Donalds? Who would want to waste their time on Donalds? Well, me for one: I reckoned that they would be a pleasant diversion for the winter season, requiring no horribly early rises or benighted descents. But when I began to phone friends, inviting them to join me on a trot up Tinto or a wander on Windy Standard, I soon discovered that getting up and down in the dark was considered de rigueur by my Munro-bothering friends: they wanted an epic, and all I was offering was a limerick. A Donald? they would reply with bracknellish disdain, a Donald? What's a Donald then? How low? Really? South of the Highland Line? Surely, Gordon, by very definition there are no hills south of the Highland Line ...
Perhaps the use of Donald as a generic name put them off too. Whereas Munro is a rugged, chunky sweater and real ale sort of word, Donald is a bit, well, where's yer troosers-ish. Think Munro, and you think mighty, massive, massif, mountainous, magnificent, masculine; think Donald, you think Duck; or, even worse, Findlay QC.
Since most people shun the Donalds as they would shun the bewhiskered Hun, they tend to be lonely hills: sometimes a bit too lonely. For after a few solo outings, I began to miss the chaffing and chatter which a good companion can provide. What to do? I applied an underused classical education to the problem:
Q - What, I asked myself, would be your conversational habitude on the hill?
A - Why, football.
Q - Other than your erstwhile companions, who do you know who would be willing to engage in such dialectic?
A - Jim Traynor. Most certainly Chick Young. And the Other Gordon Smith.
Q - What, the one who played for Killie and the Huns and Brighton and was nicknamed Casper because of his ghost-like entries into the box?
A - The very same.
Q - And where, pray, may you hear the relentless football banter of these doyens of the beautiful game?
(... as you can see, readers, I am a firm believer that the best way to arrive at the answer to a problem is by means of the Socratic dialogue; and sure enough the legendary Brazilian maestro didn't let me down ...)
A - The radio.
So I made the necessary purchase, and the next weekend I was wired, as Cliff would have it, for sound. I clipped the tiny radio on to my rucksack waistbelt, made sure that the earphones were kept in place under a balaclava, tuned into the ether-borne conversation of the Radio Scotland team and made my solitary way up the steep side of Tinto, buzzed all the way by hang- gliders, which were circling the summit like Brobdingnagian midges. It was a fine autumnal day, made all the finer when Chick Young whispered into my ears the news that Killie were gubbing Raith Rovers, the first decisive victory of the season. Ah yes, I thought, this was the best of both worlds, to be entertained by football whilst enjoying the view from a mightier grandstand even than that of Rugby Park.
November and dustings of snow on Blackcraig Hill. Actually there was no Premier card that Saturday, Scotland having a midweek European qualifier (so should it have been Craigbrown Hill?), and I was reduced to listening to the lately-relegated Dundee United scrape a draw against lowly opposition in Division One. Cheeeerup Jimma clane, I heard the crowd sing to the tune of Daydream Believer, alwhat cannock mean, tibia sardine day basturt, weah crapfit bawteam? The cold, stony face of the hill reminded me of that of the United chairman, that Wainwright of football, and I recalled a favourite tale of his curmudgeonliness: McLean receives fan mail from eight-year-old boy; in the letter the boy reveals that his favourite player is Christian Dailly, and he suggests that he would like to see Dailly getting more starts for United. That afternoon, there is a peremptory knock at the young lad's door: he opens it and, to his surprise and delight, he sees Mr McLean clutching his letter. I pick the team, right? the manager growls, before stomping back to his still ticking-over car.
December: to the Lowther Hills, and their array of mysterious dishes and aerials. As I tramped through heather and Rangers v Somebodyorother, I could hear an intermittent buzzing in my ear, presumably caused by the X-Files-type forcefields or some such business as might interest TAC's resident physicists. The noise then grew into a continuous drone, as if made by a singularly smug and opinionated bee: and I was not far wrong, for I suddenly realised that it was half-time, and I was listening to an interview with none other than Donald Findlay QC. By mulderish coincidence, I happened to notice Dun Law just along the ridge, and it struck me that this was the Donald name most appropriate to Findlay: unless there's an as yet undiscovered Arsehole Hill out there, that is.
January, and a return to Glen Afton, a geographical feature which is presumably named after New Cumnock's football team. Despite the fact that this was a Sunday, there was football to be had in the shape of Celtic v Aberdeen. A 2-1 victory for the hoops meant that, miraculously, their title hopes for once survived into the New Year. While Burns was doubtless crossing himself, I myself was crossing burns. A wet-footed traverse of Alhang, Alwhat (can it mean?) and Meikledodd, which was much bigger than Billydodd, and much prettier than Daviedodd.
February on the Rhinns of Kells: five hours on the northern hills, and, as usual, not another soul encountered. Perhaps my theory that walkers are turned off by the trooserless / anatiform / Findlay QC connotations of the name Donald was correct? I considered alternative generic names, in homage to my commentating companions: how about CASPERs (Central And Southern Peaks; Eastern Ranges)? Or CHICKs (Cairns Higher than an Imperial Couple of K)? I decided that for my purposes, they should be renamed TRAYNORS - Transistor Radio-Assisted Yomps on Newdonalds and Other Ranges of the Southernuplands.
March was melancholy. The Saturday after Dunblane was cold and sleety, and I swithered about going out at all; but I felt a need for fresh air, and headed for Moorbrock Hill. Arriving late, I tramped off along the path and up into the cold grey cloud, hoping that the mundane activities of going for a walk and listening to a football match would help re-establish an equilibrium, a sense of normality that had been lost in the aftermath of that awful event; but as I climbed into a whiteout below the summit plateau, the commentators announced that a minute's silence would be observed before kick-off. I stopped, and stood head-bowed against the wind as the thousands of supporters at Rugby Park fell silent on the sound of the referee's whistle. Standing in a noiseless, swirling white world, I felt myself to be in a way part of that crowd, but at the same time profoundly alone: perhaps everyone else did too. Certainly, when the whistle blew again, and the commentary resumed, I was glad to hear those familiar voices. On such a day, when perspective was all, I knew that reaching the top of a hill wasn't important: I had been out, now I wanted to go home, and I did.
April, and a long-delayed spring saw me back on the Lowther Hills, starting with the north end and Louise Wood Law (as it appears in the Donalds list) or Lousie Wood Law (as it appears on the OS map). Which one is right, I wondered for a while, finally coming down on the side of gallantry, and deciding that poor Louise had been traduced by the surveyors, who, to add imposition to insult, have placed a trig point on her. What a bummer, though, I thought: very few people get to have a hill named after them; imagine if a mapmaker's typo then left your good name stained in perpetuity. What if my local hill, Willie Mair's Brae, were to lose its final letter, for example? Or what if Lord Berkeley's Seat became Lord Berkeley's SEAT? How could he turn up at the hunt ball driving one of those?
In earphoneworld Hearts were one up on Aberdeen in the Cup semi-final. I turned and headed back down to the road, and listened as Shearer got a late equaliser for Dandy Dons, who promptly threw the initiative away and went down 1-2. By strange coincidence, beside a burn I found a sheep which had fallen on its back and was unable to right itself. I picked it up, and it promptly fell back down again; I promise you, dear reader, that this actually happened, and is not included as some sort of self-consciously literary conceit.
The last Sunday of April was pleasantly sunny and saw me on Culter Fell. Rangers v Aberdeen, and a chance for the Huns to clinch the title. I suffered a bit of a setback early doors, as they say, in that as I was twiddling with an irritation in my eye, one of my contact lenses suddenly leapt out and hit the dirt quicker than you can say van Hooijdonk. I had hardly touched the thing, as well: but I had to pay the penalty nonetheless. I decided to go on with the walk nevertheless, consoling myself with the thought that in the land of Danny Blind, the one-eyed man is king. (Ha! - a reheated TAC Quiz gag - Ed.) So I completed a monoptic hat-trick of Culter, Cardon Hill and Chapelgill while listening to Gascoigne also bag a trio to win match and league.
May. Although the championship had been decided, various scraps had still to be fought for, and in particular who would have the right to beat Partick Thistle in the playoffs. Unusually, I was not alone on that Saturday's walk over Meikle Millyea and Corserine; TAC's Ed, who has some interest in Arab affairs, accompanied me, and would demand a walking commentary on the Tangerines' progress in this quest. Before we even got on the hill we had a strange encounter: at the car park there was a chap apparently fixing an old banger; he let it be known that he worked for the estate, and informed us that we would have to be back by five o'clock, warning us in a strangely Mellors-like phrase that "She wants the gates closed by five." Ed politely pointed out that the road was of a public nature, and thus nobody had any right to close it at any hour. "Oh all right," Mellors conceded, "five-thirty then." Ed repeated his objection, then paraphrased it in monosyllables; "Maybe the gates won't be shut after all", Mellors decided. So off we went onto the Rhinns of Kells, enjoying a great big panorama of the Pond Hills, Lowthers, Culters and Tinto, Cairnsmore, Big Hills Up North, Arran, Shalloch, Kirriereoch and Merrick, Mullwharchar, Craignaw and the other Cairnsmore, all still flecked with snow and wild and beautiful. Dundee United got through to the playoffs and we got through the gates.
So the long lonesome season came to an end, as far as I was concerned, a week later on the hills above the Daer Reservoir with a round of five Laws: Comb, Rodger (which is suspiciously close to Meikle Shag), Ballencleuch, Scaw'd and Wedder. The weather turned out to be as dull and dreich as the United-Thistle play-off, which, contrary to all the above Laws as well all those of man and nature, Thistle threatened to win. As the rain transferred itself by osmosis from the cloud which enveloped the hill through layers of Goretex and other artificial fibres to condense on my cooling flesh, I heard United equalise; and later, they finished the job and earned a return to the Premier League. Cheer up, Jim McLean, I sang to myself, as I had at the beginning of my season on Blackcraig: I doubted if he had enjoyed his own season in the lower division.