MY LAST MOUNTAIN IN THE BRITISH ISLES AND IRELAND
I am a ‘bagger’ which is a term well known in the hillwalking community and on the 19th October I’m planning to climb Beinn Mheadhoin in the Ardgour peninsula a climb that will mean that I will have ascended every plus 2,000ft mountain in Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland and the Isle of Man. When I tell people about this I’m often asked when I began hillwalking and am greeted with some surprise, especially from my non-hillwalking friends, when I say that I have no idea how to answer this question.
Bagging is very rarely the primary reason why hillwalkers begin to climb mountains. More likely it is the encouragement/persuasion of parents, friends, partners or reading about the exploits of others that is the initial reason to don a pair if boots and head up a hill. And indeed this was the case with me. One of the first hills I climbed was Marsco in Skye a walk that exposed me to the thrill of getting to a summit and being enthralled with the view from the top. It also exposed me to the inability to walk very far for the next day and to the conviction that I would not be repeating the experience very often. Time faded the leg memory, I was persuaded to attempt a few more hills and discovered that the view from the top was not guaranteed but that legs can get used to walking up and downhill for hours at a time without excruciating pain the following day. Then I was invited by a friend to attempt the Fisherfield six (now five). With no idea what this would entail I headed off with him to Shenevall bothy for an overnight stay and the climb of the six Fisherfield Munros the following day. When I got back to the bothy after 14 hours I was elated that I had managed to more than double my total of Munros in one day and entered my achievement in the bothy book.
But this was not the start of my bagging obsession. I joined a hillwalking club and went out with friends from the club for the sheer pleasure of being on the hills. This was over 30 years ago, a time when there was no modern equipment such as mobile phones or GPS. A map and compass were essential to make your way safely in the mountains and I enrolled on a navigation course at Glenmore Lodge in Aviemore. I had decided that relying on friends curtailed my ability to climb hills; the course allowed me the freedom to walk on my own and was, on reflection, the possible beginning of my bagging obsession. I had listened to friends talking about how many Munros they had left to climb and I began to wonder about my total. It was around this time that I bought a Munro map to log my hills; bagging had begun!!
Like most hill walkers I began with the biggies, the Munros but decided, even at this stage, to include the Munro tops in my quest. I blame the map which listed all Munros and Munro tops in order of size. To do only the Munros would have left a great many gaps in my log map!
I completed my last Munro, Braeriach on 17th October 1998 and my last top, the Northern Pinnacles of Liathach on 4th August 2000. By the time of completing my last top, I had already started on a round of the Corbetts and Grahams, had done some of the Nuttalls of England and Wales and completed the Furths. I completed the Furths in three separate trips, the Bob Graham round in England, a round that was entitled the Oxfam Everest Challenge in Wales and in Ireland by cycling between the mountains, I finished the Nuttalls on Drum in Wales on 1st September 2017 shortly before completing my final Corbett, Sugman Contich on 16th September 2017.
I was enjoying my celebration meal on the evening of my last Corbett with only two Grahams to conquer when I was asked the fateful question “What’s your next challenge?” and I found myself answering “Ireland, of course.” A minute before I had had no plan to include Ireland in my hillwalking aims, but suddenly found that, instead of only two hills to climb I now had over 200 new peaks to explore, which I did over the next 18 months finishing on 20th May 2019.
The hills in Ireland are interesting. There does not seem to be a culture of bagging in Ireland meaning that, apart from a few popular hills, you largely get them to yourself, something that I relish. It also means that there are very few ‘compleationists’ and among these no women. This discovery means that, when I finish my last Graham I will be the first woman to have climbed, or at least registered as having climbed, all the hills in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales. I was amazed when I realised this. I started hillwalking over 35 years before with no intention of turning into an obsessive mountain bagger and had now reached a point where I might be in a club of one!
Having realised this I felt that I should mark the achievement in some way. Having a party to celebrate is one obvious way; but this didn’t seem quite enough. I, along with all hillwalkers, appreciate that we are often entering a potentially dangerous environment where accidents can and do happen. Mountain Rescue volunteers reduce the risks, they are there in potentially life-threatening situations giving up their time freely to rescue people who may otherwise not have survived. I am therefore dedicating my last Graham to Scottish Mountain Rescue in the hope that this will encourage donations to my just giving page.
I have another aim, one that I have mixed emotions about. I love walking in the hills on my own and therefore feel that I should not be encouraging other people onto the mountains I love. But I also want to share my love of the hills and to encourage other people to enjoy the passion that has dominated the last plus 35 years of my life. I have not always had a view from the summit of a hill. I have, at times, had to turn back before getting to the summit. But I have never been on a hill and not felt a sense of peace, joy and achievement. Hillwalking has immeasurably enhanced my life. My selfish gene wants to preserve the hills for myself; my less selfish gene wants to share the joy that hills offer to those who venture onto them. On my last trip to Ireland I met a man who is walking round the world. He told me that he wants to do this partly to show people that the world is not as scary a place as people often think. I will be 70 years old in December this year and fully intend to continue walking for as many years as I can. I want to encourage people reading this not only to donate to Mountain Rescue, but also to recognise that age and fear is only a barrier to achievement if you let it be. You might not want to climb mountains but don’t let your fears get in the way of achieving your goals in life. If a nearly 70-year-old 5ft 2.5ins woman can climb the 1699 mountains in the United Kingdom and Ireland then what’s stopping you. Realise your dreams.