Ever been on a flight and looked at the marshmallow like clouds below, wishing you could bounce on them? Well let me shatter that illusion – in reality clouds are cold, damp and claustrophobic. And what makes me an expert? I’ve bagged Munros!
A Munro is a Scottish mountain taller than 3,000 feet (914 metres) . They’re named after Sir Hugh Munro who worked painstakingly to list them all. Scotland has 282 Munros, and climbing them is known as Munro bagging.
My earliest experience of Scotland’s mountains came in the 80s, when the boy band Bros were all the rage. The Company I worked for packed me, and a dozen or so other teenage trainees onto a coach, and off to the Scottish Highlands for a two-week Outward Bounds course. One of our character building activities was a 3 day expedition into the wilds of the Nevis Range. My teenage self complained incessantly – my boots were too big, my feet hurt, my rucksack was too heavy, the weather was too wet/cold/windy, there were no toilets and my tent was too cramped.
That’s me in the red cagoule below with a scowl that could curdle milk! After those 2 weeks in the Highlands, wild horses couldn’t have dragged me back into the mountains again.
Fast forward 28 years to January 2015, and Mr G and I are spending the night at the wonderful Bridge of Orchy Hotel for his birthday. In the bar that evening, brave with alcohol I announced that I was going to bag a Munro, and soon. Clearly the wine had gone to my head. Was I actually considering rushing back into the mountains so soon after my last visit?!
Next morning after breakfast we picked up the West Highland Way route behind our hotel, and followed it up into the hills. It was snowing and the scenery looked magical. We watched spellbound as a herd of wild deer crossed our path. We gained height quickly and stopped to look down on a snowy Rannoch Moor stretching out below. I found myself wondering why I’d avoided the mountains for so long. I was now determined to bag a Munro.
Ben Chonzie (931 metres)
Ben Chonzie (pronounced honzie) is often described as the boring Munro. Boring suited me just fine for a first attempt at Munro bagging. I’d also been drawn to Ben Chonzie, hopeful of spotting the Mountain Hare it’s so famous for.
The weather defeated us that day. A heavy snowfall made the climb hard going for us and impossible for the wee dug. Turning back, we vowed to return. I scanned the hillside as we descended, hoping to catch a glimpse of a hare. I spotted a solitary winter, white hare on the mountain known to be hooching with them. A successful day for a wildlife spotting jinx like me.
Beinn Ghlas (1,103 metres)
Our next Munro bagging opportunity came a few days later after an overnight stay in Killin. With patches of snow still on the ground we headed to the Lawers Range to have a stab at Beinn Ghlas. Did I select Beinn Ghlas for the pretty views or challenge of the climb? Nope, I selected it because the car park is pretty much half way up it. I’d hoped this would make it a skoosh (Scots for easy).
It was cold and murky as we headed uphill. The wind was picking up and visibility was deteriorating fast, but before too long we reached the summit – yay we were Munro baggers. I hear the view of Loch Tay from the summit is stunning. I ‘enjoyed’ a view of the cold, damp interior of a cloud.
We returned to Ben Chonzie two weeks after our first, failed attempt and the contrast couldn’t have been greater. It was a gorgeous, blue sky day. No longer hampered by snow, there was no stopping the wee dug. I stopped frequenly to rest and complain about Mr G storming uphill like it was a race. My teenage self would have been proud.
Like mountain Pied Pipers we acquired a small posse of two, plus dug who after weirdly stopping to rest every time we did, admitted they were following us as they didn’t know where they were going.
This time we were rewarded with an amazing summit view – there was nothing boring about this Munro. We sat by the summit cairn enjoying lunch, until the wee dug decided that the summit was full and began to bark at each new arrival. We made a hasty retreat, black affronted by his naughty behaviour.
People often celebrate their wedding anniversary with a romantic dinner or night away. In August 2015 we celebrated ours by climbing Schiehallion, then lunching at a place called Dull. Luckily it wasn’t Dull at all, and the food from the Highland Safari Cafe was delicious.
Schiehallion or Sìdh Chailleann translates from Gaelic as Fairy Hill of the Caledonians. In 1774 it was used in a groundbreaking experiment, carried out by Charles Mason to estimate the mass of the Earth.
The weather was typically Scottish summer, with cloud, drizzle and occasional bright spells. Once again I moaned my way uphill. “It’s not a race” I reminded Mr G for the millionth time through gritted teeth.
I’d read that the final ascent of Schiehallion was a boulder field, but nothing could have prepared me for the huge, mass of never-ending rubble we found there.
The wet and slippery boulders wobbled as we navigated our way across them. The summit, when we reached it was a lumpy, pyramid of rock. After snapping some photos we began our descent, taking exaggerated giant steps over boulders, like astronauts on the moon. I pointed out what I thought was a patch of grass. Mr G went to explore, hoping to find an easier, grassy path down – WHAM, down he went, flat on his back. Once I’d ascertained his spine wasn’t shattered I cried with laughter. A minute later and the karma train hit me head on – WHAM, down I went full length on slippery wet rock. Once Mr G knew my skull wasn’t split he howled with delight at my misfortune and we declared it a draw.
That night we toasted our anniversary with a nice bottle of Dom Perignon that we’d brought back from Paris.
It was a dry, bright autumn day when we decided to get two more Munros under our belts. This time we headed to Corrie Fee in Angus to tackle Mayar and Driesh. I love the sound Driesh makes as it slips off the tongue. Think Sean Connery as Bond – “Why, that’s a lovely dresh you’re wearing Mish Moneypenny”.
The climb up, and out of the natural amphitheater that is Corrie Fee was spectacular. We stopped frequently to enjoy the view.
We reached the summit of Mayar with little effort, but oddly seemed to have walked right into the eye of a hurricaine. I’ve never experienced wind like it. Mr G larked around on the summit cairn, pretending he was blowing away. His good humour wasn’t to last!
When we reached the summit cairn I sat down to eat a Mars Bar and refuel. One look at Mr G’s face told me I’d really offended him!? It turned out, I had no idea just how cold his hands actually were. He stood with them held rigid in front of him, like The Mummy in a Hammer Horror movie. I offered him spare gloves to wear over his useless, posh brand ones, but he declined!
I grudgingly ate my Mars Bar on the move, quietly fuming. I fumed some more when Mr G decided that the descent route was too dangerous looking and refused to take it. We summited Mayar for a second time that day, as we found ourselves unexpectedly, retracing our long ascent route! I secretly hoped Mr G would blow over on the summit this time.
As we descended and his Hammer Horror Mummy hands thawed, his mood did too and he started to chatter happily. I resisted the urge to punch him square on the back of the head and finally calmed down enough to join in the banter.
Our final Munro of 2015, and our final to date was Carn Liath.
We arrived on an early November morning to find a steady drizzle falling, and the mountain partially enveloped in cloud. At the foot of the mountain we walked headlong into a bog. We hopped around, desperately trying to avoid it and failed to notice that we were drifting off coarse and away from the path. I’d sooner swim across a crocodile infested swamp than walk through a bog.
Luckily Mr G’s keen eyes picked out the path and we headed towards it. It turned out to be unbelievably steep. It didn’t seem right to me, then my high school geography came flooding back. We were halfway up a scree slope! My knees began to shakes as I dug my heels in and cautiously, bum shuffled my way back down again. Back on safer ground, I was determined not to let this sod of a mountain beat me.
I cleared my head, then decided to traverse the mountain until we were level with our starting point. And there it was, the huge path we’d missed earlier thanks to our bog hopping shenanigans. Once on the path Carn Liath was an easy climb, and despite the view from the summit being severely limited due to cloud, I loved the drama of watching the clouds roll, then clear fleetingly to reveal the ground below.
Munro bagging is a fantastic hobby if you enjoy walking up relentlessly steep inclines and like spending time outside in the rain, snow, wind and cloud getting cold and wet. Despite this it’s also really good fun.
Will I bag more – Hell yeah. I plan to bag Ben Lomond, by yon bonnie banks this spring, making it my 7th Munro and the wee dug’s 2nd. Only another 275 and 280 to go!
If you’re reading this and fancy trying Munro bagging, the mountains in the blog are great for beginners. As long as you treat them with respect and make sure you’re properly equipped, you’ll find that Scotland’s mountains are a wonderful and awe-imspiring playground.
And remember that mountains aren’t funny – they’re hill areas! Ok I’ll get my coat.
Until next time ……….