The Angry Corrie 25: Nov 1995-Jan 1996
Mental Activity: The Donalds Non-stop
In TAC24 we gave a favourable review to Across Scotland on Foot - a personal history, by
For his non-stop run over the Munros and other 3000-footers, Hugh Symonds gained the Long Distance Achievement of the Year award, a book contract, and his own weight in Christmas puddings. Odd, in a way, as his daily average was just 25 miles and 6500ft. Now, to run the Munros you need a corporate sponsor, a camper van and a long-suffering wife (or husband! - Ed.). However, here on my doorstep are the 138 Donalds. The record for them is 12 days: "perhaps the greatest peak-bagging expedition of all time" wrote Martin Moran in a moment when he didn't have his calculator handy. It's still only 32 miles and 6500ft per day.
Apart from Galloway, the Donalds are pretty good rubbish. But if you run them you don't have time to get bored; and all that high whispering grassland may not be very furious but at least it's fast.
And then I heard about these newly-discovered ones. A single massive boulder forms the summit ... grandstand view of the Highlands ... and you can stick them onto the front of the Ochils with no extra road. Right: let's go for it.
Exodus (May 1995)
Bivvy bag, deep heather, view of Hoover Bag. How severe will be the scramble onto the massive boulder? Deer on the ridge: are these really Donalds?
Reassurance at 6am. The single massive boulder is really a fallen-over fencing strainer, a typical Donald summit ornament. Hop the fence and away. Hoover Bag in eleven minutes, four minutes under schedule. In goes the first of a hundred Tracker bars. A bit of snow to run down, a labyrinth of peat, and a slow energy-conserving jog down a resinous forest road. Count 1000ft up as 11/2 miles and reckon 4 mph gives 43 miles and 9800ft a day for ten days. But I've lost half-an-hour in the peat hags.
Irritated, I cross Strathblane and trudge up a grassy moor and Blairdenon. Irritation brings haste: I've gained 3/4 hour. Careful, careful: too fast is worse than too slow. Decelerate and shove in the Trackers. Cold wind out of the north, pale sunlight, short grass bumpy as an early-morning eiderdown after a night of passion. (Excuse me! - Ed.) What fun to be a runner on the Ochils, and so what if the summit indicator says it's still 80 miles to The Cheviot.
Leviticus is where it says us deviants and aberrants get flung into a bog and trodden to death. That's the Moorfoots for you. Small bowel not altogether happy about the relentless input of Trakkas, legs not too thrilled with a day that started the other side of the Forth Bridge, foot lands awkwardly on the body of previous deviant buried under the slurry and down I go, map into a peat-pool. Then it starts to sleet.
"Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward." I saved the best till last: arrived at Carsphairn at noon on Day 9 to find that my Galloway support, a lame hillrunner on a bike, wasn't there. Mental hygiene has been attended to no more than physical: sanity, if ever, hadn't outlasted Day 6. I left the absent lame one my luggage and set off along the Rhinns of Kells with a bumbag.
Who says the sane have more fun? My much-persecuted knees said what the hell and let me run down the grassy back of Corserine. A frisky little snowstorm caught me on Millfore: goats lurked on the path.
The final day dawned golden over the rocky hollows of Craignaw, and then undawned again for the long out-and-back to Shalloch North Top. Crisp navigation over soggy grass was the only pleasure along the Awful Hand, but when the clouds buggered off eastwards to give me thrilling blue sea in the distance I managed to get down Merrick in only two minutes more than I take in the Merrick Race to get up it and thought: "should finish now".
Wrong. As I strode and trotted the Minnigaffs, more clouds appeared, lurched across to Cairnsmore and started to hang out, drooling and piddling all over my final hill. Would it be sensible to climb, alone, into that mist, onto that vast granite, three hours before dark, completely ga-ga from exhaustion and lack of sleep? It wouldn't, but I was going to do it anyway.
But who said alone? Here's Glyn (knee op only two weeks ago, doc says don't walk over rough surfaces for a month but didn't mention running), and Colin who's been slating roofs all day in the rain and now wants to trot over the high-altitude acid swamp of international ecological significance. We reach the final top, Knee of Cairnsmore, with me still on my feet and it not even dark yet.
It's an hour-and-a-half down to the road, though: by which time neither of these conditions still obtain.
148 Donalds (old variety, from the 1990 Bearhop SMC edition): including 4 "newly discovered" and 6 English Cheviots. Of course, if you include Uamha Bheag, "not in Tables but should be", then you should exclude Dugland, "in Tables but shouldn't be". Us runners tend to have an unsophisticated "do 'em all" mentality.
Also two miscellaneous Marilyns (Eildon Mid Hill; Greatmoor Hill Roxburghshire) to make up numbers. Ten in cloud, 106 alone, 56 previously unvisited.
430 miles (map wheel: call it 450 if you like). 98000ft. 9 days 14 hours 25 minutes.
Daily average 14.5 hours, 43 miles, 9800ft. Longest: Dunfermline - Moorfoots - Melrose, 56 miles, 4500ft. Shortest: Manor Hills, 38 miles, 11000 feet. (Blimey - Ed.)