The Angry Corrie 55: Oct-Nov 2002

SNH/NTS and the Shiants: end-times on the Marilyns

For the first time since Alan Dawson's The Relative Hills of Britain was published in 1992, the top two slots in the Marilynbaggers' listing are not occupied by Ann and Rowland Bowker. As TAC goes to press, Ann clings to joint second place with 1545 of the 1552 150m-drop hills (everything bar Mullach Buidhe in the Shiants and the St Kilda Six), but top spot now belongs to Ken Whyte of Fort William: 1547 Marilyns, only the five non-Conachair Kilda islands undone. Rob Woodall from deepest Cambridgeshire is also in the frame - and if, as planned, he finishes his mainland Marilyns on 6 October, he'll be clear second with "only" Kilda to do. TAC asked Rob how it felt to have climbed so many hills and to be so close to completing an as yet uncompleted list.

The story so far

I came to Marilyns relatively late - at the end of 1998, by which time I'd completed English and Welsh 2000s, (Old) Donalds, Munros and Tops, Corbetts, Wainwrights and Dewey English and Welsh 500s. English and Welsh Marilyns followed in 1999 and Grahams in 2000. I was saving the best until last, with recent seasons involving forays to the Inner, Western and Northern Isles and the Far North.

Best Marilyns?

Those with outstanding architecture, great views and (usually) a good steep and/or scrambly ascent, eg Ben Tianavaig on a clear evening after a day's rain, a hill of truly Trotternish weirdness. Bla Bheinn. Ben Nevis. Foula: the view down a 1200ft sea cliff is very like one half the size, except that the gannets look too small. (Scrambling meets caving in Da Sneck ida Smaallie, a cleft between the two Foula Marilyns.) Arkle in 1986 on my first "real" Scottish trip, a sunny three-Corbett day after ten days of rain. Mullach Buidhe on Garbh Eilean, high-point of the Shiants: unmistakable must-be-climbed profile, touch-and-go Force 4 boat trip, organ-pipe basalt columns, boulderfields full of razorbills. Foel Offrwm: a steep, calf-burning ascent and a sunset over the Mawddach estuary to die for.

Last Great Obstacle

Most lists have their LGO: the In Pinn, the Cobbler, Pillar Rock, Great Links Tor (500s), Man of Mow (SubMarilyns) (and Hallside primary school - see page 16 - Ed.). The Marilyns have St Kilda, where remoteness, weather, seabirds and politics all conspire against the bagger. In 2001 and 2002 failed attempts were made to gain permission to visit the off-islands. In 2001, Scottish Natural Heritage raised a host of conservation- and safety-related issues, which we duly dealt with but still weren't given permission. Whilst neither the National Trust for Scotland which owns and manages the site, nor SNH which wardens it, can legally forbid access, they can blacklist your boatman, so the effect is much the same. In 2002, the NTS initially gave permission for a climbing trip, then sent clarification that, by the way, we could only visit Hirta and we couldn't climb. When pressed, SNH stated that it was now their policy to allow access to off-islands for scientific reasons only. As a keen plant and bird man I would like to think they would seek to negotiate access, thereby steering people to visit when impact is minimised. Apparently it is easier to Just Say No and hope folk will stay away. The MCofS is on the case: the saga will doubtless continue. A legal challenge would be interesting. (See page 11.)

Life after Marilyns?

Let's start further back. Is there life after the Munros? For me, there nearly wasn't. In 1990, having completed the Munros and, concurrently, 80 Corbetts, I couldn't face another set of trips north from the English Midlands. For some of us, climbing a hill Because It's There, or for the view, just isn't enough. So, taking a leaf out of Hamish Brown's book, I took up birdwatching and botany. This decision was woefully late as I'd already climbed many of the hills which are best for montane species, but it got me round the Corbetts, and (inevitably) brought some new lists to tick (eg UK and world birds and plants). There's a clear synergy between biological recording and visiting obscure hills: new colonies of scarce/under-recorded species. It also introduces a whole new set of odd behaviours, eg walking through species-rich bogs instead of round them. And, almost imperceptibly, visiting new places becomes the default mode.

This year, along with (all but six of) the Marilyns, a batch of lists is due to be completed, hopefully all on the same weekend (see panel below). What next? Yeamans? Corbett Tops? Scottish 500s? Ireland? SubMarilyns? UK trig heights?

Is there life after Marilyns? Apparently so. Is there life after listing? Hopefully not. As the wise man nearly said: Of the ticking of lists there is no end / All is vanity and a striving after the wind.

Good entertainment, though.

"A casual weekend ploy"

(Hamish's Mountain Walk, 22/6/74 section)

Rob Woodall's itinerary for his big bout of finishing:

Fri 4 Oct 2002 (evening): last E+W County Top, 259m Currock Hill (Tyne and Wear - on deleted list), Landranger 88/096593.

Sat 5 Oct (1pm start from Wullie's Bunkhouse in Glen Elchaig): last Murdo, 918m Stob Fraoch Choire, 25-33/052253.

Sun 6 Oct (9:30am start from Blairlogie car park): last Mainland Marilyn, 418m Dumyat, 57/836977.

Sun (2pm start from Wet Sleddale dam): last E+W Dewey 500, 515m Seat Robert, 90/527113.

Sun (6:30pm from near A174): last E+W SubMarilyn ("apart from Mow Cop's slimy pinnacle, ie complete in the 2000s-except-Pillar-Rock sense"), 242m Eston Nab, 93/568183.

TAC 55 Index