Whatever Tom Eliot might have believed about April, it is hard to deny that February offers little in the way of the milk of human kindness. Grey skies and bitter winds provide little incentive to the octogenarian anxious to stride the sunlit uplands promised to appear in 2019. This is less the time for action and more for over-ambitious planning. Of course, I have been here before in the bar of the Bryn Tyrch in Capel Curig when, after a couple of pints, the routes on Clogwyn d’ur Arddu seemed to offer a reasonable day’s climbing. Nowadays more prudent counsels prevail and more modest targets are sought.
After five years of geriatric bagging, targets previously set had for the most part been achieved. What was needed to start a fresh decade was a fresh approach and a change of focus. Perhaps quality rather than quantity should be the measuring stick, so, once more, Alan Dawson’s The Relative Hills of Britain was pulled off the shelf to see if it had anything to offer in the way of an answer. The author has followed the pattern set out by his predecessors and divided the country into Regions. But because his ingathering of summits was more ambitious than his forebears, he found it necessary on occasion to subdivide these Regions into Sections. The net result of his investigations produced 42 Regions, comprising 28 in Scotland, 10 in England, 3 in Wales and (despite its three legs) the stand-alone Region of the Isle of Man. Additionally, they managed to muster with a total of 97 Sections between them.
Closer examination revealed I had climbed at least one Marilyn in 37 of the 42 Regions and produced at least one tick in 75 of the 97 Sections. Of these, unsurprisingly, 4 of the Regions and 8 of the unvisited Sections were groups of offshore islands. For although I have visited the likes of the Orkneys and Shetlands, it was at a time when I was more interested in the challenges posed by the Old Man of Hoy than those of Ward Hill or White Grunafith. Nevertheless, these missing links in the chain seemed the obvious target, but as there was clearly much more than a year’s worth of walking and the vast majority of these summits were in Scotland, the thought of continuously ploughing up and down the M6/M74 before the real journey began was a bit daunting. A better plan was to concentrate on the mainland. Tick off the errant Region and remaining Sections and leave the islands for another day. This would still mean a good deal of time on the road as both Sutherland and South Wales have two patches of desert apiece.
The obvious start is to rein in the lone escapee. Region 21, which stretches along the east coast from Elgin to Aberdeen, has 2 Sections and 35 summits to choose from, whether it be Morven or Pressendye, Bin of Cullen or Waughton Hill. So now is the time to spread the map on the kitchen table, throw another log on the fire and with a suitable malt close to hand decide which of the many will take my fancy.