it is a sport that I have found for myself. None of my family and friends are into Munro bagging so when I say I've done such a such mountain I am spared the story of when they did it and how long it took them. Therefore there is no competition. On a similar line of thinking when I was at school I was either poor or average at most sports. At the time I got sucked into thinking that I was no good at sport at all. I ignored that fact that I had quick reflexes whilst in goal or playing badminton and allowed the jeers of other pupils get me down. Here in my adulthood is a sport that I can readily do at my own pace and allow my assets of stamina and tenacity see me through. There are no childhood echos with this sport, it is all fresh and new and just for me.

 

Glen Coe

 

I took a rest day on May the 18th in preparation for an onslaught on the mountains in the Glen Coe area starting on May the 19th. Glen Coe is one of the most beautiful Glens in Scotland and if you factor in accessibility it has to be one of Scotland’s best loved places. Sadly for the Glen it is steeped in dark history. The Highland clans, that used to populate this area, had always been at odds with the central government, the clans carefree and lawless nature did not bode well with the ruthless central government. In August 1691 King William III, in London, offered a pardon to all the Highland clans provided they took an oath of allegiance before a magistrate by January 1st 1692. In the fair minded spirit of the offer King William gave them the option of the oath or death. The MacDonald’s clan chief reluctantly agreed to take the oath but due to a mix up did not present himself for the oath until January 6th. MacDonald thought the fact that the oath had been taken was acceptable, the King felt differently and unbeknown to the MacDonald’s a force of Campbell’s (loyal to the King) were formed at Inveraray to kill the MacDonald’s. Marching north the Campbell’s, led by Captain Robert Campbell, reached Glen Coe and asked the MacDonald’s for quarters. They were duly given hospitality for ten days until on the night of February 12th Campbell received orders to proceed to kill all of the MacDonalds under the age of seventy. The following morning the Campbell’s rose early and murdered forty MacDonalds before breakfast, many more fled to the hills where they perished from the cold. It has always been regarded as a heinous crime as it was an act of betrayal of their hosts.

My visit to Glen Coe involved a shift in youth hostel to the less impersonal one in Glen Coe although the warden appeared to scowl a bit. I had always put off doing mountains in this area, as there is so many that psychologically doing the odd one or two would not feel like any achievement. However this was to be a long Munro bagging trip so I decided to make two trips to the Glen Coe area during it.

My first walk was to be a group of three Munros: Ben Starav, Beinn nan Arghenan and Glas Bheinn Mhor. These are way down Glen Etive, which is a glen that runs to the south of Glen Coe. The terrain is different to the Killin district where parallel glens have connecting roads, in this area the mountain ranges are more spectacular with no let up for adjoining roads. Therefore although the mountains were close to the hostel as the crow flies, or should I say the Ptarmacan, it was a long drive round.

I made my first mistake of the day by leaving a route card at the hostel. The idea of a route card is so if you are overdue they know where to come looking for you. The disadvantage of them is that it puts you against the clock and therefore encourages you to take risks if you are running late. My second mistake of the day was to cut up the hillside at a silly angle. After a while I looked to my left and realised that I was at a very steep angle and one slip would have led to a very long tumble, probably for about 1000ft. I experienced the classic borderline fear, panic exhilaration feelings. I had no choice but to stick with the situation of my own making and coax myself towards the ridge. This took quite sometime and my nerves were fully tested. Once on the ridge I was greeted by a black Labrador and soon joined by three other dogs. Their owner then appeared, a fair haired bearded vision of a man. Where I wore a gortex jacket he wore an old tweed jacket with an abundance of holes in the arms and main body. Where I wore tracksuit trousers he wore khaki army ones. Where I wore heavy duty four season walking boots with gortex gaiters he wore a pair of old army boots, scuffed and with many holes and patches. Where I wore a rucksack he wore a 0.22 calibre high velocity rifle. He was a stalker. He was good company as we made our way to the top. It was interesting to chat to a ‘real’ Scot as usually most Scottish people you get to speak with are polluted by the tourist industry and consequently have their vision slurred by it. He had a mellow country accent and was taking a keen interest in all about him. He was after foxes that prey on lambs, I also think he was simply out for a good walk. He said that he loved the South West of England and it was interesting that he had just been on holiday there. Occasionally he peered into the glen below. "Looking for foxes?" I asked. In a dry tone he replied "No, just looking for easy ways up for twenty two stone city types when the shooting season starts." He told me that some of the estates shooting customers are so fat and unfit that by the time they have got them to the shooting sight the deer have long since got wind of the danger and legged it. We talked about modern day problems and despite our vastly different backgrounds we found a lot of common ground. At one stage he said, "Do you see that house in the Glen there? It is owned by a fine Woman, She's got five sons and they are all afflicted with the drink bar one." I loved the phrase "they are all afflicted with the drink” - such a Scottish way of putting it. When we reached the top we ate our food and passed the time. When it was time to go our separate ways he thanked me for my company, I liked that because it made me feel welcome in the hills in which he earns his living.

The second Munro, Beinn nan Arghenan, was not on the same ridge as the first, Ben Starav, and Glas Bheinn Mhor. Half way between I needed to head south and drop onto another ridge and climb up Beinn nan Arghenan. It was very misty and I got confused as to which point in the ridge I needed to break off to Beinn nan Arghenan. Luckily two other walkers appeared and after a confer I managed to find the correct route. The pull up the final two Munros was against the clock, because of the route card I had completed. The blood was thumping inside my skull. I am always frightened of getting myself involved in a rescue operation because details of all rescues are published and they always find some bit of kit you were missing. Most rescue accounts conclude, in a ticking off tone, with ‘and the walker did not have such and such.’ Having read many rescue accounts I am now of the conclusion that if you had every single piece of equipment that all the other rescue stories damned the people for not having your own story would conclude with ‘and the walker fell to his death under the sheer weight of having all the correct equipment.’

Taking in Beinn nan Arghenan made it a very long day, eleven hours in all. I could have made the day much shorter by missing this second Munro but, being one of the more remote mountains, it would have meant another long day to reach it.

When I got back to the car it was quite sunny and I drove back along Glen Etive to the sounds of Louis Armstrong singing ‘Wonderful World.’ I had to pull up to allow a herd of deer cross the road. Scotland is a difficult place to beat.

That evening I walked to the Clachaig Inn for my tea. I noticed that my knees were hurting a bit and also both the tendons on my ankles were strained. I took this into the following day, May the 20th, making a tough day of tackling a singleton by the name of Beinn Sgulaird. I decided to wear my new boots in the mistaken belief that the pain from the pinching would take away the pain from my knees. In contast the weather was rain free with a combination of mist and clear views.

 

Whisky Galore

 

May the 21st brought a rest day for my knees and myself. I was wondering how to fill the day when I remembered that whilst in Oban I had noticed that they were showing Whisky Galore at the cinema. Therefore I took a trip down there to see this classic Ealing Comedy set on one of Scotland’s beautiful islands. I am a particular fan of the Ealing Comedies and it was about them that I had one of my first conversations with Gisella and the common interest had aided in bringing us together. Indeed we liked the films so much that we even renamed the house we bought together, in Marlborough, as ‘Ealing House.’

One of my pastimes in hostels is to read and for the rest of the day I continued to plough my way through the Colditz Story with frequent pauses to shroud the volume from the vast number of Germans in the hostel. From reading the book I now realise that my true vocation would have been Goon baiting in a second world war POW camp. This is because I always tend to like to have a go at authority when I know that I am definitely in the right and have the backing of others. This is where the time to think on a long trip, such as this, gives me a chance for my self awareness to grow. I now realise that the reason I was outspoken during my degree course was that the lecturers tended to be lazy and I felt I had the right to complain about such things as a delay in getting course work marked.

In the evening I paid another visit to the Clachaig Inn for some grub and a few beers with two Dutch guys. Both worked in computing and to make the world an even smaller place they worked on a little known product that one of my friends, Graham, was using. Little did I know that this was to be my next contract in the computer industry. When we all discovered that we worked in computing we agreed that it is not the best thing to talk about out of work then proceeded to spend the next hour doing the very same. The Clachaig Inn is a pub geared up for walkers and climbers and many a good night is to be had there after a day in the mountains.

The walk back from the pub was magnificent as the sky was cloudless and the moon was just to one side of a pair of adjacent mountains, it was beautiful and to die for. Along with the Dutch guys also in my dormitory that night was a group of cyclists from Birmingham who had never been taught to be quiet. Their idea of a whispered conversation was to turn the volume knob back a couple of clicks on the megaphone. I was trying to get to sleep when one of them started snoring so loudly that I could not drop off despite wearing earplugs. At about 0100 in exasperation I said "Shut up!" The entire dorm fell about laughing, clearly everybody was being kept awake by this chap so we collectively woke him up to stop him. However he was like an alarm clock on snooze, you'd shut him up then about five minutes later he would start off again.

To add to my sleepless night the Birmingham cyclists woke at 0600 and started to talk loudly. It is really annoying because although I accept that you will get disturbed there is no need to talk loudly during sleep hours. One of my problems is that I am a light sleeper unless I really need to be awake. For example I slept through the 1987 hurricane that hit the South of England despite the roof of our garage collapsing, I also slept through a fire in the Central Hotel in Glasgow that was raging in a lift shaft not far from my room. But if a mouse breaks wind in the back garden I'm wide awake.

On May the 22nd I did Bidean nam Bian. The weather was so beautiful, hot and clear that I spent over an hour on the top taking in the view and watching the traffic on the floor of Glen Coe some 3000ft below. On the way up I met a lady who was on her 260th Munro, she did her first in 1956. At the top I got chatting to two retired people still able to enjoy their hill walking despite their ageing limbs.

Again the company in the hostel was good in the evening. It was a pleasure to spend another evening in the Clachaig Inn with Kenny, a Scot, Julian a bearded violinist from Cumbria and an Aussie by the name of Mike.

On leaving the pub there was still the tail end of the daylight. At this time of year it is still very clear at 2300. It took me ages to figure out that the extra hour or so of day light, that a Scottish summer evening gives over the South of England, means that it is dark down south whilst still light in Scotland. This, of course, is perfectly obvious but it took the release of John McCarthy to make me realise this. I was working in Glasgow at the time and was sitting in the canteen when somebody walked past with a local newspaper. On the front cover there were just two words - ‘McCarthy Free.’ It took me a couple of seconds to realise the impact - John McCarthy was free. I left work bang on time and headed for my hotel room so I could watch the events of the day unfold on Sky News. During the evening I was laying on my bed, with sunlight still pouring in through the window, when the news switched over to RAF Lyneham, in Wiltshire, to await the arrival of the plane carrying John McCarthy. As a boy I lived in sight of RAF Lyneham so know it well, it totally surprised me to see the reporter standing against the black night sky while I was still being bathed in sunlight. It is strange how such a monumental event means that you remember other mundane aspects of the day on which it occurred with great clarity. The bit that has stuck with me the most about the events of that day was his composure on being released. After five and a half years chained to walls in various ‘dungeons’ not knowing from one day to next if he was going to be freed or murdered he met the press in Damascus and with almost a twinkle in his eye said "Well Hello" as if he had some explaining to do.

Things like that put other things into perspective, occasionally when I reach the summit of a mountain I really appreciate the freedom of being able to do this and sometimes the thought of John McCarthy, at a similar age to myself, chained up in a cell pays a momentarily visit to my conscious.

 

Skinny Dipping

 

The following day, May the 23rd, I climbed Meall a Bhuiridh and Creise. It was another beautiful sunny day and I parked at the ski centre at the east end of Glen Coe. I delayed my start by engaging in conversation with a chap that was up for the paragliding. He said that the conditions were ideal so I said that I would look out for him later in the day.

The great thing about totally clear days is that you can see exactly where you are intending to go so there is no need to meticulously follow the route with a map and compass. Once I had hauled myself onto the top of Meall a Bhuiridh I could see the job in hand to get over to Creise. Once on top of Creise the views were outstanding, mountains everywhere with Schiehallion and Ben Nevis the most distinct peaks about. Snow still picked out the sheltered regions, as an artist would use shading to give perspective. I enjoyed the view so much that I took photographs to make a 360 degree panorama.

During my descent I found some beautiful rock pools and went for a swim. Swims in rock pools are short because only an optimist would describe them as refreshing, to everybody else they are painfully freezing. Suitable mountain pools for swimming are not that common so a swimming costume is not part of the kit. The chances of anybody else coming past are so small that going for a quick skinny dip is not a problem. On this occasion, however, I think that the men in the paragliders observed me. After swimming and sunning myself I became aware of the narrowing proximity of these flying machines. I got dressed before any gender identification could take place leaving the sad men in their paragliders to cling to the hope that in fact I was a page three girl out for a stroll and basking by a rock pool.

Another visit to the pub was in order in the evening with the Aussie called Mike and a stocky German chap called Peter. Peter was a gentle giant with an amusing accent and mannerisms. Unfortunately he was a little naive and Mike and me struck a cord with some gentle, yet undetected, leg pulling. At one stage Peter said "I met this chap in Ireland who was in the Army." Mike replied "The IRA?" Peter, totally misunderstanding, "Yah I think so." I said, "Did he give you any leaflets?" Peter replied "Nooh." Mike, "A package perhaps." Peter, still oblivious, "Nooh." It was cruel but wonderfully funny.

 

Here and There

 

The following day was to be a mixed bag of driving to Fort William, stocking up on food then driving to collect my friend, Ady Glover from Inverness railway station. Shopping in Fort William is now easier than in the days of the holiday cottages. In the late 80s and early 90s the trip from the south was always pressured with having to make Tesco before 1700.

As Ady walked down the platform, at Inverness, I could see that he had my GPS system in hand. The shop could not get the batteries out so they sent a new one and Ady brought it up for me. A note with the GPS said that they had used ‘extreme prejudice’ to extract the batteries but failure meant that they supplied me with a new unit instead. Also a letter from Gisella came courtesy of the Ady delivery service. Ady had come up on the sleeper, for the weekend, and as he is much stronger and fitter than me I was praying that he had had a bad nights sleep on the train to compensate for my lesser strength. He had slept like a log.

We drove to Inverlael then walked through the forest and camped. This was to be our striking out base for four Munros the next day. Now I say four but there was actually a fifth but it would make the day very long, so when I was showing Ady the map I carefully folded it so this fifth, very remote, Munro was out of sight. Ady immediately wanted the map spread out and noticed this fifth one.

"Steve mate, can't we take this one in too?"

"It’s a bit far," I said.

"Yeah you are right," he replied.

I could not believe that Ady was so ready to accept this and started to look at the map in a bit more detail. I said, "I suppose we could take it in."

Why was I doing this? I knew in my heart of hearts it was too far but I also was starting to realise that this was a golden opportunity to get it bagged. We agreed that if we finished the fourth by 1400 we would go for it.

We awoke at 0420 but I could not get Ady to shift for a further two hours. He said that he wanted to lie in until about 0930 so I guess a departure time of 0740 was a fair compromise. Ady wanted a coffee before we left, I did not want to delay our start any further and tried to talk him out of it. He gave me a choice of a coffee now or to carry the stove up the mountains. I opted for the coffee now, boiled some water, promptly kicked it over, started to boil some more, ran out of gas. Finding this out then proved to be a bonus as little did I know our day was to be an epic and to keep going on the pretext of a non existent hot meal waiting for us back at the tent would have been very cruel.

The weather the previous evening had been high cloud with all the peaks exposed. In the morning they were all well and truly covered in cloud. By this time I had it in my head that I wanted to do the fifth Munro, Seana Bhraigh, and was itching to get cracking. The path up onto the plateau that sits below the first three Munros is very good. From the plateau we climbed Beinn Dearg, Cona Mheall and Meall nan Ceapraichean. The plateau and the three Munros were in heavy mist and we found navigation very slow and had to rely on the GPS a couple of times to confirm our position. One trick I have learnt about navigating in the mist is that the wind always picks up near a ridge or a summit; we used this ‘tip’ on a couple of occasions today.

The climb down from Meall nan Ceapraichean was a bit hazardous as there was a large rock pavement to negotiate with deep cracks that had to be avoided. I imagined falling into one of these cracks as the chances of extracting myself unaided would be very slim. There was also an amount of lowering to be done from one ledge to another. When we got to the fourth Munro of the day, Eididh nan Clach Geala it was about 1600. This overshot our deadline for attempting the fifth Munro by two hours. We should have stuck with our original plan as the weather was getting windy and there was no let up in the cloud cover. If I had been alone I would not have tried for it. However, the company had given me a false confidence.

On route the wind picked up and the terrain became more barren. A couple of times we came up against dead ends with the ground dropping away to such an extent that we had to back track to find a way through. When Seana Bhraigh came into sight it looked menacing. An 800ft horseshoe like cliff face guarded its approach. Therefore we had to walk around the edge of this before getting to the ‘home run’ for the summit. The wind was gathering pace and I had to cling onto my map case in one hand and my hood with the other. A lesser summit had to be negotiated first and after it we chose to rest from the wind. It was howling so much that I could hardly open my rucksack to get at some much needed food; the rain was lashing by now. I was feeling very irritable, often a sign when approaching exhaustion, and felt a lot of anger as I watched Ady open his sandwich box and make no attempt to prevent his spent chocolate bar wrappers from becoming fugitives to the wind. After a few minutes we pressed on into the wind and rain. We could hardly stand and on one occasion I was physically blown over. I am only twelve stone in weight, but 6'1'' in height so it gave the forces of nature an easy target. On other occasions I had to stand with my back into the wind and just brace myself until the wind relented enough to press on. This was wild remote country.

We struggled on with the peak in sight. From way back the route up looked very narrow, when we got there narrow was not the word. It was a knife-edge with 800ft drops either side. Mist wisped over the exposed ridge beckoning us like a mysterious woman into her lair. You know it would not be good but nonetheless you are still attracted. We could hardly stand and conversation could only be had by taking it in turns to put mouth to ear and then just shouting. With the wind smashing into us I just managed to hear Ady say, "We can't get over that." I crept forward, on all fours to reduce the risk of being blown off, to make doubly sure there was not an easier route that we were missing. There was not. I took a while to concede that there was no hope of getting to the summit, literally only a few meters away, and agreed to turn back. We were at the furthest point of the entire day from the tent when we made this decision and it was 1920 hours.

The journey back to the tent was awful. During the initial descent I was starting to suffer from exhaustion, I could feel myself starting to slip, stumble and mentally slide. Ady went ahead most of the time and, as the distance between us ever increased, I felt very angry with him for ‘leaving me’. I felt very alone, heightened by the figure disappearing into wilds before me. I summoned my strength and caught him up by reeling him in bit by bit. I was none too pleasant company. Friction grew when I discovered the emergency equipment he carried consisted of a pair of shorts and sunglasses whereas mine contained bivi bags, whistle, spare food, GPS system, hypothermia blanket and emergency transmitter.

I was desperate with exhaustion and longed to be at home with Gisella. I wanted out, out of hillwalking, out of this pursuit, out of the dream of being a munroist. At this point it held nothing for me but misery. I was in a state as I realised that I had long exhausted my energy reserves and my mind was starting to break lose from reality and bring on feelings of panic about the predicament. After losing some height there was some further high ground to ascend to get ourselves out of the plateau that leads to Seana Bhraigh. This was tough and it took us ages to pick up the path marked on the maps. After we lost some height the rest of the trek was a route march in constant wind and rain but manageable. As the light faded I realised I’d done Ady a disservice, he’d remembered to pack a torch. I had not.

It took us a further four hours to get back to the tent and the thing that kept me going was that when we got there I would be able to have my tea of a cold can of baked beans with vegetarian sausages. As ever with life the dream was better than the reality.

Fortunately the tent was still standing and we piled in and got our wet things off and had food. Later we reflected that we would have had more chance: If we were not so tired when we got near the summit, if the weather was not so atrocious, if we could see, if we could hold the map to read it and if we were dry and alert and if we had been on the right bloody mountain! A navigational error had meant that we missed Seana Bhraigh and instead attempted its hazardous easterly neighbour, Creag an Duine which is not classified as a Munro. Looking at the map the approach features to the two are very similar, both having cliffs to negotiate on route. Getting the wrong peak also added about an extra three miles to the walk.

As a footnote to this story I later read Ranulph Fiennes book ‘Mind Over Matter’ describing his epic crossing of the Antarctic continent. In this work he points out that at some stages an expedition is depending on luck rather than skill or experience. At this point the party should turn back. I think Ady and myself had got ourselves into this position.

 

Billy McRae

 

When we awoke it was clear that the extremes of the previous day rendered any further Munros to the realms of the conscience and in consequence we were handed a lie in. Feeling damp in my sleeping bag I was in no mood to raise myself and subject myself to the chill air. Instead a slug making its way across the outside of the inner tent lining supplied entertainment. Its sticky trail marked its wake and allowed averted eyes to re-asses progress as the pointless climb up and over the top was made. When the slug was over the worst, and headed downwards to grass just as good it had left some hour beforehand, we felt it was time to start making a move. It was painful leaving the damp, yet warm confines, of my sleeping bag and, to make matters worse, I had chosen not to bring any spare clothes so I had to reinsert myself into the sodden garments of yesterday.

We headed for the beauty of Ullapool - a natural harbour surrounded by wonderful scenery and on a calm clear day it takes on a magic all of its own. An afternoon stroll drifted into a search for food interspersed by a visit to a local bar where we were waylaid by a local character by the name of Billy McRae. He was a fisherman, in his mid sixties, who insisted on buying us shorts and was offended when we tried to retaliate and buy him a drink. A sense of insecurity visits me when somebody is trying to buy all the drinks as I feel morally obliged to owe something back, possibly my company for the entire evening. On each new short we had to stand as he said "Be upstanding at all times." He kept bursting into song which spurred annoyance within the barman. "Billy we no have a licence for the singing," would only bring silence for awhile until Billy, like a child, calculated the time lapse he could risk before a few verses of another encore silenced him once more.

His accent was very difficult for me to follow and I found myself nodding a great deal only to be caught out when it was clear he was awaiting the answer to a missed question. I concluded that he must come out with the same stories every evening because many of the locals reacted to his stories with a resigned "Aye Billy, Aye." Nonetheless his tales were interesting to the virgin ear. He had worked on the dams for the hydroelectric during the 1940s and 50s and was determined to work, despite being an asthmatic, until the day he died as he thought retirement was for fools. He was proud that his dog was called “Askhim” for the very simple reason that when people asked what his dog was called he could say “Askhim.” Ady asked him "Are the Spanish fishermen a bunch of sods?" Billy said no and added that they are just trying to make a living like the rest. Some other fishermen in the bar rolled their eyes. Billy said that the comradeship amongst the fishermen is high and that you'd always go to the rescue of a fellow man whatever his nationality. The other fishermen in the bar rolled their eyes. On more than one occasion Billy came out with a rhyme that went something like:

 

                             Take yourself a good wife

                             And give her no tears

                             Be good to your wife

                             And she'll last you for years

 

Each time he said this he winked at me metaphorically repeating the entire rhyme with an "Aye, aye." The other fishermen in the bar rolled their eyes.

 

A Walk Without A Munro

 

The following day I dropped Ady at Inverness railway station and met up with another friend, an ex work colleague by the name of Steve Hampton. Steve had just separated from his wife and had also badly sprained his ankle. Therefore we had lots of time to talk and spent a few days together touring my old favourites of Loch Mullardoch and Glen Cannich followed by a trip over to Skye. Whilst on Skye Steve bought a book of walks and we attempted a modest coastal one. After about an hour it became clear that I was struggling. If I am off to tackle a Munro then my body gears up for a days hard slog whereas for a gentle coastal walk my body thinks ‘no trouble’ and after only a short distance says ‘okay you can feel tired now.’ Unfortunately I think I did Steve a disservice because my enthusiasm for the Munros caused him to say, "I can see this is the sort of thing that I could get into as I like ticking things off." Whoops, possibly I’ve landed somebody else with the same bug.

After a three day break I returned to the hills on May the 29th to tackle Beinn Sgritheall. This entailed first negotiating the road from Shiel Bridge round to Arnisdale. This is a most beautiful drive with great views of the sea, islands and mountains. It was a hot day and I forgot my trekking poles so found it tough going. At one stage in the ascent there is a large boulder come scree slope to negotiate. I found this very difficult, as it was quite hard on my knees. Once the scree was safely negotiated there was a minor top to cover before a superb ridge walk, with one nerve testing exposed section, out to the true summit.

On the route back I dislodged a football sized boulder which took off and bounced, with ever increasing vigour, on the slopes beneath me. This cannon ball of nature narrowly missed a fellow walker a few hundred meters below me; even on the calmest of days there is danger in the mountains.

Following this I drove for three hours in the evening sun to Glen Etive, stopping on route a few times to just take in the views. Glen Etive is a classic place for rough camping as it has good ground for pitching and there is plenty of water around. I followed the classic camper’s sequence of events which are to:

 

·       Find a suitable pitch

·       Put bottles of beer in stream to cool down

·       Erect tent

·       Drink beer

·       Trip over guide ropes

 

Unfortunately I had a lousy nights sleep. After finally dropping off I woke to find my back welded to the ground, each way I moved I could not raise myself. Fortunately the tent was on a slight slope so after some forty five minutes of testing the water I was able to roll over on to my stomach.

The reason for camping was to try and get my tent dried out from the soaking that it got a few days previously. Unfortunately the outer of the tent had got wet in the night so I had to wait until the sun rose above the mountains to dry it off before I could set off for my days climb, my 100th Munro.

 

Century Reached

 

This was a glorious day to attempt my 100th Munro on. I chose Buachaille Etive Mor as it is a classic Munro proudly sitting on the left of the road as you sweep into Glen Coe from the south. The pull up was tough as it was through scree. In wintertime this area is prone to avalanche and has claimed many lives. One entire family was lost in this region after just a low level stroll ended in tragedy as they were engulfed by snow and their bodies were not found until the thaw began, some months later. Once the scree was completed it was a straightforward walk to the summit, again a ridge walk in the sun was a treat.

I spent about an hour on top chatting with people and admiring the view across the famous Rannoch Moor. Sadly one person told me that somebody died on the mountain a week before on an attempt to negotiate a descent of the hazardous east face.

My descent took me back via the safer scree slopes on which I invented a new sport of scree surfing. This involves standing on a slab like rock and skidding over the surface of the smaller scree below. Though I had more chance of taking off than my newly invented sport.

Buchaille Etive Mor was to be the start of my second visit to Glen Coe of the trip in an attempt to complete all of the Munros in the immediate vicinity. Again I stayed at Glen Coe Youth Hostel and on arrival I presented my pre-booking form for a nine night stint. The warden was quite peculiar about me staying for this length of time.

"I know your sort, if the weather turns nasty you'll want straight out," he said.

"If the weather turns nasty this is the very place that I'd want to be," I replied.

With that he begrudgingly entered my details into a book and said "I can't say I can keep you in the same dorm every night, we get groups in you know. You'll have to come and check every morning to see if I want you to move." Needless to say I never bothered checking and he never stopped scowling at me.

In the evening I revisited the Clachaig Inn, this time with a German chap called Christian. He was enjoying some time to himself having just finished a tedious stint of national service. Apparently you get drafted then sent to some camp where you either do nothing or totally mundane jobs. One of his friends had got out of it by presenting the medical board with some chest X-Rays that showed some tricky illness. The X-Rays were supplied courtesy of the chaps father who was a hospital doctor. Christian also told me that the chap that had been killed on Buchaille Etive Mor was a police officer and it had been quite a local news story. We chatted for ages, his English was superb and he knew more about English football than I did. He also told me about this guide book that he was reading which described these mountains called ‘Munros’ and that it is a strange sport amongst some British people to climb them all. You can go right off some people you know. I gauged how far I should let him dig himself into this hole before I confessed to being one of this strange breed.

 

The Aonach Eagach Ridge

 

May the 31st was clear and calm and very warm. Ideal conditions to take a look at the Aonach Eagach ridge. This is the most exposed mainland ridge in the country and connects the two Munros of Meall Dearg and Sgor nam Fiannaidh. I had read the guidebooks and had been totally put off by their warnings of the danger for the novice climber. Therefore before setting out I had decided to just climb Meall Dearg and miss the ridge and then climb Sgor nam Fiannaidh another day from the other side. Of course this is less than efficient but I reckoned that attempting the Aonach Eagach may well have meant that I would not have another day.

I set off from the unusual starting point of Caolasnacon on the road to Kinlochleven the aim being to avoid as much of the exposed ridge as possible. Unfortunately due to a basic navigational error I took three and a half hours to reach the summit. I could see the Aonach Eagach on my approach and as I reached the summit its full horror lay before me. Jagged knife edge rock for about a mile stood between me and the Munro of Sgor nam Fiannaidh. Any secret thoughts that I still harboured of doing it were quickly expelled and I settled down to my lunch and the prospect of a leisurely walk back to my car. As I settled down a group of five chaps were just starting to tuck into their lunch. They were surprised at my route up.

I said "I did not fancy doing the first bit of the ridge myself, so therefore chose this route to avoid any of the exposed ridge." I asked them if they had done it before, four said "Aye."

"How bad is it?" I enquired. Mistake, mistake, mistake.

"Aye nah as bad as it looks - yee can do it with us if you like.”

"Thanks so much but me and that kind of risk don't get on so well," I said.

"You'll be all right, you can walk amongst us and we will talk you through it." How could I refuse?

The first thing I had to do, on their advice, was tie my trekking poles to my rucksack as they would have been a liability if held in the hand. The ridge is a mixture of chimneys, steep sided faces, traverses and narrow interconnects. The memory is now a blur but I can remember having to raise and lower myself and sideways traverse over exposed sections with 500ft drops if I were to slip. I can remember having to lower myself onto ledges with my feet out of sight desperately seeking purchase. I can remember blowing my nose a lot, something I always do when I am nervous. I can remember the scratch marks on the rock, which I assume were from winter crampons and not finger nails! I can remember sideways traversing and having to be talked through it as I began to panic as I looked down between my legs to see the ground very far away. I can remember being out of water and very thirsty, no stream ever graces a ridge. I can remember an alarming moment of my rucksack shifting on my back. I can remember being very scared.

Once started the point of no return soon comes and you realise just what you have let yourself in for. There were places to rest but this was not a good idea as the longer I rested the more time I had to dwell on what had gone and what was to come. The guys were great, they always talked me through the difficult bits and making sure that I was never at the back.

All of their reassurance went to pot when one of them said, "This is about where the guy fell."

"What guy?" I said with alarm.

Apparently when they had done the ridge the previous September they heard a cry from a party behind them. Somebody had fallen to their death, paying natures forfeit. I thought thanks a bunch for waiting until now to tell me. The incident had happened late in the afternoon and the rescue services were unable to recover the body until the next day.

When completed I was a relieved man. In Muriel Gray's Munro book ‘The first fifty’ she describes the Aonach Eagach ridge as a ‘brown underpants job.’ This is an observation that I can now fully understand. I could not have done it without the company, if I had attempted it myself I would have wound myself up so much that I would have either come a cropper, got cragfast or have followed Ms Gray's advice.

The views from the top of Sgor nam Fiannaidh were tremendous, the Ballachulish bridge which spans the mouth of Loch Leven looked a real spectacle from my 3200ft vantage point, the islands of Rhum, Eigg and Skye in the distance were just outstanding against the perfect blue sea and sky. I think that I was on a high!

 

If you are intending to do the Aonach Eagach for the first time then these are my tips:

 

·       Do it east to west as this is supposedly safer.

·       Walk with somebody that is a climber and has done it before.

·       Pack away your trekking poles.

·       Don't do it in icy, wet or windy conditions.

·       Pack a spare pair of undies.

 

Brutal Sun

 

June the 1st was another allotted rest day. I parked in a Glen Coe lay by and climbed about 300ft above the road. I spent hours reading and watching the holiday traffic. The weather was, again, perfect and I could virtually join in the thrill that the many motor cyclists were getting from being able to cruise through some of the finest scenery that Britain has to offer. I started to reflect on my trip so far and try to and understand why I was enjoying it so much. Despite having such a solitary day I began to realise that travel is not just the things you see it is also the people you meet. A holiday of a week does not allow one to wind down enough and really get into it. I reflected that walking in the hills gave me time to think, to really analyse things that had happened to me and to suss things out that ordinarily you would not get the space or time to do.

Before my evening visit to the Clachaig Inn with Christian and two other German chaps I took a shower. It was here that I began to notice my interesting sun tan. I was tanned on my arms, save for where my watch sits, but not my T-shirt covered torso. I was tanned on the tops and bottoms of my legs but not where my knee socks protect me during my climbs. I was becoming quite multi-coloured. Even as I write this account, in the following November, I can still see the tide marks on my legsÀ. We had another good chat in the Clachaig Inn and unanimously agreed that the male warden was a little unfriendly. A few years later I was chatting to a lady that I met whilst ascending Gulvain. She told me that the warden was a nice chap and could not understand the problems that I had had with him. We talked about it some more and concluded that perhaps he did not like the English. In fact he changed the key code regularly on the door and would use dates of battles when the Scots had stuffed the English so perhaps that was it. Either way it spoilt my stay at the Glen Coe Youth Hostel.

June the 2nd saw me tackle Stob Coir an Albannaich and Meall nan Eun. The sun was brutal especially during the first section where I climbed for over two hours on a steeper than a 1 in 2 ascent. The guidebooks say that the navigation between the two summits is difficult in mist because of an awkward dogleg in the route. Fortunately the beautifully clear weather showed me the obvious path and the map and compass was only needed for confirmation. The walk took a shade over seven hours and I did not see another soul all day. The views were tremendous and I was able to pick out many of the mountains that I had walked in previous days. It’s a nice feeling to think ‘ah I was on that peak just the other day, and that one five years ago.’

In the evening I phoned my friend Willy Newlands to arrange for him to come up for a day so as we could do some walking together. Willy is an inspector with Strathclyde Police. On answering I said, "Hi Willy, it’s Steve, how are you?" "Not so good Steve. See one of my Sergeants was killed on Buchaille Etive Mor the other day." So that completed the picture. I had been hearing snippets of information about the death of the police officer, now it had come to light he was a friend of a friend. Willy sounded gutted, he had only just learnt the news as he had been abroad on holiday. He had less than three hours to get ready for the funeral. Despite that Willy said he'd be up for the day on the coming Friday so we could get a Munro in together.

 

Another Aonach Eagach

 

June the 3rd took in Stob a' Choire Odhair and Stob Ghabhar. I started from Forest Lodge and enjoyed what was another gorgeous day. The route between the two mountains took in a short stretch of exposed ridge called Aonach Eagach. Thinking back to my experiences on the ridge of its namesake I can only imagine that this is Gaelic for dangerously exposed ridge. On the top of the second peak I got chatting to a 16 year old lad who was doing a two week solo walk across the highlands in preparation for a career in the Royal Marines. I was impressed by his pluck, I could not imagine myself going off alone at that age.

Fortunately my knees had finally got a routine ironed out between them. Like two people having a conversation on adjoining swings they negotiated a truce whereby only one hurts at any one point in time, allowing me the opportunity to hop when things became too much.

The trip back to the Youth Hostel took me past the east face of Buchaille Etive Mor, it stood proud in the sun but a shiver went through me as I thought of its recent victim.

June the 4th took in one of the more straightforward Munros with a mere two and a half hours getting me to the summit of Buchaille Etive Beag. In glorious, sweltering, sunshine I soaked in the unbelievable views and reminded myself of the attractions of this pursuit.

 

The End Of Glen Coe

 

June the 5th was a rest day so it was on the June the 6th that I met up with Willy to set foot in the hills once again. We met at the Youth Hostel at about 0900, Willy having driven up from Glasgow in his new car, a White VW Golf GTI convertible. He got in the joke about it being a hairdresser’s car before I could. When he arrived he needed the loo and had to suffer the glances of the warden as he went inside the hostel to relieve himself. I had warned Willy about how uneasy I felt so he gave him a warm smile and a friendly "hello." On Willy recounting this to me I said, "Do I have a problem with that guy," pause, "Yes I think I do." Willy said I should have got that recorded for a "Video Nation" clip.

We tackled Sgor na h-Ulaidh as it was one of the few left in the Glen Coe region that neither of us had climbed. The weather was more typically Scottish with rain at first, some clearance and a slight view at the top. As ever Willy brought lots of food to share. This reminded me of the days on the Strathclyde Police Command and Control Project when he always brought enough grub for me to share when walking in the hills. We recounted the story of when I first arrived in Scotland to work. I had got on the plane at Heathrow in the blazing heat so turned up in just a shirt with a last minute jumper stuffed in my bag. At the end of the first day Willy walked me to my hotel in the drizzling rain. As we walked along he said "You no bring a coat Steve?" "Ah no," I replied. "It was hot in London this morning." He laughed at my naiveté about the Scottish weather and relentlessly pulled my leg. Next day he brought me a coat to borrow for the rest of the week.

Willy chatted about his friend the police sergeant, Graham Munro. I was trying to judge how much to say. Too much would make me sound like some tabloid reporter whereas too little might sound that I did not care. Sadly he had left a wife and two children. We commented on how most accidents happen in what would appear to be not too dangerous a situation, this is probably to do with the fact that you take more care when there is real danger and get a bit careless when it appears to be safe.

Willy mentioned how much my fitness had improved and how well I was managing the steep bits. We kept pace together even though I knew he could out walk me. I can manage walking with one other person that is faster than me because they will always slow to my pace; with two or more I soon lose them to the ground ahead.

According to Willy I was starting to use the term ‘Aye’ instead of ‘Yes’ with quite a Scottish slant on it. We had good conversation and at the end of the day we stopped for a drink in the Clachaig Inn followed by Willy doing a wheel spin out of the Youth Hostel car park as I put my head in my hands as the warden peered through the window.

June the 7th was to be my last walk in the Glen Coe area, as the bagging of Beinn Fhionnlaidh would complete all the Munros in the glen. This Munro can be tackled from more than one approach. I chose the Glen Etive side as the weather forecast, faxed to the Youth Hostel from the Met Office, said that there would be morning rain in the west so I decided to tackle it from the east.

As I walked up the mountain an opening appeared in the cloud which allowed the sun light to pour through, the hole moved around with the wind causing a patch of sun light to move around the hills like a search light. Most of the rest of the walk was in the rain and strong wind. At one point the wind was producing eddy currents beneath my nose to such an extent that I experienced the strange sensation of air being sucked out of my nose. The weather cleared at lunchtime, as per the forecast. On the way back down I looked on the skies as one would a naughty child. ‘Don't you dare open up,’ I thought. I had dried out and did not want to get wet again.

That night was to be the last at Glen Coe Youth Hostel on this trip. An Aussie guy was in the same dorm as me and was snoring very loudly. I knew he was Aussie even before I first spoke to him because he wore a brown leather cowboy hat and brown leather jacket, unshaven and blond hair. The snoring became so much that my pressing need for sleep gave me the motive for throwing a pillow at him. He came to and looked at me, "You were snoring" I said in explanation. At that precise moment another person, who had previously been quiet, let out a snore. "Wrong target, mate" the Aussie retorted.

I started the following morning feeling highly stressed. Parking in the hostel car park was very tight and there is an unwritten rule that you should not block people in. The previous evening a group of middle-aged people were staying and between them they had two N registered Citroen Xantias and a P registered large BMW. They had already annoyed me by taking my chair in the kitchen. This happened when I popped up to get myself some pepper, a large plate of steaming food being left on the table as a placeholder. I thought to myself that they must be thick or ignorant to take a chair away from a table setting. I guess it was just more convenient for them than walking the five yards required to get a free chair. During my meal I over heard them running the hostel down, looking at their wealth I could not understand why they did not go into a hotel if the hostel bugged them that much. Hostels, as you can imagine, are run on a shoestring budget so cause for complaint about their amenities are very unfair. During the evening they decided that it was their right to park in the car park and brought their three cars in blocking about seventy five percent of the rest of the cars. The following morning, June the 8th, I was itching to get going, not wanting a late start in the hills. While exchanging the sheet sleeping bag for my membership card one of the middle aged party appeared. I asked, "Are you one of the Xantia, BMW party?" "I might be," he replied with all the help of a skunk in an air freshener factory. "I need to get my car out, can you organise some shunting?” "We are all going this morning," he replied and with that he walked off. ‘Oh I’ll hire a car then’ I thought. The lady warden looked at me and said, "Now that was helpful wasn't it." I could see that the party were far from ready so I went and asked another member, who could see the sense in my suggestion, and got some shunting organised. The lady warden gave me the thumbs up and said "Good for you." When outside, waiting for them to complete the movements of their cars, two of the party came up to me and started criticising the way other people had parked as to the reason for why they blocked everybody else in. When I did not respond one of them started to say, about his friend, "These BMW drivers eh?" I could sense that they knew that they were in the wrong by their use of dismissive language and blaming others and trying to triangle with me to overcome their guilt. I found the experience sadly all too believable that these type of people exist, and not only that appear to flourish to a point that treading on people at their place of work allows them to be given such large company cars that they can extend their lording it up over people to outside of their work place. I really felt that they considered me to be an insignificant nuisance when I asked to get my car out.

That was the end of my stay in Glen Coe for the year and as you can imagine I left with some mixed blessings. Two minor things tickled me about a chap named Ian that I shared a dorm with during my stay at the hostel. I did not record the exact day on which they occurred and hence I can not neatly fit this into the text above so will just add them here in the hope that nobody spots my sudden addition of an extra story. Ian was a very pleasant chap, a retired lecturer in his early sixties. He was up doing the Munros and when I asked him how many he had done he said, “Two hundred and forty, but I don’t know if I’ll finish them.” Being able to give the exact number you have done implies counting, to count you have an aim and what else could the aim be than to complete? Ian was very organised and during his stay a friend of his, Dougie, joined him for a few days. One morning Ian was waiting for Dougie to get ready and said to me “never have I met a man more prone to procrastination.” It tickled me because they were about the same age and had obviously been friends a great part of their lives but still had not sorted this one out. I thought of my friends Andy and Ady Glover and realised that would be me with them in thirty years time, still waiting for them to get ready, suffering stress whilst they take their own time in their own worlds.

 

Wanderings

 

I had arranged to meet my friend Andy Baxter in the Grand Hotel Fort William on the night of June the 8th. My intention was that during the day I would finish off my last Munro in Glen Coe, meet him in the evening and then set off the next day and do some Munros from bothies. However, I finished my last Munro a day ahead of schedule and so decided to take the extra day bagging Stob Coire Sgriodain and Chno Dearg which sit south of the A86 Spean Bridge to Kingussie road. I started from Fersit and crossed the broad open peat land before making the ascent proper of Stob Coire Sgriodain. To my right was Loch Treig with the West Highland railway running along its shores. At one point the loch gave a display of white horses while one of the most beautiful rainbows that I had ever seen arched over it. The walk up was difficult in the strong wind and I experienced a new phenomenon relating to the wind and my nostrils. This time it was all a little unpleasant as the wind caused the mucus to be sucked out of my nose and at one stage I was trying desperately to sever a foot long piece snot that was waiving about my face, one can be thankful that this was a solo walk. I was more pleased then ever when I got to the cairn of Stob Coire Sgriodain after two and a half hours and found myself yelling, above the wind, "Hello Munro 110" and gave the cairn a big hug. It is at times like this that the solitude of the mountains is a big advantage.

The weather deteriorated on the approach to Chno Dearg, I could barely stand up in the wind and literally got blown over twice. I did take some comfort from the fact that the wind was a lot warmer than the bitterly cold blasts that I had experienced at the beginning of May. On approaching the large summit cairn I had the sense that there was in fact two cairns. Looking at the map was very difficult so I pressed on with the compass bearing that I had taken in a previously more sheltered spot. The hood of my jacket would not stay still in the wind and was blowing at such an angle it was pulling on my right eye. After some further ten minutes of worrying about the two summit cairns I realised that it was merely a phenomenon caused by distortion of my right eyeball. On closing my right eye I could see I was heading to a single summit cairn which, on reaching, afforded some shelter where I enjoyed the relief of getting my head out of the firing line. I delayed my departure until seizing joints told me that the present luxury was going to be doubly paid for unless I started to make progress. As soon as I moved the wind whacked into me with as much force as before. On the descent it started to rain hard, I did not bother with my over trousers as awaiting me was a hotel room in the Grand Hotel Fort William and my first hot bath in over five weeks. I felt quite thirsty but did not feel like wrestling with my rucksack in the howling gale to retrieve my water bottle. I pressed on and my mouth began to feel very dry but I really did not want to take my rucksack off, in the end I hit on the idea of sucking the water from the tassel on the hood of my jacket. I managed to extract just enough water to wet the inside of the mouth and satisfy the immediate problems of thirst.

When I got to my room at the Grand Hotel the first thing I did, like a heroin addict being drawn to a needle, was to switch the TV on. Why oh why did I need to do this? Over five weeks without missing the thing one iota and as soon as I see one on it goes. After a long soak in the bath I put on some clean clothes and realised the extent of my weight loss, as my jeans were now very baggy.

I met with my friend Andy Baxter in the evening. I had trouble with the evening meal as I had been suffering from mouth ulcers for some time. This was probably caused by my eating too much chocolate to give me energy up the mountains. I resolved to eat more fruit. My dentist says that some people are more prone to them and that they are also stress related. He then volunteered the information that women are susceptible to them at the time of their periods. He then paused and reviewed what he said and, with a hint of experience, added "I expect that their husbands are prone at that time too."

 

Bothies Revisited

 

I had a lazy morning on June the 9th getting ready for my trip into the wilderness. I drove down the B8004 and B8005 and parked where the road ran out in the same place where I had parked with Willy and Mike the previous year before my first taste of bothy life. The road follows the shores of Loch Arkaig and as I drove I passed a stag paddling out in the loch, natural and peaceful with his environment.

I spent quite a while getting my stuff together before the fully laden walk into A'Chuil Bothy. The area where I parked was near Strathan and I remembered from my last visit here a tin shack all locked up. It is strange that I would have never been able to remember it myself but on seeing the shack I instantly recalled it. I later found out that it was the old school house serving the once local community. The walk to A'Chuil took just an hour and twenty minutes but I was pleased to get the pack off of my back. On arrival I felt an overwhelming sense of ‘what have I done?’ A sense of remorse hung over me. Bothies are great in a group but on your own the drab surroundings can dominate your mind. I think a prolonged period of solitude in one of these places could have you eyeing up the rafters. A tip for bothy life is to fill up your water bottles before arrival, this is because the streams near to the bothy are reported to have a high bacteria content. I'll leave you to work out why.

I thought that there would be a good chance of getting the bothy to myself, it being a week day evening. Although the solitude was depressing I did not fancy sharing space with strangers. During the course of the evening the numbers swelled to nine including a clan of kilted Scotsmen on a sponsored walk through the glens. These were real kilts, not your M&S look alike types. They also boasted a full clan flag which they held proudly as they marched, if you saw them marching in the distance you would truly believe that you were looking back in time. On unpacking their stuff they produced what could only be described as a mobile catering unit. They were really excellent as they got a good fire going, a task that I had failed in all afternoon. The evening passed pleasurably to the sound of their mouth organs. After I ate I decided that I would walk high up the stream to wash my cooking utensils. Here I was attacked by 633 airborne mosquito squadron on a mission to hound off the Sassenach spotted in the vicinity. Another animal that can spoil bothy life are mice. A tip that can be learnt painfully is that it is essential to hang all your gear up to avoid the attention of the resident bothy mouse.

I awoke at 0420, a time that I was well pleased with as it gave me ample time for the day ahead. The clansmen had spent part of the evening discussing who of them snored the loudest so any sleep was a bonus. I had my bothy breakfast of:

 

·       A cup of tea

·       A quarter of a cake

·       Digestive biscuits

 

A bothy evening meal consists of a repeat breakfast plus pasta and a reconstituted meal.

I set off at 0550 thinking that I had plenty of time, indeed I did but the walk took me out on a long ridge taking in Sgurr nan Coireachan (which is a must for any Man from UNCLE fan) and Squrr Mor. These two Munros were the ones that I would have done with Mike and Willy the previous year if I had not been so exhausted carrying my rucksack.  The ridge, being directly away from the bothy, caused a long day of ten and a half hours. Early on in the day I saw a fox, I had never seen one before in the highlands and soon after I came across a stag. We just stood for ages, not more than twenty feet a part, staring at each other. I started to speak to him saying that I was his friend and that I was not going to shoot him. You probably think that I am nuts but the solitude of the mountains changes you. Some city types might get pleasure out of murdering a defenceless animal in cold blood, I think if they lived in the mountains they would just realise that the cull is a necessity and not something to take direct pleasure from. This area is recognised as one of Europe's last great wildernesses - I hope that it stays that way and my friend, the stag, can live out his days in peace and his antlers will never adorn the walls of some city slickers house.

The ridge walk between the two Munros was great, the approach to the first Munro took in a few false summits so when the ridge finally opened out before me it was a welcome sight. From the first Munro to the second was well over three hours of ridge walk constantly away from the bothy. Willy had warned me of this but I did not quite appreciate it until I got to the second Munro and surveyed the journey back. The normal approach to a ridge walk is to start fairly central and traverse up to one end, walk along then cut back to the starting place. Due to the geography of the area this was not possible and hence the long day.

I tried a bit of a short cut on the way back by trying to miss out a raise in the ridge by traversing around it. This was a mistake as I painted myself into a few corners and had to heavily back track. The return trip allowed me to discover a new use for the trekking poles, this is to steady yourself when going to the toilet!

When, after some three further hours, I got to the bothy there was no company and the place looked depressing again. Later a Dutch chap arrived and proudly announced that he held some sort of internationally recognised record for snoring. We slept in separate rooms and I discovered he was not kidding for through feet thick stonewalls his pneumatic snoring could be heard.

During the evening I had put off and put off going to wash my cooking utensils in the stream. When I gave in and emerged from the bothy to do this chore I thought that I had avoided the midgies. However after just a few minutes word had got about and 633 mosquito squadron had been scrambled and were on a furious attack. Obviously some regrouping had gone on since the previous evenings attack and a detachment of the squadron had been deployed to fly into my ears. Little bastards.

 

Mr Pean

 

The following morning, June the 11th, I packed up my kit and set off for Glen Pean bothy. The walk from A'Chuil started on a good track, through trees, dwindling to a mudslide as I advanced up Glen Pean to its bothy. All the way I struggled with the weight of my pack, often just stopping to allow my body to catch up. With a sense of relief I approached the bothy and said hello to a chap hanging out his washing. He seamed very pleasant, little did I know that this guy was going to be quite an experience to talk with. He offered me a cup of tea which I readily accepted. I asked him where he had come from and he told me that he did not belong anywhere as he had dropped out of society in 1985 and had been on the road ever since. Most of his family had shunned him for his change in life style, as it might be a bad influence on their children. He asked me what I was doing and I told him of my ambition to do the Munros. After listening intently he told me that I was wasting my time. ‘I'm going to have fun with this guy’ I thought. Still sipping the sweet tea, with my pack dumped, unopened, in the doorway he began to tell me more. Issues from his childhood that gave genuine reason for his adopted life style. One of the things that still angered him the most was that his brothers always gave him their opinions but would not listen to his. This was my first inclination of hypocrisy as he had given me his opinions on my choice of doing the Munros. He was very anti-capitalist and referred to money as a “false economy.” I could see his point as I am fairly anti-capitalist myself but as we talked more he told me of his travels around the world - involving flying. Just how would airlines function, or ever have existed, without money? You can imagine the cockpit PA announcement - “Hello Ladies and Gentlemen. First Officer Johnson here. We are now approaching Sydney airport and I would once again like to ask you to return to your seats, ensure that your seat belt is fastened and your seat back upright. Also that all luggage is either stowed under the seat in front of you or in the over head lockers. By the way if you could all have your pigs and goats ready, as payment for this flight, then the cabin crew will be pleased to collect them upon landing.”

I settled into the bothy and did my own thing for quite sometime. Sorting kit, checking maps. I felt he was a fine balance between my wish for solitude and a wish for company. Later we began to chat again, he told me that he hitchhiked about and he could sense that I felt that it was hypocritical to accept lifts off such a capitalist item as a motorcar. He justified it by saying “Well it is public transport isn’t it, you are getting a lift off of a member of the public.” I could imagine somebody picking him up in their brand new Rover 620 with optional leather interior and walnut dash then throwing him out within two miles as he slated the use of a tree to make their dashboard and a cow’s rump to form the seat covers. However it was an experience to meet him and we sat very late into the evening talking over candlelight. He had strong beliefs in nature and said that he was anti books because you could learn more from a living tree than a dead one. True but then I did notice he had a newspaper that he was reading. He also believed that the education system is a conspiracy by the money makers to control people. He thought that forcing children to change classrooms after each lesson and bombarding them with the work ethic was just there so the money makers could use them in their adult life without them knowing they were being exploited. He said that if he had kids he would not teach them to read or write as this was not natural and more bad comes of it than good. This got me thinking that perhaps more bad does come of the ability to read and write than good. You need to let your mind go right back, as to not be able to read and write in today’s society would be a serious disadvantage. Apparently the solitude of the last twelve years had given him these views, in 1985 he was just mixed up and knew that he had to get out. As I had previously mentioned he was not adverse to criticise my chosen life style and when I told him that I worked in computers he gleefully told me that he was looking forward to the possibility of meteor storm that would wipe out the world’s computers, just how would modern airlines work without computers? I think his selective choosing of bits of the modern world were annoying to me. He said maths was just invented to manipulate. Now he had me going as I thought that he was trying to convince me that he was right about many things but maths is my home ground. I said that maths could be used to prove most things; it’s just a method of understanding nature. He started to slate Einstein's theories of relativity saying that it is just a man made theory and cannot be proven. So I said, "Imagine it was daylight and you were sitting at that window and I was outside looking in. Now imagine that I ran backwards at the speed of light and looked back at you. I would only ever see you as you were when I left you because I am going at the same pace as the light rays." He said, "That is only for you I could still move around, it is all relati..." I think after that he started to respect me much more and not see me as somebody to talk at. We started to talk more deeply well into the night. He made better points such as love is to give somebody your time, not your money. We also started to talk about the ills of modern society. He felt that we had lost the community spirit and that the way we led our lives out of close communities brought about many of our troubles. I basically agreed with this but added that communities of the past would normally reject a new comer, so it was not all roses and mutual support. I also told him about a little theory that I have which is that in centuries to come archaeologists would dig deep and find neighbourhood watch signs which would epitomise the woes of the late 20th century. Neighbourhood watch should be implicit like it used to be not as now where we have to invent it as a concept to patch up where we have gone wrong. During our conversations I wanted to ask him his name but I refrained as I felt that he might say that he did not believe in names as they were capitalist labelling to manipulate and control people - so I privately thought of him as Mr Pean, after the glen.

The following morning I awoke at 0530 to the sound of rain on the bothy roof. I half cursed myself for not having tackled the Munros when I arrived in clear weather on the previous day. I laid in my sleeping bag until 0800 when I could stand no more of the hard floor and got up. It was only when I stuck my head out that I realised that the weather was not so bad, the tin roof had amplified the noise of the rain. I set off at 0840, crossing the River Pean by way of some stepping-stones, into a day that was to be almost constant drizzle.

On starting the ascent I was desperate for a number twos but was aware that Mr Pean was watching me from the Perspex window of the bothy. I began to feel guilty, I felt that in some way he was watching my every move for some environmental slip that he could gleefully correct me on later. I kept looking back and he kept looking at me. I was desperate, the ascent was churning things about. There was no cover for a secluded dump. I looked back again and he was still there - motionless. I was far from motionless and I needed seclusion and five minutes of sheer heaven very quickly. Perhaps I am travelling at the speed of light I thought, and all I am seeing is his image when I left where in fact he is having a ball burning plastic, chopping down trees and spilling chemicals into the Pean. I looked ahead and all I could see was ascent and the refuge of the cloud line in the distance. I pressed on trying to hold it all together. Mr Pean had told me how he hated the type of people who walked into the hills without a plastic trowel with which to bury their faeces. He told me that he always made a point of digging down to the bedrock to reduce the environmental impact of his turds, well something like that - deep anyhow.

A group of hinds (female deer) heading high up into the coires distracted me, it is about this time of year that they give birth so they head for the seclusion of the high ground. It was a welcome diversion and soon after I made the cloud line and stumbled across some rocks that made a natural seat for the required job which gave me seclusion and five minutes of sheer heaven.

In total it took me about three hours to get to the top of the first Munro (Sgurr Thuilm) involving a last minute game of ‘hunt the summit cairn in the cloud’ to complete the climb. Then I had great difficulty finding the ridge path that would lead me to my second Munro of the day. Initially I headed south with the intention of then turning west to head along the ridge but I failed to find the path. I retraced my steps back to the summit cairn and this time took a bearing directly to the next peak on the ridge. I soon encountered an impassable sharp drop so turned east and still had no luck. I fumbled for ages in poor visibility and seriously began to consider that I should give up when suddenly I saw an iron fence post and remembered that I had once read that there were the remains of an old fence on this ridge. I was very pleased with myself for suddenly recalling, from nowhere, this snippet of information as normally things that I read do not stick. Therefore I was able to follow this and count off the minor summits until three hours later I reached the trig point marking the Munro of Sgurr Coireachan which shares the same name as the peak I had climbed two days previously. The only view that I got was at one point when I looked back along at the peaks and the dips of the ridge and noticed that clouds were hanging like cotton wool blankets in the troughs. I learnt from this days experience that on misty days you should only tackle pointed singletons not flat topped Murnos or ridge walks as navigation is difficult. Despite the weather I was quite elated as this completed the 50th Munro of this trip after forty-one days.

When I returned to the bothy the River Pean had risen to such an extent that the stepping-stones that I had used eight hours previously were now almost submerged. The rain that had hampered me on the high ground had flowed down the river and was now hampering me on the low ground. These stones had been put down some one hundred years before when the original house, now just a ruin, was deserted due to flooding and what is now the bothy was built on the opposite banks of the river. The bothy contained some notes on the history of the place. The last family living there had seven children, three of which were sons and were all lost in the First World War. This apparently broke the heart of the Shepherd father, Ewen Campbell and they left in the 1920's. The last family member died in 1986 and is known to be the last person ever to be born in the glen. Gone forever a way of life that had survived for century upon century.

In the evening, and the following morning, I continued my chat with Mr Pean. He told me that he did not believe that people should be able to live in the city for fifty one weeks a year then come to the country for a week because the city is made of stolen nature. I could see his point but I still fantasised about him being held hostage for five years with Margaret Thatcher in a Beriut dungeon.

It was Friday the 13th that I returned to civilisation. When I say civilisation I really mean one and a half hours of contemplation sat in my car, still parked miles up a minor road built to every contour of the terrain. Minor roads that lead to hydroelectric dams have been smoothed out but the others retain their original construction technique of laying the tarmac wherever the land was. The rear view mirror told no lies as I took stock of five days of facial hair growth and the effects of too much chocolate.

Given the superstitions of the day I decided that a Munro was not in order and instead a tearoom might be much more civilised. I decided to go in search of some lunch and came across a roadside tearoom come restaurant that appeared to be popular with coach parties. All the staff were stressed and the current coach party, mainly retired people spending their grey pound, were wolfing down their food to try and be ready for the off. The off probably being a visit to another tearoom operated by a close relative of the coach driver. Nobody was smiling, the staff were probably all on a minimum wage level. I realised what Mr Pean meant which is the education system encourages people to work so hard that they are bombarded and can not see the wood for the trees. Therefore the bosses do the same to the work force and nobody can see it. He called it a conspiracy. I think that it is just a sad indictment on modern day living.

After my lunch and some killing of time I drove to Loch Locy Youth Hostel.

 

 

Loch Lochy Youth Hostel

 

Loch Lochy Youth Hostel was very pleasant with friendly staff and lots of homely touches about the place. I got chatting to a chap in my dormitory that had "retired" about ten years previously in his late thirties. He figured that his investments brought in about £100 a week so that was enough to survive on. He looked so relaxed that I could only admire his pluck for saying no to the modern world and doing it his way. Still his life must not be as quite complete as he would like because he was on a singles club trip up from Glasgow. Some of the party were booked into the hostel (not very optimistic in my opinion) others were in tents (kind of optimistic but could take a bit of persuasion) others had played the full optimist card and checked into a hotel.

After my day of rest June the 14th took in Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach. Good views were to be had of the Glen Shiel ridge, which I climbed back in 1992. This is where I took in seven Munros in a day and started my knee troubles in the process. The cloud was high therefore I could also see across to Squr na Ciche which was very pleasant to see from an alternate angle. It was a great ridge walk between the two and it was a delight to meet two chaps by the names of Geoffrey and James. They were frightfully nice chaps and definitely public school. I guess they were in their forties or fifties. Geoffrey was an accountant and James a barrister. They took a real interest in my walking and were very kind to me giving me a cup of tea and food when they brewed up. The amusing bit that sticks in my mind was that on the ridge between the two Munros James was looking back towards the first Munro and said "Looks like a big party up there." I said, "That is a singles club up from Glasgow." With that James came out with the following line, try and say it aloud with your best Terry-Thomas public school accent: "Your kidding. Geoffrey, Geoffrey did you hear what Steve just said there? That group of people up there on that peak, singles club up from Glasgow - what a hoot." That still cracks me up today, they were great guys and definitely some of the kindest people that I met whilst out walking.

June the 15th took in Gairich which was a bit of a haul. I think I was feeling tired and the initial leg was over boggy ground so I did not feel that I was making progress. The weather was fine with high cloud level. June the 16th took in Sgurr a' Mhaoraich. As the weather was so good I took lighter kit and wore my lighter boots so I got a real spurt on early in the walk. Boulders the size of houses had fallen on the ridge around to the summit. I hoped no more would choose to fall as I briskly walked by. I spent over an hour on the top taking in the superb views. Having time on my side meant that I now relaxed much more and enjoyed sitting at the top of mountains, it is all to easy to get to the top and set straight off again. I met two chaps at the top who both work for Strathclyde Police. One of them, Ian Maitland, knew Willy and was also a friend of Graham Munro who was killed on Buchaille Etive Mor.

June the 17th was a rest day. I gave an Aussie girl a ride from Loch Lochy Youth Hostel to Spean Bridge. She had been travelling for two years and had just decided to return to see her parents in the Snowy Mountains in Australia. After that I drove over to Kingussie for a much needed hair cut and then onto the independent hostel in Newtonmore.

 

Newtonmore

 

June the 18th saw me back in the mountains for the four in a day trip of Geal-Charn, A'Mharconaich, Beinn Udlamain and Sgairneach Mhor. I started at 0725 and got back to the car at 1550 so about an eight and a half hour round trip. It was wet and misty all day which made the going a bit miserable but the big advantage of this group of Munros is that you start so high up the Dalwhinnie pass that there is not so much climbing to be done. My main source of entertainment on the way up was the large number of grouse that I disturbed. The first summit was difficult to find because I was near the peak but started to look at the wrong part of my map and was therefore confused until I realised my mistake. I made rare use of my GPS to confirm my position, it told me where I was, I walked ten meters and there was the cairn. By pure luck I hit the second Munro on a compass bearing that I had taken. A good old fence between the second and third peaks made navigation much easier. The fourth I found with relative ease so I was quite pleased with my exploits in the mist. The mountains in this area are really grassy slopes with not too many rocky bits so they are the easier Munros. I had to use the compass a lot but the windy conditions combined with the walking poles meant that use of the compass was difficult due to the lack of hands. I dreamt of building a compass into the top of one of the walking poles. In the other I fantasised about being some form of Roger Moore character (as in terms of the actor not the verb) and having a built in microphone and being able to say "Ah Miss Money Penny." Eat your heart out Desmond LLewellyn.

The end of the walk involved a lengthy stretch along the A9. This is a very busy trunk road and I could not help but notice the vast quantities of rubbish. Cans, crisp packets, debris from car accidents and evidence associated with just about every conceivable bodily function apart from conception. I guess even the Japanese have not thought of a gadget to allow that to happen whilst travelling up the A9. The cars and lorries were throwing up masses of spray so it was a miserable return to my car where I then became part of the A9 processions that I had just been slating.

The private hostel in Newtonmore provided excellent facilities. I had the entire place to myself so was in quiet luxury. In the hostel was a Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC) Journal for 1991. On page 702, under the list of accidents for 1990, it said:

 

May 7th - wearing Doc Marten boots and glissading from the Carn Mor Dearg Arete, Adrian Glover (23) lost control and cut his scalp on a rock. Lochaber MRT & Raf Wessex. 12 [man hours].

 

So my first Munro actually has a record against it in the SMC journal. Subsequently I wrote to the SMC and got a copy, sending it to Ady for Christmas. The SMC were generous in their interpretation of Ady’s accident, a more appropriate description would have been:

 

May 7th - Proudly wearing Doc Marten boots and bum sliding from Carn Mor Dearg (which he impressively, yet mistakenly, described as the Arete), Adrian Glover (23) whilst completely out of control cut his scalp on a rock which was rather predictably at the end of the snow field he was bum sliding through. Lochaber MRT & Raf Wessex. 12 [man hours].

 

June the 19th saw me take in Geal Charn. It rained at first then cleared on top. A really massive cairn marked the summit. I saw a tiny lizard on the way up, I had never seen one in the wild before so it was great to see the little chap (or chapess) looking up at me.

June the 20th was a classic walk as it took in some inland cliffs. I started in the mist and reached Carn Liath, bringing my Munro tally to 125, one of my biggest aims of this trip. Then onto Stob Poite Coire Ardair and then to Creag Meagaidh thus bringing my total Munros to 127. Little did I know that circumstances would dictate that this would be the last Munro of the year. The approach to this third Munro goes past Mad Megs Cairn, a huge moss covered structure, which in poor weather could easily be mistaken for the summit. I saw a grouse on the way up and as ever it tried to lead me away from its young.

At the summit I met a gent and a lady acting as his paid guide. I had never come across this before in the mountains. They told me that the window between the second and third peaks was navigable so I descended to that and cut down the boulder slopes to the cliffs, which were quite spectacular. I had to pick my way carefully as one slip on the boulders would have meant I would have been a welcome victim to gravity. The cliffs over shadow Lochan a' Choire which has a breed of arctic fish still surviving from the ice age.

Back at the car I chatted with a guy who was travelling about in a yellow Bedford Rascal van. He sleeps in it and bought it with the money he got after he divorced his wife eleven years ago. I had met him when I set off and he had then said he would slow me down if we walked together. He got back a good one and a half hours before me having done the same walk. He initially was a bit ridiculing of my speed so I hit him with the asthma story, which shut him up. He was Scots in origin but had spent the last thirty years living in North Wales. His accent was very interesting and at one stage he came out with "Aye, Aye, yes indeed."

This was my last night in the Newtonmore Private Hostel and this time I was not alone as a really nice group of people were up from the YMCA in Edinburgh. We went out to a local pub and they would not let me buy a drink.

 

The End of 1997 Munroing

 

I left Newtonmore on the Saturday morning but not before booking three nights in a local hotel starting from the Sunday. I then drove down to Dunoon to see my friend Graham Disselduff who was up staying with his Mother. We had a good time and I was interested to see Dunoon as my Gramp, a submarine ASDEC and wireless operator, was stationed there, and in other Scottish bases, during the Second World War. My Gran tells of a story where one submarine was feared lost, it had been out on patrol and they had lost all contact with it and after a few days the base had resigned themselves to all hands having been lost. Then a friend of my Gran was pushing her child in a pram out on the edge of the water and in the distance a shape came into view and slowly the realisation dawned on her that it was the ‘lost’ submarine. It had been badly damaged by the enemy but had enough reserves to limp its way home under its own power, but out of wireless contact. I’d never wish peacetime away but there are certain wartime stories of bravery, humanity and gut determination that peacetime can never surpass.

On the Sunday I travelled back to Newtonmore and arrived at the hotel and enjoyed my evening meal in the bar. I eavesdropped on a late thirties couple talking to the barman, they were holidaying in Scotland for the first time having driven up to Fort William the day before and then onto Inverness and down to Newtonmore on this day. They obviously enjoyed the scenery but I sensed they would not be back, at least not for a long while. Scotland is usually cold and damp and like a grumpy old live-in relative the weather deters a visitor calling again. After two hours of driving with the wipers on intermittent the chances of getting out of your nice warm car for a stroll is about the same as a Scotsman supporting England when they play Germany. A tearoom or a trinket shop is about the limit and explains the vast number of them dotted about the Highlands. However if you are walking, in the drizzle, since the start of the day then you get a little wet then dry off you can be quite happy with it. Just the effort of vacating the car is all that it takes.

          Later in the evening I phoned Gisella and immediately sensed that something was not quite right. She tried to hide it from me, to not spoil my trip, but soon she started to cry. The day before, whilst out in her car, she had had the misfortune to be in the path of a testosterone filled time bomb. He had lost control of his car and veered onto her side of the road spinning her car though one hundred and eighty degrees and depositing it on the kerb. She was lucky to escape serious physical injury or even death. I headed straight back home on the Monday morning.

So I returned to helping Gisella through a particularly painful time, a ‘mountain’ of paper work, seven weeks of junk mail, wearing shoes and driving in traffic. One morning I awoke at about 0300 needing the toilet and made a slight navigational error at the foot of our bed and turned left instead of right, Gisella came to to find me desperately looking for the bedroom door on completely the wrong side of the room, 62 new Munros navigated to in all conditions yes, finding the loo in the night no.

I noticed that I had lost quite a bit of weight, over a stone in fact, this must be the only sport where you can eat four mars bars a day and still lose weight. I also spent some time reflecting on my trip and concluded that I had noticed a change in attitude towards the Munros. Previously I found that admitting to doing the Munros was often a taboo subject with people climbing their soapboxes and telling you that peak bagging is a lesser form of enjoying the pleasures of the mountains. It is an attitude that irritated me because what suits one person does not always suit another. However during this trip I noticed it was a lot easier to be open about doing the Munros. This I found relaxing, I hate being amongst people where you cannot be yourself, in fact not being yourself is quite stressful, almost a lie to which you buy into and have to continue, watching out for slip ups in your act, for what? Just to fit in with others who are being themselves, opinionated and awkward. Obviously there are times in life when you have to behave differently, being in the pub or in the office requires contrasting behaviour but you can still be yourself - your pub self or your work self. But as soon as you are faced with a situation where you sense a person’s reaction requires you to not be yourself the unease sets in. Perhaps being able to be more open about Munro bagging this year was more down to me than a change in other people. For some reason perhaps I felt what I was doing was less worthy than other walkers but a new confidence in saying “I am doing the Munros” halted a negative reaction from other people. Who knows? But it did mean that I enjoyed the trip that much more for it.

Munro Count: 127 out of 277

 


 

1998

 

An Incident At Reading Station

 

Disaster struck at 0800 on July the 29th 1997 on Platform 9 of Reading Railway Station. That morning Gisella had received a birthday card from her Aunt and Uncle in which they had included an article about Munros that they had cut from The Times. Between changing trains, on my daily commute from Swindon to Slough, I plonked myself down on a seat and read the article. The article described how the Scottish Mountaineering Club had promoted eight previous non Munros to be Munro status and declassified one other thus moving the total target from 277 to 284. This in itself was a minor annoyance but then the real horror struck in that four of the ‘new’ Munros were on ridges that I had been on during the previous two months. I did not do these peaks, at the time, due to them being non Munros and therefore chose not to over stretch either my breathing or my knees. For the sake of a few extra hours on each walk I could have done these four Munros but now each one will be a separate daylong expedition. Legend has it that T.E. Lawrence lost an early draft copy of ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ at Reading station. At least he had hope of finding it. The despair, for once, even made the arrival at Slough Railway Station bearable.

 

Munro Count: 127 out of 284

 

Life Sadly Moves On

 

During the winter life changed quite a bit for me. At Christmas Gisella and I amicably decided to go our separate ways. Around the time of the break up I began emailing with the lady that I had met at Killin Youth Hostel, Barbara. The emails started quite casually but after awhile we decided that perhaps a holiday together would be nice. Barbara said she could come to Scotland for three weeks in April.

On April the 9th we tackled Driesh and Mayar which lie up Glen Clova, a two hour drive from Aberfeldy where we’d taken a holiday cottage. These are two relatively straightforward Munros as you start from a good height and there is an excellent path, which we took quite by chance. Our early navigation let us down but we found ourselves on the Kilbo Path which looked to be a better route than that described in the guide book. There was quite a bit of snow about on the high ground but it felt quite safe and the sun made the day quite pleasant until the cloud set in on the approach to Mayar. It started to snow which made things a little miserable and we lost direction a bit on the descent and had to pick up a line of a fence to correct our path. During the winter I purchased a new Gortex Jacket which is gold and black in colour. I deliberately wanted something with better neck protection and something a bit brighter in case I ever needed to be rescued. However on the descent from Mayar I could not get the neck done up properly and, whilst attempting to adjust it, I lost concentration which contributed to us wandering off course. I really needed to adjust it but as Barbara suffers from Raynauds disease, causing her to cool down very quickly, we had to keep on the move. Therefore we were not a brilliant combination as I need more rests due to my asthma but realised that in the very cold conditions I could not do this due to the risk of Barbara cooling off. Barbara did try and help adjust the neck of my jacket for me and I said, "Thank you it’s better," however in the strong wind it must have sounded like "can you make it better" because she immediately tried to adjust it again. I was too cold to repeat myself.

At the top of each Munro Barbara put a stone on the cairn and said "Ohm Mani Padmi Hum." I asked her what it meant and she replied "Hail to the Jewel of the Lotus," I left it at that. It is nice walking with somebody new as you pick up different techniques and ideas that you would not have thought of yourself. Barbara gave me some thermal gloves to go under my lined gortex ones. Not only did they give an extra layer of protection but they are also useful for routing about inside ones rucksack. The thick outer gloves have to be removed for essential rucksack groping which mean that your hands get very cold if bare, the thin inner ones are just good enough to remove the discomfort of the cold and just thin enough to enable mars bar shaped objects to be extracted from a rucksack. Also I was convinced to buy a chest strap for my rucksack which holds the two shoulder straps together across my chest. Often it is an irritation having to manually hold them in place to prevent them sliding on my gortex jacket. Finally I purchased a neck tube which is a tube made from thermal material to protect the neck from the cold.

On April the 11th we attempted Glas Maol and Creag Leacach but did not even get out of the car.  The drive up from Aberfeldy was going well until we started to climb up the A93 at which stage the snow set in and any attempt at these two Munros would have been foolish. So our next attempt was to do A'Chailleach, Carn Sgulain and Carn Dearg on April the 13th. In the event we only managed A'Chailleach due to the conditions. The snow was thick on the way up and I had to follow Barbara's footprints up the slope to save myself from having to cut in. At the top we paused for just a few minutes before setting off down a steep gully for the climb up to Carn Sgulain. The downward slope of the gully was north facing and the sun-starved narrowness made it more dangerous because of ice. Sheets of ice, heading down into the abyss of the gully, which we had to cut across. We negotiated the first but when crossing the second Barbara slipped and with a cry out shot off down the slope towards the stream in the gully below. It is one of those things that you take a fraction of a second to take in the situation then decide whether you are going to dive after or wait and see what to do. I dived. After a few seconds I managed to catch her leg. In the event she had managed to stop herself which is probably how I managed to catch her up, if she had not stopped herself then we would probably have both slid for a few hundred feet into a freezing stream below. However even though she said that she was okay I still held onto her leg until she repeated to me that she was okay, I felt this irritated her a bit but I was in no mood for social pleasantries. At this stage there is only one thing to do, turn back. On the way up A'Chailleach we had seen some people ahead of us and they had gone on and we lost them in the gully. We had to wait a long time before we could see them emerge at the head of the gully and start the ascent of Carn Sgulain, they looked very slow and exhausted which backed up our decision to turn back. It is amazing how memories deceive as Barbara remembers that in fact we saw them turn back instead of making the ascent.

On the way back we had some fun jumping in the snow on the rather more hospitable south face of A'Chailleach. We also saw some arctic hares, which were nice to see. Barbara went up to her waist in a bog, on the way back to the car which rounded off a partially successful days walking. On the journey back Barbara’s core body temperature began to drop, due to the Raynauds, so I had to put the heater on full blast and as I sweltered she slowly shivered.

To do this kind of stuff across ice you really need crampons and as soon as you see ice you should turn back unless you have a pair on. The other piece of equipment that is useful in ice or frozen snow is an ice axe.

April the 18th was the first trip to bag one of the newly promoted Munros, An Stuc on the Lawers ridge. We were late starting, at a little before 1430, from the Ben Lawers visitor centre. This took in a repeat of Beinn Ghlas a Munro that I had bagged last year. Repeating a Munro is not high on my list of priorities and, given how tough I find them, I find people’s passions for return visits a strange and interesting concept. We were able to avoid Ben Lawers by traversing its snow covered westerly slopes. However after a long trip we found ourselves at the foot of An Stuc at a little after 1815 and decided to turn back. If we had done it we would have been still on the ridge as darkness fell when much of the snow would have turned to ice. So we did the sensible thing and turned back. On resting on the re-traverse of the westerly slopes of Ben Lawers Barbara got out her plastic bag of gorp (carefully mixed raisins, nuts, chocolate, peanuts and dried apricots which, when Barbara was not looking, I picked out the bits of chocolate from) and tossed it on the ground. It shot off into infinity backing up our decision to turn back before too much ice formed during the dark. We got back to the car at a little after 2045 (which would have been after 2200 if we had done An Stuc) after visiting the Munro of Beinn Ghlas for the second time of the day. During the final descent I enjoyed running down the snow slopes and jumping forward to be carried a few yards by the frictionless surface; it felt a bit like the dream of flying. Despite no new Munro to add to the tally it was a beautifully clear day, the fantastic views made up for the disappointment and we capped it all with a meal at the Ben Lawers hotel on route back to Aberfeldy.

April the 20th saw another failed attempt at An Stuc. We decided to walk it from the village of Lawers but instead of cutting up to the end of the ridge we decided to get onto the ridge between Ben Lawers and An Stuc. After much walking we headed up a steep slope to get onto a ridge spur which we thought would take us onto the ridge proper. Once on the ridge we were in complete mist and I took a bearing of 275 degrees and we set off on it up ‘our spur.’ After a while a path became obvious with marked cairns. It suddenly hit me where we were, not on the spur but on one of the approaches to Ben Lawers.

"Barb,” I called back, “bet you a million quid that there is a trig point at the top of this path".

"Why?" she replied.

"Because we are on a path up Ben Lawers  and no where near the ridge spur we wanted." Barbara said fuck four times in the space of a minute, being a lady that seldom swears I could sense her disappointment. The more obvious path and the frequency of summit cairns put the evidence beyond circumstantial. We both agreed to turn back as the walk on from the summit of Ben Lawers to An Stuc was quite far and would have left us finishing in the dark. I said I may as well just walk to the summit of Ben Lawers, so Barbara elected to stay put whilst I went on. I turned back after just a few minutes as the path narrowed and was very icy. I could just make Barbara out below me, so I called out "What begins in B and ends in S." A few seconds later came the reply "Ben Lawers." I said "Good answer, I actually meant Bollocks but Ben Lawers it is."

April the 23rd saw our final trip into the mountains taking in Glas Maol and Creag Leacach, these being the two that we did not even attempt on April the 11th due to the snow. The day was quite kind to us and the twelve days since the first attempt made such a difference as there was very little snow about this time. We had clear views from the tops which was a real treat with just a mild to strong wind to contend with. The final route back to the A93 required us to ford a stream, it was flowing quite fast with the melt water and it took me ages to find a place to cross, Barbara had crossed quite quickly but at a point where I did not feel comfortable. We got back onto the A93 at a point about a half hour walk from the car. Before I could drag my heels Barbara immediately started to hitch and literally got a lift within a matter of seconds from two Australians in a hired car. She picked my car up and came and collected me. All in all a much better day than our recent trips.

 

Between Trips

 

So that ended our trip away together and I thought also my Munro bagging for 1998. Barbara asked if I'd like to go to Canada for a holiday later in the summer and I said yes but I'd want to be in England for the World Cup which ran through most of June and early July. I decided to look for some work to take me up until going to Canada but started to encounter problems getting such a short contract and instead started to speak with Unisys, who I had been with from July 1997 to March 1998. They said that they would like me back for July to do some performance tuning. So that was brilliant, go back to the mountains for May and early June, watch the World Cup for the rest of June, work during July and go to Canada for August. So that is what I did and the following describes my four ‘bonus’ weeks in Scotland.

 

East of the A9

 

For this trip I decided to take my mountain bike. Some of the trails to the foot of the Munros are very long and to walk them can easily add six hours to a day. (I must add here that I find the English language very curious, how can you add six hours to a day, have you ever heard of a thirty hour day?). However with a mountain bike I figured that I could save this time and more importantly the effort. I spent a couple of evenings burning the midnight oil pouring over the Ordnance Survey maps of the remaining Munros and picked out 45 that would benefit from an approach via a mountain bike. It is amazing how some things can absorb you as at one stage I glanced up to see that the time was 0200 when I had last looked at the clock it was 2000.

I was due to set off on May the 13th but during the night of May the 11th I was kept awake with toothache. I phoned the dentist and they got me in and found a suspected abscess. I don't know what it was suspected of but nonetheless it was hiding beneath one of my teeth. Explaining my desire to head north they patched me up with a steroid dressing, a temporary filling and a bottle of penicillin a spare prescription and some good wishes for my trip.

Therefore I still made the trip on May the 13th. I had bought a rack for my car to mount the bike on the roof but, due to not wishing to try the rack out on the M5 and M6, kept the bike in the car until I reached Pitlochry Youth Hostel.

May the 14th saw me back to the Munros with an attempt of Beinn Dearg. The day started slowly as I had to assemble my mountain bike after driving to Old Blair near Blair Atholl. I found a brilliant parking space and was immediately told off by a passing estate worker for using such a brilliant parking place and instead I was sent packing to the public car park some one mile back. However I managed to get going and had a tough bike ride of about two and a quarter hours. I found it very hard going as I think the abscess and medicine were draining my energy and I could feel that my throat was sore. I abandoned the bike where the direct track from Old Blair to Bruar Lodge crosses the Allt an t-Seapail stream and ventured across boggy ground made up of peat and small streams until I reached the path that climbs Meall Dubh nan Dearcag on the way to Beinn Dearg. I was fooled by a new track on the approach to the path that I have just mentioned. It has been bull dozed out of the hill swinging around below Beinn a' Chait. I found it a real struggle and it took the best part of four hours to walk from my bike to the summit. I took a lot of care, with the compass, on the walk back as I felt that I did not have any spare energy for mistakes. In the event I managed to get back to the bike in less than two hours and then converted the question as to whether the bike was worth the trouble into an emphatic yes as I hurtled back down the track. I had not realised how much up hill there was on the way in. I found it quite surprising how much of a dare devil I am on the bike in terms of going at a fast pace over rough terrain. I am normally a very cautious person and can only put this down to the fact that I did a great deal of cycling during my childhood so would therefore have confidence through cycling by instinct.

Apart from a quick chat with two guys at the top the only other person that I met was an old chap by a large cairn on the side of the track. He was doing a mammoth walk across the remote highland tracks with just his pack and tent for company. He had said that he had seen my bike and was tempted to take it for the ride. I had it well locked to prevent anybody from using it as an easy means of transport.

Back at the Youth Hostel I realised just how much I had struggled during the day and decided to take the next day off. Also I began to think the 45 Munros that I planned to get to the foot of by mountain bike might be a little ambitious. And perhaps I should consider finishing off all of the Munros to the east of the A9, which, of course, would include all of the Cairngorms. Most of these would require a mountain bike and the ones that did not would add to the variety of this trip. Although this plan would mean less Munros bagged it would stop having to come back to some areas which would involve long drives for just the odd Munro. Some people may think this sounds like a military campaign but what with my ageing Toyota and living in the South of England then sometimes it has to be that way. So with this slight change in plan I took Friday May the 15th off.

Saturday May the 16th brought another single Munro, Carn a'Chlamain which I tackled by cycling up Glen Tilt from Blair Atholl. Up this track is Marble Lodge which gets mentioned in many of the walking guide books. I looked forward to seeing the splendour of some glorious Scottish Highland hunting lodge. Unfortunately I was to be disappointed because Marble Lodge is a modest building but probably gets mentioned a lot due to it being one of the few buildings in the area with an easy to pronounce name. I padlocked my bike to a telegraph pole just short of the dwellings called Clachghlas and cut up onto the path which heads west then north east up Carn a' Chlamain. The day was hot with good views as I walked up a newly cut bulldozed track, which I can only describe as a bit of an eye sore. Still any estate owner reading this would probably bemoan walkers eroding their own paths.

I was quite pleased with the days effort, I still found it a bit of a struggle but nothing like the ascent of Beinn Dearg. The views were good and the mountain bike was very useful both on the cycle in and the cycle out.

In the evening I phoned my friend from Glasgow, Willy Newlands, to see if he wanted to do some walking on the following day. Unfortunately his Mother was sick so he could not make it. However we had a good chat about things and soon got on to the subject of the forth coming World Cup and whether the Scots will always support whatever team England was playing.

"Willy, I guess you will be supporting Tunisia when they play England in their opening game?" I asked.

"Aye Steve aye" he replied. I had a hidden scheme here as I knew that Willy had been the victim of a terrorist incident in Tunisia and felt very satisfied with myself for having cornered him.

“Willy,” I added after a deliberate pause “were you not on a bus that was blown up by a terrorist bomb in Tunisia?" I was left reeling to an all time Willy classic - "Steve, it was just a flesh wound."

Sunday the 17th brought my last daily commute to Blair Atholl to tackle Carn Liath, Braigh Coire-bhalgain and Carn nan Gabhar. It was very foggy as I parked my car at the end of the public road near Loch Moraig. As I lifted the bike off the roof I could feel that it was going to be a nice day. You start to be able to sense the weather when you spend a lot of time outside. I pedalled off down the track towards Shinagag but stopped after just over a mile and set off on foot for the summit of Carn Liath. I found the climbing tough but the fog started to lift to expose a glorious day. It was not long before a trail of people began to over take me. Initially by a middle aged woman and her two dogs who I walked and spoke with for about five minutes before I gave in to the inevitable and allowed them to walk on ahead. This walk is a classic ridge walk with ups and downs and changes of direction as the ridge plots its way between the three Munros. On the ascent of the second peak I was regularly being over taken and looking back I could see hoards of ant like figures marching down the ridge that I had recently descended.

On the approach to Carn nan Gabhar there is a point at which you can drop into the glen below. Unfortunately a dog called ‘Becky’ had decided that some interesting mountain hare lived down there and she had taken off after it. Her poor owners were standing at the top trying to spot their dog. After some further minutes one of them took the decision to descend 1000 foot to reclaim the beast.

I really struggled on the approach to the third Munro and felt ill a couple of times, the day was very hot but with that came some beautiful views especially over to where I had walked during the previous few days. I spent over an hour at the final summit chatting with a chap called Jeremy who was a structural engineer working on the design of oilrigs. We decided to descend together by going over Allgold Bheinn and cut round Beinn Bheag and rejoin the track where I had left my mountain bike. The summit of Carn nan Gabhar has three rises the most north easterly being generally recognised as the highest. As we descended a man was just settling himself down at the first summit so we had to wave him on by shouting out “that is not the highest point” and gesticulating off to our right.

The descent with Jeremy was nice as it was company and he set a better pace so I managed to save at least an hour on the route back. As we walked back up the track I was hoping that my bike would be okay as a great number of people had passed it during the day. Jeremy told me of a case where two guys had got benighted because some estate workers had loaded the men’s mountain bikes onto their Landrover. A stupid thing to do as it would put their lives at risk. Luckily my bike was okay save for a direct hit by a bird on the saddle. I pedalled back to the car park area where my car had been joined by quite a gathering of vehicles. I spied a note on my car and immediately thought that I was being told off for having parked illegally or something. The note simply said ‘That was a long walk - hope you enjoy rest of your holiday. Munro bag lady + dogs.’ This was the first person to overtake me and it was nice that she had wanted to say goodbye by leaving me this most welcome note. I initially wondered how she knew my car but then the obvious struck me in that I was the only other car there when she had parked up. The entire day took just under ten hours and I was quite tired.

 

Braemar

 

I left Pitlochry Youth Hostel on the morning of Monday May the 18th and drove towards Braemar on the A93 and stopped just north of the Glen Shee ski area. From here I tackled Carn an Tuirc, Cairn of Claise, Tolmount and Tom Buidhe. It was another hot day with good views but this time I did not struggle so much. It was the first time that I had not needed the mountain bike, which may have had a bearing on things. I got good views on what really was a route march between four summits of a large raised area. I could see over to Glas Maol where Barbara and I did not even attempt to get out of the car just the previous month. Now it was all in sun and no sign of snow let alone a blizzard! After the days walking I arrived at the delightful Braemar Youth Hostel which is an old hunting lodge. I must have been hungry because some chap commented on the amount of pasta that I had piled on the plate for my evening meal.

I had a stroll around in the later evening and noticed that the Mountain Rescue Centre was right beside the hostel. It immediately reminded me of a rather funny story that I have heard about the Braemar Mountain Rescue Team. It involved an Irish climber who during one spring had gone missing on Glas Maol. A rescue mission was mobilised and he was located at dawn dug into a snow hole near to the summit. While the team was warming him up with hot drinks he asked which road they could see snaking its way along the floor of the glen below. On being told it was the A93 he commented that he had been down by it the night before but had become lost. He then remembered a training course that he had been on that said when you are lost in the mountains you have to dig a snow hole in which to keep warm. But he had to climb all the way back up the mountain to find snow deep enough to dig such a snow hole. I guess the Mountain Rescue Team was mad at him at the time but can only assume that over the years this has become a tale of almost folklore proportions. For myself I find it touching that in this modern world there are still people with such innocence.

 

 

The Botanist of Geldie Lodge

 

The following day I had to rest, the four Munros of the 18th having taken their toll. So Wednesday May the 20th was my next expedition into the hills. I teamed up with Tony Wood who was staying in the same dormitory as me. He was excellent company, a retired schoolteacher and like me he had brought his mountain bike up for the first time to try and pick off some of the more remote Munros. We started from the Linn of Dee and cycled out to the ruins of Geldie Lodge, a trip of something just short of eight miles which took over an hour and a half. We were treated to an eagle swooping low before us at one point. I have seen many birds in the mountains and always wondered if I had seen an eagle before. I had not, this was so obvious by its wing span that all the other birds would have been the more junior of the bird of prey variety. From there we took in Carn an Fhidhleir and An Sgarsoch. Carn an Fhidhleir was Munro number 142 for me, number 242 for Tony, and of course my half way point.

It was a relatively dull day with not much of a view until we dropped down below the cloud line on the descent of the north slopes of An Sgarsoch. Tony pointed out different types of bird to me, such as dotterel (a rare Europe-Asian shore bird) and ptarmigan (an arctic grouse with a silent 'P', presumably so that it is not eaten by a predator whilst it is relieving itself), and also various plant life as botany was his great love.

The walking part of the day was about another nine miles on top of the ride so the bikes really helped because it would have been a twenty five mile walk without them, pushing it a bit for one day. We had left our bikes chained to a fence close to Geldie Lodge, as we turned round the edge of the ruins, to reclaim them, we were presented with two guys standing by a four wheeled drive jeep type of vehicle. I immediately sensed that something was ever so slightly wrong. Initially I thought that perhaps they were estate workers waiting to tick us off for bringing our bikes along their track but as we got chatting it did not appear that way. One was middle aged, the other younger, perhaps in his early twenties.

          “Are you estate workers?” I asked.

          "No, I'm just the driver here for this chap who is doing a vegetation study" replied the older one, scuffing the ground and looking at his feet. This reply should have put me at ease, as there are notorious stories of hostilities between walkers and estate workers, but it did little to comfort me. After a few more minutes I was relieved to see them drive off.

"Tony, that did not sound very plausible," I said.

"No, for a vegetation survey you would need lots of people and various bits of equipment," he replied.

We reckoned that the most innocent explanation was that they used the vegetation survey as an excuse to borrow a key, from the estate, to the gate at the end of the track. And in fact they were confounded Munro bagging cheats not prepared to do the extra sixteen miles of the track by foot or by bike. Either that or they were international drug smugglers.

On the cycle back I tried to ford a stream, crossing the track, at speed. I failed and went in sideways, not a very good idea. When we got back to the Linn of Dee the two ‘botanists’ were stuck with their jeep as the key that they had used in the morning no longer fitted the padlock. Was the estate wise or was it just a faulty lock?

 

Excuse Me Cameron but I Think That is a Little Ambitious

 

Cameron McNeish is a Scottish Mountaineer who is held, by certain outdoor folk, in high esteem. Amongst other things he is the author of ‘The Munro Almanac’, a handy pocket sized guidebook to the Munros; though the earlier edition I used was prone to error. Most of the walks he describes are quite sensible in terms of the amount of effort required in a day. However he describes doing the five Munros at the end of Glen Ey in one day, this is a twenty six mile route with approximately 6000 feet of ascent. Just looking at the map was enough to put me off, therefore on May the 21st I set out with the idea of splitting it into two or perhaps three separate days. I parked at Inverey and cycled up the track to the ruin of Altanour Lodge. In this area are the remains of a few dwellings mirroring the graves of a small community long since dead and gone. I was procrastinating over the process of locking up my mountain bike when Tony arrived. My aim was to do Beinn Iutharn Mhor and Carn Bhac then have a think about An Socath if time allowed. Tony was setting off to do Carn an Righ, Beinn Iutharn Mhor and Carn Bhac. Therefore we walked for a short distance together and then went our separate ways. I took the north east face of Beinn Iutharn Mhor which was very steep in places but it then opened out into a long ridge leading to the summit. I had to battle with the wind on the final stretch. Quickly forcing my sandwiches down at the summit I back tracked to a lesser summit of the ridge and took a bearing across to Carn Bhac. The ascent of this was straightforward in comparison, followed by a drop back into Glen Ey where I started to wander towards the foot of An Socath. I soon realised that it was not to be, my mental state was not up for another 1300 foot of ascent and instead I walked back to my bike. When I got within sight of the ruin of Altanour Lodge, which incidentally is a haven of a place surrounded by Scots pines, I could see Tony unlocking his bike. It was quite a coincidence that we both started together and finished within a few minutes of each other despite him having done three Munros and me just the two. It was good to have some company for the cycle back.

During the evening I got talking to the assistant warden Dave who was a guy of about my age and similar outlook on life so we spent many a spare minute chatting about this and that. The previous night there had been a hairy climber in. When I say hairy he had a mass of grey hair, a big bushy beard to match and middle aged stocky frame. He was a climber of the old school, not one of these slim youngsters that skip up a rock face. He was checking in again this night after having done Glas Tulaichean and Carn an Righ. He was talking to the Dave and was saying that all day he had only seen a distant figure on Beinn Iutharn Mhor at around midday. I piped up "That was probably me then." We started to have a chat, he was quite a character. With an accent from the Lake District and fingers like a bunch of bananas he sat down and we chatted about our day. He had started from the Dalmunzie Hotel near the Spittal of Glenshee and everything was a bastard. The two mountains he had done were both bastards. When he'd got back to his bastard car he went for a bastard drink in the bastard hotel. Actually I agreed with him about the hotel as they said that they were not doing food and could only sell him a pint. As he drunk it he noticed other people buying bar food. He was understandably annoyed, okay he was dressed for the mountains but so what. Anyhow he told me more about his bastard car, an old ‘Y’ registered Mercedes estate. He'd bought it cheap "a few year back" and the bastard had not let him down apart from the odd exhaust. He had to get the exhaust done by a garage and the part was about £170 but they said it would last so he had said, "well you had better put the bastard on." He cracked me up because there was nothing crude about the guy it was just that everything was a bastard.

          Friday May the 22nd saw the second of what was now to be my three day attempt at what to Cameron McNeish would describe as a Sunday stroll. I could not face the cycle up Glen Ey again so took the slightly unusual route of tackling An Socath from the Glen Shee ski area. It was very misty and there was quite a bit of rain early on so I had to use my compass skills to get me over the ridge via Loch Vrotachan and the descent to Baddoch Burn. Making use of the compass reminded me of Barbara, now safely ensconced back in Canada. It pointing to that spot lying high in the Canadian arctic, the Magnetic North Pole approximately 360 miles from the tiny hamlet of Resolute on Cornwallis Island. This is distinct from the Geographical North Pole (often referred to in navigational terms as True North) which pinpoints the north end of the earth's axis of rotation. It has no relation to the Magnetic North Pole, the spot that draws a compass. First discovered in 1831 on Boothia Peninsula, the Magnetic Pole has since moved across the Canadian archipelago and is now near Ellef Ringness Island. To complete the picture there is a third pole, the Geomagnetic North Pole, located north of Qaanaaq (Thule) in Greenland, and is the north end of the axis of the geomagnetic field that surrounds earth as the magnetosphere, again it is distinct from the Magnetic North Pole.

I had some difficulty crossing this stream until I found a handy bridge that somebody had erected. The weather started to clear at this point for the final pull up to the ridge of An Socath. From the summit I could see a distant red figure on the east end of the ridge some one and a half miles away. As I headed back along the ridge the figure got nearer and towards the end we both diverted our course so we could stop for a chat. It is quite uncanny this, you like the solitude of walking in the hills but you still want a chat with the only other person out. Walk down a high street and nobody will talk to you, on a Munro with just one other person about you have got a friend.

I hurried back to the ski area as I fancied a hot drink in the cafe there before heading back to Braemar. The cafe had a sign saying it closed at 1645, I got there and at 1625 just as they were closing early to polish the floor. With the thought of a coffee shop now in mind I headed into Braemar and found that both the coffee shops had just closed there. This was before 1700 on the Friday of a bank holiday weekend and temporarily left me with little sympathy for those that claim of the hardships of making a profit from tourism. With the thought of a hot drink still in mind I opted for a tasteless drink of tea from a styrofoam cup outside of a roadside cafe in Braemar, it was not the image that I had had in mind.

Saturday May the 23rd completed the trilogy of days tackling the Munros up Glen Ey. The remaining two were Glas Tulaichean and Carn an Righ which I approached from the Spittal of Glenshee. I cycled up Gleann Taitneach for about an hour and a quarter and locked my bike up behind a large boulder with a handy bit of looped wire sticking out of the ground to thread the lock through. The wind was making a lonely whistling sound through the spokes of the wheels as I walked away. I climbed the south west ridge up onto Glas Tulaichean. The wind was very harsh on top and all I could see in the distance was a massive mountain which I initially thought was Carn an Righ. It looked very far away and huge. I spoke with a father and son who thought it to be Carn an Righ also. On checking the map and compass it proved not to be the case and Carn an Righ was more to the north west and looked manageable. I was desperate for food but could not open my pack until I got into the shelter of Mam nan Carn away from the evil north wind. The ascent of Carn an Righ was then straightforward and I was able to follow the good path along to Loch nan Eun before dropping into Gleann Taitneach and back to my bike. The return ride was down hill with the wind behind me and took just thirty five minutes and that was including a stop to chat to some guys that I had spoken to as I ascended, and they descended Carn an Righ.

 

Three Walks Into One

 

Lochnagar is a famous mountain both for its height, views and surrounding inland cliffs. The reader may be familiar with the book that Prince Charles wrote called ‘The old man of Lochnagar’ as this was a striking out place during his childhood stays at Balmoral. It is best approached from the minor road that ends near to Loch Muick. I had it in mind that if I made an early start I might be able to also take in Carn a' Coire Bhoidheach and Carn an t-Sagairt Mor. If things went really well I could also take in Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn by walking a horse shoe type of route and descending back to my car via the south shores of Loch Muick.

The day started dull with rain in the air and a bit of a chill. The path up Lochnagar is a good one, which meant that I could make a good pace. I soon took off my fleece and just had on my upper body a T-shirt, thin shirt and gortex jacket. Below I had track suit trousers and a light pair of over trousers. This combination of clothing, the coolness of the day and the good path were obviously the perfect combination for me as I did not feel the usual heaviness and managed to make a very fast pace reaching the summit of Lochnagar in just under three hours. There are good views from the summit with a view finder plaque cast in stone; as I recall it was erected by the Cairngorm Club in 1924 and gave me the sense of the mountaineers of the past and how they might view the modern day Munroist. I imagined their disapproving frowns and tut tutting at the lack of purity in my approach to the mountains that they were psychologically opening up for future generations. I reflected that I was doing this in my own time and decided to walk on and take in Carn a' Coire Bhoidheach. I found that I was really motoring. I reflected that perhaps it was no coincidence that I was now off of the medication to help kill the abscess under my tooth. In addition I had given myself a good boost of asthma drugs before I had set out. From the summit of Carn a' Coire Bhoidheach I could see a beautiful mixture of sun and shadow on distant hills to the north west. Moody days often give beautiful reflected colour as the sun reflects through the ever indecisive cloud.

Having reached the summit of the second Munro of the day at a shade after midday I decided that all five were a possibility. So I was off and completed the round trip in just over eight and a half hours. On the top of the fifth Munro, Broad Cairn, I thought that the walk back would take me just over two and a half hours and that I would arrive at my car at about 1700. In the event I got there at two minutes to five. I'm not claiming to be that accurate in all instances but you do get a sense of how long things will take which can only come by experience. When in the mountains I always tend to think of things in time rather than distance.

The long walk back by the south side of Loch Muick starts very high above the Loch (some 850 feet) and there is a view down to a wonderful isolated mansion called Glas-allt-Shiel. I later found out that this is one of the royal retreats far from the gaze of the press. On the final walk to the car it started to rain which was a shame because it made me rather damp at the end of what was otherwise a wonderful and successful day. I had managed to take in five Munros, completing three separate single day walks from Cameron McNeish's guidebook. Resuming the status quo, which had previously been disrupted by me taking those three days over the single day walk that the guidebook recommended for the Munros at the end of Glen Ey. This just goes to underline that routes are subjective and what is given in a guidebook is often just how the author tackled it. Not right, nor wrong just one of a number of ways.

This was certainly one of my best ever days of walking in terms of the ease in which I could take in the terrain. I have already mentioned certain factors that contributed to this but I have since reflected that my mental state was better this day. Perhaps because I had found the previous walks tough due to illness coincided with my feeling better and determined to make good progress. On the approach to Lochnagar I felt driven with none of the usual heaviness and mental questioning I am prone to. I guess I suddenly became determined to do better, knowing that I could. I remember being on Brighton Pier once with Gisella, David Binderman (a friend) and his girlfriend, Sarah. David and I went on the petrol driven Go-Karts and I lost hands down to David and some strangers. On getting out I asked David if he wanted another race, we got back in the karts and I started from third on the grid with David in front. Gisella could see my eyes through the visor in the crash helmet. She said that she had never seen such determination and I won’t disappoint by being modest when I say that I won the race handsomely.

I truly believe that you can do many things if you get your mind right to the approach. It is very easy to say "I'm no good at maths" and then to no ones surprise be bad at mental arithmetic. I believe that you get stuck with patterns about yourself that are hard to get rid of and consequently statements like "I'm no good at maths" become self fulfilling prophesies. An example of this was when I took up badminton after graduating. The people I played against always fell into one of three categories: people I always beat, people that I was evenly matched against and people that I always lost to. One person that I always lost to was my boss, Nigel Lewis, not because he was my boss but because he was a better player than I was. One day I was set to play him but I was really stressed and wound up, I had just been stood up for the second time by the same girl and was highly miffed. I took all my anger and frustration out on the badminton court. As we walked off the court at the end of the match I could tell that Nigel was contemplating his five games to nil thrashing when he asked "what got into you?" "Woman trouble,” I replied. I think he was relieved that his game had suddenly not deteriorated to this level. The important lesson that I learnt there was that I had got into a pattern of losing to him so I subconsciously thought that this would always happen. I guess my conscious, desperate to fall in line with my subconscious, always made it happen to keep alive the comfortable old feeling of ‘I always lose to him.’ What I did not realise was that my game was improving and that I could beat this chap but it took an overriding to break the pattern. After that we were more evenly matched, the five nil thumping was a one off as it took Nigel by surprise. The next time he was prepared.

 

A Herd of Deer

 

The following day, May the 26th, I decided to bike out to Derry lodge and walk Beinn Bhreac. I woke early thinking that there is nothing like a good nights sleep, and that was nothing like a good nights sleep. The wriggler from hell had been stationed himself in the bunk above mine. This made me start the day feeling irritable because as there were many bunks free I could not understand why he had decided to occupy this one.

As I drove through Braemar, well before 0700, a herd of about sixteen deer, wandering through the village munching on grass, eased my irritation.

I cycled from the Linn of Dee down to Derry Lodge where I was glad to see that some attempt has been made to patch the holes in the roof. It is a grand old building and it would be a shame to see its current semi derelict state be the first steps of it becoming a true ruin. From Derry Lodge I decided to bike further up Glen Derry where I soon started to pass an area of forest to the east side of the glen that has been fenced in to prevent deer eating the new trees. It is always sad to see as deer fencing implies an imbalance in the ecological system. I needed to cut up through the forest to reach the slopes of Beinn Bhreac but the tall fence was barring my route. On finding a gate I decided that was my best option so locked my bike nearby and headed through the trees. When I got to the fence the other side of the enclosure there was no reflected gate or style. Given that they have fenced off a recognised route to this mountain it must come as no surprise that the fence on the east side of the enclosure is becoming damaged by people climbing over it having been fooled by the gate on the west side. Walkers do not want to cause damage but situations like this just cause friction between the walking and land management communities.

The walk up Beinn Bhreac went quite well apart from it being very windy on the top with driving snow. I took refuge behind some big boulders to be able to eat my sandwiches. On the descent I cut to the north side of the fenced enclosure and easily rejoined the track in Glen Derry without having to climb over the fence. The walk back to my bike was quite short and I reflected that if the people that had erected the fence had put a note on the gate saying ‘Please walk a half mile further north to avoid crossing this fenced enclosure’ then all the damage to their fence would be avoided.

Back at the bike I did consider cycling round to Luibeg bridge and taking in Carn a' Mhaim but I decided against this as it was very windy at altitude. On the ride back I noticed some stupid campers near Derry Lodge had left a tree stump smouldering. It was raining so hard that I figured it could not possibly spread. However had it been dry I would have had to have got help to put it out.

 

A bit of a Ding Dong with Avon Calling

 

The aim of May the 27th was to do Ben Avon and Beinn a'Bhuird. These are two remote Munros that lie up the end of Gleann an t-Slugain. I had a frustrating start to the day from Invercauld as there is a maze of small tracks which no longer match the Ordnance Survey map. When I guided my mountain bike onto the correct route I was able to make better progress, locking up just south east of the ruins of Slugain Lodge. Normally I thread my bike helmet through the cable of the lock to secure it with the bike. Today I forgot and did not notice that I had not removed my helmet until I stood up and banged my head on the very tree that I was attaching my bike to.

It had rained up to this point and the following walk was to be no exception, long and gruelling up water logged paths. I passed a couple that had camped out and had decided to call it a day and not attempt the high ground. The wind was quite strong and I was seriously thinking that this would have to be abandoned. Having to pull the hood of my jacket tight to try and protect myself from the wind and rain made me feel miserable. From the floor of the glen I could see that the tops had snow on them and this added to my hesitation.

Whilst resting by a stream, and filling my water bottle, I thought that I heard voices but just assumed that it was the effect of the gurgling stream and the noise of the rain and the wind. The brain tries to sort out the jumble of nature’s noises into something familiar. Voices are common as is tinny pop music. Crews of the four engine Avro-Lancaster bombers would often hear a full symphony orchestra as the engines played out their mission.

I looked up and there were three people from the Youth Hostel standing, looking at their map, deep in conversation. This struck home the remoteness of the place, as I could not hear people within just a few feet of me. They were heading just for Ben Avon having already decided to not do Beinn a'Bhuird. I casually walked with them, sometimes walking ahead, they were not great company from the point of view of conversation but it was a comfort to know that there were fellow human beings about in this bleak and miserable wild day. I felt that there was a bit of friction within their group - this often happens on a tough day. When we reached the most northerly point in the path, before it descends into Slochd Mor, we went east and had great trouble navigating in the mist and driving hail across the snow to the summit of Ben Avon. At one stage the wind was so strong that the hood tassel on my jacket kept bashing my eye. I could not manage to control it with my hands and did not wish to stop and remove my gloves and risk separating from the others. So I had to suck the tassel into my mouth and hold it between my teeth to save my eye from its pummelling. The discovery of the summit of Ben Avon was mainly due to the navigational brilliance of a chap called Brian from my trio of company. The wind was blowing from the north, which made things relatively safe as we were being blown away from the edge of the cliffs. The summit of Ben Avon is a group of tors which we had to ascend on all fours crossing over what, given the weather conditions, can be described as significantly exposed edges. Just Brian and myself made the summit the others electing to stay back. From here we descended and split up back at the most northerly point of the path. I had the option of going onto Beinn a'Bhuird but the weather was very poor and I was concerned that because there were cliffs on the south side of its summit that I may be in danger due to the wind being from the north. Therefore I turned back. I got very wet, the walk back down the path was long and tiresome. The paths were awash as they were made from many years of erosion. This often happens where paths form from the wearing down of the peat to the stone base such that the path becomes lower than the surrounding ground. Then when it rains water flows out of the peat and causes the path to become a stream, walkers then walk either side causing further erosion as the path widens.

All in all it was a tough day. I was out for nine hours and covered something in the order of twenty miles. I got very wet and only managed one Munro of the two when the second was only one and a half miles away from the point of giving it up. The start was frustrating because the map was inaccurate and the route was split across two OS sheets, also a new map case split which made the maps wet. I reflected this all whilst sitting in the Fife Arms hotel in Braemar viewing all the unhealthy middle aged people flopped out in the easy chairs after a hard day of looking around gift shops. The difference between the health of people in the Youth Hostel and the hotel was staggering.

The following day, Thursday May the 28th, I decided to go straight back and tackle Beinn a'Bhuird, otherwise the abandonment of it would have played on my mind. To avoid a repeat of the miserable walk in on the first attempt I decided to mountain bike the very long track in from Linn of Quoich as far as I could. In the event I managed to cycle in for just less than two hours to a height of 1600 feet which involved crossing the north westerly branch of the river in Glen Quoich. The crossing took quite awhile as the river was fast flowing and deep in places which required me to wheel the bike up and down the bank before selecting a wide bit where the spread of the water made it shallower. After locking my bike up, just short of the last trees before the summit, I realised that again I had forgotten to remove my helmet. This was another trivial annoyance, as I had to undo my bike cable from around the tree, which I had just struggled to secure due to the shortness of the cable.

From leaving the bike it took me three and a half hours to reach the summit at 3924 feet, the tenth highest Munro. The final one and a half hours was with snow under foot and total mist. I had to walk on a bearing from the top of the track as there was nothing else to navigate by. Here I discovered that I had a strange problem with my eyes that caused confusion. In the mist uphill looked like downhill such that I'd be going on my merry way and be faced with a downhill stretch that was not shown on the map. Therefore utter confusion. I noticed a similar problem in April when I was driving on the A93 with Barbara. To me it looked as if we were going downhill but the car was struggling. To Barbara we were clearly going up hill and she thought that I was ‘weird.’ Only by looking in my rear view mirror could I confirm that we were climbing. I adopted the same technique here and by looking back, managed to keep my confidence that in fact I was going up.

The weather was better than the day before but it was still a long slog and I was pleased to reach the summit. On the way back I managed to pick up my footprints from time to time in the snow. Therefore I could follow these instead of walking on a bearing. As I descended I met three other people, otherwise it was quite a lonely day.

Friday May the 29th was a rest day. It was five years to the day since I had watched those children burn to death, my Dad was having a heart defibrillation operation and the Youth Hostel snoring gene had evolved to such an extent that it could out perform wax ear plugs. On waking the snorer, having kept me awake most the night, began to bemoan the bad weather. My mood was so poor I lied and told him the forecast on West Coast was good and perhaps he should move. He did not fall for it as the following night he was still there.

 

The Devil's Point and the Angel's Peak

 

This was quite a day. I double bunged my earplugs to shut the snorer out but still did the normal trick of waking early that I turned to my advantage by making an early start. This pleased the hostel cat as I was able to let him in far earlier than he could normally anticipate. In typical cat fashion he them demanded breakfast and was quite put out that none was forthcoming.

Because of the early start I departed from the Linn of Dee at just after 0700 and cycled for just over an hour to the Luibeg Bridge, passing Derry Lodge en-route. From there I walked on for over two hours to the Corrour Bothy where I stopped for a rest before starting the real climb. The first part of the climb was through cloud to a saddle offering a good access point to the ridge that was to take in the Munros of the day. On reaching the saddle I was treated to a brilliant temperature inversion whereby I walked out of the cloud to open views of the mountains. With clouds high above and cloud below making the occasional scamper up to me like a dog forever running to its owner and then backing off and catching again.

The Devil's Point was easily 'bagged' by turning left onto the ridge followed by a short rough walk to its summit. The name “Devil’s Point” is a prudish Victorian anglicised translation of the true Gaelic name of Bod an Deamhain which means Devil’s Penis. I am surprised that they did not retain the name given that when the switch was made most things were measured in inches anyhow. Whilst sitting on the Devil’s Point (I figure the context of using Point here is better than Penis) I looked back and watched the cloud continually rolling up from both sides of the saddle, shaking hands then retreating. I marvelled on this small wonder of nature whilst munching on some food prior to my return to the saddle and the onward ridge walk towards Cairn Toul. The ascent of this looked extremely difficult and hazardous from a distance but got easier as I approached. From there I took in Sgor an Lochain Uaine (The Angel's Peak - a newly promoted Munro) and then I had a decision to make. It was now about 1430, three Munros bagged and Braeriach was tempting me at the far end of the ridge but this would leave me at the furthest point from the start and quite late in the day. The alternatives were to back track and call it a day or to back track and take in the separate mountain of Carn a' Mhaim. I really wanted to get Braeriach because it is fairly remote and would require a very long day to bag as a single mountain from a different route. The problem hinged on whether I could return from Braeriach by a route other than by back tracking the lengthy ridge to the saddle that I had used to gain access to the ridge. In the floor of the glen below me was the Lairig Ghru, a famous Cairngorm path, which runs approximately parallel with the ridge that I was on. If I could descend from Braeriach to the Lairig Ghru then I could make the return without the hard work of retracing the ridge. On the top of the Devil's Point, the first Munro of the day, I had talked with a chap who said you could descend down to the Lairig Ghru by cutting south from Braeriach, thus making the bagging of it plausible. I was unsure whether the advice was sound as the map showed no hint of a let up in the steepness of the south side of Braeriach, even if the advice was sound there was still the possibility of not being able to locate the path. Foolishly I pressed on and at the lowest point before the ridge rose to Braeriach I happened upon a middle aged party who had a rather haughty disposition and in consequence I took an instant dislike to them. I spoke with them for a while and, desperately seeking reassurance, asked if they knew of the route into the Lairig Ghru from Braeriach. They did not and I found their manner condescending. Walking on the entire incident played on my mind. Was it just their manner awakening the memories of other incidents in my life when I felt people had talked down to me? Then it struck me. They were the self same BMW and Citroen Xantia party that I felt behaved so arrogantly with their parking arrangements at Glen Coe Youth Hostel the previous year.

The route continued over steep ground and took an approximate horseshoe shaped course with very steep cliffs and an almost moonscape plateau forming the ridge. I reached Braeriach, the third highest of all the Munros, at 1600. I spent some time looking for the route into the Lairig Ghru but I could not spot it, the glacier had taken no prisoners in this area. I was hit with a problem. I was now nine hours into my walk and at the furthest point. The reality began to hit home, at this rate I'd get back to the hostel at about 0100 and it shuts at 2330. There was nothing for it other than to hack it back on the route that I took in. I did so but managed to circumnavigate Sgor an Lochain Uaine (The Angel's Peak) and Cairn Toul and I could avoid The Devil's Point altogether because it was south of the point at which I got on the ridge. At one point I stopped for some food and noticed a rusty knife plunged into the ground. It was just a simple knife but obviously some walker years before had accidentally left it there and it had sat there all that time. I left it there to RIP (Rust In Pieces).

I got back to Corrour Bothy at just after 1900. It looked a bit crowded and as I walked away I passed thirteen people all heading for it. That must have been a difficult night. I spoke with one group who had walked in from the White Bridge and during the conversation they mentioned that the group behind them in the distance were with them. Because they were the only people about I drifted towards this approaching group and said "hello" in passing. I walked on for a few minutes then a nagging doubt turned into hard fact and I stopped dead in my tracks. The guy in the first group said "they had walked in from White Bridge with the group behind." I had just said hello to that group, therefore I was now on the path to White Bridge and NOT Luibeg Bridge where my bike was. I quickly backtracked and put this right but it was a near thing. If I had walked on engrossed in my thoughts then I could easily have made a very bad mistake, which would definitely have left me benighted.

The rest of the walk back to my bike took about two hours in the rain and whistling wind. I was glad to be able to switch to the bike as a means of transport as by this time my left knee was getting quite painful, the old complaint hampering me despite the knee socks and trekking poles. On mounting my bike I checked my watch and noted it was about 2100, it felt eerie as I was beginning to sense the approaching dusk and the close of the day. I reached the welcome familiar comfort of my car at a quarter to ten giving a day of about fifteen hours.

To some the idea of spending an entire day walking is a daunting task. When I start a day knowing that I have at least eight hours of hard graft ahead of me it does not bother me as my mind has rehearsed what is involved and paces itself accordingly. If the day overruns my estimations only then do I begin to feel daunted. Back home I can walk to the shops, and back and start to feel weary when I am just about to get back home - my mind has set out the plan and lets me feel weary only when I am within a few yards of my house. Therefore the length of the walk does not have much correlation with how weary I feel, weariness just appears to set in just as my initial time estimation is about to be completed.

 

 

A Keen Days Walk

 

By May the 31st my stay at Braemar Youth Hostel was becoming rather an epic and I had made friends with Dave the assistant warden. We decided to do some walking together and found that we both had not done Mount Keen, the most easterly of all the Munros. Dave lived down in the village so we agreed that we would meet at the hostel at just after 0800. He met me in the entrance area and I expected him to have come by car with his mountain bike either on the roof or inside. As we exited the hostel there was his bike against the wall. Suddenly I was struck with alarm. Surely he did not mean that we were going to cycle all the way from the hostel. Just to the starting point would have been twenty five miles. We quickly resolved it and emptied the contents of my car into his garage and squeezed his bike in. We parked at the end of Glen Tanar and negotiated the confusing tracks through the forest and followed the lengthy track along the Water of Tanar parking our mountain bikes at the point where the final stretch of the path breaks away from the stream. From here it was a one and a half hour walk through the mist to the summit. It looked closer on the map and as we were approaching what we thought might be the summit we met three guys who told us that we were at least forty five minutes away.

On the way back down a group were approaching me and I said hello. One of the chaps turned to a girl in their party and said, referring to me, "So do you know him?" I was a little confused but what had happened was that this girl, who was French, had that day bumped into two different people that she knew. So we all had a quick chat on the theories of chains of knowing people. It never ceases to amaze me that when you really start to get to know somebody you can find some form of link. There is one theory that there are no more than six levels between any two people in the world. That is to say if you were to put person A and person F in a room then the worst case would be that A knows B  who knows C who knows D who knows E who knows F. But now A knows F so bringing the entire thing closer. Of course doing things such as walking brings the circle closer than six levels due to common interest. Also this theory is not so obvious when it is greater than one level of indirection, that is to say if you happen to meet somebody that you share a mutual friend with how do you know until you start to chat? Initially Barbara and I found a common link in that she used to share a room with somebody that my friend Graham went to school with, so we managed the link by four people. Later we discovered that I was in the same canoe club at Brighton Polytechnic as one of her best friends thus reducing this path of association between Barbara and I to three.

 

 

Goodbye to Braemar

 

My final Munro to complete everything in the Braemar area was Carn a' Mhaim which involved another bike ride to Derry Lodge and beyond to the Luibeg Bridge. As I set off I noticed a sign in the car park at the Linn of Dee saying that they are going to ‘Phase cycling out’ in the area. Firstly I thought that it is a good job that I am getting my cycling in before the ban comes in. Then I thought that the Mar Lodge estate might be shooting themselves in the foot because if you ban cycling then people are more likely to go and rough camp to avoid more than one trip in. There is often friction between estates and walkers, they have rights and we have rights. I think it is just a case of getting a healthy respect for each other. If the estate can show me a good environmental reason for not cycling up a pre made Landrover track then I'd gladly give up the mountain bike. If it is just a case that they do not like cyclists using the roads that they have prepared then they can take one of three actions: (1) Ban it, (2) Charge for it by some form of permit or (3) Look at the over all picture and accept that banning cycling will reduce the number of people in the area, effect the local economy and increase rough camping so therefore allow cycling to be retained.

It was a dull day and it started to rain as I reached the steepest section of the climb up, I managed to haul myself on despite the heaviness in my legs and ever frequent stops to catch my breath. The top was in mist and I had to walk along the entire ridge to convince myself that I was at the summit. On the way down I either made a navigational error, or there was iron in the rock which may have effected the compass, for I ended up on the Coire na Poite which is a very steep section comprising of rock and wet ground over looking the Luibeg Burn. From a distance it looks like a steep set of cliffs with no way up or down. I realised that I had the choice of back tracking or picking my way through the rocks and steep slopes, squelching through the water logged peat and moss ridden terrain. I decided to make my way down the steep face, a face on the angle of a steep staircase without the steps - ‘I’ll be okay.’ I managed about a third of the way, constantly holding to rocks, digging my trekking pole in to gain security. Suddenly I was falling. Things whizzed past me, or so it felt as in fact I whizzed pass them. I accelerated on my bottom and spun through 180 degrees, my arms yearned for a hold. Grasping for anything. Suddenly I stopped. I am on a ledge, moss covered and oozing water like everything else apart from the rock. Water soaked into the join between my glove and my arm, it gave me rapid composure. I realised I was okay and got up, shaken and unsure. I walked to the edge of the ledge and slowly lowered myself back to the stairless case. I looked to my left and saw that if I had not stopped on the ledge I would have shot off the edge of a massive slab of rock and had about a fifty foot fall onto rocks below. I have had numerous minor tumbles on the mountains before, but this was by far the scariest. I had learnt a very important lesson which is don't take risks just to save time. From that point on I resolved to keep that in mind, to listen to those deep inner voices saying ‘this does not feel right.’

I enjoyed my stay at Braemar. The length of time I spent there allowed me to feel a little more part of a community, more so than the sometimes false image of a hotel or the excessive tweeness of a B&B - put together by middle aged people with a target market of middle aged people. Getting to know Dave the assistant warden was good, visiting him at his digs in the village. I also made friends with two other hostellers: Tony Wood who I have already mentioned and Mary Spurr a Canadian lady who spent a few nights at the hostel.

Normally I feel very shy in hostels and often find myself skulking about or reading the label on my marmalade jar to avoid catching people’s eye. It takes me time, I am not a born traveller - I need time to bond with people, to feel comfortable, accepted, part of it. I can’t just invent that for myself in a few nights stay, it has to be longer, stronger. The length of time I spent at Braemar gave me that and I enjoyed it. Sometimes I can have too much of being sociable, during school and degree summer holidays there was a pub we used to meet at on Friday or Saturday evenings, in Chippenham, called the Rose and Crown. In the pub was a fish tank and one of the fish was christened ‘Steve’ because it would spend ages hiding behind a plant or ornament, suddenly appear, enjoy itself and disappear away again. This was likened, by my friends, to my personality as I would not appear in the pub for weeks on end, then suddenly I would be there, enjoying myself before scuttling off home again.

 

Goodbye to the east of the A9

 

Tuesday June the 2nd saw me move on from Braemar and a trip to Glenn Feshie where I was to complete the final two Munros to the east of the A9. My friend Willy, who I called again, said that it sounded like a military campaign. I guess at times he was not far wrong. He is also astute for he asked, “Have you had any accidents then Steve?” He had never asked that kind of thing before, how could he sense that I had had a fall on Carn a' Mhaim? Some people have a knack, an extra sense perhaps, where they raise a subject that is closely relevant to you with no verbal provocation, Willy is one such person. When he worked on the Strathclyde Police Command and Control Project he would have a knack of coming and discussing a topic with us shortly after we had been discussing it amongst ourselves. It became uncanny and we believed that he must have an extra sense, or our office bugged.

I struggled all day with these two, Sgor Gaoith and Mullach Clach a'Bhlair. I took the good path up from Achlean and thought that perhaps a rare bird had been spotted in the area as I passed a few people bird watching. However I did not dwell on this for too long as I had more pressing matters to deal with, there were two Munros to be bagged. After the long haul up a well defined path I broke out on to the broad plateau that makes up this area it hit me just how cold it was. I managed to survive until the top of Carn Ban Mor where I got down below the cairn and temporarily removed my jacket to put my fleece and thick gloves on. This really helped and I could focus on Sgor Gaoith which snouts up from the ridge above the remote Loch Einch. I reached Sgor Gaoith after a total of about three hours walking. I looked towards Mullach Clach a'Bhlair and it appeared very far off. I elected for the very boggy direct route, avoiding the longer tracks until the last half hour of the two and a half hour crossing. From the summit I descended by the track which brought me back into Glen Feshie some two miles south of my starting point. The walk back up Glen Feshie was nice taking in a route by water and through forest.

 

Is it a hawk? Is it a buzzard? Is it an eagle? No it is a helicopter!

 

I stayed at Loch Morlich Youth Hostel for the nights of June 2nd and 3rd making the 3rd a rest day. The day consisted mainly of getting a hair cut and buying some extra push together clips so that I could attach my map case and compass to my jacket and rucksack such that they did not flap in my face during conditions of high wind. Both of these jobs were sorted out in Kingussie and I visited the same hairdressers that I had the previous year and was amazed that the lady remembered me. I did reflect that perhaps the “have you been on your holidays yet this year?” question should have been replaced with “have you been on your work break yet this year?”

I drove into Glen Banchor, behind Newtonmore, on Thursday June 4th. This was to walk Carn Dearg and Carn Sgulain, Munros that Barbara and I had to abandon back in April. This time there was no snow so therefore a high chance of success. I took the route along the path to Glenballoch then struck north west up the track along the Allt Fionndrigh stream before heading west through a window in the hillside to emerge in front of the massif of Carn Dearg. From here the going got tough over rough terrain before the pull up on to the ridge and the summit itself. I did conclude another use for the trekking poles, when crossing water they give you an extra few feet of clearance because you can use them to land where your feet would normally land then swing yourself forward on them thus avoiding wet feet. I am such a fan of trekking poles now.

For quite a long part of the walk there was a guy some ten minutes behind me. As he caught me at the top I realised that I’d spoken to him in Glen Feshie on the approach to Sgor Gaoith. I suppose you could say that it is a small world, but not really it was still the same week and we were both Munro bagging. We had a good chat and he was asking me how the Scottish Mountaineering Club validates you before adding you to the lists of Munroists. I said that they do not and just take your word for it. He said "But I could have just got to the end of the road and ticked these three off and turned back." "You are only cheating yourself I guess," I added. It is difficult to fully define cheating in the Munro bagging sense, obviously having never stood at a summit your claim would be cheating but what about taking the cable cars to do Munros where the mountains are on ski ranges? It is always tempting to take this ‘helping hand’ to get nearer to the summit but I regard this as cheating whereas other walkers regard this as perfectly acceptable. It is all a case of degree I guess, I am perfectly happy to park my car at the most convenient point. A true purist would start from sea level for each walk and where the Munro was bang on 3000 feet they would presumably wait for the tide to be out to be sure. Occasionally I have had the thought of cheating, not that I would but it is one of those horrid little thoughts that go through your head from time to time. It is just like being at a wedding and the vicar says "if any person... for ever hold your peace," you are buttoning your lip whilst your mind is saying ‘go on say something.’ As a young child I can recall two memorable instances where I cheated and was caught out. They were both at my primary school, the first being in the Maths class. Every Friday morning we had to choose a mathematical task from an array of exercises, each was typed out on a card and you had to select the one you wanted from a carrousel type of arrangement. I soon cottoned on to the fact that I could do the same exercise every week and consequently got ten out of ten every time. Even though handing in my work to be marked caused me masses of stress I still continued. Towards the end of the term I thought that suspicions might be becoming aroused so I deliberately made a few errors such that my mark dropped to a more acceptable nine out of ten. I then had to painfully listen to the teacher pointing out the error that I had deliberately inserted. On the last day of term we had to move classes in preparation for the new term. Whilst carrying my tray of personal work across the school playground a gust of wind caught the contents which lifted up in the air before dispersing across the ground. Somebody ran to my aid and helped me pick up the dozen or so identical mathematical exercises! I think I denied it despite the overwhelming evidence. The second example of cheating was when my family thought that it would be a good idea if I followed in my sister’s footsteps and learnt the recorder. A suitable relative was selected to buy me the relevant piece of apparatus for my Christmas present. I can vividly remember unwrapping it on Christmas day and staring at this object of stress and hate. All these holes did not make any sense to me. Thursday, after school, recorder classes did not help me understand this implement of torture any further. I hated the thing so much, I used to mime during the lessons and deliberately try and lose the confounded thing on the way home. My teacher, clearly sensing my lack of ability and attitude, selected me for a solo piece during the school concert. In front of my parents and all my friends and their families I stood on a podium and emitted the most painful series of incoherent squeaks that put paid to any idea of my parents claims "of that’s our boy." From these two instances I learnt that cheating was more stress than it was worth and signed up to the saying along the lines of ‘if you are not cheating somebody else then you are just cheating yourself.’

Before setting off for Carn Sgulain I took in the superb views across to the distant Geal Charn which I climbed on June the 19th 1997. The walk to Carn Sgulain took about two and a half hours covering a distance of just five miles. I was tired and realised that I was still suffering from my fifteen hour epic walk of the previous Saturday and the fact that the day before last was the fourth of four days on the trot. It was not just physical fitness I was struggling with as I realised that I was having problems with my mental fitness, the fifteen hour epic blew me away mentally as well as physically. The last six hours of that walk were against the clock, having to spend much of the time watching my pace and working out alternative plans to bed down for the night. Despite all this the five miles between the two Munros, following the line of some ancient fence posts which would have been very useful to navigate by had it been misty, made it a lovely day. My mind wandered to matters of philosophy, the solitude of the mountains allowing me to decipher the common denominators that sit behind happiness and unhappiness concluding that a happy and contented life requires:

 

                   Always having something to look forward to

                   Feeling valued

                   Fulfilling ones potential

 

Having sorted out my philosophy on life I returned my attention to the days walk. From Carn Ballach, a minor bump in the ridge between Carn Dearg and Carn Sgulain, I could see a strange shape on top of Meall a' Bhothain (another minor bump on the walk). As I got nearer I could pick it out as a helicopter. Unfortunately it took off before I could reach it. From the summit I walked out along the Allt na Beinne stream back to my car.

The day brought the final and successful attempt at solving the swinging compass problem. It is so annoying because the compass is essential but in wind it just swings about and is very irritating. To get over this I bought a draw tassel and threaded both pieces of my compass string through it. Then I threaded the loop through the waistband of my rucksack and used the tassel to pull the compass tight against the waistband. Bingo it did the trick.

 

Killin Again

 

Once I had completed this walk I set off back to Killin where I had decided to stay for three nights to take in An Stuc (the new Munro that Barbara and I failed to bag on two occasions in April). Also I wanted to do a repeat walk of Beinn Heasgarnich which I felt I may well have failed to reach the summit of when I climbed it the previous year. As I drove down I passed through Aberfeldy and could not resist buying a veggie burger and chips, pure fatness food as opposed to fitness food. As I approached Killin it was a beautiful evening with the sun picking out Ben More at the end of Loch Tay. So wonderful that I stopped for photos. I also got the feeling to do An Stuc would somehow be wrong. Firstly I felt that as Barbara and I failed to do it twice then we should do it together. And secondly that Killin would be a good place to do my last Munro from because the town has a nice atmosphere and there is plenty of accommodation if anybody wanted to join me on the walk. In the event I never walked An Stuc with Barbara nor did I leave it to my last Munro. However, at the time, it was for those reasons that I decided to just do Beinn Heasgarnich on the Friday and one of the newly promoted Munros in Glen Coe on the Saturday.

Friday June the 5th therefore brought Beinn Heasgarnich. I set out after a bad nights rest, the dormitory that I was in at Killin could house up to fourteen people and that was pushing it a bit for a good nights sleep. However I had prevented anybody from taking the bunk above me by spreading my things out to such an extent that I created a personal exclusion zone. To bag Beinn Heasgarnich I decided to do it from the highest point in the road that connects Glen Lochay and Glen Lyon. The highest point is just north of where the pylons cross the road and is marked by a small cairn on the west side of the road. This is the road that I previously mentioned that it maintained by the hydroelectric people and is not marked on road maps. The walk across to Beinn Heasgarnich was straightforward taking just under three hours out and two hours back. I delayed the start because it was raining so hard, this proved to be a good decision because the weather lifted and gave me five hours without rain. So had I missed the true summit of Beinn Heasgarnich the first time round? Indeed I had.

On the Saturday, June the 6th, I decided to return to Glen Coe to do Stob na Broige which is at the south westerly end of Buachaille Etive Mor. I took the same route up as I had the previous year, which is via the scree filled corrie of Coire na Tulaich. It was tough going and very misty. I found out today was the day where some charity was aiming to put a group of people on the top of each Munro at about the same time, consequently Glen Coe was crawling with people. As I walked into the mist line things got very surreal because I could hear voices and the clanks of sliding scree but could not see any physical shapes to take responsibility for the noises. Like workers in a fog bound dockyard. Some novice walkers were descending and a girl asked to borrow one of my poles, I declined because I was going up and she was going down it was unlikely that I would see it again.

Once on the ridge of Buachaille Etive Mor things got a bit tricky as I made a small navigational error and ended up traversing the steep scree slopes of the south side. I went wrong because of the mist, or was it Scots mist; cloud; hill fog or just bad visibility! Certainly bad navigation and when I realised my mistake I headed north to regain the ridge. The detour away from the ridge meant that I had another navigational problem as I had now lost count of the intermediate summits on the ridge, which I was relying on to position myself against the map. Therefore I would have to keep walking and work it out for myself when I got to Stob na Broige. I spoke with one old chap to get an exact fix as to where I was, he had his map upside down and started to talk about peaks on another ridge. Clearly he was going to be of little use because he did not even know which mountain he was on. At the final summit of Stob na Broige I spoke with two other groups of people who had met the old chap and confirmed that he did not have a clue. As I descended I found him sitting on his own, I checked up with him and he said he was now waiting for another group who had said that would guide him off. He clearly should not have been out on the mountains, from the way he spoke I think that he had the first stages of dementia setting in. Either that or he was a decoy weapon employed by the Scottish Mountaineering Club to put people off this newly promoted Munro.

One of the people I had met near the top was part of the group positioning themselves for the charity event. As the mist momentarily lifted, revealing the long drop into the glen below, he was overcome with vertigo. As we were both descending I offered him one of my poles but he declined, so I set off on my own. By this time it was raining heavily but I decided not to put on my over trousers. This was because it was to be my last day of walking and I was feeling just too lazy to take them out of my rucksack.

I descended off the ridge into Lairig Gartain, this time I had company of a chap that I had met a couple of times during the day. We walked back to our cars together so it was nice to have the company and discuss the forthcoming football World Cup. Back at my car I felt very wet and as I slowly removed my sodden things I chatted to a guy who was concerned about his party who were now over three hours late. I offered him a lift to a phone but he turned it down. I changed into dry things and was attacked by midges, obviously the season had just begun so I was glad to be setting off home the following day.

 

The Canadian Rockies

 

As planned I spent June watching the World Cup, July working and then set off for Canada. Barbara took me out to the Rockies and we did some great hikes. Initially I was worried about tackling such higher mountains but the set up is much different. It is rare to visit the summits, some being technically difficult to reach, others difficult due to the abundance of trees. Therefore most hikes are trails cut through the trees, maybe taking in a ridge. Navigation is easy on the trails as they are marked. In all a much different experience to Scotland where the lack of trees and trails thrusts you into more wild and lonely territory. Barbara tells me that the Munros are much harder than walking in the Canadian Rockies, height is irrelevant she says - it is the difficulty of the terrain, the weather and the challenge of navigating with rare paths and then ones that often mislead. I am impressed and secretly happy, I am doing something in the Munros that people regard as tough. Apparently Scotland has the greatest change of climate per 1000ft than anywhere else in the world - Scotland is untamed. The other great difference between these mountains is the names, the Scottish mountains are all gaelic in origin and very unphonetic whereas the Canadian Rockies were largely opened up by Anglophones and consequently have easier to pronounce names such as ‘Mount Stephen.’

 

 

 

Hob-Nobbing With The Rich And Famous

 

Later in the year I was browsing through a bookshop in Swindon when I saw a lecture advertised where the polar explorer David Hempleman-Adams would be giving a talk on his recent trip to the North Pole. I duly put my name down and attended the lecture held at the Railway Museum in Swindon. I was very interested in the slide show, of the expedition to the North Pole, and bought a copy of his book ‘Walking On Thin Ice’. I asked him to sign it and he enquired if I had any special message to which I said, “To Steve, good luck with the Munros.”  “They are hard,” he said. What a intelligent man I thought, he has climbed the highest mountain on each continent, including Everest of course, and been to every point on the globe that has the word ‘Pole’ in its title and still thinks that the Munros are hard. I then looked at what he had written: ‘To Steve, good luck with the Monroes.’ Hmmm.

 

Munro Count: 167 out of 284

 


 

1999

 

Goalkeeper At Last

 

I previously mentioned one of my childhood dreams was to be a goalkeeper and whilst working for Unisys, the bit of my life between Munro bagging and visiting Canada, the opportunity to play in a five aside mini league came up. Growing in confidence I said that I was only prepared to participate if I could play the entire game in goal. Often in five aside the goal keeping position is used as a place for an outfield player to have a rest but this time I was determined to make it a position of my own. I started in my very average style of the odd reasonable save with a few fluffs along the way. In one match my donkey like style hit a new low when I dived for a save my left foot trod on my undone right shoelace. I fell to the ground in a heap a yard away from the point that the ball had entered the net but I don’t think my team mates noticed the real reason why I fell so short of the ball.

Suddenly something switched in my brain, nobody had the right to score anymore. Previously I always held some strange belief that anybody coming at the goal with the ball had more right to score than I had to save it. But then I had a revelation, nobody had the right to put the ball in MY net and when a player came at me with the ball I would say to myself that ‘you have no right to put that ball past me.’ And it worked! After one game I was sitting in the dressing room recovering, feeling exhausted. We had won by something like 13-6 and I was just contemplating gathering the energy to strip for the shower when I overheard two guys chatting. “Shame about that game, we’d have been okay if we’d had a specialist goalkeeper like they did.” Sitting there in my half drugged state of mind it took awhile to register the full impact of probably the best complement that I have ever been paid - best because it was totally unintended.

 

Waking Barbara

 

Another thing that happened during the winter was that my friend Steve Hampton contacted me to ask if I would be interested in climbing Ben More on Mull with him during the Easter break. I was quite keen on the idea and mentioned it to Barbara who said she would like to come along. Via some three way email conversation, with me as the central broker, we agreed to do it on Good Friday. I was working in Newcastle the week before so Barbara flew from Ottawa to Heathrow then onto Newcastle where I collected her. We spent a night in a hotel in Newcastle then a long drive to catch the 1600 ferry from Oban across to Mull. It was a bit touch and go but we made it in time for the crossing. Once on Mull we drove up to Tobermory where, having left the arrangements a bit loose, we were lucky to bump into Steve on the main street. The walk was then planned over a meal.

The following day was April the 2nd, Good Friday, and we started the walk just after 1000 from where the B8035 meets the Abhainn na h-Uamha stream which is the best route according to the guide books. The weather was good, in fact the best place to be in the British Isles that day. I managed the climb well as I had been playing five aside football and putting in some endurance walking over the previous weeks including walking from Great Bedwyn (my home) to Newbury one Sunday. However Barbara struggled a bit as she was jet lagged and therefore decided to drop out when we reached the col on the main ridge. Steve and I set off together leaving Barbara to walk back alone but safely as the start of the route was still in sight. The continuation of the walk was over quite rocky ground with some exposure and I would describe it as difficult walking terrain. We finally got ourselves to the top at 1435 for a few photographs to celebrate Steve’s first Munro. This is a rare first Munro as it is the most frequent one to be left to last as it involves a sailing for just one Munro.

Whilst navigating to the summit I’d noticed that the map indicated that a trig point should be waiting for us. Sadly it was no more with just a hint of concrete to indicate its once existence. I reflected that I was glad that I had not done this in mist as trig points are useful indicators to show that one has indeed reached the summit, without it I would have been looking for higher ground.

Steve and I set off a different way down as we did not much fancy the return along the way we had ascended. We made a slight mistake of hitting some cliffs but managed to negotiate them slowly. At about this time we could see a group of cars parked further west than ours marking what would appear to be a lot simpler route up than the one we had taken. We returned to the car at a little after 1700 where upon Steve had to set straight off to get the ferry so I was left to myself wondering where on earth Barbara had got to. There was no evidence that she had got back to the car and I was left to ponder the dilemma for quite some time. When a middle aged couple walked past I asked if they had seen a Canadian Lady on their travels, just by luck they had spoken with Barbara about three hours before and she had been resting, still high up the mountain. With that I turned to look at the hills again and I could just make out a figure far in the distance and with binoculars, hastily loaned by the helpful couple, I was able to make out Barbara far in the distance. I thanked them  for their help and put on my bright yellow gortex to go up and meet Barbara to check she was okay. When I reached her she was fine and had just been sleeping.

After this days walking we spent the next day driving around Mull and decided to take the ferry to Ulva, about a two minute crossing. We followed the signs and got to the quayside and there was a boat and a sign saying ferry to Ulva, £2.50. So we got on and the boat set off. When they started talking about safety equipment and the location of the toilets our suspicions arose. Barbara immediately started asking other passengers where we were going as I inspected the dirt on my shoes. We had strayed onto a four and a half hour sailing around the Treshnish  Isles then down to Staffa. This was a lucky accident as the trip was wonderful with a walk into Fingal’s Cave on Staffa. The following day we visited Iona and its abbey before catching the ferry back to the mainland.

Barbara and I then went to stay at the Ben Lawers hotel before having a lazy day prior to tackling An Stuc on April the 6th. An Stuc is the mountain that we failed to do on two attempts the previous year. From the ground it looked a good walk but we were late setting off at a little before 1100. We decided to take in the far end of the Ben Lawers ridge first which involves the Munros of Meall Greigh and Meall Garbh before reaching An Stuc. Barbara had not done these two but I had, however as it was a suitable route I accepted that it was necessary to repeat them. We headed straight up the south side of Meall Greigh and reached it after about two and a half hours of walking. The weather was good until about a half hour from the summit when the wind and rain really picked up. Barbara lagged me most of the way which was unusual and when we reached the summit I became suspicious when she hardly acknowledged her new Munro or perform her ritual of placing a rock on the cairn whilst saying "Ohm Mani Padmi Hum." I asked her if she was okay to go on and she said that she was. The wind was by now very strong and it was cold and wet. When we reached the col between Meall Greigh and Meall Garbh we were able to take some shelter from the wind and rain. Barbara still said that she was okay but I was unsure, she was unable to take the wrapper off of a cake bar and was very quiet. I suggested that we should call it a day but she replied that she was fine. I added that we would have at least two to three hours of this to go and that I had not failed to notice the difficulty she had had taking the wrapper off the cake bar. This jolted her into a rapid reassessment of her condition and she finally conceded that she should pull out. She wanted me to continue so I could bag An Stuc, normally I would have been okay but I felt uneasy leaving her. What had happened was that her Raynauds disease had kicked in which has various signs such as the loss of motor co-ordination, a reduction in core temperature and the inability to think straight. It also has the effect of not being able to remove the wrapper from a cake bar. So we returned back to the Ben Lawers hotel having let An Stuc get away for a third time.

 

The Cuillin Ridge Becomes The Ring Of Steall

 

The Isle Of Skye possesses the most dramatic and narrow ridge of Munros - the Cuillin Ridge. To be safe you require a safety rope and some basic rock climbing ability, neither of which I felt comfortable with. Reading the guidebooks filled me with terror and panic with such phrases ‘this is no place to have a slip.’ Therefore I decided to employ the services of a guide to open up the mysteries of the ridge to me and thus make it as safe as possible. I contacted a guide via email on the Internet and we arranged four days from July the 4th in which we would tackle the ridge together. Unfortunately the guide turned out to be unprofessional and lost contact with me for about six weeks prior to the walk, with five days to go he emailed me from America saying that he could still try and find an alternative guide for me in Scotland. I thought about it for a day or so but got back to him and said that I had decided to give it a miss. I still really wanted to do it but as he had been out of contact I had not put myself in the right frame of mind or fitness for it. I had been very busy at work and was under a lot of pressure, if I had known the trip was still a possibility I would have got myself physically fit and mentally prepared myself for something that I would personally find quite daunting.

I still finished work at the end of June and pondered what to do with the time that I now had spare before flying out to see Barbara on July the 10th. It passed through my mind to still go to Scotland and just take in some Munros on my own. At this stage my Munro tally stood at 168 (116 left to do) and I thought that it would be a nice idea to get it down to the round 100. Gisella called me on the evening of July the 1st and I mused this idea with her. She knows me too well and said “Steve, why can’t you just go to Scotland and just do some Munros and not worry about getting your total left down to a hundred. You put yourself under too much pressure, just go and enjoy it.” I harrumphed a little and whilst getting ready for bed that night concluded that she was absolutely right. When I woke on July the 2nd I decided to drive to Scotland. I printed off my computerised list of things to take, always handy for packing in a panic, and bundled everything into my car and set off. I managed to pack in one hour, previously I have packed over a four day period.

I found the drive to Scotland tiresome and in just under ten hours I was approaching Crianlarich. With tent in car my intention was to rough camp in Glen Etive as I figured all the Youth Hostel accommodation would be taken by now. However on the off chance I called in at the hostel in Crianlarich and they had room. I booked in and enquired if they could do a fax ahead booking for Glen Nevis for the next two nights. I am behind the times for the Scottish Youth Hostel Association no longer do fax ahead and instead have their own Intranet from which you can book ahead from any one hostel to another, instantly and electronically. Long gone are the days of phoning through yourself and begging them to hold the bed for you until you arrive. I recognised the male warden at Crianlarich as Paul Ridley who had managed Killin Youth Hostel in 1996. I introduced myself and he remembered my stay and our attempts to fix the plumbing system there.

That evening I went for a beer at a pub in Crianlarich. I was just finishing my pint when a middle aged chap, who I had previously assumed was just a drunk at the bar, started his music act. He fiddled with his knobs and buttons and strummed his guitar for a little while then started to ask where people were from. There were some Irish and some Swedes. When he asked me I replied “Marlborough in Wiltshire.” “Ah English” he replied, “we’ll let you stay for one song before we kick you out.” Hilarious I thought. I stayed for one song and left. He was trying to be funny but there was the undertone of the hatred there, which is something I find hard to accept and to deal with. The day before was the opening of the new Scottish Parliament and obviously this guy saw that as not an opportunity to put old grievances and prejudices behind him. Although Scottish history is important to the Scots, and important within British history, they run the risk of wrapping themselves up in it so much that they forget to lead their own lives. I fear that Scotland can’t adjust to the modern way of trying to put grievances behind oneself and move on. Within the Scottish nation there are massive divisions, for example: Glasgow v Edinburgh, Rangers v Celtic, Protestant v Catholic, Highlander v Lowlander, MacDonald v Campbell. I believe Scotland can never love its neighbour until it truly loves itself. I followed the run up to the voting on the Scottish parliament and watched one programme where the cameras went onto the streets of Glasgow and interviewed young people, asking how they were going to vote. Of course the broadcast could have been unfairly edited but most interviewed were going to vote for the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and consistently gave one of two reasons being hatred of the English or the film ‘Braveheart.’ Based on this I asked my friend Graham, a Scot, if he was brought up on his milk to hate the English. He replied “yes.” I find this both interesting and alarming, it is like giving birth on the battlefield, the children can see nothing but war and are therefore bound to just repeat it. There is a famous quotation that is something along the lines of ‘He who ignores history is bound to repeat it’ from which one might conclude that the Scots are justified in remembering their past. From my experiences of travelling in Scotland I feel that this quote could be expanded to ‘He who is angered by history is bound to recreate it.’

Don’t get me wrong here, Scotland is a great nation which its people can justly be proud of. The number of inventions that have come out of Scotland is just staggering and to conclude this little interlude on my soapbox I’d like to blatantly thieve and re-package Orson Welles’ words from the film ‘The Third Man’:

 

In Scotland for centuries living next to the English they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed - but they went on to produce the logarithm, the television, the inventor of the telephone, the pneumatic tyre, the thermos flask (ever wondered why they are tartan), the steam engine, the mackintosh, Dolly the Sheep and much, much more. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

 

Saturday July the 3rd brought in my first Munros of this short trip and to break myself in gently I walked for eleven hours taking in the four Munros of what is known as the Ring of Steall. Steall is a ruin far up Glen Nevis that lends its name to the horseshoe of Munros in whose shadow it lies. It was great to pull all my kit on and set off. Work had been hectic and the drive up was tiring on the motorway and I could swear that there was far more commercialism in the service stations. Just to go for a wee you had to turn down the kind invitation to take out another credit card and to join the AA. Presumably you could take out the credit card and three steps later use it to purchase full AA membership. Having both an AA card and a credit card already I felt totally justified in barely acknowledging either opportunity to radically improve my life by such a purchase. And why is it always some middle aged bloke selling the AA membership and some gorgeous looking female selling the credit card? Is it the case that a chap is more trustworthy with your big end but when it comes to your flexible friend only a Miss World beauty contestant will do? Presumably Madison Avenue would have the answers of target market and the feelings of purchaser comfort. It reminds me of my first week in halls of residence as an undergraduate - just 18 living in Brighton and away from home for the first time. Lazing on my bed one evening, well it was fresher week, and a young woman knocked on my propped open door and asked to come in. I said okay and in she came and shut the door behind her. Wey-Hey I thought it is all true, women just come knocking on your door begging you to have sex with them in halls. After twenty minutes of hard sell I finally got rid of her narrowly avoiding taking out the once in a lifetime insurance policy that was guaranteed to buy me a house when I graduated for the price of a jar of coffee a week.

My head was a buzz as I headed off down the path towards Steall. The air was so fresh and clear and noises were suddenly natural and not mechanical, it took me a few minutes to adjust. To start the Ring Of Steall the Water of Nevis had to be crossed. A bridge, marked on the map, was my preferred crossing point but when I got there it was a three wire affair in which you walk on one wire whilst holding onto the other two. I did not feel comfortable taking this on because if I had slipped the water was deep enough to drown in so I walked further on and managed to find a crossing point near to a beautiful waterfall. This involved leaping from rock to rock and paddling through some shallow bits. Once navigated I found a path up onto the ridge of the Ring Of Steall and reached An Gearanach at noon. By this time it was raining and I was surrounded by cloud. I pressed on round to Stob Coire a’ Chairn then reached the third Munro of the day, Am Bodach, about six hours into the walk. Here my camera failed on me and thus began my first sequence of Munros without photographs of the summits. This was a blessing in disguise as photographing each summit was often an obsession which necessitated extracting my camera from the rucksack in often severe conditions to take a picture of a pile of rocks surrounded by mist for my friends and family to ask “So why do you put in all that effort to get there?”

After a further hour the weather improved and I reached Sgorr an Iubhair which used to be a Munro but has now been relegated to a subsidiary top of Am Bodach. I was aware that a ridge existed between this and the final Munro of the day. My guidebook had mentioned it was narrow and another walker said a book that he had read described it as ‘entertainingly narrow.’ Entertainingly for whom I thought, the walker or the observer? Initially the ridge felt fine, no more difficult than many other ridges. Then it opened up in front of me. A ridge about two to three feet wide kerbed each side by instant death. ‘Well I’m here now’ I thought and set off with my heart beating fast and my mind trying to keep the lid on the boiling pot of panic and determined to not cut short my clock tick of existence. I guess it lasted for some twenty minutes of just trying to concentrate on the few feet ahead and not playing tag with my subconscious or taking too much notice of the large drops either side. Most ridges just have instant death on one side and are therefore very safe in that you just keep to one side; there was little margin for error on this beast. At the end of the most difficult section there was a rock face to lower myself down, only the height of a room but a little daunting with the exposure. My rucksack became a liability as it kept snagging as I tried to lower myself so I took it off and tied it to one of my trekking poles and lowered it to a ledge and collected it once I had negotiated the descent myself. I reached the final Munro of Sgurr a’ Mhaim in thick cloud and opted for the safest route off, hitting the Glen Nevis road some forty five minute walk from my car.

I was very slow on this descent as my knees were both complaining bitterly about the day of abuse that they had just gone through. I got talking to a couple of chaps that had done the same walk as me and had caught me up having done it in seven hours (the upper book time) whereas I had taken eleven hours. They were surprised at my time and I just casually said that I was a dawdler. After I had parted from them it struck me that three years before I would have been embarrassed by my time and made excuses about taking long breaks, one year ago I would have played the asthma card to silence any criticism whereas now I was comfortable enough to cast it all off with a “yeah, I’m a dawdler.”

 

Settling an Injustice or Two

 

I found the following day easier going, shorter at just nine and a half hours. I started through the forest at the hamlet of Achriabhach on the Glen Nevis road and took in Mullach nan Coirean and Stob Ban. It was misty from the point of reaching Mullach nan Coirean and it required some detailed map and compass work to navigate the route around to Stob Ban. Once at Stob Ban I had to search out the east ridge, the most convenient, down the mountain. I descended a hundred meters on the west ridge looking for a turn off point and could not find it. I re-ascended and could clearly make out the east ridge but on the descent could not pick up the access point. I thought about taking the west ridge all the way down and pick up a path that bends back round to Glen Nevis, but this would have made it a very long day. I gave it one more attempt and just spotted the scar of a path heading east which I followed for a few paces which duly opened up to the window of the east ridge. I was pleased to find it and made the descent which was very slow going as both my knees were painful. The walk out took a further three and a half hours as I rested often. Here I began to dwell some more on what the Munros mean to me. I spend a lot of the time thinking and going over events in my life, settling old injustices. Stuff that would never normally come out and is only brought to the surface by the purity of the peace from the mountains. Barbara has a metaphor for this where she likens this kind of letting go process to a glacier slowly yielding what is beneath it over a great period of time. Today an event came to mind that happened some twenty two years previous. It had snowed and the school bus was late and whilst waiting we had helped to push a teachers car out of a snowdrift as a favour. After a further half hour we gave up on the bus and I went home and, very bravely for a twelve year old, phoned the school to say that I could not get in. The receptionist told me off and said “look some teachers have made it in from near where you live so you have no excuse.” I was too young to defend myself by adding, “They had a car which we helped to push.” So off I set with my friend Stephen Soward and duly arrived very late for school for a serious telling off. I guess I hated school for that kind of attitude, zero tolerance and never identifying which kids were being honest.

That evening I was out of food at the hostel so drove into Fort William to look for a meal. Like a magnet I was drawn to the McDonald’s that is there. I don’t know what it is about the McDonald’s image but it certainly works. You know the food is unhealthy, fairly tasteless all the profit is taken out of the local micro economy and banked by the global market but nonetheless you find yourself drawn to its doors. I duly ordered a veggie burger, the only menu item that I could possibly consume, and ate it amongst the sterile American plastic image. With a name like McDonald’s you perhaps could have expected a hint of Scottish atmosphere about the place. Perhaps the food could arrive in tartan coloured Styrofoam coffins and Scotland the brave could be played as you lift the lid followed by a round of the Stars and Stripes as the burger is consumed and the profits float across the Atlantic to be banked by descendants of people that once populated this naturally socialist country. Yeah I regretted going to McDonalds that night, my fault, my mistake I make no excuses as I knew I’d feel that way, it was just all too convenient and I fall for it every time.

I decided that I should only do one more day in the mountains before setting off home. I had hoped to stay longer but realised that I had over done it on the first walk and my knees were not going to forgive me in the next few days. The mountain range up Glen Nevis that I had been walking is known as ‘The Mamores’ and I had one final walk to do taking in a further four Munros. I reflected that this was a little ambitious and instead decided that my final walk, July the 5th, should be to finish the Laggan and Monadgloiath range of mountains which were a convenient drive away from the Glen Nevis hostel. Therefore July the 5th took in these hills which I found easier going apart from my knee troubles on the descents. The start of the walk was through forest then across open ground and was rough going in the heather covered areas. Initially it was clear and I was able to watch a Tornado fly past but I soon walked into the cloud and experienced some rain. As I ascended the outline of the Munro ducked down behind a lesser rise in the foreground, this meant I was straight down to compass navigation as I had no view of the general area to which I was aiming. In these situations it is difficult to keep following the compass as it takes no account of impassable terrain and it is tiresome to keep looking at it. Therefore I sighted the compass on a large rock protruding the immediate horizon and headed for that. When I got to it there were so many large rocks about I had to debate as to which one I had been aiming for before continuing, my rock looked so prominent from afar but on arrival it had taken refuge in the crowd. As I progressed using this method of navigation I played games with myself as to how long it would take to walk to each rock, timing myself between my geomorphologic way points. In one area I was in a large boulder filled depression where when I blew my nose it echoed back, I spent a few moment enjoying my mid-face entertainment feature. When I pulled myself onto the final ridge and turned to my left to walk it, the first Munro of the day was the triple summit of Beinn a’ Chaoruinn where the middle summit was the highest. I reached this in under four hours from the start of the walk before the descent and ascent to Beinn Teallach. I went in too steep with Beinn Teallach and was a little freaked by the angle and therefore increased my pace and reached the summit some half hour sooner that my prediction. You become a good judge of time more than distance in the mountains. Often I can look at the peak I am aiming at and estimate quite accurately at what time I will get there.

I returned to the hostel that evening and spent some time leisurely strolling around. As it is at the start of a path up Ben Nevis it is popular with walkers hiking the highest of all British peaks. I watched some walkers coming off the mountain late in the day, they looked exhausted and very down. Ben Nevis is a long hard slog and is tough going to the occasional walker. I sat awhile and contemplated my efforts and a thought occurred to me that my Munro count was now locked in my mind as ‘108 to go’ instead of  ‘176 completed,’ a very subtle change in perspective. My thoughts wandered further as to why I do this, what drives me, why this as a sport, a hobby, an obsession. I am very slow up the mountains, stopping every few paces on the steep bits to catch my breath, my knees often give me pain well beyond anything that would be described as comfortable. I constantly question why I do this on the long haul up. What am I trying to prove? Maybe to exorcise the ghosts of my childhood lack of sporting prowess. The sadistic games teachers who would organise a punishment for the last one home during a cross country run one day thwarted by me, the over weight kid and another straggler colluding to cross the finish line three abreast. Speed was the measure, not endurance, tenacity or the normalisation of physique. No games teacher saw me at my lowest point - taking ten minutes to cross a room, my father having to carry me up the stairs to use the bathroom. Teachers only ever saw a note after a week off school explaining my absence due to an asthma attack. The next games lesson would be excused by a further note from home ‘Please excuse Stephen from games today as he is just getting over an asthma attack,’ a note that I could have done without as by then I was capable of doing some light sport but that was not in the vocabulary of school. You had to be up there, a winner otherwise you were a skiver. My conscious suddenly became aware of this line of thought, where it was leading what it was trying to sort out for me, what it meant. Walking the Munros is a sport where nobody is there with a stopwatch, nobody is questioning your skill, discussions about time are brief. To have completed the Munros means that you have got yourself to the top of each one, that is all - nothing else is questioned.

The following morning was my last at Glen Nevis hostel. Breakfast is supplied as part of the package here and I hung on to eat it before setting off. Due to the small hostel budget it was not very inspiring but in the previous two days it had been a real energy boost for the day. Crianlarich hostel does not offer breakfast so my first day of walking had started with just a packet of crisps for breakfast, which may partially explain why I found the first day of this trip so tough. As I ate my breakfast I could not help but notice a chap quietly praying before tackling his. Was it just his faith or a plead with god to allow him to survive the food? I shall never know.

 

Getting Myself Into Shape

 

Shortly after this trip I flew to Canada to spend the summer with Barbara. On a couple of occasions we drove down into the USA to walk in a mountain range called the Adriondacks. I soon discovered, from Barbara, that there are a series of mountains in this range known as the forty sixers where each peak is above the 4000 foot mark. Barbara teased me about this convinced that I was going to start making a note of the ones I did. I resisted, the Munros being a challenge enough.

Due to these walks and others in Canada, my left hip started to give me quite a bit of pain accompanied by the area of my back between my shoulder blades. At first Barbara thought that I had legs of different lengths, which would explain the painful hip. If this were true then I would be akin to a haggis who are known to have legs shorter on one side to allow them to traverse the hills. However after lying on the floor while Barbara pulled and prodded me she announced that it would appear that both my legs were of equal length so she booked me in with her massage lady. I was very nervous about this, as I had never been to such a thing before. Before the start of the massage I explained my physical problems to the lady, a Francophone by the name of Suzette, she listened intently and told me what she could do before finally saying “I’ll just leave you to undress and I’ll be back shortly.” “Umm you want me to take everything off?” I was panicking. “Well it would really help to be able to work on your hip.” As she left the room I pondered this, being naked was not really the problem it was more the fear of certain things happening if I was being massaged by a lady who I could not fail but to notice was quite attractive. I looked at the couch and figured that I’d be okay, face down and if my worst fears happened everything would be out of sight. So naked I went onto the couch. After a few minutes Suzette reappeared and said “Ah, I forgot to say I need you on your back first.” ‘Oh buggering heck’ I thought, however I survived the three hour massage without a murmur of an embarrassment. Whilst working on my lower back she found that my sacrum was tilted and was probably the cause of my hip pain, I am slightly out of shape.

I visited Canada again at Christmas and went for a repeat massage with Suzette, she is quite a spiritual lady and told me that I have a ‘totem’ animal of the deer. This is quite interesting as the information came out of the blue and I must admit I get a real thrill out of seeing deer and I have a similar personality trait of looking on with interest but always wanting to get away. I also learnt some basic skiing. Firstly Barbara took me out cross-country skiing then she paid for a down hill lesson for me. On the cross country skiing Barbara taught me how to shuffle along and how to go up and down hills. On the first down hill part there was a sharp right turn at the base, as I approached it a thought along the lines of ‘oh damn I did not teach him how to turn’ came into Barbara’s head. In my head came the thought ‘Ah a right turn, all I need to do is lean to the right - I’ve seen it on ski Sunday.’ Wrong! Leaning right to turn right is not what you do, in fact you twist your left leg to the right to angle the ski. So I ended up in a heap.

 

Munro Count: 176 out of 284

 


 

2000

 

The Single’s Club

 

On Sunday July the 2nd  I sat contemplating on the top of Gulvain. A single Munro, my 177th and only my second as a single man. Not since my first Munro, Carn Mor Dearg in 1990, had I climbed without the knowledge that there was a girlfriend thinking about me - or checking my life insurance! Things had not worked out between Barbara and me and I had made the tough decision to end the relationship. I intended to use this sortie into the Scottish mountains as a chance for me to contemplate. And no better place than sitting, in good weather, on top of Gulvain. The words from a Searchers song had been in my head 'Don't throw your love away, for you may need it someday.' Teasing me over my recent decision. The words suddenly took a new meaning. To stay single and wait for what feels right.

The day was glorious, setting off from Drumsallie and taking some four and a half hours to reach the summit with a total ascent of some 3700 feet. The initial part of the day was a long walk in on a track dwindling to a path, then an ascent of some 2150 feet over a one in three gradient. This gave my body a good test, I had recently lost eight pounds in weight, dropping to eleven stone ten pounds, the lightest I had been for over a decade. I certainly felt good for it so I figured that I had probably found my optimum weight. The lightest I had ever been at my adult height of six foot one and a quarter inches (the quarter is important) was nine and half stone, this was when I was nineteen and doing my degree. Due to pressure of work, and the fear of spending too much money, I had put myself on a meagre diet. At the end of the summer term I returned home to my parents. Knowing my Dad was asleep after a night shift I crept into the house and made my way to my room with a pile gear in my hands. I heard Dad call out “Steve, is that you?” I went along to the bedroom from where he had called. In the half light of the afternoon sun, blocked by the curtains, he could make out my silhouette. “Bloody hell Steve, your Mother is going to kill you” was his verdict on my frame. Despite the lighter me I still needed rests on this walk and during one such break I picked up a companion, Ann Robinson, who I would walk with on and off for the rest of the day.

I had driven up over the previous two days, taking it easy for once. Normally I would drive up in one go and then walk the next day. However I had two weeks off work and I only wanted to do eight Munros, reducing the target to a hundred to go. I had stopped for awhile in Glen Etive and filled my water bottle in the river that runs along the glen. Raising the water to my lips was a shock. I was waiting for the cold refreshing waters but instead got something quite warm. It then struck me that this was late in the year for me - July and not May, when there is still much melt water flowing.

On the top of Gulvain I took in the views and contemplated some more. Voices were alive in my head - ‘Seek the joy and the joy will seek you’, ‘Enjoy the now, it is all you have.’ It was a sunny day, a little hazy with some high cloud and outstanding views. I could see across to the Isles of Skye, Muck, Eigg and Rhum whilst in the foreground I could see Glen Dessarry which I have walked in twice before. To my rear was Ben Nevis sitting with its head in the clouds. All quite beautiful.

I enjoyed the views so much that I wrote to a friend, currently going through a tough time, describing the views, hoping that some of the tranquillity would be conveyed by letter. Without a post box in sight I decided to set off back. A quick swig of water left me with a problem. I had run low, due to the purchase of a new, yet smaller, bottle. The old one had become discoloured to the point of appearing to be unhygienic. I pondered how I should ration myself the remainder of the water in the heat, I figured that it would be a few hours before I could get to water and went through a few scenarios of when I should allow myself to drink again. Dehydration can be a real problem in the mountains as it can lead to headaches, generally feeling ill and a long recovery time. I quickly annoyed myself with the rationing dilemma and removed the top from the bottle and swigged back the entire remainder thus ending any ideas of choice.

On my way back down I caught up with Ann Robinson again. Her knowledge and memory of the highlands was staggering. She could name just about every peak in view and when relating tales of my previous exploits she helped me out with the names where my memory failed the story. Back at the car I returned to Loch Lochy Youth Hostel where I discovered I had a bad case of pack rash. This is where the shoulder straps had caused irritation in the heat and both shoulders were raw with a septic rash. I was also relieved to find that what had felt like a pulled Achilles tendon was nothing more than a blister.

On Monday July the 3rd I took the short car journey around to Kilfinnan and walked the forestry track until the Allt Glas-Dhoire stream where I branched onto the path which divides the separate Munros of Meall na Teanga and Sron a’ Choire Ghairbh. It was a lovely warm day and the views improved with the height opening up as I pulled myself onto the short summit ridge of Meall na Teanga. Here I was alone which was a good thing because I needed to do some back exercises. I had been visiting an osteopath to try and sort out the stiffness and pain that I was suffering in my upper back. I underwent some serious manipulation ranging from popping joints in my neck and back to being grasped from behind in a bear hug, told to force by buttocks into the table, and bounced up and down, and stretched, until I clicked. It was all a big unnerving and during the bear hug manipulation it did cross my mind that if I were to turn around and the guy was fumbling with his zipper then I’d have asked for my money back. Most of the upper back stiffness was apparently due to lack of movement between my upper vertebrae and some special stretches had been prescribed as a means to try and get things more supple.

From Meall na Teanga I descended back the way I came to the path that followed the stream up from the forestry track. From here I made the ascent of Sron a’ Choire Ghairbh following a zig-zag path whilst soaking the heat of the sun. As the gradient levelled out and the zig-zag path, historically plotting the route of many walkers before me, diminished along with the need to be reassured that many walkers had suffered the same arduous ascent, I turned west towards the summit. I settled with my back to the summit cairn and soaked up the views in the heat, I was treated to an air display courtesy of the RAF. To many people the noise of Tornado’s practising in the glens is disruptive and a waste of tax payers money. I have a lot of sympathy with this point of view, but I can’t help being impressed by the technology and the skill of the pilots.

From the summit I had a choice, to either back track the way that I had come or to carry on down the ridge that I was on and try and make my way back to Kilfinnan that way. On talking this through with a fellow walker I elected to return the way I had come because he had heard that there was a lot of deep bracken on the slopes off the ridge into Kilfinnan.

Back at the Youth Hostel I chatted, briefly, to the lady warden about my day. She had walked the same mountains before and, the previous evening, had given me some route advice. While we were talking an old guy, also staying at the hostel, approached her and started to tell her of his Fort William to Mallaig steam train ride that day. I did not take a great deal of notice in the story because I was too busy making sense of his English accent, kilt, short stature, full white beard, bald on top with long white hair down the sides. He obviously wanted the attentions of the warden so I departed to the kitchen where I could not help but notice two stunning women cooking their dinner. I went about my food preparation whereupon Uncle Albert re-appeared and started to chat to the two women. They were clearly Eastern European and I thought ‘you have no chance.’ He asked where they came from and they replied “Czech Republic.” On this cue Uncle Albert started to speak to them in perfect Czech. I retired to eat my pasta.

 

 

 

High Level Train Spotting

 

Tuesday July the 4th took in a slightly longer car journey to the start of the walk. This was from Fersit just off the A86 Spean Bridge to Newtonmore road. As I got ready I played mellow music on the CD player in my car and mellow was how I set off. It was a cooler day and I was able to make good progress, in fact I had noticed that my general level of fitness on this trip had been high, and reached Stob a’ Choire Mheadhoin in under four hours then a deep descent and climb to the summit of Stob Coire Easain. During the ascent I watched a train rattling its way down the West Highland line towards Corrour Station, earlier I had watched a freight train making its journey northwards. Sheep wandered off the saddle between the two Munros, dislodging rocks and creating clatters to advertise their presence. I felt warmer and had to remove my fleece - an option not open to the sheep from which the garment had once come. Once on top of the second Munro I looked back to Stob a’ Choire Mheadhoin and could pick out some figures, the first I had seen all day. There was more cloud about than in previous days but there were still enjoyable views. The events of the walk back were highlighted by spearing a sheeps turd with one of my trekking poles and having to wrestle it off with the other pole. On the final leg of the descent I spent some time sat on a large rock munching gorp, listening to the wind gently whistling around me like a familiar friend. It was good to climb these two mountains, I had previously planned to do them on two occasions (1990 and 1996) but in both cases events had prevented me from bagging them.

The following day I spent leisurely buying equipment and food in Fort William followed by a drive to Tulloch station where I boarded the 1232 train south, the very same train that I had watched from the mountains on the previous day. Now as a passenger I alighted at Corrour, a remote stop not serviced by public roads. I enjoyed the fact that a lady was waiting at the station to collect a food parcel that the ticket inspector had for her, a hint of how life was in times gone by. I left the station to the sounds of “thank god it’s here this time, last week my shopping ended up in Edinburgh.”

I negotiated myself onto the fifteen minute walk to Loch Ossian Youth Hostel which was to be my home for the next two nights. The hostel did not open until 1700 so I was a little worried about turning up some four hours early. Run by a German couple, Tom and Marion, I found them painting the inside of the roof of the common room. I offered to help but they said that they were okay and kindly allowed me to retire to the male dormitory. I laid on my bunk and read and listened to Tom and Marion talking to a stalker. I drifted off for awhile to the smell of paint and the wood burning stove. I got up to use the toilet, outside. The route passed through the washroom where, on my return, I idly read the signs on the use of water. ‘Bucket for fetching water from the loch only. Bowls for soapy water only. You are welcome to have a dip in the loch but without any soap or shampoo, as the loch is our drinking water supply.’ Having just used the toilet I realised that buckets play a key role at Loch Ossian. I retired back inside to the dormitory and shut the window, securing it with a hook over an old nail. This was my kind of place.

At 0710 the following morning I set off and walked to the end of Loch Ossian. Here a venison processing plant is being constructed, the noise was deafening against the backdrop of nature. It took me an hour and a half to reach the end of the loch before branching out for the slopes of Sgor Gaibhre which I reached after approximately four hours of walking after taking in the lesser summit of Sgor Choinnich. There were good views and in a little over another hour I reached Carn Dearg. I sat for while and again watched the 1232 from Tulloch make its way down the line. I knew other people from the hostel were out so I waited at the top of this second Munro for about an hour and a half until somebody appeared. I had a brief chat and then set off back to the Youth Hostel where tame red deer were busily munching grass.

In the male dormitory there were some new arrivals including an old chap that proudly announced that this was his 148th night spent at the hostel over a period of many years. I enquired “Have you ever considered counting them?” A chap called Mark, up from the New Forest with his wife Marie, touched me on the arm and gave me a smile as you would to a naughty child that you know has done wrong but nonetheless has amused you. The evening was lovely, sitting chatting. Marie had blistered badly on one of her ankles so I administered some second skin plaster. You have to first cut away dead skin, clean and dry the wound then heat the special plaster by hand then apply and hold in place for at least a minute. A Danish girl was staying who I had a few chats with, although I think some of the subtleties of the English humour were lost on her. Come to think of it there are not too many subtleties in the English humour! A young super fit German chap arrived and announced he was immediately going off to bag Beinn na Lap, my Munro for the following day. I told him about the ‘Under an hour club’ and tried to persuade him to have a go. This is a recorded list of all those that have run round Loch Ossian in under an hour. It requires a great deal of fitness and I was hoping to witness this guy having a go. Later a group of us were sitting outside chatting when we saw the German chap come down off the mountains, a few minutes later there was an almighty splash as he went for a swim in the loch. He was annoyingly fit and full of energy and I could not help but notice the Danish girls eyes being impressed! Due to the cooling evening we retired back into the common room where Mark told us about his experiences with deer that day. He had been up on the ridge and had been navigating off boulders when one of them moved and he realised it was a deer. Later he was impressed by how tame the red deer were back at the hostel. “Well they are the bolder deer you see,” I added whilst looking around for some acknowledgement of this pun, none was forthcoming as everybody had simultaneously lost the will to live.

 

A Sharing Of Views

 

The following day, Friday July the 7th, I walked Beinn na Lap. It is one of the easiest Munros because the starting point of Loch Ossian is so high above sea level and the summit is relatively close to the hostel in terms of straight line distance. However if you follow Cameron McNeish’s Munro Almanac things become a little more difficult as an error with the grid reference puts the summit smack in the middle of Loch Ossian. A quick confirmation with the Scottish Mountaineering Club Munro’s Tables confirmed the correct position. As I set off it was clear that a fellow hostel resident, Alan Watson, was making for the same Munro so we started our walk together. He soon commented that he would not mind if I went ahead because I was clearly much younger than he. I explained about my asthma and the restrictions in my breathing which caused my peak flow (maximum litres of air per minute) to equate to that of a seventy year old man, not a thirty five year old. He then told me that I was in good company for he was seventy in a few months time. After a pull up onto the ridge that leads to the summit we sat for a while and, from our high level vantage point, watched the 0851 Caledonian Sleeper service from London Euston pull into Corrour station, bang on time. It might sound as if I was train spotting, not really it is just that to see a man made object in such a remote location sparks the interest. Alan and I shared the same views on so many subjects that it felt as if I was talking to myself in the future. At the end of the walk I said, “It is so nice to have somebody to talk to who shares the same views.” “Yes it is nice to have ones prejudices confirmed,” he added.

Back at the hostel I had about a five hour wait for my train whereas Alan was heading south on an earlier train. He kindly cooked me lunch and we chatted some more before his departure. A couple of times there were pauses in the conversation. Old people liked to be asked about their kids. So I asked him about his kids. Alan also told me that a few years back a French guy had shot himself on Ben Alder, clearly a case of going to the mountains to find the meaning of life, failing and finishing it all off there and then. It could be said that he ‘topped’ himself, but that would be a little cruel of me and I withdraw the comment, but not before leaving it in the text. We also discussed why more men walk the mountains than women. I came up with a theory that what men seek in the mountains is not want women need. Women form informal support networks where they can phone each other and get support and guidance. Whereas for us chaps we tend to have to head for the mountains to allow things to work themselves out. Women talk and men walk.

When the time came I was sad to leave Loch Ossian. I made my way back to the station and bought myself coffee and cake from the Corrour Station House. It is a strange place, quite elaborate for such a remote spot. As I waited for the train I reflected on a successful week, I had aimed to get my total down to 100 to go and I had. I felt fit, I had got good views and stayed dry. The train took me away form the remoteness and back to the modern world for another year.

 

Munro Count: 184 out of 284


 

2001

 

The alert reader may wonder if I had deliberately got my Murno count down to 100 left. Who would I be to disappoint? For a couple of years I had been considering rounding the Munro count down to a final 100 then contacting the National Asthma Campaign to see if they would like me to try and use the completion of the Munros in one season as a vehicle to raise money.

          In the autumn of 2000 I was faced with the reality of the position I had striven to get myself into. The flirtation with the dream was now over and that mindset could be relegated and the new one, dealing with the reality, brought into play. Immediately I was debating whether this charity idea was a good idea or not. I had many fears about exploring such an avenue. I analysed them hard and concluded my biggest fear was pushing myself out there and putting myself on display and vulnerable. I started to pull back, fear of possible publicity, what if I failed? How embarrassing. I gathered courage and contacted the National Asthma Campaign. And so ensued a period of sending begging letters to the rich and famous, to companies, a radio interview with BBC Wiltshire Sound, setting up a WEB site, providing information for newsletters etc. I was delighted when I received sponsorships off the former prime minister John Major, David Hempleman-Adams and Sir Jimmy Savile. The cheque from John Major, president of The National Asthma Campaign, was the first to arrive and, on opening the envelope, I could not believe that somebody in his position would be able to find the time to sponsor me. It was a real boost and I wandered from room to room in my house rereading the letter, looking at the cheque from him and Norma, whilst uttering "blimey."

          As other sponsorship arrived I began to feel the pressure, I have to do it now. The only thing that could stop me was some form of physical injury, or so I thought. Drifting off to the Radio 4 midnight news one evening in February I barely took notice of the report on the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Even the swift closure of all the footpaths in and around Great Bedwyn did not alert me to the possibility of my walk being in serious jeopardy.

 

Preparations

 

Slowly the reality dawned that my ambitions could be curtailed. In a sense it came as a relief, the pressure was off and I would not be away from my home and friends for three months. The effects of falling over on snow and ice at Christmas would not be the cause of my failing. I had done the splits whilst crossing the railway line near my house, I thought nothing of it until the dull ache the following morning, the mysterious lump on my lower abdomen, the visit to the doctor, the embarrassment of removing clothing just managing to keep my underpants above my bits and the lady doctor telling me that I had indeed ruptured myself.

          At the beginning of April I went to see a surgeon, this time modesty was given no mercy. I was on my back, the trick of underpants slightly down was overlooked as the next thing I knew they were by my knees as the entire area was inspected. I was hoping for better news as by this time Scotland was starting to open up. "We will have to get that stitched up this year," said the surgeon. "I'm going on a walk for three months." I was waiting for his notice of cancellation but "that is okay I could not fit you in before the end of August anyhow, we will get that one stitched up then and the one the other side you can come and see me about next year."

          My heart was low as I left Savernake Hospital, Scotland still quite closed off but not to an extent that I could abandon the walk without at least starting, two dodgy knees, asthma and now a double hernia. The odds were against me and I had not even yet set foot in the Highlands.

          April became frantic, living alone there was so much to prepare, ensuring all bills were covered and that anything that would need my attention, whilst away, had been dealt with. Things to buy, and the revelation that maybe I should purchase the most dreaded of items a mobile phone. My friend, Anne Snow, had mentioned a number of times that she was concerned about me disappearing and that perhaps a mobile phone would be useful. Also I fancied buying a small hand held computer to keep notes on as I went along and to also be able to email from. A visit to Carphone Warehouse, in Newbury, propelled me into the 21st century yet vowing to bury the mobile phone under the summit cairn of my final Munro.

          Normally when going to Scotland I choose which Munros to do before setting off. My original intention was that this year would be different as there was no need to plan as I intended to finish them. I’d just start from the South and work up with the diversion of a booked course for the notorious Cuillin Ridge. However the foot and mouth disease spoilt my intention not to plan and after scouring the Internet I discovered the handful of the remaining hundred that were currently open ensuring a more dog legged approach to the trip. This threw in to touch my mad scheme of possibly not taking my car and instead mountain bike between the mountains. This would have been a single continuous journey where the scope for varying the walks would be slim. With a car the mountains to be climbed can be varied daily based on factors such as weather, physical condition, state of mind and, of course, whether foot and mouth disease prevented access.

 

The Off

 

Setting off on May the 1st was difficult, I had received a large number of good luck messages and felt homesick before I left. My next door neighbour, Kaye, and her six year old daughter, Katherine, banged on their window and waved as I set off at just before 0700. Previously they had given me Munro the sheep, a hand sized mascot for the walk. The drive went well including a revelation on the M40. It suddenly hit me how much I was enjoying living in Great Bedwyn and that perhaps, previously, the Munros, were escapism.

          Making good progress, despite a number of foot and mouth disinfectant mats to drive over (mainly dry beds of straw with guys in a Portakabin watching the telly), I arrived in Glen Coe and decided that the impersonal nature of the local Youth Hostel did not suit and instead I'd try camping in Glen Etive. Driving through Glen Etive I passed two cyclists, one of which I felt looked familiar. Little did I know that this chap was to come to my aid the next day and may even have saved my life.

          On finding a suitable pitch I got out of my car to the chill air, promptly got in again and drove to Glen Coe Youth Hostel where I had a lonely evening not knowing what lay ahead of me in the following months. Would I be home within a week or so? Or would I actually do it? My barriers were many, access restrictions, health and the natural deadline of the “Glorious 12th“ of August (not so glorious for the wildlife) where getting shot is a good reason not to venture into the wilds.

 

Troubled Start

 

Therefore May the 2nd was to be the start of my ‘Last 100 Munros Challenge’ where I aimed to take in Stob Coire Sgreamhach and Stob Coire Raineach. I set off at about 0830 making reasonable progress given that I had elected to take the option of getting fit on the expedition which is another term for doing absolutely no training whatsoever. Passing some waterfalls I became aware of the forgotten dangers as the drops were severe and I had to tread carefully to keep safe whilst pulling myself up into the hidden valley.

          I was distracted by a new piece of equipment strapped to my rucksack, an ice axe. Previously I had always managed to avoid serious incident on snow but this trip something nagged at me, coupled with an email from a friend warning of snow on the high ground I invested £60 in an ice axe. At about the 2600 feet point I was thankful as I encountered a snow field stretching into the oblivion of the mist. I swapped my trekking poles for the axe and embarked into a new experience breaking my long standing rule of never stepping onto snow unless I could see the other side.

          Initially all went well, the gradient was forgiving and the snow soft. Gripping the axe across my chest I made progress but slowly the gradient sharpened and the snow got colder. I saw a small stone sunk about eighteen inches, its own heat unmasking it. I was now digging in, away to my left I could hear the clatter of snow breaking away. I stopped dead, could this thing avalanche? I started to panic and looked down between my legs and realised just how steep the ground was. Two other walkers were ice axing there way up. I was now climbing on all fours with the axe connecting both hands. The other two slowly reached me and the first chap asked, "Do you want me to lead for a bit?" It then struck me that they were following my footsteps, using my cutting in. They went around me and I was glad to follow but slowly I started to lose them in the distance and suddenly I was stuck. With every movement I started to slip back down the abyss of my ascent. Shakes replaced composure and I started to panic as the fall would have been very long and the snow slope ended with a good drop. I cursed myself for having broken my own rule of never stepping onto snow unless I could see the other side. I rejected the last remnants of male pride and called ahead "I'm struggling." "Dig your toes in much further and sink the shaft of your axe to the hilt before each movement" came the reply. I did and slowly I made progress just averting the panic. The pulling on my body tugged at my right hernia and the pain made me feel even more miserable. A small corridor led me to the ridge to a rendezvous with Keith and Ken. Keith and I looked at each other and remembered that we had met at Loch Ossian Youth Hostel the previous year, also these two chaps were the cyclists that I had seen in Glen Etive the previous day. We continued east along the ridge and made Stob Coire Sgreamach at 1240. I had to push myself as Ken and Keith were very quick and I was frightened of losing them as I had by then realised that my safe descent depended on their good will. Any hope of Stob Coire Raineach was out and Ken and Keith said that the safest route back was via Bidean nam Bian - a repeat Munro for me.

          Before setting off I considered taking the traditional summit photograph but decided that it was too cold to extract the camera - no longer did I need to log every summit with a photograph. Ken asked me if I were a student, I thanked him for the compliment and informed him that I was 35.

          The walk to Bidean nam Bian was tough, trying to keep pace with my guides ached my body. Fitting new gaiters the night before had detached the flesh from the edges of my finger nails and now each digit smarted with the cold. Keith dropped to my pace and realised that I was out of my depth and said he had had similar experiences on 4000m peaks in the Alps.

          One stretch took us over a narrow snow covered ridge with sharp drops either side. I held my composure and just followed Ken's footprints, focusing my eyes on no more than each boot print. On the summit of Bidean I considered another photograph but realised that this would merely have been to impress people with the snow covered mountain top in a place I had no right to be. Following Ken and Keith I thought I was now home and dry but slowly the descent ridge narrowed until we were on a spur, with Ken well ahead Keith took care of my every step. I was panicking, not only was the ridge narrow, pointing downwards it also cambered to my left to a sharp drop. To my right was an even sharper drop with snow cornices teasing me as I sunk my axe into snow sitting on thin air. With nervous jitters I pulled the axe closer to my body where I could sink it through snow sat on terra firma.

          I started to panic, with every slight movement I felt I’d slip to my death. Terrified I sat down, the worst thing I could have done as raising myself was a dangerous act as the sudden shift in my centre of gravity could have been the end. "Reverse down and remember to sink your axe to the hilt and don't move your foot until both are well dug in." I followed the advice and slowly got to Ken who had by this time rendezvoused with another walker, a young chap by the name of Ben. He had home made crampons, two pieces of wood strapped to his feet with roofing bolts sunk through as grips. "Do you want my second axe?" he enquired. A wonderfully kind gesture as I could now sink both axes, something I realised that was essential as I saw Ken in the distance lower himself vertically off the ridge and descended with an axe in each hand. "We've got to do that?" I exclaimed. "You'll be okay," replied Keith. First off the ridge was Keith and I followed, backwards, nearly vertical sinking each axe. I was terrified and all I could think of was my friend Anne's last words to me "Steve, please don't take any unnecessary risks." This was by far an unnecessary risk.

Keith and Ben talked me through it until we hit easier slopes where I could go front ways. Ben kept my spirits up by talking of the kit he made for the mountains, his crampons were just one of a number of hand fabricated items. As the gradient dropped my spirits rose and I even managed to respond to Ben's comment that "his gloves were so thick it made the handling of small delicate objects difficult" with a rather predictable "so you never go for a wee in the mountains then?"

          At the end of the snow slope my bottle went again, each piece of exposed ground freaked me and I was glad to reach my car at around 1700, soaked from the rain that had poured on the lower slopes and aching from a couple of tumbles that I had taken. Keith told me that this was one of the record years for snow in Scotland. Referring to it as a "bumper year" I understood the difference in our emphasis. Snow covered tops could hit my Munro attempts hard, I sat in my car sad, demoralised and missing home.

          May the 3rd was an improvement taking in one of the most accessible Munros of the remaining hundred, Stob Coire Raineach. I was too tired to make good time reaching its summit in just under three hours after a reasonably uneventful ascent. The weather was excellent and the only snowfield took no more than a few minutes to cross. From the summit I could see what I had taken in the day before, from a great distance it looked hazardous and the memories were of the same conclusion.

          I tried my mobile phone for a signal, full strength so I called my Mum and gave her a shock when I said I was on top of a mountain. I also collected a voice message that was left by my commuter friends that morning on the 0705 from Great Bedwyn. It was lovely to hear from them and, the instigator of this act, Mandy Thomas’ mobile phone had been passed around and an array of people had wished me well.

          On the descent my knee problems returned with vengeance, this was not good and I spent many a moment pondering how this was going to curtail my trip.

 

Snow Still With Me

 

I woke early on May the 4th and decided to have a crack at the four remaining Munros in the Mamores grouping, these being Sgurr Eilde Mor, Binnein Beag, Binnein Mor and Na Gruagaichean. I let myself out of the hostel really early and drove round to Kinlochleven and was walking through steep wooded ground as the sun poked its head over the horizon. My initial progress was good, driven on by slowness of the previous two days and an extra dose of asthma drugs.

          I knew that to do all four would be a major challenge and set myself a target that I needed to be on Sgurr Eilde Mor by noon and Binnein Beag by 1400. In the event my timings were 1114 and 1346 respectively but by then I realised that the third and fourth Munros were not to be. The amount of snow on them and my physical state relegated them to another day and me to a long walk out along lower ground. I was not unduly disappointed by this as I had managed to claim Binnein Beag which is quite a remote Munro, seven hours into the walk.

          The decision about the snow being too great on Binnein Mor and Na Gruagaichean was fuelled by the amount of snow on Sgurr Eilde Mor. I had a few worried moments ice axing my way across snow that was quite frozen, even with the ice axe tied to my wrist, fabricated from a rucksack strap. Passing the lochain below its slopes should have warned me because there was still sheet ice on it.

          The blessing for the day was the weather, just a few snow, hail and rain moments but mainly there were clear skies and a good cool breeze. The downside were knees and hunger. Descending, the trekking poles became crutches and the lack of energy had me, at times, feeling miserable. I had tried to build my weight up over the last few months but I had failed and whatever I stuck in my mouth my body refused to seek sufficient sustenance from.

 

Going Wild

 

Saturday May the 5th was a day of relative luxury, the lack of privacy in Glen Coe hostel drove me to a single room, with en-suite, in the Grand Hotel Fort William where a card in the room proudly announced that Maggie and Marion had serviced it for me.

          Taking a day off from walking meant that my timetable was more conducive to hotel than hostel life but did not mean that the time was idly spent. I knew by now that doing the last 100 was in serious doubt but I was determined that I would give it the best crack that I could and decided on planning a walk into Culra Bothy to pick off the nine Munros in the vicinity. I plumped for this option as the area was one of the few places now open following the foot and mouth scare and the mountains could largely be approached from a southerly angle with the hope that this would reduce the amount of snow that I had to cross.

          In all I spent about twelve hours in preparation, plotting the route, buying food, checking and packing kit. Rationing is an important part of planning a wilderness trip as it is all too easy to eat all your food within the first few days with a disregard for the amount of food required for the rest of the stay. Therefore I broke each meal down into a separate sandwich bag to be opened at the relevant time. At this point I would like to apologise to Maggie and Marion for all the bits of macaroni that missed their intended target.

          With a full pack deposited in the back of my car the post breakfast job was to drive around to Dalwhinnie and walk into Culra Bothy. The walk took four and a half hours on a well made up track through the Alder Estate. The sun was out and the smell of the pine trees played a flirtation with my senses. My eyes were treated to a gorgeous day, Ben Alder in the distance, the sun glinting on Loch Ericht and a number of well kept estate residences with turreted corners making them look like haunted castles from a Scooby Doo set, on saying 'Ah Scooby' to myself for the third time I let the matter drop.

          I struggled with the weight of the pack, often stopping to catch my breath. Not being able to justify the extra weight of water I carried my bottle empty, only filling it to drink from immediately. With my left hernia giving me fair notice of its mood I was glad when the bothy came into view.

          Culra Bothy was set amongst a city of tents, presumably finding confidence in the vicinity of the bothy whilst maintaining privacy and enjoying the extra day of the bank holiday weekend.

          The evening whiled away in typical bothy fashion with a group of inhabitants swapping stories and trying to impress the only girl amongst them. Three bald men protested that their follicle challenged status was due to excessive testosterone, leaving the obvious hanging that they would be a good lay. Feeling that they had not convinced her that her future, well at least one evening, lay with any of them they embarked in a points scoring conversation on high speed driving.

          "Penrith to York in under an hour."

          "Never, not in under an hour."

          "Under an hour," nodded the claimant.

          "Still would not have done that before March, still had six points on my license. Never drive above eighty with six points on the license."

          "It would be rude not to break the speed limit on the M74."

          "Never drive above eighty with six points on the license."

          "It would be rude not to break the speed limit on the M74."

          "I once did York to Walton-On-Thames in two hours forty five."

          "I once did York to Walton-On-Thames in two hours forty five."

          "I once did York to Walton-On-Thames in two hours forty five."

          "I don't know where Walton-On-Thames is."

          I slipped off to sleep to their tales of heroism on the roads of the British Isles figuring that it must be due to excessive testosterone whilst missing the company of my female friends but not in the sense that they viewed female company.

          I woke in the early hours, the fire was out and only one person remained - fast asleep. I was freezing, I had neglected to bring my bivi bag and was now paying the price and was rapidly reassessing my last thought before sleep. A clear sky, although welcome for walking the next day, had left the way open for a sharp drop in temperature. I got little additional sleep and was up and walking at about a quarter to six. On emerging from the bothy I could see that most of the tents were iced up and the wood and chain bridge across the Allt a Chaoil-reidhe stream was very slippy and I had to take great care to avoid an early dunking.

          My first target was Beinn Bheoil which I reached at 0825 after failing to locate the obvious path up. The light was beautiful and I rued the decision not to bring a camera, I was desperately trying to reduce the weight of the pack on the walk in. Looking across to the mighty Ben Alder, my next challenge, I heard the rumble of avalanching and was pleased that I was opting to walk well beyond Beinn Bheoil to be able to tackle Ben Alder from the south. The going was slow through manageable snow with fantastic views of a winding cornice, I wish I had brought the camera. I convinced myself that Ben Alder must have been designed by committee as it has every attribute that a mountain could have: sheer faces, a side with a gentle run off, multiple buttresses, a high plateau and a trig point. The summit was gained in a little under three hours from leaving Beinn Bheoil where I rested for around an hour, admiring the decrepit trig point and seeing if my mobile phone had a signal. Indeed it did and I composed an email to a group of people, saying hello from 3800 foot. Half way through I was joined by a young chap and we had the standard conversation of "How long are you up for?" "What route are you taking?" He had taken an interesting entrance by canoeing up Loch Ericht from Dalwhinnie. I continued with the emailing and he bid me farewell, as I watched him depart I noticed he was wearing ski boots and I wondered how difficult they would have been to climb in. As my mobile then refused to give me a signal, and I gave up the idea of an email going as far as friends in France, Chile, USA, Canada and Australia, I looked to where the ski booted chap would be walking only to see him skiing off into the distance. I think that put any ideas of my cool attempt at an email into touch.

          I descended into the Bealach Dubh via easy snowfields, taking excessive care then going flying as soon as I stood on grass. This was due to the tread on my boots being full of snow, I soon learnt the technique of tapping the ice and snow off my boots each time I walked onto grass. This reminded me of my last attempt at go-karting. On the second bend I dived up the inside of a work colleague, he shut the door and I was on the grass involving a route through a deep puddle. Back on the track I was last and hammered it into the next corner, turned and braked on the apex - nothing happened and I ploughed straight into the tyre wall. I had failed to dry the slick tyres or the brakes and had to sit, arms folded, waiting for the humiliation of the marshal to rescue me.

          On the descent I noticed lots of dead beetles amongst the snow and soon realised that they were always in the vicinity of revealed grass and I concluded that the poor creatures must hatch, make there way into the big world on the snow, blink twice, and then promptly die.

          I considered taking in the ridge to the north of the Bealach Dubh with its fours Munros. But I was glad that I did not because on the way out both of my knees locked up and I had about fifteen minutes of trying to get them moving again. In addition I sensed a sore throat was coming on, something that I have periodically suffered from over the last three years.

          I reached the bothy at 1520 to find the tent city having dwindled to one and the bothy deserted.

 

Snow On The Hill

 

Determined to make use of the beautiful weather I made another early start on May the 8th tackling the steep slopes from the bothy to Carn Dearg. From here I aimed to descend into the Diollaid a Chairn and then take the narrow ridge to Geal-Charn then walk on over to Aonach Beag and Beinn Eibhinn. The plan started to dwindle as I noticed the amount of snow on the obvious ridge up, the next best alternative ascended via a very narrow face that even the experienced writers of guide books saw fit to mention.

          Demoralised I reviewed the options and decided that my best hope to complete this ridge was to descend all the way into the path from the bothy to Bealach Dubh (the very path I exited Ben Alder from the previous day) and climb Beinn Eibhinn from its southerly flanks and then pick off the two central Munros of the ridge from that angle. Therefore descending from Carn Dearg was a weary job as I knew a long day was about to become a very long day. Plotting my route, disturbing a fox as I did so, I reached the path then the long haul up via Bealach Dubh until the high point and the views ahead to Loch Ossian and to my right, Beinn Eibhinn. Looking to the ground around me I discovered the ancient, mangled, remains of an aircraft. It must have come down with quite a bump as the remaining pieces were scattered widely and very badly torn. I surmised that it was probably a relic of the Second World War. Many such wrecks lie throughout The Highlands as testimony to that era.

          I found the climb to Beinn Eibhinn very slow, with many false summits teasing me into relaxation only to throw another hurdle at me moments before I thought I had it bagged. After some four and a half hours, from leaving Carn Dearg, I reached the summit ridge, tired and finding each step was requiring thought to prevent myself twisting over with tiredness. I became conscious of my under-nourishment - I could not get rid of the hunger, my days ration already munched I eyed my emergency supply.

           The ridge had easy snow on a gradient that would not involve a fatal slip so I was comfortable following the imprints of previous walkers as I made the gentle rise to the summit cairn. A good set of prints were to my right and I started to drift towards them and at the last moment my mind alerted me to the uniformity of the gash in the snow and the fact that there was nothing that resembled a boot print. Instead it was a crack forming between the snow cornice and the solid ground. Had I stepped onto the crack it would have been a 400 foot sheer drop. This was a wake up call and talked me into a good rest at the summit where I almost slept with my head buried into my arms. The temptation was to sit with the heat of the sun and enjoy the wonderful views and the peace and tranquillity of the day. But I knew that I had to get going again as I was at the furthest point in the journey so I left my eyrie. Descending towards the low point before the pull up to Aonach Beag I could see the steep narrow ridge was snow covered but I figured that I would descend into the saddle and review it. I did not even get that far as I soon discovered that the ridge downwards had a sharp point, snow covered. Anne's words came back to me. For some reason they were haunting me "Steve, please don't take any unnecessary risks." My Mum always said "you go careful" and many friends punctuated a goodbye with "take care."    Finding myself still wobbly with tiredness I knew I was beat and descended a stream towards the path back to the bothy. It took me a long time to cross it as my mind could no longer focus on picking my way through the torrent of melt water and I ended up in the glen where the gentler slope made a crossing possible. Sat by the meetings of the waters I pigged into my emergency rations and basked in the sun, exhausted. I sipped on my bottle of water and thought that I must not slug it all back as I needed to conserve it for the walk back. This was another wake up call, indicating exhaustion, as I was sat next to the meeting of two streams where water was aplenty. I forced myself back to my feet and ascended back towards the site of the crashed plane ruing the missed opportunity of Aonach Beag and Geal-Charn towering above me. Approaching the high point in the path I felt I could spy an alternative route up, not for today but perhaps later in the week. I had said that I would walk out on the Saturday and given I needed to take the following day off to rest I figured the final two days, Thursday and Friday, could be used to complete the one remaining planned walk and a return to Aonach Beag and Geal-Charn. My mental capacity was returning and I realised the jeopardy my last one hundred Munros was now in. Having so far done five days of bagging, abandonment had already created an extra three days of walking and if I failed to complete the two missed today then I would have to add an extra two days for the long walk in and out again plus the day to do them.

          Descending the path back towards the bothy I came across a chap resting, I spoke with him for awhile and as I set off my right knee locked up again so the final hour to the bothy was a painful affair. My dreams of flinging open the door, and preparing to collapse onto my sleeping mat, were thwarted by a pungent smell of old socks.

          The following day was a day of rest spent enjoying the sun around the bothy and trying to shoe off the horses that roam wild in the glen and visit the bothy for scraps of food.

 

More Mobile

 

Thursday May the 10th I got back on course. Starting before 0600 I took in the three Munros to the north west of the bothy: Beinn a Chlachair, Creag Pitridh and Geal Charn in all taking eleven and a half hours. As I left the bothy I said my goodbyes to a chap called Alec, who was moving on that day, and a "see you later" to another chap called Mark who had a lovely kind and gentle manner about him. Well he had made me a drink in bed the previous day so he got my vote as a nice chap. Alec was also a joy to meet, a train driver for EWS Railways, he was up for a few days fitting in with his shift pattern. Incredibly fit he had managed the previous day what would take me three separate days to complete. The previous evening whilst Mark, Alec and I had been discussing life the universe and everything Alec had said “I know this is going to sound very boring but marrying my wife was the best thing I ever did, we have never looked back.” The conversation paused and I think both Mark and I felt that in some way Alec was feeling he was not living up to some modern image of people that play the field. In almost unison Mark and I replied, “That’s so refreshing to hear.”

          Just as I was closing the solid wooden door of the bothy the last words of Captain Oates came to mind so my departing words were "I’m just going outside and may be some time."

At the summit of Beinn a Chlachair my mobile phone got a signal and I was able to send my email out, delayed from Ben Alder, and by the summit of Creag Pitridh I was starting to get replies from people sitting at their desks and not at all amused at my enthusiastic account of being able to see mountains for miles and miles with not a cloud in the sky. The mobile signal was probably due to being in the vicinity of the A86 and I made full use of it by calling my Mum.

          "Hello Mum, it's Steve."

          "Where are you, we've been worried?"

          "I can't pronounce the gaelic name, but if you look at a map I'm not too far from Dalwhinnie on the A9. I have been staying in a bothy."

          "We thought about calling your mobile or sending you an email."

          "Hello, hello."

          "I have not had a signal since Sunday. That's why I have not been in touch."

          "We've been worried."

          "I can see for miles and miles."

          "Are you walking on your own?"

          "Yes. I can see right over to the Cairngorms."

          "Hello, hello."

          "Are there other people at the bothy?"

          "One or two, it changes daily. I can see right over to Ben Nevis, it is absolutely fantastic."

          "Hello, hello."

          "I can see right over to Ben Nevis, it is absolutely fantastic."

          "You go careful."

          "Oh yeah, it's a glorious day."

          Back at the bothy Mark had another go at explaining the pros of being a Jehovah Witness whilst I enjoyed the glory of the sun and blue skies and tranquillity of the glen thinking that whoever made this little lot did a jolly good job and I was better off sitting on the fence.

          The Friday, May the 11th, was my last chance to have a crack at Geal-Charn and Anoach Beag using the route that I had spied on the Tuesday. Making my earliest start yet and waking Mark and by this time a chap called Ken I was away at about a quarter to six. Pulling myself up through the Bealach Dubh onto the high point of the pass through to Loch Ossian I discovered further parts of the crashed plane. It felt even more unreal, all these bits of metal over a large area. I tried to make sense of it but in some strange way could not comprehend this obviously fatal crash. It was so unconnected to my experiences that I half expected a handle barred moustached figure to appear in full flying gear announcing, "whatho ginger, went and put the kite down in a bit of a daft place."

          At the crash site I climbed north east, spying deer right on the horizon. Their ears aloft, set against the blue sky almost made them look comical. The sense of smell is an important part of the deer’s life cycle and they obviously picked up the pong of an unwashed walker and monitored my progress until it was time for the leader to canter off with all the others in toe.

          After a final sharp climb I was on a high level plateau and, after crossing a surreal feeling snowfield to Geal-Charn, I knew that these final two Munros of the nine surrounding Culra Bothy were now on. Again the sky was faultlessly blue and no mountain was shying behind the mist but an icy cold wind was blowing across the tops so I made a hasty bag of Aonach Beag before retracing my steps arriving back at the bothy about 1300, relieved that I had managed to capture the nine Munros and realising that the last one hundred was still a possibility. With renewed enthusiasm I packed up my things and in the blistering heat walked the four hours back to Dalwhinnie where I discovered that I had got heat stroke and was very dehydrated due to not being able to carry water as well as the weight of my full pack. Sat in a bar in Newtonmore I poured orange juice and lemonade after orange juice and lemonade down my throat in an attempt to re-hydrate

 

Double Century

 

Saturday became an enforced rest day which I used to take a slow drive to Ratagan Youth Hostel with a stop for lunch in Fort William where by all coincidences I bumped into my old friend Willy Newlands. It was good to catch up with him, having only occasionally spoken on the phone since our last meeting in 1997.

          On arrival at Ratagan I spoke with the warden about the Cuillin Ridge on Skye, the most dangerous ridge in the British Isles but once complete eleven Munros are surrendered.

          "How dangerous is it?" I asked.

          "It's okay if you have a good head for heights."

          "Are there lots of places where if you slip you die?"

          "Oh plenty."

          This is what I knew anyhow, so I had no idea why I was asking. Perhaps in hope that he would have said "no, it’s a cinch, don't know what all the fuss is about."

          "Many deaths on it?"

          "One or two a year."

          "I'm doing it next week but I have booked a guide."

          "Never been a death with a guide."

          Now this was more like it. The kind of reassuring comment that I was looking for.

          "Who have you booked with?"

          "Martin Moran."

          "He's a hard man."

          "How do you mean hard?" I was panicking again. Would this mean such situations as "come on Smith, it's only a 3000 foot drop, you want to be roped. You big wimp."

          "Well, I don't know him that well but if he did solo the ridge he would not rope himself."

          But I figured that he would not want a death on his hands, bad for business. And the booking literature did say it would be roped. I was reassured.

          "Still," continued Nick Lancaster, the warden, straightening himself after some task that required floor level attention, "he did break his leg the other year. Fell off the roof of his house whilst adjusting the television aerial."

          That must have been a bit tricky, imagine having your leg in plaster for months on end with no telly to watch.

          The Sunday took in the Five Sisters of Kintail ridge, something that I abandoned back in 1991 so it was good to have another crack at it ten years on. I started about 0800 and had a long slow pull to the first Munro, Sgurr na Cise Duibhe taking nearly two and a half hours. The skies were clear again and it was getting very hot. A narrow, yet manageable ridge, took in the newly promoted Squrr na Carnach then Sgurr Fhuaran where I was congratulated by two young chaps, doing the ridge in the opposite direction, for having completed my 200th Munro. Psychologically this was a huge boost, my knees behaved so on the way back I was able to take in Saileag to reduce the length of the following days walk. Before reaching Saileag I had to cross the lesser top of Coirein nan Spainteach. It looked rugged and sharp. I rested then dropped down and traversed the southerly face to avoid the sharp ridge, here I experienced a minor shower but nothing worthy of gortex.

          Shortly before the final ascent of Saileag I caught up with one of the chaps that I had shared my double century with.

          "Where is your mate?" I enquired.

          "Oh he has not done Saileag or the next Munro along before, so he has left his kit with me and is running them. Here he is back now."

          That put my spurt of energy into perspective, especially as he arrived back without a bead of sweat.

 

Passage Blocked

 

With the coming of Monday so did a runny nose and worsening throat. Sensing it was still in its early phases I dosed myself with paracetamol and vitamin C, poured over maps and lists of Munros open without the foot and mouth restrictions, put an entry in the route book in the hostel and set off.

          A vague foot and mouth notice at the start of the walk was my deterrent as it did not tie in with the information available at the hostel so instead I drove further east and walked Carn Ghlusaid, Sgurr nan Conbhairean and Sail Chaorainn. A slight navigational error, at the start, put me on steep ground until the top of the first Munro where I could pick up a better route through the mist and cloud, emerging into the beauty of a temperature inversion. I debated in my mind whether it was cloud, fog or mist that I had been in and concluded that it was cloud for fog invades our space and I was invading it.

          On top of the third Munro I happened across a group of train spotters up from Gloucestershire. It appeared that their incessant need to tick thinks off was not limited to the rolling stock of the franchised railways of the South of England but more ingenious lists of items needed to be scored off. Fortunately they had a detailed map with them, hand drawn, that showed a route back that did not require the re-ascent of the two peaks already claimed. Armed with this information I made my descent, in one place via a path on a very steep slope, returning to my car in just over eight hours. I was pleased with this timing as it was just over the maximum book time and meant that my fitness had improved.

          A worsening throat and cold laid me up for the next two days, fortunately Ratagan Hostel is a relaxed place with an excellent day room which over looks the bay formed by the head of the loch. Still there is a limit to the amount of hostel conversation one can tolerate whilst munching through paracetamol and using up paper tissues. A particularly odd couple frequented the day room, kitchen area, drying room. In fact wherever I was their peculiar tones would appear. The younger chap, one would suppose late forties, evidently thought that it was his role in life to give a running commentary to his older companion, white-haired, past the retirement age and called Peter. Not that I spoke with him to ascertain his name but because the younger chap felt that every sentence needed a verbal full stop by the way of the word "Peter."

          "What shall we do tomorrow then, Peter?"

          "I'm not sure, we could walk the Five Sisters."

          "Yes, we could, Peter."

          "Fancy a cup of tea, Peter?"

          "Oh yes."

          And with that he would leap up and attend to it, returning with, "I just made it a little strong so I have diluted it down a bit. I'll just give it a stir, Peter."

          A couple of lads from Crawley - Pete and Ken, in the same dorm as me, had picked up on this also and concluded that the old boy was a genius. Letting drop that there was some consideration in his will he now had a servant for life and being perfectly able to do things for himself was no longer relevant to his survival. Ken shared with me the tale of his midnight trip to the toilet where he was confronted by the commentator in full flannelette pyjamas done up to the collar.

          On Thursday May the 17th I felt a little better and tackled Ciste Dhubh, Aonach Meadhoin and Sgurr a' Bhealaich Dheirg but not escaping being under the weather as the majority of the walk made use of my map and compass skills as visibility was down to a few yards and the constant drizzle made it a cold and damp experience. Narrow ridges added an extra ingredient as, on occasion, my boots slipped on the wet rock but at no point where I felt unduly in danger. I enjoyed the practise of handling some exposed points as I was aware of the approaching Cuillin Ridge course that I had booked onto.

          On the approach to the third Munro the path branched at a tricky point which I sensed would be difficult to locate on the descent. Using a small pile of rocks I marked the route and on the return promptly marched straight past them. Only on a patch of snow, where I could see no ascending footprints matching my own, did I sense my error. Back tracking I found my pile of rocks and reverted to the correct course and promptly bumped into, Pete and Ken, the Crawley lads.

          "We've parked just beyond you and slashed your tyres as we walked past."

I assumed, being from Crawley, that this is little more than a mere force of habit.

          On the final descent I took a wrong path and found myself walking south east, checking my map, and hearing the sound of traffic on the A87, I figured this to be a better route and followed it navigating by the noise of the traffic rising through the cloud. At one stage I was worried that my exit point, on to the A87 would be through a foot and mouth restricted area. Knowing that there are £5000 fines for coming off in the wrong place I coaxed my way along the hillside to navigate directly to my car. My knees started to grumble on the steep descent and the day was cold. I popped in an Ibuprofen and, what with reversing down in places to take the weight off. I finally reached my car shortly under ten hours of walking. Looking south I could make out the shrouded mountains of the South Kintail Ridge which I walked in 1992, this marked the start of my knee troubles and it dawned on me I had been carrying this problem now for nine years and the majority of my Munros.

          I spent a quiet evening catching up with phone calls and planning further Munros for the next day. The warden wanted me to move rooms and I sensed that this was because they needed a complete dorm on the Friday evening and it was far easier to get the occupants of rooms to shift during the Thursday evening than the Friday morning. Being the last to move out of the room it suddenly dawned on me that if I stayed put for the one night I would have the room to myself. Quietly shutting the door my plan appeared to work. A slight nervous sense of guilt accompanied me between the sheets. What if they truly needed this room tonight? I checked my watch 2215, surely no party would be arriving this late? But what if that car pulling up was in fact a mini bus? I counted the footsteps, not many. Say they are switching this dorm to a female only one and that is why they wanted me to move. And a party of women are due to arrive any minute? As I drifted off to sleep I fancied that any chance of that being a reality would, knowing my luck, be accompanied by a coach load of butch German Frau's on a body building weekend.

          I woke at 0400 after having a dream that some former East European female shot putter was sand papering my throat. Fortunately still being the only person in the dorm I was able to switch the light on and administer all kinds of potions, too soothe my cold, before getting a further few hours, waking to what I knew would have to be a further rest day.

          I took the day really easily and in the evening got talking to Pete and Ken, the Crawley men, again. Having moved dorms by now it was apparent that I was now stationed with the commentator and his older companion, Peter. Ken latched onto this and I shared the fact that I had noticed the pressed pyjamas laid neatly on a bunk. I then spent many minutes trying to persuade Ken that although his idea of chopping one of the pyjama legs off stood some merit that perhaps I was not the best person to carry it out.

          After a disturbed nights sleep, ghosted by stripy pyjama clad figures going about their business, I was slightly sad to leave the hostel, one of the best that I had ever stayed in, comfortable and relaxed. Having a number of hours to kill, before I could arrive at Martin Moran's house, I decided to head into the Kyle of Lochalsh in search of a thermal top. This being the only piece of equipment that I was short of on Martin Moran's list of kit required for the Cuillin Ridge. All sorts of thoughts were going through my head, one piece of equipment missing ‘right you are off the course, the heavily congested cold, the two crippled knees, asthma and the double hernia are not a problem but you forgot your thermal top.’

          Driving into the Kyle I remembered what an absolute dump it was, descending a hillside amongst shabby industrial units and drab streets I parked and looked for the optimistically named 'town centre' only to realise that the collection of shops, many with the odd boarded window, that confronted me was in fact it. After some minutes of wandering I found what looked like a clothes shop, only the contents of the window gave the game away as the proprietor had neglected to advertise what the shop was. Spying through the window I sensed I could see a gents section beyond the frilly underwear and bras. Gingerly setting forth I made my way towards the rear and was duly pounced upon by the assistant who promptly tried to sell me the entire contents of the shop but I managed to just hold out for a thermal top which luckily they had. One size too big, but what the heck I was back on the course. Departing I noticed that the lower pane of glass in the door had a brick sized hole in it, undoubtedly caused by the local youths with nothing better to do in this pit of despair. Still keeps them out of trouble I guess.

          On the amble back to my car, with a brief deviation to a chemist for further vitamin C and paracetamol, I noticed signs pronouncing ‘Charles Kennedy’ and suddenly realised that the country was in the grip of election fever. I had missed the announcement of the election and only in a telephone conversation with Gisella had I found out. Since the death of Screaming Lord Sutch, elections hold very little for me. No longer are we treated to such joys as Margaret Thatcher making her constituency victory speech with a placard above her head announcing ‘Monster Raving Loony.’ It is a shame he took his own life. Perhaps it was after a visit to the Kyle of Lochalsh.

          The rest of the day was spent trying to make myself feel better before meeting with Martin Moran in Lochcarron. Arriving far too early I hung about the place for a few hours and started to feel more and more ill. Doing a countdown before I could swallow a couple of Nurofen, the paracetamol did not appear to be working, I realised that my throat was killing me and I really needed to try and soothe it. The strepsils were having little impact, in fact they rarely work for me anyhow, possibly because I crunch them to death long before any soothing action can take place. I think I am still hooked on them because of the useful little tin they once came in. I suddenly hit on the idea of TCP. Not having used this since I was eighteen I was unsure if my memory served me correctly that it did sore throats but it was worth a try. Tracking down a bottle to the local Spar shop confirmed that it was ideal for sore throats, well it said ‘For sore throats’ and I was confused if that meant it gave a sore throat or soothed one. I chanced it and bought a bottle. Back in the car I unscrewed the cap and took a sniff. Memories flooded back of acne days at Brighton Polytechnic. My Mum swore by the stuff, so did I but my language was a little more colourful, and she would always bundle a bottle with a food parcel so I could dab it on my facial eruptions which were optimistically called teenage spots. Then on a visit home Mum would enquire if I had a girlfriend yet. Not a chance as I always stunk of TCP, I think the fact that I was so keen to go and study in Brighton was playing on her mind a bit.

          Stuck with a neat bottle of TCP I had to invent some method of a gargle whilst watering it down by a ratio of five to one. Digging around my car I found a half consumed bottle of Vittel natural mineral water, using part of it to knock down a couple of Nurofen, it was almost time, I then poured in what I guessed was an extra fifth of TCP and gave it a good shake to produce a frothy green mass in a clear bottle. This would have given anybody a fright if they had seen me enter the local public toilets with this in hand. Come to think of it it would have been more of a fright if I had left with it like that. A few gargles later I emerged stinking of TCP and, like when I was eighteen, single.

 

Cuillin Ridge - Day One

 

Arriving at the house I quickly discovered that Martin Moran was out guiding in India and our guide for the week was a chap called Bruce who was set to look after myself, two General Practitioners (Alison and Adrian) and an anaesthetist (Peter), so I was in good hands if anything went wrong.

          We set out at 0800 on the Sunday for our first attempt at the Cuillins, originally I anticipated this to be a training day, but what better training than the ridge itself.

          After an hours drive, over to Skye, Bruce set good speed and, determined not to allow my poor pace due to asthma and the cold hinder the rest of the party, I tracked his heels until we hit the start of the very steep ground. Here we rested and I removed my track suit bottoms to put Deep Heat on my knees. I caught Bruce eyeing the extent of the strapping on my legs.

          "Trouble with your knees, Steve?"

          "Yeap, but if I keep them Deep Heated then they should be okay."

          Alison saved me with an "I suppose it is all preventative" which I readily conferred with. As we set off Alison and I were at the back and I added, "I thought it was best not to mention the double hernia." In fact, due to Bruce's pace it was pulling quite a bit.

          Initially Bruce wanted to take in just one Munro but after a subtle game of teasing out the closet nature of the others in terms of their wish to admit to Munro bagging it emerged that their was a sense that Munros were important. Therefore we tackled Bruach na Frithe, an easy scramble, Squrr nan Gillean, an exposed scramble including a roped climb up a chimney and subsequent lowering back down and finally Am Basteir which was again exposed scrambling, this time in the wet, with one short piece of rope work.

          Altogether it was a successful day although I was unhappy with the exposed scrambling as the advertising literature for the course said that this would be roped. We had one minor mishap when Alison dropped her helmet on the descent of Sgurr nan Gillean, it was a timely reminder of the terrain we were in as after two or three bounces it was over the edge and falling away never to be seen again.

 

Cuillin Ridge - Day Two

 

The aim of the day was to complete the Inaccessible Pinnacle, the hardest of all Munros. Starting from Glen Brittle it took us about three hours to ascend initially easy ground which became a steep scramble over rock and narrow ridges. From time to time my nerves started to get the better of me and I required Bruce, the guide, to talk me through it.

          As we rose we hit the cloud base and on reaching the top of Sgurr Dearg things started to become surreal. The Inaccessible Pinnacle, the true summit, was just west and through the cloud we could barely make out the towering shape of a blade of rock. Clanking gave away the fact that other climbers were positioning themselves to make their ascent. The episode felt like a ship arriving at a fog covered harbour, the blade of rock the hull and the people milling about the dockyard workers waiting for the berthing.

          There are two approaches to the Inn Pin, a short sharp 60 foot climb or a longer climb over the back ridge. We elected the longer ridge as the climbing was less technical. However this required a tricky descent on wet boulders to reach the base of the long ridge, unnerving both Alison and I. Bruce roped us together and free climbed to the top. Whilst waiting for the rope to tighten, the signal to start climbing, we got talking to some middle aged chaps who were due to meet a guide. However he had not materialised and they were left in the cold contemplating how to make the ascent unaided. The rope went tight and we were climbing, the chaps parting words to me were "I'll have his jacket" and "I reckon his boots would fit me." Getting started was difficult, foot and hand holds scarce. I had two goes, it threw me off twice. On the third attempt I was climbing, terminating my long standing imaginary ascent. Thankfully the climbing conditions were perfect, cloud right to our feet so we could not see the 3000 foot drop below.

          I was third on the rope, Adrian was first, Alison second and taking up the rear was Peter. By this time I felt that we were starting to bond well, I was deliberately playing the fool, my silly sense of humour and passion to bag the Munros was a sense of amicable amusement to the others. Bruce was way out of sight, taking the rope in as we climbed, so the bit by bit climbing was down to the four of us. We made slow progress, taking an hour to ascend what Bruce free climbed in a few minutes. Finding suitable hand and foot holds and confidence were our main problems but we all helped each other with very supportive advice and words of encouragement. Given that we were all roped together on a blade of rock overlooking a 3000 foot drop the sense of comradeship was high. At one stage Alison was having trouble progressing up a narrow vertical ridge, she could not get purchase for her left foot. I advanced to below her and taking her foot, whilst jamming my left knee into a crack, placed it on my knee giving her a foothold to push herself on up. It was then my turn and it took me ages to find suitable holds and confidence. Alison called back trying to direct me to the ‘foothold’ she’d used. I did not have the heart to say it was in fact my knee and being attached mid way up my leg, was an impossibility.

          It took us an hour to summit then one by one we were lowered down the short side, to relative safety and a scramble back to the base of the long ridge to collect our rucksacks. The middle-aged chaps were still there, just giving up on their guide. We descended the tiring scree slopes back to Glenn Brittle where we duly bumped into a guide asking if we had encountered a group of middle-aged men on the Inn Pin.

 

Cuillin Ridge - Day Three

 

Tuesday May the 22nd proved to be very successful with an initial ascent from Glen Brittle to An Dorus, an entry point to the ridge. Initially there was a good pull up a path in the heat of a faultless sky followed by a narrowing scree filled gully. Again I elected to track Bruce's heels to maintain a pace whilst Adrian, Alison then Peter followed. As there was so much scree we had to take care not to dislodge any large rocks. We were managing this, just sending the odd bit of loose a few feet below our feet. Suddenly a yell from Adrian turned Bruce and my heads to see a large boulder start to tumble away and the momentary shock of seeing Alison scramble from its path as it gathered pace and sent a haunting crashing echo in its wake. Fortunately nobody was hurt but it was a timely reminder of where we were and if somebody had been hit the consequences would have been very serious.

          From the entry to the ridge we first went north over an exposed scramble and made the summit of Sgurr a Mhadaidh. Bruce realised that I was slow and from there on roped me, and occasionally Alison, to him as we did the classic ridge scramble over the further Munros of Sgurr a Ghreadaidh and Sgurr na Banachdich. Given that the Gaelic translation for Sgurr is point, or peak, the name gave something of a description of what was to come. Being roped aided my confidence and speed, suddenly I could move as freely as the others. I now had the confidence to stand all the time and this, putting the weight over my feet, gave me much more grip.

          Once back at the mini bus we all realised what a tremendous day it had been, superb views, three Munros and a classic ridge traverse.

 

Cuillin Ridge - Day Four

 

Earlier in the week Bruce had mentioned the possibility of camping out. This was something that I was not looking forward to because it would involve carrying heavy equipment to high terrain and I had paid a single room supplement for the accommodation. However as the week progressed, the weather became more awesome, the daily long trip from Lochacarron to the Cuillins became more apparent, the advantages of a day camped in the hills became more obvious.

          Therefore the one night camping trip, for the Wednesday evening was welcome along with a slightly more leisurely start. From Glen Brittle we ascended the Coir a Ghrunnda. A geological feast of football pitch sized slabs rising a couple of thousand feet with a ridge spur on either side encompassing it like a dry dock. Very little grass graced the slopes and the bare rock held the heat and cooked us on our ascent. The gabbro rock gave good grip and was interspersed with streaks of basalt rock giving the appearance of a beautifully laid road that the gas board had just dug a trench through and filled with a tarmac streak.

          After some three hours of hauling ourselves and our packs we reached the loch which hangs in the gap between the Coir a Ghrunnda and the final rise to the ridge of the Cuillins. It was an awesomely beautiful location, a throwback to a glacial age of a hanging glacier where mere streams now flow in capacity of the cut channel.

          After pitching our tents and some lunch we set off and climbed the boulder fields to the south east and an exposed scramble to Sgurr nan Eag - the most southerly Munro of the Cuillins. Descending into the bealach between it and Sgurr Dubh Mor I realised that the ascent was going to be another exposed climb and I shared my concerns with Bruce who promised that I would be roped. Alison elected to drop out at this stage as the heat was slowly melting her and she made the safe descent back to camp as we ascended over a rocky ridge. Watching Alison's route downhill coincided with the conversations, of the four remaining males, following a similar path. It all started with watching a woman ascend towards us on a rocky peak in the ridge. We had to wait for her on a wider section as the path was too narrow to proceed. Unfortunately for her, but fortunately for us, she was wearing a low cut top and not the best bra in the world. So for a few moments, as we gentlemanly monitored her ascent, we were treated to a wobbly feast that averted our eyes from the glory of the ridge. As she reached us she confessed that she was finding the ridge difficult and she was nervous. I just kept myself from saying that she looked a bit wobbly, well not until she was suitably out of earshot. From here things went downhill and cued us to mercilessly take the rip out of Bruce. Mainly for his ability to send us over the most difficult terrain only to join a path which fed from an easier route.

          At the summit of Sgurr Dubh Mor we understood the true beauty of the Cuillins. Tracking the entire ridge in the evening sun was a true treat for the eyes with light playing through the gaps adding to the wonder.

          On the descent I had to lead on the rope and Bruce roared with laughter as it was my turn to pick stupid descent lines as he shouted after me to change course. At one stage I had to re-ascend and was spread across a rock with my legs wide apart suffering agony from the hernias. Bruce started to pull on the rope and I had to shout for him to stop as the pain bit into me. At this stage I came clean.

          "I forgot to tell you something Bruce."

          "What’s that?"

          "Double hernia."

          "Steve, you are a total fucking invalid."

          Finally we reached camp at about 2030 where another tent had appeared, all done up but we could detect movement from within. We speculated why anybody would want to stay zipped up in a tent on such a fine evening. Whilst making supper a man and woman appeared out of the tent, she went for a paddle in the loch occasionally glancing towards him whilst he sat gently smoking a cigarette. Not that I am suggesting that something had just taken place. But you would wonder, wouldn't you?

          After supper Bruce made us all hot chocolate which we took to the edge of the drop into Coir a Ghrunnda. I was last to arrive and as I approached the other four were sat silhouetted against the fading pure sky, it felt like some ending to a Hollywood movie. I reached them, sat down and looked out over the islands of Rhum and Canna and the signalling lighthouse at of Oigh-sgeir. It was a very peaceful and magical moment, bonded with nature, each other as we had trusted our lives to one another.

 

Cuillin Ridge - Day Five

 

After a good nights sleep, with Peter electing to sleep under the stars, we set off to claim Sgurr Alasdair, our tenth Munro of our five day course and leaving just one unbagged, Sgurr Mhic Choinnich on the main Cuillin traverse. The greater traverse also includes Bla Bheinn which was never a possibility as part of the weeks course.

          The ascent onto the ridge, from our camp, was fairly rapid, a nice temperature and a high starting point eased our way. From here we should have ascended the ridge north east to the summit but Bruce took us over the ridge for an approach from the rear. Leaving us alone he went ahead and surveyed the route.

          "Bruce, you have done this one before haven't you?"

          "Err, not from this angle."

          We collectively went quiet as he called us forward and roped us together, a few meters apart, me at the back due to a disagreement I was having with a re-hydrated meal. With him way ahead, anchoring the rope round a rock, we surveyed the three hundred foot rock climb over a grade of ‘vdiff.’ This stands for very difficult which was about how we found it. Dislodging boulders, scree, minor panic attacks got us four moving. Peter at the front, and me at the rear, had developed a banter which, on occasion, rendered Adrian and Alison motionless with laughter. I think the humour kept me going, being roped to three ex-medical students was not top of my lists of how to spend a Thursday morning.

          At the top I sat firm to allow my nerves to recover as Bruce said "fair play" to all the tongue in cheek abuse that we were hurling at him before our return to camp and the long walk out over the large slabs. On the descent of the slabs, now with full packs again, Bruce roped me over one tricky section.

"I did not notice the exposure on the ascent yesterday," I said.

          "I know Steve," replied Bruce, "I kept you talking then, this time you can see it and I’ve had to rope you."

 

Cuillin Ridge - Day Six

 

With the departing of Bruce we were left with one Munro on the main ridge to complete, Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, and Bla Bheinn which forms part of the greater traverse of the Cuillin Ridge. On the top of the Inaccessible Pinnacle I had got talking to another guide and taken his phone number. Both Alison and Adrian were keen to complete Sgurr Mhic Choinnich so I phoned and booked the guide, George Yeoman, for the Saturday. This left Bla Bheinn for the Friday, given Alison had previously climbed it, and her first husband had proposed to her at the top, and it could be ascended unguided Adrian and I set off together at a little after 1030 and ascended through the cooling wind, or should that be ‘Cuillin’ wind, and scree and rock to reach the summit in just under two and a half hours. I was on a roll, for once my body was totally in tune and we made 440m of ascent in the first hour. This was an incredible rate for me as I am normally lucky to make 300m per hour.

          A brief food stop at the summit was followed by a mad dash back to the car to race the rain now driving in. Adrian commented that he had never come off a hill so fast and Alison was surprised when I called her on her mobile so early. We rendezvoused in a hotel bar and Alison already had the drinks lined up before my night in Glen Brittle Youth Hostel and her and Adrian’s in a B&B in preparation for our last guided Munro.

 

Cuillin Ridge - Day Seven

 

Saturday May the 26th brought in my final excursion onto the mountains of the Cuillin Ridge. Waking early at the Youth Hostel, due to a nocturnal plastic bag rustler practising his art, set me in a slightly tense mood as I set out for Glen Brittle camp site to meet our guide and rendezvous with Alison and Adrian. Driving down I played a relaxation CD of waves crashing on a beach. Parking up I overlooked the sea loch and enjoyed the rest of the music until the others arrived. Stepping out of the car I was hit by the sad realities of our modern era as I was treated to the sound of the sea really crashing onto the shore instead of the recorded version I had sat in my car listening to.

          George was an excellent guide to work with, I had instantly liked him when I met him on the Inaccessible Pinnacle and thought that I could work well with him. He warned us immediately that the wind speed was about 35mph on the summit and it could mean abandonment and the fee, £105, would still be payable but we had the choice of opting out now and owe nothing. I sensed that Alison and Adrian were as committed as I was and simply handed over £35, my share, and said I was on for it. After a long pull into the coire, and an ascent close to the edge of a scree run off we reached the ridge and the time for helmet and harness. We could hear a helicopter buzzing around and it was then George revealed his radio and said that he and a number of other guides that worked the Cuillins were in constant radio reach with each other, the police, navy and RAF. So I was now walking with two Doctors and a member of the local mountain rescue team. Fortunately a radio communication with the helicopter informed us it was simply a training flight and George did not to have to rush off.

          After close guiding across the ridge, in which it appeared that George knew every rock and hand hold, we reached Sgurr Mhic Choinnich in a little over three hours from the start of the walk and therefore completed all the Munros on Skye. I was a happy man as we descended and said our goodbyes.

 

No Forcan

 

On Sunday May the 27th I woke and realised that I was on new territory, I had walked for seven days without a break and I had no plans to take a rest so drove back to the mainland and tackled The Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine in Glen Shiel. The initial ascent was through mild drizzle over a well made up path, my pace was good and again I broke the 400m per hour rate. To reach The Saddle you can take the aptly named sharp Forcan Ridge, which is narrow and exposed. However there is an alternative route that I took, skirting the lower reaches before a long pull up an easier ridge. By this time it was starting to rain quite hard and I sensed that my knees could do with an extra dab of Deep Heat but I did not dare reveal them as the cold and wet would do more harm than good. Instead I popped an Ibuprofen in and hoped for the best. Ironically with all the rain I was very thirsty because I had not filled my water bottle before departure. It was only when I found a trickle of a stream and used a stone to guide it into my bottle, that I was able to quench my thirst.

          From the top of The Saddle the path was a little intricate and I had to close navigate to locate the route to Sgurr na Sgine which I reached in a little under two hours after departing The Saddle.

          In all it was a miserable wet day, the rain got harder as I approached my car and I was nothing short of drenched when I climbed inside. I reflected how I missed the company of my walking companions over the last week and the drama of the Cuillin Ridge in comparison of the more mundane Munros that I had now returned to.

 

Still Going Strong

 

With an impending brief visit home penned in for later in the week, and my body not showing any signs of major complaint, I decided to walk into my ninth consecutive day of taking in the Munros. This was in excess of my previous best of four continuous days and served to lift my spirits with regards to completing the Munros this year.

          After a slight sleep in I was out walking at just before 0845 on the An Caorann Mor path, in Glenn Shiel, to take in the Munros of A' Chralaig and Mullach Fraoch Choire. Branching off to the north east I climbed sharply onto the ridge to A' Chralaig in the light but, compared with the previous day, acceptable rain. The summit cairn tested out my newly found rock climbing abilities, an impressive structure, shaped like a policeman's helmet. It took me a few moments to ascend it and pat the top with my hand.

          From here I took the narrowing ridge, with exposure which would lead to serious injury if a foot slipped, requiring the occasional bit of scrambling, again testing out my new found skills from the Cuillin Ridge, before the pull up onto Mullach Fraoch Choire to complete my thirty ninth Munro of this trip.

          Contemplating at the summit I figured that I did not fancy the reverse traverse of the ridge as the exposure did not play well with my sense of humour. Instead I descended one of the steep coires and, after the point of no return, regretted it. The steep slope meant that I could only move one foot at a time and I relied upon my trekking poles to prevent myself from slipping. I had to think through each move to prevent a tumble that, although unlikely to be fatal, would prove serious. It was like playing chess with the devil, once a move was made I could relax a moment before the fear of the next move would overwhelm any feelings of security.

          Once out of the coire it began to rain and I started the squelchy trek to the An Caorann Mor path. Looking back I spied two women, who had done the ridge traverse a few minutes behind me, descend into the Coire Odhar after retracing the harder parts of the ridge that I had avoided. We had previously exchanged pleasantries and I fancied the company on the long walk back. Seeing that they were a matter of a hundred yards behind me I figured that they would soon catch up. The next time I looked back they were gone, a slight deviation took them from my sight. Arriving back at our cars, only a few minutes apart and enjoying the drying wind, we exchanged our stories of the day and I reflected how the hills can absorb one as for over two hours we would have been only minutes from each other but did not set eyes. Alternatively they might have thought that I was a total prat and were hiding from me.

 

The End Of The Mamores

 

Day ten of my continuous stint of Munro bagging dawned with mist and rain. I scrapped my initial plans of doing A' Ghlas-bheinn and Beinn Fhada as I felt it was over ambitious and a niggling doubt about them drove me south to tackle Na Gruagaichean and Binnein Mor on the east end of the Mamores. These two Munros being the ones I abandoned due to snow earlier in the month.

          Starting from the Mamore Lodge hotel at 1000, and making a mental note to pay the £2 parking charge on my return, I set off on the steep north east slopes of Na Gruagaichean through wind and rain. As I rose so did the wind until on the ridge it tried its best to disconnect my feet from the ground. A lone grouse was the only distraction I had from the bracing wind, disturbing it gave a chance demonstration of its airborne qualities.

          At the summit everything was obscured by the mist, descending towards Binnein Mor the weather suddenly cleared showing me that I was on totally the wrong path. Back tracking I made my way across the ridge to my second Munro of the day and was relieved to have achieved the two as on occasion I had doubted the sense in being out in such conditions.

          Back tracking the summit of Na Gruagaichean was in clear visibility until I turned off its top and, like a bully, the wind pounced on me. The descent was a miserable affair, only the reappearance of the grouse brought a smile to my face. To keep my spirits up I suddenly found myself whistling 'Scotland The Brave', the country was obviously taking me over like some Orwellian plot.

 

An Stuc At Last

 

Due to a pre-operative examination on Friday June the 1st I figured I could manage one more sortie into the hills and elected the most southerly of my remaining Munros, An Stuc on the Lawers ridge, as the candidate with the idea, if time permitted, that I could drive home straight afterwards.

          This was to be my forth attempt at An Stuc, the previous three were all hampered by a combination of late starts and bad weather. The information gleaned from these attempts was useful and gave me an idea that it would take around seven hours and my starting time of just before 0730 gave me a reasonable chance of bagging it and being home, in my own bed, before midnight.

          My car looked lonesome as I ascended from the National Trust visitor centre, making good progress over the made up paths then the rising slopes of Beinn Ghlas. I cut onto the steep western flanks of Ben Lawers, avoiding an already claimed summit, and spent quite a bit of time picking my way along to avoid a slip on the steep wet slope. The clearing weather opened up and I was on the summit of An Stuc in less than three hours.

          The return walk was hampered by getting on too steep a section of the west side of Ben Lawers. Once or twice I had to back track and took a couple of falls, one an undignified slide on my bottom. Cutting between Beinn Ghlas and Meall Corranaich I started to make good progress again and with the better paths, shared by visitors to the nature reserve and walkers, I made good progress. Passing many people walking up I was struck by how many gave me a second glance. Checking my nose, trousers, actually anything where embarrassment might lie I could not fathom the interest. Then a chap, in full kit and trekking poles, stopped me and asked about the conditions on top and I understood - I was out of place. The typical walkers that I was encountering were just out of their cars, from the ever filling car park, and equipped for little more than a brief stroll. The vision of me thundering towards them with a bright gortex jacket, over trousers, full yeti gaiters, trekking poles and a rucksack must have been quite intimidating. No wonder they all got out of my way.

          I completed the walk in under five hours which gave me a leisurely drive home.

 

NHS Stitch Up

 

A few fast and furious days were spent catching up at home, including the pre-operative examination. All went well save for a conversation with the hospital sister:

          "So you need to tick this box and sign to say that you will accept day surgery."

          "And if I don't want day surgery?"

          "Well it is up to you but you will need a hospital bed, that could be eighteen months."

          "Okay then, I'll accept day surgery. How long will the recovery be?"

          "Four to six weeks."

          "Can they not stitch both sides at the same time?"

          "Not in day surgery, you'd have to stay in for both at the same time."

          "And that would be eighteen months."

          "Yes."

          "So I am going to have to have two lots of four to six weeks recovery time instead of one lot if I wait eighteen months?"

          "Yes, just sign here Mr Smith."

 

          I realised I missed the purity of being away, as the demands mounted I longed for just the car full of gear to worry about. Of course until I set off again, for Scotland, on the Sunday where I immediately felt very homesick.

          The drive started to take its toll on my ageing Toyota, its thirst for oil continued along with a petrol leak making refuelling an art form. Although I could have no complaints, he is now into his teenage years and remains remarkably untemperamental. I made a one night stop in Newtonmore before the drive over to Torridon Youth Hostel taking in Am Faochagach on the way. What was meant to be a straightforward Munro was extended by my failure to cross the Abhainn Gharbhrain river which connects the lochs a' Gharbhrain and Glascarnoch. After some hour of prospecting up and down I walked to the north side of Loch a' Gharbhrain and crossed the two rivers feeding it, wading in one place. A long pull up in a north easterly direction took me onto a misty wind swept ridge which led to the summit after some three hours of walking. The descent was difficult as the wind, a determined enemy, strengthened causing a vacuum effect in my nostrils reconfirming how sore they still were after my recent cold.

          The drive to Torridon reminded me of how depressing the North West of Scotland can feel, single track ‘A’ roads, sparse population and shops no bigger than your front room gave me an eerie sense of being alone.

          Setting eyes on Torridon Youth Hostel did not help matters, a grey complex of 1960's style purpose built in an era of little taste and a drive for stark functionality. But then we had The Beatles, The 1966 World Cup, Formula One success etc. Britain was riding high so there was no need to build nice buildings as we got our kicks elsewhere. Trouble is the buildings are the things that survive. It reminded me of a university campus, soon supported by being dormed with part of a group from Durham University. All fresh faces and a slant on original humour. I avoided asking if they studied with The Pink Panther figuring that they either would have heard the joke before or not know what The Pink Panther was, being, like myself, another relic from the sixties.

          I skulked about all evening, eavesdropping the enlarged group of students take on the forthcoming general election. Sadly I could remember myself believing that I once had all the answers. If only they would do it my way. Now I realise that I am just one very small cog in a very big machine and the best anybody can hope for is a life that works for oneself. Changing the world is a bit tough. The group of experts droned on and reminded me that opinions are like bottoms, everybody has one but nobody wants to listen to yours.

          Tuesday June the 5th I made an early start, trying not to wake the hung over students who, given their due, had failed to wake me when they got to bed the previous evening. Making my breakfast, amongst the empty beer cans and wine bottles and avoiding knocking over the trophy of a Charles Kennedy sign, I reflected who has got it sussed. The Durham Uni group, life still all ahead of them but not able to quite be true to themselves yet or me, life mapped out but taking the mick out of a bunch of students.

          Getting out of my car was tough. It was raining and I had the newly promoted Tom na Gruagach and Sgurr Mhor to bag which form the greater mountain of Beinn Alligin. I finally got motivated at around 0830 and picked off the Munros after two hours twenty and three and half respectively. It was all in total mist, depriving me of a view of one of Scotland’s best mountains, and I was glad of their popularity as there were good paths that made navigation straightforward.

 

 

 

Divided Munros

 

Determined to make full use of my stay at Torridon I next tackled the two Munros of Liathach. Making an early exit, avoiding disturbing the hung over students by changing in the corridor, I was walking at 0650 plodding my way up a good path to the ridge and final ascent to Spidean a' Choire Leith where I experienced sunshine, rain, hail then snow in a matter of a few minutes. In British weather forecasts this is what is known as ‘changeable.’ The snow obscured the path which made navigation both slippery and less obvious and as I sat on the summit I determined that I had three choices, take in the exposed ridge to the second Munro, return and drive to the end of the ridge, on the glen road, and ascend it or return and do very little for the rest of the day. In the end I set myself a target that if I could reach the car by noon I would tackle the second.

          Sitting in my car at eleven minutes to midday I cursed my speed, I had to do it now. A short drive and I was walking again, first over steep heather clad slopes then steep scree leading to the awesome sandstone mountain of Mullach an Rathain. My pace slowed as I completed my day of 6700 feet of ascent making for a slow return through the rough terrain and sporadic rain. Tiredness threw me to the ground on a number of occasions.

          June the 7th brought election day, I elected not to vote and instead tackled the last two remaining Munros within easy reach of Torridon Youth Hostel. A tired body and sleep kept me grounded until 0830 when I set off along the Coire Dubh Mor track, head down I plodded against the terrain and the tiredness. Progress was slow and looking to my left I could see the upper reaches of Liathach were being dusted with snow, hinting at what was to come on Beinn Eighe. The route was interesting, taking a low traverse around Sail Mhor and a short pull to the small loch that nestles beneath the triple buttress and the scree ridden climb to the ridge leading to Ruadh-stac Mor. On the ridge the weather deteriorated, strong wind and hail, then snow, ripped into me, stinging my face. Visibility was poor and frequent references to the map were accompanied by a need to wipe the snow away. Finally I reached the summit, a slow four and half hours after starting and dull compared with the dramatic ascent past the loch and the buttress.

          From the summit I had a few minor navigational problems to negotiate the spurred ridge round to Spidean Coire nan Clach, alleviated by close map and compass work and the brief ridge revelations allowed by the moving cloud. The final summit was a tease, a trig point marked only the first rise and a semi-scramble over a wind swept ridge finally took me to the high point and my 233 Munro. I descended by a stalkers path and reached the single track A896 about a mile and a half east of my car, wet and wind swept.

 

Restrictions

 

For my fiftieth Munro of this trip I elected to take in Maol Chean-dearg, necessitating a shift in accommodation to the private hostel at Achnashellach. My plans were soon thrown into disarray with a foot and mouth disease ‘Keep Out’ sign, given the route went very close to a farm house I figured that, despite the sign now possibly being illegal, caution was a better approach - the possibility of being faced with a shot gun tends to override any concept of right or wrong. Instead I drove into Lochcarron, did some shopping, filled the leaky petrol tank and heaved a sigh of relief when I realised that the wet forecourt hid the spilt fuel. Planning the remaining Munros now had a new factor, reducing the miles driven to keep the car going. For awhile I had been contemplating changing my car - after surviving the Cuillin Ridge I was tempted to buy a car with an air bag in every conceivable location.

          Returning to the start of the walk to do Maol Chean-dearg the signs had not changed, nor had my hesitation. Figuring that perhaps I could tackle it from an alternative approach I altered plans to Moruisg and Sgurr nan Ceannaichean. These were very straightforward and my fitness allowed them to be completed in five and a half hours.

 

Independent Munroing

 

I arrived at Gerry's independent hostel with mixed feelings, always preferring the consistent rules across the Scottish Youth Hostel Association. The independents are all owner run and, consequently, the rules differ between each hostel. When I phoned Gerry sounded very precise and I worried if he might be a man of many rules. And, to a degree, he was. Insistent on disinfecting all footwear, notes pinned up all over the place put me ill at ease. Being shy and quiet by nature I often find that those people of the world that are picky bastards home in and select me as a victim to bolster up their own personality defects. Not that I am complaining of course. Soon I warmed to Gerry as it was quite clear he just wanted to lay down the ground rules and then leave me to be. A lovely log fire warmed the funky common room. An array of old furniture, wooden floors and faded elegance relaxed me and I decided that I was going to like it here. A tour of the common room walls brought in grossly out of date calendars, posters for events long passed by and a letter pinned to the wall, addressed to Gerry, dated 1980.

          During the evening fellow guests arrived and we sat chatting.

          "Have you been in the loo yet?" asked a chap from Glasgow.

          "No," I replied whilst pondering the ramifications of my answer.

          "The teeth on the wall."

          "I saw those too," answered another chap.

          "Are they human?" I asked.

          "No, look like sheep or something."

          "How are they stuck to the wall?" asked another.

          This gave me such a good opening, "gum" I replied.

          "It is going to be a long night,” replied a Liverpudlian chap who had earlier already fallen foul to my sense of humour.

          On inspecting the toilet I realised that Gerry was quite a modern artist, making shapes out of relics such as locks, bones, magnifying glasses and shells. And of course teeth. Not that I was concerned but my eyes did fall to the two round pebbles situated either side of a long tall one and the pistol shaped pebble with the mushroom shaped one perched on the end of the barrel.

          Saturday June the 9th was a slow day and a warning that I needed to take a day off. Starting from Achnashellach Station I walked through the forest and ascended the south east ridge of Beinn Liath Mhor reaching its south easterly top at a very slow pace. At this point the weather improved and the ridge, wide enough for enjoyment but narrow enough to spark those 'on top of the world feelings' gave me a panoramic view of the mountains, showing off the ridges of Beinn Alligin, Liathach and Beinn Eighe that I had barely glimpsed when climbing them over the previous week.

          After nearly four hours I reached the summit of Beinn Liath Mhor and the slippery scramble down to the small lochs that head the pass through from Achnashellach to Torridon. As I walked to the head of the pass I met a lady, sat looking out towards the north west.

          "Hello," I called as I approached her from behind.

          "Oh hi."

          It was not a good day for shy people. We stumbled out a conversation and soon decided that although we both had empathy with the surroundings our most common feature, of both being introverts, was stalling the conversation a bit.

          Bidding farewells I climbed the north side of Sgorr Ruadh, a scramble over rock and rubble, reaching the peak in just under six hours from the start. A long descent was then required, passing the small lochs, fording the River Lair and a return to my car where I gave away some food to a bunch of starving students that had been out in the hills for three days and totally under estimated the amount of food that they needed.

          Sunday became a very needed day off which I spent cleaning kit and fabricating a repair to one of my trekking poles using the limited contents of the toolbox in my car. A leisurely trip into Lochcarron took in lunch and shopping for provisions.

          Back at Gerry's hostel I spent a few hours relaxing in the common room, alone until interrupted by a minor commotion outside terminated by the opening of the common room door.

          “Hello, how much is it to stay in the hostel?” the accent was distinctly German. The figure was a strapping young German man.

          “Nine pounds a night,” I replied.

          “Nine pounds a night. But we have, how you say it, a Youth Hostel discount card.”

          “This is not a Youth Hostel,” I replied in what I hoped was a helpful voice.

          “But it says on the map that it is a hostel.” These Germans were sticklers.

          “Not a Youth Hostel, it is a private hostel.” With that the spokesman disappeared. I sensed, heard and saw much movement about the outside. The door then swung open again and there appeared a second appointed spokesman.

          “You are Gerry?” he asked.

“No, English,” I replied.

          “No, are you Gerry?”

          “Oh I see. No, just a guest,” I replied whilst attempting to maintain composure.

          “I see” and with that the door shut.

          Fifteen minutes later the door opened again and the original spokesman had regained his position.

          “How do we book in eight people?”

          “The dormitory is through there, just grab a bed and Gerry will see you later.”

With that the group of eight German students, who had been out in the hills for three nights, piled in and took bunks. I was glad of the company; the place was feeling a bit lonely and I certainly did not want to have to explain to Gerry that I let eight Germans escape.

On Gerry’s appearance he gleefully checked them in, foot and mouth had hit his business hard, and I waited for some youthful resistance to his rules. But they loved it. Each rule they repeated and ensured that they had got it right. I hid behind my book and enjoyed the warmth from the log fire, the Germans settled around me and began to talk. Not knowing any part of their language I switched off and only tuned in when I could make out a familiar phrase.

“Ben Nevis?”

Five hands went up.

“Whisky Distillery?”

The other three hands joined them. I started to laugh, not just from the organised approach, the preference of whisky over climbing Ben Nevis but also the comparison with the Dad’s Army episode entitled ‘The Deadly Attachment’ where Private Walker, in an attempt to buy fish and chips for a captured U-Boat crew, is met by a continued show of hands for choices such as salt, vinegar and cod.

“You understand German then, we did not realise.” The second spokesman was directing his voice towards me.

“Well, no.”

“But you laughed.”

“Ben Nevis? Five hands go up, Whisky Distillery all eight of you raise your hands, it did not take a lot of working out.”

“Oh, I see” and they all politely laughed.

Slipping off to sleep with my belly containing some of their whisky they had kindly shared with me I reflected that I was indeed now in a hostel full of Gerry’s.

          An early start, around 0620, saw me off to the ridge to take in Sgurr Choinnich, Sgurr a Chaorachain and the very remote and lonely Maoile Lunndaidh. On the first climb I reflected how much my navigation had improved. Pleased with myself I missed the summit and promptly marched south towards Loch Monar, realising my mistake I re-ascended and close navigated the ridge to the derelict trig point of the second Munro. Then came a further three hours of having to mark off every dip and rise of the ridge as the cloud only gave moments of visibility, teasing my eyes away from the map.

          From Maoile Lunndaidh I set off north into Gleann Fhiodhaig to pick up the track back to the start. From a height I could make out a ruin and the ancient layout of fields. I detoured to visit the ruin and stood amongst what most have played host to many families until the clearances. I felt sad for the people that were probably evicted from their way of life and ended up on a boat to Canada.

          Passing Glenuaig Lodge I noticed a pair of graves where a family were buried, passing by I took the long walk out tempted by an abandoned mountain bike.

          At the end of the walk, after nearly twelve hours and twenty miles, the mountain bike, and rider, zipped passed me. I reflected that my bike would have been useful for quite a few of the last hundred Munros, but alas the hernias prevented me from lifting it on and off the roof of my car.

          Tuesday June 12th brought in another epic walk covering some eighteen miles and 5200 feet of ascent. Suffering from another poor night of sleep I was walking at just after 0615 taking the path through Achnashellach Forest that I had followed the previous day, tired and finding it difficult to put one foot in front of the other I pulled myself up onto the Bealach Bhearnais after three hours and here the walk split from that of the previous day.

          An ascent of Beinn Tharsuinn brought into sight the first Munro of the pair I was trying to take in today, Bidein a' Choire Sheasgaich. First I had to lose a lot of height to make its outer reaches of cliff walls that I did not fancy ascending. Traversing round towards Coire Seasgach I thought I could spy a way through and set off up tiring slopes reaching steep ground where I had to use all fours, and cling to tufts of grass, to pull myself onto a plateau like area before the final summit ascent. Here I began to feel very tired, sitting by a stream I forced as much food down as I could take and drank ample water. Setting off again I began to flirt with exhaustion. This was turning out to be two twelve hour days back to back and my body was screaming at me. I slowed my pace and used a technique of just concentrating on half steps, one foot forward and then bring the other half way in front of that. It takes the weight off the body, very slow but it does work.

          At the summit I feasted again before setting off towards Lurg Mhor which I reached in just over another hour. Here I was seven hours into the walk and at the furthest point. Descending to the lowest point between the two Munros I fancied I could pick a route back which involved a drop down to the Allt Bealach Crudhain stream that feeds Loch Monar. A painful five hours of walking out then followed only aided by the fantastically clear views that I had had all day.

 

Into The Wilds Once More

 

Thursday June 14th brought in my final Munro in the Achnashellach area and a shift in accommodation from Gerry's hostel to Glen Affric Youth Hostel.

          The single Munro, Maol Chean-dearg, was the one that I had blown out a few days previously due to the foot and mouth warning signs. Having got some useful information from Gerry I approached from an alternative route a few hundred yards to the north east of the closed farm. Here I was greeted with a rare thing, a footbath that actually had disinfectant in it. Many footbaths were littering the highlands as little more than rain water butts. I can only assume that these were put down by people that like to invent rules, the notices that went with them occasionally went as far as suggesting that the entire outbreak was due to the walking, and not the farming community. I duly dipped my feet, and my trekking poles that strangely all signs neglected to mention. I did not have a problem with disinfecting, where I had the problem was the control freak nature of the closing off of the British countryside without any assessment on the wide ranging impact that this would have. I can imagine Captain Mainwaring type council officials going home to their families and proudly announcing that they had closed off all the footpaths in the vicinity, snapping their braces with both thumbs and sighing in satisfaction at the power. Don't get me wrong, the foot and mouth outbreak was a tragedy for many farmers and if it would genuinely of helped I would have abandoned my walk. The issue is the way in which it was used to control and blame people. There never was any evidence that walkers spread the disease. The government’s rapid closure of the countryside cost the tourism industry dearly, one hostel owner that I spoke with reported takings dropping from £1000 to £60 a week as a result of successful lobbying by the farming community. He does not get compensated whereas the farmers made sure that they were.

          The walk went well, a very nice path took me nearly to the top and I enjoyed my final glimpse of Torridon in the gloriously clear day whilst sitting at the interesting shaped summit cairn, built like the rays of the sun that warmed me. The only downside was a nasty blister on my right heel that I administered to at the summit.

          Back at my car a re-packing of kit was required followed by the drive back to Glen Shiel and the two and a half hour slog into Glen Affric Youth Hostel. Passing another plane crash site I turned the corner of the hill and saw Glen Affric Youth Hostel. A hostel since 1949, remote, no roads, and all that remains of the ancient hamlet of Alltbeithe. The second Munroist, Ronnie Burn, used to enjoy staying with Angus Scott and his family in the very early part of the twentieth century. And this epitomised the changing of the countryside in Scotland as Ronnie Burn's diaries recount how he would walk up remote glens and stay with families. Now largely given over to the large land owners for stag hunting and the clearances of the highland communities.

          I had not booked at the hostel, the Liverpudlian chap that had stayed at Gerry's had told me there was always room. Looking down I could see that the place was swarming with many people heading towards it, a sleep out would be no fun. As I slowly descended I cursed the lying scouser for his faulty information. Crossing the ornate bridge I plonked myself on the hostel steps and found that the party were just passing through and not stopping. And these were the last people I was to see for twenty four hours.

          The hostel was empty, Beryl, the warden, was on a mission to Fort William and a note to a ‘Mr Price’ told him which dorm to take. I took the other dorm and spread my kit out. I then noticed something, my breathing started to change and I was short of breath. Dog hairs and a kitchen inspection revealed a food bowl. Leaving a note to Beryl that she had an extra guest I gathered my stuff and moved into an over spill annex, cold yet free of dog.

          Starting at 0645 I ascended into the mist, a right turn on the ridge took in An Socath and backtracking then extending the ridge I reached the mighty Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan where the cold wind and rain chilled me. My blister and knees complained which I dealt with whilst ruing, and minimising, the time bare flesh was exposed. With frozen hands, and the odd patch of snow still about, there followed a long walk out to Mullach na Dheiragain, a very remote spot in the British Isles, before the four hour descent to the hostel and a lovely chat with Beryl the warden.

          After a sound nights sleep I walked back to Glen Shiel, bumping into a chap who asked me "Are you Steve?" This surprised me and the explanation was that he had been staying at Glen Affric the night that I arrived and he and Beryl had seen my note. "Mr Price?" I asked. "Yes" he replied underlining the remoteness of these hills.

 

Ratagan again

 

Emerging into Glen Shiel I made a quick dash to Ratagan hostel to book in before they closed for the daytime. This allowed me use of the washing facilities that I was aware that I was in dire need of.

          Route planning and kit checking, drying and cleaning absorbed the remainder of the day punctuated with an appalling nights sleep due to a very loud snorer. Nick, the warden, had previously told me a story of how he once had to expel somebody for hitting a snorer in the night. Fair play I'd say, they should have built a statue to the guy and allowed the rest of us to come and worship it as a shrine.

          Grumbling to myself, and feeling terrible about running over and killing a bird, I started the ascent of A'Ghlas-bheinn and Beinn Fhada, also known as Ben Attow at a little before 0615. The initial path did not restrict the choice of which to do first, I fancied Beinn Fhada but changed my mind when I realised the route to A'Ghlas-bheinn was easier and from it I'd be able to spy the route up Beinn Fhada.

          Some minor scrambly bits showed up along the way, coupled with a rock slipping beneath me causing me to nose dive, broken only by my left hand which punctured on sharp rock and started to bleed. Sitting quietly the pain started to ease and the blood clotted and I was off again, reaching the summit at 0900 where it promptly started to snow, but it was a minor milestone as this, my 63rd Munro of 2001 beating my 1997 record by one. Descending, now in full gortex kit, I picked the route up Beinn Fhada which I reached in just over a further three hours. Now there was glorious sunshine and my rucksack bulged as I shed outer garments.

          I hoped that my request to move dorms would give me a better nights sleep. All was going well until 2315 I was thrust into consciousness by the door being flung open, the light turned on and three bullish men determined to talk, noisily sort kit and get on and off the bunks at least six times each.

          My mood was not good and at 0100, with their snoring adding to my anger driven insomnia, I removed myself to the common room and camped out on a number of chairs. Grabbing a few hours I woke at 0430 and laid in waiting for the warden to open up at 0700 so I could recover my membership card and make the planned trip to Loch a' Bhraoin and the taking in of the three Munros Meall a' Chrasgaidh, Sgurr nan Clach Geala and Sgurr nan Each.

          Starting off in glorious sun my mood improved and my tension was converted into pace. Passing an unusual two storeyed ruin, with a perfectly intact boat house, I made the summit of Meall a' Chrasgaidh in two hours, only being slightly confused by aiming for what I thought was the summit cairn which in fact was a large rock. To my left I could see how easily Sgurr Mor could be claimed but, although tempted, it would have been pointless as its top can be claimed as part of another walk involving other Munros.

          Progressing on I claimed the second and third Munros in another hour then thirty nine minutes respectively. I really had the bit between my teeth and decided to extend the walk to claim a total of five Munros, the additional two being Sgurr Breac and A' Chailleach.

          The weather, although clouding, held and I took in some marvelous views towards Torridon. On the summit of Sgur Breac I chatted with a chap that was doing what I was doing in reverse but intending to bivi out, he pointed out a ridge spur path which meant I could descend on the way back by a much faster route. Taking in the final Munro at about six and a half hours from the start I back tracked to the ridge spur and took the welcome easy path, given my exhausted state, back to Loch a' Bhraoin where quite a collection of cars had amassed.

          Not having any accommodation booked I decided to camp, it looked like a nice night and I was desperate for just my own company. I get this from time to time, the bullish men in the dorm had thrown me out of sorts. Despite shyness I can be sociable but all my life I have had the need for my own peace and space. Going to a school which implicitly condoned bullying (being shy, quiet and not prepared to fight was seen by all and sundry as a great weakness) drove me to periods of just wanting to tuck myself away and be alone. Being confronted by bullish men was not a good reminder and drove me to my tent where I spent a happy and peaceful evening, exhausted yet pleased with the five Munros and being one day ahead of my notional finishing date of July the 14th. How the mountains must have laughed at me.

          In the early hours of the morning the rain lashed down hard, buffeting my waterproof tent. A few hours later I was aware of a car starting. On retiring I had noticed that all cars had gone save for a modern Skoda (the sort that starts in the rain) and I can only assume that bivi man, who had directed me to the path off, had been defeated by the weather and made his way back to the preferable sanctuary of his Skoda.

          Finally waking some hours later, and sticking my head out of the tent to ensure that indeed it was the Skoda that had gone and not some thief making off with my Toyota, I contemplated the low cloud and the four Munros ahead of me to complete the Munros of the Fannich Forest: Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich, Sgurr Mor, Meall Gorm and An Coileachan.

          A short drive to Loch Glascarnoch and I was walking a little before 0800 via paths along the rivers Abhainn an Torrain and Allt an Loch Sgeirich branching onto the north east slopes of the minor summit of Creag Dhubh Fannaich where rain and ferocious winds immediately altered the priority of the day. Gusts became so strong that often I had to turn my back to the south, the direction of the wind, and lean backwards and dig my trekking poles in front of me just to remain on my feet. Between the hardest of the gusts I made slow progress, often being blown sideways, just managing to regain my footing before the next onslaught of wind and rain. I started to look for quick exit routes, twice sheltering below rock piles and using my trekking poles, held aloft, to test the continued ferocity of the weather. I quickly resigned myself to not completing the four Munros but I had a resolve to gain the first, Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich, in attempt to have made something of the day, even if the need to revisit the ridge made its gathering almost academic.

          Forcing myself through the boulders I quickly realised that the best way to ensure progress was to jam my feet between rocks as each step was taken. In this way I was anchored, standing on any big slab just tossed me sideways. Pushing on I made the summit in three and a half hours from the start and took sanctuary in the north side of the cairn. Feeding myself was a slow process, it took me ages to remove and undo my pack, peeling wrappers required concentration and lifting the food to my mouth was with effort.

          My gaiters had been troubling me for this entire trip; the toe covers kept peeling back and required brute force from thumb and fingers to hook them back over the toe of the boot. I could not manage it, my energy was sapped. Re-sealing my map case, a very simple operation, required a slow methodical approach. My mental capacity and coordination were slowing. A voice from within slowly fought through until I heard its chant. At first it tried to gently wake me with a whisper, ‘hypothermia’. I heard but it did not register, it tried again, ‘you are becoming hypothermic’, and again ‘remember the posters you’ve seen in every Youth Hostel describing the symptoms’. The voice repeated until I lifted my head from my knees. I forced myself to think, fleece and thick gloves. I extracted them from my pack, removed my gortex jacket and then the hailstorm struck. Stinging my exposed neck I forced myself into the fleece, fumbled back into my jacket and put on the gloves. I wanted off this mountain very quickly, and the wind was only too willing to help me. The mountains shoulder no responsibility.

          Forcing down more food I figured an emergency route north would drop my height and I hoped for a path back. Each step was painful as it had been too cold to add Deep Heat to my knees but as I dropped my condition improved and the weather abated. In the distance I could see two walkers emerge on to the ridge. I headed for them, firstly to explain the situation above and secondly because it implied they had ascended on a path. Approaching them I asked, "What route are you taking?" "Doing the four," replied the middle aged chap of whom I could only make out a moustache. "Err, it is very windy up there - I've turned back. Could not even stand up." His female companion replied, "We've been out in all sorts this is okay." "It is some of the worst conditions I've experienced," I added. They continued on probably resolving to defy me beyond the point that they would have normally turned back on.

          I made my way back to my car, three hours and very wet, bedraggled and unhappy that the mountains had, so quickly, reclaimed the bonus day they had handed my the day before. I rued having not fallen to the temptation of Sgurr Mor the day before, if I had claimed that single Munro the remaining two, lost today, could have been claimed in a much shorter walk.

 

Strath Faraway

 

The Strath Farrar hills had been bothering me for sometime. Mainly because the ridge of four Munros requires access from the glen road which, on a good day, is only open for nine hours.

          Taking a lateral thinking view, and casting my eye northwards I noticed a route in from Strath Conon, twice as long but no time restrictions. So I headed for Strath Conon with a view to a second nights camping which coincided with the second night of heaviest rain so far this summer. Sat in my car for three hours in the driving rain, erecting as much of the tent as I could within its confines, I suddenly through caution to the wind (and rain) and put the damned thing up and got soaked. Impossible to cook I munched my way through a fruitcake as I laid in my sleeping bag.

          At around 0500 I became aware of a break in the weather, I think the silence woke me. Cooking breakfast, last nights pot noodle, I surveyed the scene, dark heavy clouds looking on. I just managed to take the tent down and sit in the car before the rains came again. A long drawn out decision set me off for the Strath Farrar hills, having driven the sixteen miles up the single track glen road the night before forced me to have a go.

          I made steady progress, passing through Inverchoran, waking every dog up, and branching onto the hill tracks. The tortuous route was beautiful, streams, Scots Pines and the lovely river that flows from Am Fiar loch. But where was the bridge? It was clearly marked on the map and when I exited the forest it should have been waiting for me on my right. My heart sank. So would I if I had tried to cross the river, wide and deep. A chance look to my left and like some old friend yelling "Cooey" there it was, within feet. Either the Ordnance Survey got it wrong or the forest has grown. I doubt they moved the bridge.

          Once safely across I took the path alongside the Allt Coire Mhuillidh, picking my way along its eroded bank until the stream forked and I took an easterly route to try and gain Carn nan Gobhar, the first Munro of the day. Finding it quite easily, after four hours from the start, I questioned whether I was indeed at the summit. Heavy cloud, rain and wind thwarted any attempt to place it by a view. Taking the bearing for Sgurr na Ruaidhe the terrain did not make sense, a brief view did not help either. Back tracking to the summit I decided to continue south and confirm if I had indeed reached the top of Carn nan Gobhar, or not. Finding myself descending, and not tallying with the map, I began to consider if perhaps I was lost. Given that the definition of lost is that you don't know where you are then yes perhaps I was lost.

          Another cloud break and I could make out clearly what was Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais. My plan was to bag Carn nan Gobhar, go east and get Sgurr na Ruaidhe, back track and retake Carn nan Gobhar then walk west and take in Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais and Sgurr Fhuar-thuil. A tortuous route but the path up from Strath Conon hit mid ridge, forcing back tracking. Seeing Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais I could work out that indeed I had just bagged Carn nan Gobhar so back tracking I worked my way to Sgurr na Ruaidhe, but now the wind and rain hit hard, arriving at Sgurr na Ruaidhe some two hours after making the ridge I knew that the third and fourth Munros were for another day. Any confirmation needed was supplied when I turned to face them and the hail that had been beating the back of my head now attacked my face.

          The weather was not quite as bad as the previous day, but then the third and fourth Munros were much higher and I could see the cloud whizzing around them. Fully realising that the odds do apply to me I opted to turn back, taking a further three and a half hours with tired and very wet feet. Looking back towards the mountains I could see the ridge had cleared, but I made the right decision at the time.

          When I was sat in my car at the start of the walk I could not face the soggy leather boots, despite the gaiters, of the previous day and instead used nice clean socks and my nice dry gortex boots. I rued this decision as they let water, had less grip on wet rock, and the lack of gaiters meant water flowed over the tops. Now sat in my car at the end of the day my socks dripped and, to try and dry them off, I closed them in my car window and used the air from the drive to attempt to dry them. I got some strange looks.

          Demoralised, exhausted I drove from Strath Conon to Cannich with the view to attempting the final two Munros of the ridge the next day in the nine hour window that Strath Farrar is open.

          Arriving at the locked gate at 0845, fifteen minutes before it was due to open, the gatekeeper appeared and let me through after I had sprayed the underside of my car with disinfectant.

          After a thirteen mile drive up the glen I was walking before 0945 and was determined to make good progress through the cloud and rain to avoid any problems with the nine hour time slot. After a little over two hours, of following a good path, I was on the ridge and navigated myself through Sgurr Fhuar-thuill, the minor top of Creag Ghorm a' Bhealaich and over to the second Munro of the day, Sgurr a' Choire Ghlais where a double summit cairn and a trig point left me in no doubt of my location.

          Returning the same route, over the minor top I met a late middle-aged couple who, though clearly experienced walkers, were a little uncertain of their location.

          "Where do you think we are?" they asked.

          I pointed to the map "just west of Creag Ghorm a' Bhealaich."

          Then followed a few moments of them trying to convince me that I was still west of the first Munro. I was a little cautious in being forthright about my location, of course I could have been wrong myself.

          "Well it took me an hour between the two Munros on my way east, and I have only been walking forty two minutes back."

          "You've probably covered more ground than you think," added the lady whilst the guy nodded sagely and added "we are going east aren't we, we've left the compass in the car?"

          As I continued west I re-encountered Sgurr Fhuar-thuill, thus proving me correct about my whereabouts, descended further west, after a bit of confusion as to the route through the socked in cloud and reached the original entry point of the ridge. For the hell of it I continued east and took in the minor top of Sgurr na Fearstaig. Tops are always optional when Munro bagging, just outlying rises of the same mountain (Munro) and I do them if they are close by and there is time, they are not part of being a ‘Munroist.’

          Heading back east, to the ridge entry point, I had a thought. Without a compass that couple may have made a mistake when coming off Sgurr Fhuar-thuill as I had required mine to keep me on track. Re-ascending I encountered the couple, clearly having navigated it successfully. I could see that they were split between a certain level of gratitude for my concern and a certain level of embarrassment for their original mistake of their whereabouts. As soon as I met them I turned and descended, they hung back.

          Back at my car in a total of six hours I was pleased to be well within time but reflected that the entire ridge and the drive in and out would have been a bit tight for nine hours.

          A one night stay at Loch Lochy Youth hostel was followed by a day of preparation for the arrival of my old work colleague and friend, John, on the overnight Caledonian Sleeper from London Euston to Fort William. Preparations mainly centred around bagging food for an intended seven days in the wilds of The Fisherfields and Knoydart.

          I also made a decision in that my last Munro would be on July the 21st. Originally I had been aiming for the 14th but I was starting to realise that people needed to know an exact date to enable them to make plans to come and join me.

          At 0943 on Saturday June 23rd the sleeper arrived bang on time at Fort William, a drive north, with a stop for lunch, brought us to Dundonnell and a good hour of distributing kit between our two packs in the blazing heat.

          I had been worried about John's arrival, having completed all the Munros and three of the seven highest continental mountains in the world, I was concerned that he might take over a bit. But all was fine as all kit and plans were amicably spread around.

          The three hour walk into Shenavall bothy was long, hot and very arduous. John informed me that he had been training by carrying his pack, full of National Geographic, around the streets near his house. "You bastard" I whispered as he left me standing. A good track became a path and I struggled with the ascents in the heat and was pleased when the bothy finally came into view, set back nestled into the mountains with a loch some mile or so before it. I was glad to shed the pack as my left hernia was very uncomfortable and I feared that I had perhaps made it worse.

          I surveyed the bothy and noticed the traditional stinging nettles near to it. Stinging nettles and bothys are synonymous, urine has a high degree of nettles favourite nutrient, nitrate. But I assume some equilibrium is achieved when the nettles grow too high as those that bring the nettles on would not want to risk the product of their actions.

          John wanted to camp and as it was a nice night I fancied that it would be preferable to the bothy, given John offered to put the tent up and confirmed that he did not snore I readily accepted.

          I had my mind in neutral when John called, "I'll just show you how to assemble and light the stove." My heart sank. I'd managed to get away with erecting the tent and was hoping that a lit stove would duly follow. Twenty minutes later, after much joint fiddling, I finally managed to assemble it digging deep in the recesses of my memory of how Barbara's stove, a similar model, went together. John then showed me how to use his digital video camera, which was interesting and I was able to put the newfound skill to use when he went off for a number twos. Zooming in from a distance I gave a running commentary as I recorded him going from rock to rock looking for a suitable pitch, only stopping the camera when decency required.

          Enjoying the late evening we watched walkers emerge from the mountains as late as 2130, heading for tents or bothy. John and I reflected on how long through the day this was and whether it was sensible. Twenty five and a half hours later two wet and very tired figures would emerge from the gloom and the rain making their way back to their own tent.

          The morning started with a breakfast, a couple of comments about my choice of food, and a departure shortly before 0730. A river crossing took us to the foot of Beinn a' Chlaidheimh and a three hour slog up a very steep hillside in blistering heat. John commented on my use of walking poles, evidently he hated them with vengeance. My style of taking steps was also reserved no mercy.

          A further two hours of a broad ridge took us to Sgurr Ban and the views just got better and better. The trekking poles continued to take a hammering to a point where I fancied rapping them around John's neck. At the summit a third walker joined us with poles.

          "Poles useful?" I enquired.

          "Ah yes" and the holder gave out a long list of their pluses, much the same list as I had spent the last five hours repeating to John, but from a new mouth some silence was bought.

          It only took another hour to gain Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair and then a change of direction to the west took in Beinn Tarsuinn after a further one and a half hours. By this time my speed had improved and I noticed that John was beginning to tire, a return to the tent was possible but we both agreed to go on and take in the final two Munros of the Fisherfield's horseshoe: A' Mhaighdean and Rudh Stac Mor. By this time I was flying and I left John, and his constantly exploding bottom, behind me making the summit just before 1830 and the final summit, after some navigation, that I would not have cared for in the mist, at about 1930.

          Here we picked the fastest descent route we could but, with John now faster again, it still took us a further three and a half hours of route marching to regain the tent, not after being rained on for the last hour. Too wet to cook outside we made use of the bothy to make our supper.

          A long lie in, drying and packing of kit in the sun started us off at 1100 for a two hour walk to the highest point in the path that we took on the walk in on the Saturday. With full kit it was a struggle and I was glad to shed half the pack into my plastic bivi bag, dump it by a small loch and set forth for Sgurr Fiona, the first Munro of the greater mountain known as An Teallach.

          The weather was good to us, John tried to humiliate my trekking poles but was starting to get the hint that he was needling me when I suggested "John I have an excellent idea for a cure for your rotten backside."

"What is that?"

"Well I have two ideas, one I plug it with a trekking pole, or two we claim a government grant to connect it up as a renewable energy resource."

          Sgurr Fiona yielded at 1600 and then a walk traversing the magnificent pinnacles which loop around Loch Toll an Lochain with its magnificent chutes, sandstone and quartz buttresses and repeating triangular effects. As John broke for another video stop, breaking wind at the same time, I walked on and met a woman. We got chatting and enthused about the beauty of the mountain and I could not help but notice how beautiful she was. I said that I had now been walking for seven weeks and she had some nice words about my project. In awe of the mountain we fell silent. When John reappeared she made to leave.

"Nice to meet you," I said.

"You too," she quietly replied.

As she departed John raised his eyebrows and between the farting and the criticism he revealed his sensitive side, "Would you have given her one then?"

"Don't," I replied.

          Carrying on the ascent we made Bidein a' Ghlas Thuil and then a sharp descent to Loch Toll an Lochain, disturbing a herd of wild mountain goats as we did so, a return to our kit and the walk back to the car.

 

Knoydart

 

A meal in a hotel in Dundonnell was not followed by a stay for bed and breakfast at £60 each per night. Instead followed a drive to the Aultguish Inn, arriving at 2230, where bed and breakfast came to a bargain at just £16 each.

          John, being quite white in colour, had been viciously attacked by biting insects and consequently spent ages in the bathroom removing ticks. Being dark skinned I tend to be spared their quest for blood. Finally exiting from the en-suite he announced, "Think I've got them all, can you just check I got them all out of my arse?"

          "Oh no," I replied.

          "Won't take a second." And indeed when he dropped his pyjama trousers my glance was so brief that it did not take a second.

"None there," I announced.

          "One of the bastards got the end of my penis."

          "No way John, no way."

          After a night where John's ability to fart found new levels, we drove to Kinloch Hourn and the four hour slog of a walk to Barrisdale, a remote, road free, hamlet of a few houses on the Knoydart peninsula and the best bothy I have ever visited - it had a flushing toilet.

          Starting a little after 0715 we followed the path then the north east ridge to the summit of Ladhar Bheinn in just over four hours. I found the going tough, the ground appeared to glue my feet and John testing me with many questions to which I did not know the answer, dented my morale. I can only assume that the pile of National Geographic that he carried in his rucksack back at home, for training, were very well thumbed copies.

          Having already completed the Munros this was a repeat for John. "I am not sure what path me and Peter took last time," he said.

          "All we have to do is look for the bits of paper with 'help me I am stuck in a quiz show' written on them," I replied.

          "Oh, I thought you were enjoying it," he replied.

          I could see that he was hurt and I regretted my remark. Although John, over the week, made many critical comments (on my walking style, how I blew my nose, my driving style, the height of my car head restraints, my use of trekking poles, how I buckled my rucksack, my diet, how I put food into my mouth) he is a very kind, interesting, knowledgeable and considerate man with infinite patience. We got over it and I was let off any further questions.

          At the summit of Ladhar Bheinn we rested and John's prediction of a thunderstorm materialised and combined summit and my 36th birthday celebrations had to be quickly curtailed as we withdrew on the upward path.

          The following day, June 28th, was a miserable and wet affair. Again starting at a little after 0715 we ascended the stalkers path to Mam Barrisdale and followed the ridge, in wind and rain, to Luinne Bheinn then the intricate ridge around to Meall Buidhe arriving some five and a half hours after the start. Not being able to see we descended further south to the safety of a long path back to Mam Barrisdale and then the bothy. The entire walk took eleven hours and we appreciated a drying wind in the evening but not the downpour on the walk back to the car the following day.

          The extended dangers of Munro bagging became apparent on the drive out along the narrow roads. It all nearly came to a sharp end when the Post Bus hurled itself at us at high speed. Pulling my car to a halt John and I had a few moments of terror as the bus skidded across the road and parked itself nose first in the ditch. Getting out it became obvious that we were not going to be able to help push it out, it also became obvious that my left hernia was not prepared to allow extracting vehicles from ditches to be part of this trip and I was made to pay for it for a few hours with a deep ache in my lower abdomen.

 

Homing In

 

Having dropped John at Fort William station on the Friday evening I made my way to Glen Nevis Youth Hostel for a three night stay to take in the Grey Corries and Aonach Beag, leaving its neighbour, Aonach Mor, for July the 21st as my final Munro. I had chosen Aonach Mor as my final Munro because of its gondola cable car, that runs to a half way restaurant, would reduce the climb for anybody wanting to accompany me. I, of course, would have to start from the bottom.

My activities of the evening included trying to persuade a sixteen year old lad, who had just climbed Ben Nevis, that lager was not the best way to re-hydrate (whilst making excursions to refill his water bottle and purchase a mars bar to up his sugar levels) and miserably trying to explain to a Polish mathematician why we have separate hot and cold taps in the UK and not a simple mixer like the rest of the world, and that really there was no problem choosing between the one marked first degree burns and the other marked hypothermia.

          Sat in my car on the last day of June at the head of Glen Nevis I surveyed the scene. Just after 0800 and a huge downpour, rain hammering on the roof and little enthusiasm for getting wet. With just fifteen Munros to go and twenty two days to do them in I did not feel the need to get out and get going. This was my second turn at being under motivated this morning, at breakfast I had been happy to be engaged in conversation with my Polish friend until “please, can you just explain this Armitage Shanks business one more time again?” got me heading for the hills.

          Shortly before 0930 I made a start in a gap in the weather with the aim of doing Aonach Beag and the two Munros, of the four, on the west of the Grey Corries. Quickly I reviewed my plans and decided to take the four Grey Corries instead, the original plan was to do the most easterly two via a long walk in from the north, but I suddenly had it in me to bag them all in one go.

          I started slowly, reaching Sgurr Choinnich Mor in just over three and a half hours with a body not in full agreement with my mental plans. Through the mist the only thing of interest was a flattened patch of grass where I assumed a deer had slept the previous night.

          A further hour saw Stob Coire an Laoigh where I fed myself, took some paracetamol for my throat, Ibuprofen for my knees and clearing weather saw me flying across the longest section of the ridge. At one stage I found myself running, barely able to take note of the quartz lines in the rock, forming a badminton court kind of effect. With the weather clear, views all around I took my eyes off the map and made what I thought was the summit in exactly an hour. But then I became concerned, in the last few minutes the mist had come down and I was now unsure if I was truly at the summit or some earlier top. I tried the GPS, with low batteries it gave me an inconclusive reference. I carried on along the ridge and, by referring to the map, it became clear that I had reached the summit of Stob Choire Claurigh. Back tracking I descended the southerly route and the sharp rise to Stob Ban at a little after 1700 where it dawned on me how far I was from the car. Increasing my pace I dropped into the glen and started to power walk it back to my car in three and a half hours. Power walking? What on earth is that? Well I did not know myself until this evening but essentially it means you use the brain to move the legs far faster than the subconscious, and the body, would deem sensible.

          This higher use of my brain set my chatterbox off, something that had been going from time to time on this last one hundred Munros stint. The chatterbox is a kind of affectionate term for that bit of the brain that mulls things over and has all those pretend arguments with people. The arguments that you originally lost outright but when nobody is around you win. The case was put across coherently and the other party just sat there and nodded and agreed with every point and conceded that in fact you had been completely right all along.

          This time chatterbox was off about work, specifically politics and work. Throughout my career (if you can call refusing to climb the greasy ladder by back biting, manipulation and pure deviousness a career) I have been hampered by spending too much time knuckling down to make a project work whilst certain contemporaries would do very little and hey presto when the thing looks like working they have the ball off you quicker than Michael Owen and line themselves up for the glory.

          This was a large reason why I went freelance eight years ago because I wanted to stay technical but it still rankles. Wanting to work on large projects for the emergency services means contracts that take three to four years where you cannot avoid the politics. Things came to a bit of a head for me over the previous year when I was told that I "lacked ambition" because I did not want to climb the corporate ladder and manage lots of people. "Well excuse me" I said (well not quite but chatterbox edited that in) "is not wanting to make this project work and make it a first class system for the UK police forces not an ambition?" It drew a blank at the time but today I had the bosses on their knees and me on some world stage as a visionary.

          The wind clipped my face and I returned to the reality of the world I had decided to spend my summer in. Pushing myself on up the lonely glen, past the ruin of Steall, the water falls, I got back to the car a damp, bedraggled figure but knowing that at least I am true to myself - and happy.

          The following day I took in Aonach Beag, being worried about accidentally bagging Aonach Mor, planned for my final Munro, I hit the ridge south east and ascended the two minor tops before approaching Aonach Beag. Still concerned, of wandering too far and ruining my final Munro plans, I used the GPS again in the mist and rain. After many minutes it asked me a question on its on screen display ‘Select Country.’ Well pardon me, this little beast cost me the best part of £200 as a device to tell me where I am and it wants to know which country I am in! I selected UK, Scotland (I was in a helpful mood) and, with a bit more ascent to the ridge, it finally conceded my location, safely saying Aonach Beag was just in front of me.

          From the top I descended back towards the ruin of Steall, at the head of Glen Nevis, neglecting Deep Heat and Ibuprofen for my knees. I was soon made to pay for it with pain and stiffening forcing a stop for some medication.

 

Everything Abandoned

 

Monday July the 2nd brought another rest day and a move in location to the Aultguish Inn to tackle the remainder of the Fannichs and Ullapool hills and with it the revelation that I am always destined to be a loser where the weather is concerned. Blue skies and warm weather tempted my Beach Boys CD from its cover for the sticky three hour drive with every mountain showing off its summit, the only second perfect day for a month and both of them on enforced logistical rest days.

          Although I did have a moment of fright on the drive as I witnessed the seemingly traditional sight of a Post Bus mounting the pavement whilst trying to enter a petrol station. A second glance revealed that the driver was the self same chap that had nearly taken John and I out the previous Friday. I made a mental note never to use a Post Bus and to buy a car with air bags before I head anywhere north of Fort William again.

          On Tuesday July the 3rd I had another go at Seana Bhraigh, a remote Munro with approach terrain providing navigational difficulty due to lack of features and constant ascents and descents through peat bogs. In 1997 Ady Glover and I had failed to make the summit in a sixteen-hour epic adventure.

          In my log I had put ‘Sunny day only’ against Seana Bhraigh as I realised that my best chance of the summit was to be able to see it. Letting myself out of the hotel at a little after 0600 I was walking at about 0645 and was pleased with the high cloud. All was going well as I ascended via Inverlael Forest then the long gentle slopes until the path petered out just beyond the Coire an Lochain Sgeirich whereupon I was in thick mist.

          Taking an easterly bearing I paced myself until I hit the stream joining Loch a' Chadha Dheirg. From here things got very boggy with constant back tracking to find a route that did not require sinking to my knees. Actually sinking to my knees was high on my agenda, I felt that only having ten Munros left had turned me through a psychological barrier and I was all for slowing my pace.

          In this boggy area I disturbed numerous frogs, like the deer it is an animal that I take great pleasure from seeing. With each footstep, carefully placed, frogs would leap in all directions - big ones, small ones and medium sized ones. I made a point of apologising to each one for my intrusion, even if I was likely to be the only person on the hill that day. Like the male deer the male frog has a curious mating habit which you kind of wonder about. After selecting a partner he jumps on her and hangs on for all his is worth, sometimes for days. Now, not wishing to downplay his passion to reproduce, there have been recorded instances of the female expiring and the male still hanging onto her decaying corpse. Personally I would have noticed myself.

          On reaching the loch I continued east, following a feeder stream from a higher loch where I took a compass bearing direct for Seana Bhraigh. After what felt like an age I began to consider the possibility that I did not know where I was. The GPS proved inconclusive (it had me over the edge of one of the cliffs that protect Seana Bhraigh, and I simply could not recall making a fatal fall).

          Munching some lunch I pondered the situation and decided that I would head south east as the ground looked as if it rose that way. And indeed it did and I reached a cairn at 1200. I was not convinced, with visibility down to just a few feet I reckoned that this was the 906m spot height on that map and not the 927m (3041 feet) of Seana Bhraigh. A closer study showed that if I went east and there was a cliff it would be the Munro, otherwise the 906m top. I soon was descending over easy ground so I turned back and regained the cairn knowing it now to be the 906m. Knowing my exact location allowed a bearing to be taken directly for Seana Bhraigh.

          After about twenty minutes I was nowhere again, the ground began to drop in front of me and to my left. I guessed that I must have hit its south west flank so went north east and found the ground rising and with relief made the summit at a little after 1230.

          A slog of a walk back to the car took over four hours, but I was glad that Seana Bhraigh was now bagged, it had been playing on my mind for awhile. I know that a bad workman blames his tools but I wondered if there was some inaccuracy in the Ordnance Survey map. I do make navigational errors but to mess this mountain up in 1997 to the point of being on the wrong summit and then to have so many troubles today left me wondering. An alternative piece of equipment to blame, other than myself, was my compass but that was unlikely as I had three with me, although I suppose I could have checked them all to see if one was right, one was wrong and whether the third would have told me which was which.

          I woke at 0430 on July the 4th to a throbbing right toe, a long term ingrowing nail problem had re-materialised and it was swollen and puffy. With enough space to spare in my boots I was walking just after 0615 to take in the three Munros left in the Fannichs that I had previously abandoned due to the severe wind. The shortest route would have been from the Loch Glascarnoch side but I fancied the good stalkers path from the Loch a' Bhraoin side.

          In thick cloud I made slow progress along the track, branching at a stream to ascend to the low point between the previously two bagged Munros of Meall a' Chrasgaidh and Sgurr nan Clach Geala. I was hoping to navigate to the small lochain there and then take in the minor top of Carn na Criche before the final ascent to the days first Munro, Sgurr Mor.

          Navigating to high lochains is always difficult due to not being able to see them until you are above, anything else would defy the laws of physics. I made a mess of things and after some back and forth I suddenly found myself ascending eastwards, a stroke of luck as a check with the map indicated that this could only be in the direction of Carn na Criche. Thankful for my navigational error actually helping me I took in this top then Sgurr Mor at just under four hours from the start.

          Descending I made another navigational error and found myself drifting towards the east ridge, soon correcting I dropped down the south ridge and navigated the final two Munros, Meall Gorm and An Coileachan in a total of just over six hours.

          The route back was identical to the route in and I saved half an hour, this is often the case that descents are only slightly less than ascents.

          Tired and weary I opened the car up and slumped in. Except for a brief few moments there was total mist all day, my left hernia was killing me, my big toe nail was mercilessly macheting its way down to the bone and to add insult muscular discomfort in my right shoulder was also having a grumbling day. However this walk did complete all the Munros that I had ever abandoned and all the remaining were new territory only.

 

The Last Few

 

Another bad nights sleep had me awake at 0430 but this time I needed to move from the Aultguish Inn around to Incheril (near Kinlochewe) for the ascent of Slioch.

          I could not get my body motivated, aching all over I laid in the bath for an hour, read for a bit and was first down for breakfast at 0800. Feeling better for hot food I drove across and was walking before 0930, initially losing my way through the marshy ground that approaches Loch Maree. Once back on course I was fast, taking the paths I crossed the Abhainn Fhasaigh then the north followed by the north west ascent, in total mist. The path helped my navigation which had become a little rusty over the last few days. But I could not explain my pace, why this much faster? Then I thought about all the other times that I had been fast and realised a pattern, all after drives of at least an hour which probably means a combination of a good breakfast, a delay and therefore a late start. The 0600 kind of starts probably don't suit me but then I wake early and am normally keen to hit the hills to compensate for my general slowness.

          It took me just over four hours to reach the trig point summit of Slioch, the guidebook said that the north top afforded a better view. Crossing to it I was disappointed as the same level of mist shrouded it as the trig point. Heading east I took in the minor top of Sgurr an Tuill Bhain before the southerly descent and the laborious walk back to the car, completing in just under eight hours.

          Now with just the four most northerly Munros to do, before Anoach Mor near Fort William, I surveyed the map and realised that I might as well return to the Aultguish Inn. Finding a signal on my mobile I called and they stalled about room availability. "What about room 32?" I asked. "I suppose we could, but it is not serviced yet." "Well I checked out of it this morning, just pop a new towel in and I'll be over in an hour."

          A rest day followed with a drive to Inchnadamph for an attempt on Ben More Asynt and Conival on Saturday the 7th. In time honoured tradition of my rest days the sky was blue and I slowly cooked in my car.

          A night of camping put me ill at ease when a tree, in the wooded enclosure next to my pitch, fell. Never being that comfortable with rough camping, in case somebody decided to make my life difficult, it made me jump beyond belief. Tucked in my tent all sorts of thoughts went through my mind, a gang of bandits? A berserk axe murderer? Finally plucking up courage I went for an explore, and witnessed the beauty of the late evening light. The midges had kept me tent bound for a number of hours and the axe murderer did me a favour in getting me out of the tent.

          Waking at 0530, still intact, I rued my luck for now it was pouring with rain. Lying in for a couple of hours, until the rain stopped was followed by a rapid tent packing as I was attacked by a multitude of midges.

          I finally started walking, from Inchnadamph at a little after 0915, soon hitting thick cloud and the indeterminate approach to Conival. Again I was unhappy with my navigation, only sure to within half a mile of where I was. Trying to navigate on a bearing off such an indeterminate point is problematic and I wasted a good hour backtracking as long descents were off course. Seeing a couple of middle aged walkers approach me I thought I'd see if they knew the exact location. "Do you know where we are?" asked the chap. They were as lost as I was, his World War II compass swung about a bit but after a while we fathomed it out between us and I made the summit of Conival in four and a half hours with my new found companions Jim and Sarah. A further hour saw Ben More Asynt added to the list of climbed Munros and here we departed as I fancied going to look for a the wreckage of a World War II Wellington bomber that I had the grid reference for.

          Whilst re-ascending Conival, the most convenient path back, I pulled myself onto a square boulder the size of a washing machine. Under my weight it tipped towards me and I had to leap in the air and forwards to prevent it crushing me. Fortunately it only did the one roll, I would not have wished to have been responsible for setting that down the mountain. Unfortunately it jarred my body and set my left hernia into serious grumble mode and made the muscular discomfort in my right shoulder scream out under the weight of my pack.

          Demoralised I took a grid bearing to the Wellington Bomber. After a long march I hit water, any one of a number of lochs marked on the map but as the mist was so thick I could not make out its shape to determine which it was. For safety sake I took a west bearing to drop back towards Inchnadamph, completing the round trip in ten hours. I never did find the Wellington Bomber, I probably got as lost as its crew did all those years ago.

          With only three left to do I had a bit of a lie in at the Inchnadamph Field Studies centre where I bedded for the night before the drive round to take in Ben Klibreck. What was supposed to be a straightforward Munro turned into another navigational nightmare which I could blame on another day of thick mist, but more in truth somewhere along the way I have taken my eye off the ball and ended up making a series of blunders.

          The ascent went well, navigating to Loch na Glas-choille, then following the line of the fence rising to Loch nan Uan before the long pull to the summit, depicted by a standing trig point and the remains of a toppled derelict one. Trig points often get vandalised for keepsakes and I noticed one of the bits of metal from the fallen trig point was free. I picked it up and contemplated, and decided it belonged to the mountain so quietly hid it from view in its rightful place.

          After food, Ibuprofen and Deep Heat I was ready for the off but was delayed by a sudden congregation, five people and a dog, in two separate parties, ascended on me and we had a good chat for about twenty minutes before I set off.

          I think the navigation all went wrong on a piece of ridge half way down the steepest slope. Going too far south I dropped west onto wet peat covered ground where I promptly slipped and slid on my bum for about twenty feet. Picking myself up, very wet and dirty, I continued but unsure as to my location. Only after much marching west did I hit water which, by its shape, I determined was Loch na Glas-choille (Loch nan Uan was never found again) and kept west until I reached my car.

 

Penultimate Munro

 

For many years I always fancied Ben Hope as my final Munro, mainly because it is the most northerly and I like the name, hope is part of the meaning of life.

          Hope was something I almost gave up on when the day started with a hiccup, waking early I laid in, breakfasted and was ready for the standard Youth Hostel ‘getting your membership card back’ time of 0700. Unfortunately I had failed to read a notice saying that the reception at Tongue Youth Hostel did not open until 0800 which differed from my handbook and every other Scottish Youth Hostel I have ever stayed in. I would not have been so bothered if I did not have plans to do Ben Hope and then the long drive across to John O'Groats. Also the night before the warden had pointed out the sign advertising their own ‘Soup and Roll’ whilst failing to point out the one that says he likes a lie in.

          The walk up Ben Hope went well, starting alone the weather was good for the climb along a stream and then the long pull up the main slopes to the summit cairn and trig point where I was promptly deposited in cloud and cheated of a view. Not since June 25th had I really had a view from a Munro.

          I was soon joined by a young couple who I lunched with and we jointly rued the lack of anything to look at but each other and cloud. They were impressed that I only had one Munro left and were happy to take a photograph of me. Before leaving they asked:

          "Was that your car parked at the bottom?"

          "The battered old Toyota?" I replied.

          "Yes, we have parked next to it at Ben More Asynt, Ben Klibreck and now Ben Hope."

          "I suppose these most northerly ones have a certain order" I replied. "But I guess you were surprised to see it at Ben Klibreck?"

          "Why?" replied the girl.

          "Because it actually goes."

          On the descent I soon noticed the weather clear, if only that damned warden could have slept in until 0900 I would have had a view. Bumping into a chap that I had seen the day before, at the summit of Ben Klibreck, I was greeted with "Just one left now?" which I confirmed. Then I came across three other guys that I had also seen the day before and received the same greeting. The ‘news’ appeared to have got up and down the hill as as I descended I bumped into a number of people that I had never met before who asked "Are you the guy with just one to go?" It was quite touching that I had generated an interest.

          The drive along the North Coast of Scotland was nice, single track 'A' roads and beautiful coves. Noticing I was low on fuel I stopped at a roadside pump, like something I had dim memories of from childhood. Just pulling off the road and a guy would come and fill your car. I kept this guy talking allowing him to convince me that some garages charge extortionate prices, far greater than his 91.9p per litre, already 14p per litre higher than the prices in Fort William. Still this was not Fort William and I needed to keep him distracted from the hole in my filler pipe that was depositing petrol on that bit of tarmac at the side of the road that he optimistically referred to as his forecourt. Quickly paying by cash, something I had started to do to make quick getaways, I was off leaving him to survey the puddle.

          Arriving in John O'Groats I booked a coach tour for the Orkneys for the next day then went in search of accommodation. First looking for John O'Groats Youth Hostel, I was just about on terms with them again, proved fruitless until I discovered it was three miles away at a place called Canisbay. Now call me Mr Picky but if you are advertising a Youth Hostel in the most north easterly part of mainland Britain then would it not be a good idea to actually put it there and not some few miles inland?

          Parking, at the edge of the road, opposite the hostel I crossed and entered.

          "Was that you that just parked opposite?" The middle aged female warden was trying her charm.

          "Yes," I replied.

          "Well there is parking around the back."

          "I'm sure but I wanted to check you had a bed free tonight first."

          "Yes I do, but please move your car right away."

          Wandering out I realised that I was already on a wrong footing, I find this with certain people. I don't know if I go around with a big sign above my head saying ‘please take out all your pathetic frustrations on me’ but it certainly feels like it at times. Knowing I was not going to enjoy the stay I moved my car, back to John O'Groats.

          Trying one B&B that advertised ‘from £14.50’ which normally refers to one family room where the baby is charged at £14.50 I was informed that there was no single but if I paid a surcharge I could have a double for £25. Not an extortionate price but with the foot and mouth disease Scotland was fairly empty and if I'd been the proprietor I'd have filled the rooms any old way and forgot about fining people for remaining single. I dislike the constant reminders that you get for being single, super market packaging ‘for two,’ awkward silences when you get invited on something and say "it will just be me coming." Whilst purchasing a bed side lamp earlier in the year, from a department store in Reading, I was greeted at the till with "Just the one lamp sir, do you want me to find the pair?" in that smug ‘I'm in a relationship so I therefore assume everybody else is’ kind of way.

Crossing the road I was greeted with a nice smile and a triple room for £20 and no supplement where I spent the remainder of the day double checking that I had indeed climbed 283 Munros, and noticing that the B&B opposite had its ‘Vacancies’ board up all evening. Okay, my mind does mumble and grumble on at times.

          So followed some twelve days of pleasing myself, a genuine tourist in Scotland for once perhaps, taking a day trip to Orkney, a two day canoeing course and visiting various sites pending July the 21st.

          It soon became apparent that, via Gisella's father Mike Storm, the press were taking some interest in my Munroing. I was copied articles from the Newbury Weekly News and an inaccurate article from the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald claiming I had severe adult asthma and overplayed my need for medical attention. However the short fame was fun.

          Holidaying with ones parents at the age of thirty six could be seen as uncool, not since the age of sixteen had a family holiday been had so it was interesting when my Mum and Dad visited and we spent the two days together before the 21st. We had fun, walking to a bothy to make lunch, visiting Glen Roy and taking the train across Rannoch Mor. I found it strange having so much company, after two and a half months largely on my own having lengthy conversations was odd.

 

Walking On Air

 

          Waking on the 21st, in the Spean Bridge Hotel, felt strange. I’d had weird dreams all night - my mind racing ahead for a conclusion of my twelve year adventure.

          At the foot of Aonach Mor I met with Willy Newlands who had set off from Glasgow in the small hours; Alison Ashton and Adrian Ogden, both of who I met on the Cuillin Ridge course and their friend Kate Wilson who, as a threesome, humbled me by having driven up from Rotherham overnight. At a little after 0815 Gisella, who had driven up from Exeter the day before, waved us off.

          We made good progress and it initially felt like any other walk, my mind not adjusting to what this was all about. At the top of the Gondola we rendezvoused with Gisella's parents and her Aunty who had come to wish me well and my Mum and Dad who were determined to walk the remaining 2000 feet with me. I had raised the subject of hernias with the others and how I'd be so grateful if they did not get mentioned. My Mum would not have been too happy to discover I had just walked ninety nine Munros with a double rupture. The others were okay and said they would not ask any embarrassing questions.

          We made steady progress, my parents, unused to hill walking, needed a slower pace but I was pleased, and touched, that they wanted to do this with me even though it was clearly a struggle for them at times. The last major walk I would have done with them would have been as a youngster when they were a lot stronger than me. Now having spent the best part of three months walking and age has made a difference. But they were determined and made a consistent pace.

          Willy went on ahead and took in Aonach Beag and returned across Aonach Mor just as we were arriving. I could see the cairn through the thick cloud and I started to feel very strange and slightly emotional. Every time I stopped the others stopped behind me and, after a few further moments, I went forward and to the bemused looks of a chap sat quietly, eating his sandwiches, I touched the cairn, became a Munroist, turned to the others and celebrated with hugs, champagne and photographs.

          On the descent I was confused if the fact that Willy had gone ahead again meant that he had decided to go on back, having an appointment in Glasgow that evening. I ran after him and caught him at the Gondola Restaurant where we waited for the others and chatted to Gisella's family who had stayed for us.

          On the final leg from the Gondola Restaurant to the car park I again walked with Willy. My parents now safely behind he asked, "So how did you get the hernia Steve?"

          "I did the splits on ice at Christmas, as simple as that. I did not know until the next day when I had a dull ache and a lump."

          "What kind of lump?"

          "You can see it through my track suit trousers." And with that I tilted back and pointed to the lump on my lower abdomen at the precise moment we passed under a gondola car with my Mum banging on the glass and waving.

          "How are you going to explain that one Steve?"

          "I have no idea Willy, no idea."

          The final leg, and as we broke through the trees I could see Gisella waiting for me in the car park. Coming towards me I handed Willy my trekking poles and he understood the need to keep walking. She held me very tight and told me how proud she was of me as her voice cracked and we shared an emotional moment.

We all drifted back together and stood chatting until one by one people drifted off to go and get ready for the evening celebrations. With just me, Mum and Dad left a guy approached us.

          "I'm having a problem with the sliding door of my camper van."

          "Oh," I replied in a 'please ask somebody else' kind of way.

          "It won't take a moment just needs to be held whilst I guide it back into the runner."

          If alone I would have explained that a hernia and lifting are not always a good combination but with my Mum there I had no choice but to suffer ten minutes of discomfort. Perhaps I should have said, but I know that my Mum always worries a great deal over health issues and I did not wish to spoil the day by giving her something to worry about.

          The Spean Bridge Hotel did us proud for an evening meal, with a separate room, we were all mellow and it was a lovely gentle occasion. I did not want to over celebrate and enjoyed the peaceful company.

          Gisella asked me to make a speech and I simply read a piece of Hamish Brown's introduction to 'The Munros':

          "Completing the Munros is apt to be a humbling experience, a poignant time with a layer of sadness below the icing on the celebratory cake. It has meant so much for so long. Only a succession of hills, but so much of life lies suddenly behind. Golden memories of brassy expectations, but it was worth every mile and every smile of the way."

          And that was exactly how I felt.

 

Munro Count: 284 out of 284

 

 

Appendix 1: Brief note about my breathing

 

 

Peak flow is a measure of litres of air one can breathe per minute. The best I could achieve, when I was doing the Munros, was a reading of 570 litres per minute (depicted by the triangle in the above chart). This is below what it should be (about 650 – depicted by the circle in the above chart) and explains why I struggled so much during my mountain ascents.

 

Appendix 2: The Walks & Munros

 

This table depicts all my forays into the Scottish hills up to the date of my final Munro, 21st of July 2001. Apart from the first entry, where {} is a best guess, the following list is accurate in terms of the dates and the Munros but is often incomplete in terms of the recorded times. I have used n/r (not recorded) to denote this. Where a Munro is climbed for the first time its name is emboldened and the height, in feet, follows in brackets. Those Munros I climbed for a second, or even third, time are shown in italics. A peak that was formerly a Munro, but now demoted, is shown underlined. Some Munros took a few goes; for example An Stuc only yielded on the fourth attempt. For completeness I have included all abandoned attempts. Occasionally I recorded the departure times from a summit. I have denoted these by ‘Departed summit’. Where ‘Departed summit’ is not shown no assumption can be made that I left immediately.  If it was a nice day I might have sat awhile, if poor weather I might only have stood on the summit, or crawl in high wind, for a matter of a second or so. Some of the memories have faded but the experience will forever be in my soul.

 

Date

Time

Point

Munro

{9}/8/1978

n/r

Cairn Gorm (via cable car)

See 39

14/5/1989

 

Mullardoch Cottage

 

 

n/r

NH218341. 861m peak above Loch Mullardoch.

 

 

 

Mullardoch Cottage

 

18/5/1989

n/r

Mullardoch Cottage

 

 

-

Abandoned Toll Creagach and Tom a Chonich

 

 

n/r

Mullardoch Cottage

 

7/5/1990

n/r

Glen Nevis

 

 

n/r

Abandoned Ben Nevis

 

 

1400

Carn Beag Dearg

 

 

n/r

Carn Dearg Meadhonach

 

 

n/r

Carn Mor Dearg (4012)

1

 

n/r

Glen Nevis

 

6/5/1991

0915

NN360983

 

 

1145

Ben Lomond (3195)

2

 

n/r

NN360983

 

7/7/1991

n/r

A87

 

 

-

Abandoned Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe and Sgurr Fhuaran

 

 

n/r

A87

 

10/7/1991

0850

Carn an Linie

 

 

1630

An Socach (3507)

3

 

1845

An Riabhachan (3704)

4

 

-

Abandoned Sgurr na Lapaich and Carn nan Gobhar

 

 

0000

Loch Mullardoch

 

10/8/1991

1100

Tyndrum

 

 

1500

Beinn Dubhcraig (3205)

5

 

1600

Ben Oss (3373)

6

 

n/r

Tyndrum

 

25/8/1991

1015

A85

 

 

1250

Ben More (Crianlarich)  (3852)

7

 

1340

Stob Binnien (3822)

8

 

n/r

A85

 

22/9/1991

1015

A82

 

 

1230

An Caisteal (3264)

9

 

1410

Beinn a’Chroin (3084)

10

 

1615

A82

 

1/2/1992

1000

Garbat

 

 

1240

Ben Wyvis – Glas Leathad Mor (3432)

11

 

n/r

Garbat

 

24/5/1992

1045

NH217243

 

 

1350

Toll Creagach (3458)

12

 

1535

Tom a’Choinich (3645)

13

 

1745

NH217243

 

25/5/1992

1130

South Ballachulish

 

 

1520

Sgorr Dhearg – Beinn a’Bheithir (3360)

14

 

1650

Beinn a’Beithir – Sgorr Dhonuill (3284)

15

 

n/r

South Ballachulish

 

28/5/1992

0810

Cluainie Inn

 

 

1105

Creag a’Mhaim (3107)

16

 

1155

Druim Shionnach (3238)

17

 

1252

Aonach air Chrith (3350)

18

 

1419

Maol Chinn-dearg (3218)

19

 

1525

Sgurr an Doire Leathain (3314)

20

 

1610

Sgurr an Lochain (3294)

21

 

1755

Creag nan Damh (3012)

22

 

2000

West end of ridge

 

29/8/1992

1025

Arrochar (Succoth)

 

 

1320

Beinn Narnain (3038)

23

 

1532

Beinn Ime (3316)

24

 

1835

Ben Vane (3002)

25

 

2130

Inveruglas

 

1/6/1993

1200

Ben Lawers visitor centre

 

 

1300

Meall nan Tarmachan (3422)

26

 

1800

Ben Lawers visitor centre

 

3/6/1993

n/r

A85

 

 

n/r

Abandoned Meall Glas and Sgiuth Chuil

 

 

n/r

A85

 

4/6/1993

1105

Bridge of Orchy

 

 

1335

Beinn Dorain (3530)

27

 

1520

Beinn an Dothaidh (3287)

28

 

n/r

Bridge of Orchy

 

1/5/1994

1030

Linn of Dee

 

 

1515

Beinn Bhrotain (3816)

29

 

1640

Mondah Mor (3651)

30

 

2230

Linn of Dee

 

3/5/1994

1205

Glenn Shee Ski area

 

 

1325

The Cairnwell (3061)

31

 

1545

Carn a’Gheoidh (3199)

32

 

1810

Carn Aosda (3008)

33

 

n/r

Glenn Shee Ski area

 

5/5/1994

n/r

Invery

 

 

1620

Derry Cairngorm (3789)

34

 

n/r

Linn of Dee

 

27/8/1994

1210

A82

 

 

1700

Beinn Tulaichean (3104)

35

 

1805

Cruach Ardrain (3431)

36

 

n/r

A82

 

28/8/1994

1045

Ardlui

 

 

1505

Ben Vorlich (Loch Lomond) (3094)

37

 

n/r

Ardlui

 

30/6/1995

0742

Glen Nevis (YHA)

 

 

1200

Ben Nevis (4409)

38

 

1255

Departed summit

 

 

1525

Glen Nevis (YHA)

 

 

1625

Fort William

 

26/8/1995

0805

 

987072

 

 

1015

Ski Lift Restaurant

 

 

1130

Cairn Gorm (4085)

39

 

1500

Ben Macdui (4295)

40

 

1710

Camped out (010003)

 

27/8/1995

0830

010003

 

 

0946

Beinn Mheadhoin (3878)

41

 

1044

010003

 

 

1330

010003

 

 

n/r

Fords of Avon Refuge Hut (043032)

 

28/8/1995

0920

Fords of Avon Refuge Hut (043032)

 

 

1051

Beinn a Chaorainn (3550)

42

 

1205

Fords of Avon Refuge Hut (043032)

 

 

1330

Fords of Avon Refuge Hut (043032)

 

 

1630

Foot of Bynack More (hid kit)

 

 

1750

Bynack More (3576)

43

 

1925

Near Bynack Stable

 

3/5/1996

1200

Invercornan

 

 

1400

Start of main ascent.

 

 

1540

Beinn Chabhair (3061)

44

 

1745

Invercornan

 

4/5/1996

0825

Ardvorlich

 

 

1230

Ben Vorlich (3232)

45

 

1450

Stuc a’Chroin (3199)

46

 

1750

Ardvorlich

 

6/5/1996

0900

Invergeldie

 

 

1150

Ben Chonzie (3054)

47

 

1220

Ben Chonzie

 

 

1400

Invergeldie

 

7/5/1996

0840

Opposite viaduct on West Highland Railway line.

 

 

1140

Start of ascent

 

 

1350

Ben Mhanach (3130)

48

 

1720

Opposite viaduct on West Highland Railway line.

 

9/5/1996

0920

The A83 road

 

 

1410

Beinn  Bhuidhe (3110)

49

 

1710

The A83 road

 

10/5/1996

0820

Achallader Farm

 

 

1230

Beinn Achaladair (3409)

50

 

1430

Beinn a’Chreachain (3547)

51

 

1810

Achallader Farm

 

12/5/1996

1000

Mullardoch Cottage

 

 

1325

Carn nan Gobhar (3255)

52

 

1545

Sgurr na Lapaich (3772)

53

 

1915

Mullardoch Cottage

 

14/5/1996

0934

East shore of Loch Mullardoch

 

 

1050

West shore of Loch Mullardoch

 

 

1345

Beinn Fhionnlaidh (3297)

54

 

1515

Carn Eige (3881)

55

 

1625

Mam Sodhail (3871)

56

 

1945

West shore of Loch Mullardoch

 

 

2050

East shore of Loch Mullardoch

 

16/5/1996

1136

Achnasheen

 

 

1427

Fionn Bheinn (3061)

57

 

1535

Achnasheen

 

19/5/1996

0940

A85

 

 

1155

Beinn a’Chleibh (3005)

58

 

1326

Ben Lui (3707)

59

 

1525

A85

 

20/5/1996

0820

Glen Lochay

 

 

1100

Meall Ghaordie (3409)

60

 

1240

Glen Lochay

 

8/9/1996

1200

Strathan