TAC 46 Index
Gordon Smith has been chipping away at a round of Donalds - and writing about them in TAC - for as long as anyone can recall. When he started, footballers were still in long shorts, the maximum wage was in force and teams were actually relegated from and promoted to the top flight. And now he has climbed all of old Percy's hills. Well, sort of
APRIL 1997, and Kilmarnock had reached the Cup semi-final with Dundee United as opponents. Before that came the other semi, strangely enough involving two ex-Killie managers: Tommy Burns' Celtic versus Alex Totten's Falkirk. I listened to this apparent mismatch as I climbed Larg Hill under a beautiful blue Galloway sky. The Hoops took the lead and the deluge was then expected to follow: but the Bairns equalised and a nervous Celtic could not find the killer second, despite substitutions and reorg-anisation. Burns fiddled while I roamed.
Two days later, our own semi at Tynecastle ended 0-0. The replays followed over a week later, Killie winning with a late goal and Falkirk recording an astonishing victory. The following Saturday I was walking some Ochils with the Ed when it struck me that these were the Donalds closest to Falkirk. I looked over at Blairdenon, and saw that its name contained a secret prediction: the game would be a drab one-nil. But for whom?
And so it came to pass that on the 24 May 1997, Kilmar-nock won the Scottish Cup thanks to a Paul Wright goal late in the first half and a disallowed Falkirk goal very late in the second. I was still celebrating the following Sunday when I wore my Killie top while finishing off the remaining Ochilly tops of King's Seat and Andrew Gannel Hill. Two impossible things had happened between Ochil outings, the other being a Labour election victory. The hills were unusually busy for Donalds and I began to get the impression that my attire was attracting one or two baleful glances. It again struck me that we were not very far from Falkirk, and wearing such a strip on the Ochils might be taken as Ayrshire triumphalism. I felt a bit shamefaced about this, as the Brockvillean fans had been impressively magnanimous in defeat.
Another close season began and, unlike the previous one, reasonable fitness allowed Donald-bashing on a scale that would bring a smile to the face of John Reid. (Hey, don't knock a sick man - Ed.) The last day of June saw a long wet walk from Talla over to White Coomb via four New Donalds, then back to the Megget Stone over three more. The following week gave another big day in sunny Galloway, taking in Craignaw, Dungeon Hill and Mull- wharchar, possibly the most remote Donald in terms of the physical effort required to get to its summit. Very very rough, it says in my logbook, but very very rewarding too. There is a feeling of great remoteness here, but also a sense of sanctuary, perhaps because of the protective cup of the Awful Hand; Loch Enoch lies below like spilled quicksilver. This spot is the equal of any Highland hill I have visited, and more memorable than most.
The Ed and I had then had a half-day on the Manor Hills. Given the name of the range, you sort of expect to find the Krays, Mad Frankie Fraser or Jack "the Hat" McVitie tramping the heather: but there was nary another soul to be seen on this hot and overcast August day. Perhaps they had been deterred by too many Laws. On Stob of that ilk, it started to rain. I remarked that only in a Scottish summer could you find yourself wearing short trousers, sunglasses and a Gore-Tex jacket. The Ed disagreed: what about a rave in Ibiza, he quipped. And they carry whistles there too.
The warm rain continued to fall as we discussed the latest Munros revision; then rumbles of thunder could be heard, the gods of the Donalds obviously being affronted by such talk. Soon after, the hills developed an ominously "live" feel, and we decided that headlong retreat was the better part of valour. I suddenly felt a pained regret that I had failed to bag Dun Rig and Birkscairn, as they were quite awkwardly placed: it was then I realised that I was not being quite as Buddhist about bagging as I had liked to think. Having amassed a fair Donald total by now, I had already given a bit of thought to the endgame. I had a vague notion of finishing on my tenth wedding anniversary in early October: it was already mid-August, so the loss of two ticks today was a setback. Making good the loss would eventually require a major effort, a Donald trump.
Yet another season began as I set out along the side of Culter Fell, starting the longish walk-in to Gathersnow and associated hills. After almost five kilometres of tarmac and path, I turned a corner to see a covey of Land Rovers, Barbours, hipflasks and shotguns. As I approached, a hefty picnic hamper was produced, and hamburger rolls appeared from somewhere. Whereas the grouse-shooters were confronting relish, I was not relishing confrontation: the downside of solo walking is the absence of witnesses. I approached warily, extracting OS72 from my rucksack as I went. Hello, I offered. Whereabouts are you shooting today? The dominant female of the group, a grey-haired and green-wellied Bourbon, fixed me with a basilisk stare. We're shooting here, she stated, with l'etat, c'est moi imperiousness. I tried to respond by adopting a j'y suis et j'y reste rebelliousness. Didn't you see the warning notice? she demanded, as a couple of big rugger types started to pay more attention to me than to their cans of Export. There was no warning notice, I responded as equably as possible, seeing that this could be the end of the day's hillwalking almost before it had begun. Bloody landowners. I briefly imagined myself knitting a Tom Weir toorie bunnet at the foot of the guillotine.
The stand-off was broken by another young man, possibly her son, who confessed that he had failed to put the warning sign up, right enough. He asked to see my map, and pointed out the area of the shoot: as luck would have it, my intended route bypassed this part of Culter Fell and I was able to negotiate a passage. There were lovely rolling views from high on the ridge, peace disturbed only by the banging of guns below. I ran into the shooters again at the end - they satisfied, no doubt, with their bag of tetraonids and I with my double brace of Donalds.
THERE FOLLOWED a peculiar hiatus. Such disparate factors as house redecoration, bad weather, Killie in Europe and other historical events detained me for the best part of a month: my self-imposed schedule was now in some doubt. Julie and I would be off for an anniversary trip to the Borders, during which we were to climb my last Donald, the remote Cauldcleuch Head, on 11 October; it was now 20 September. Four days out had been planned before Cauldcleuch: the as yet unDun Rig; an Ettrick hat-trick; Under Saddle Yoke; and a big day on Talla, encom-passing five New Donalds. Unfortunately, only three Saturdays were available. Oh well, I thought as I set off from the car at the Megget Stone, perhaps some solution would reveal itself.
It was an overcast day, but dry and mild as I took a diversion to Talla Cleuch Head on the way to busy (two other walkers) Broad Law; then another awkward contour-ing drop to Hunt Law before ascending again to Cramalt Craig. There I met an elderly chap, with whom I shared a lunchbreak. Yes, he was doing Donalds, with maybe a dozen to go. He had never heard of New Donalds, though. He had completed the Munros the previous year. What about the eight "new" Munros, I asked. He had read about them, he said, but didn't really give a toss. He had done the Munros that existed at the time; he had done a fair number of Corbetts too. I asked about Grahams. He looked puzzled. I explained. Whatever will they think of next, he commented. We set off for Clockmore together, and he told of his recollections of the Talla area before the war. He had been brought up there, and remembered the estate before the reservoirs were built. It was a pleasure to listen to him, and something of a corrective to my present ticking obsession to hear his views. No less welcome was his willingness to go out of his way to give me a lift back to my car.
The obsession achieved its nadir the next Saturday. Still four walks to do, three weeks to do them in. Two would have to be done in one day. In a fit of Donald fever, I drove through Innerleithen map in lap, searching for the wee road to Glen House. The walk-in to Dun Rig, past the tautologous Glenvalley, was an inspiring start. Dun Rig done, I was beginning the traverse to lonely Birkscairn when I noticed a figure appear hurriedly on the ridge. He appeared to be pursued by another, who in turn was being hunted by a large gang of apparently angry persons. More Benny Hill than Birkscairn Hill, I thought. As they approached, I could see to my disappointment that they were wearing fell-runner garb rather than Hill's Angels' stockings, suspenders and lacy lingerie. Mind you, they do try: why else would fell-runners wear such tight and tiny shorts, like Graeme Souness in the 1978 World Cup? Surely such constriction is not conducive to their sport?
They were racing between two breweries - Traquair and Broughton - although beer bellies were notably absent. I patted my own stomach, expanded by tides of gastrodelic lager, and reflected ruefully that these Lowry characters would likely be quaffing ale before I would today. Back to the car, then a long drive on twisting and dodgy roads from OS73 to OS79. Pulling boots back on, and starting an ascent of Ettrick Pen and its outliers from scratch after having finished one hill walk that day, and when it was already three o'clock, was a challenge.
Morale was further dented when, just as the footie was kicking off, I jumped over a gate. My little radio, companion of so many Donalds, detached itself from my belt and fell to the ground, swiftly followed by nemesis in the form of a size eleven boot supporting 15 stones of bone, muscle and beergut. I left a fragment of transistor in the Pen's cairn before hauling myself wearily over Hopetoun Craig and Wind Fell, then dropped down to the bothy at Over Phaw-hope where I signed the book with, what else, an Ettrick pen.
On the long journey home I congratulated myself that in New Labour terms I was back on grid, almost missing the irony that I was in danger of exchanging tunnel-vision Munro-ticking for tunnel-vision Donald-ticking. So much, it would appear, for the ethic of Buddhist bagging with which I had begun the enterprise. Meet the new boss, indeed.
New Donald, new radio. The next Saturday I climbed Under Saddle Yoke in the cloud and pissing rain and howling gale while Celtic gubbed Killie bigtime. I decided to eschew the boggy pleasures of Rotten Bottom, the col between USY and Carrifran Gans. I was wet, fed up and tired and it was only an Old Donald top anyway: it could wait for another day. Only one Donald Donald left, thank Christ. I had had enough.
And so, on 11 October at three o'clock, I was drinking malt whisky alone at the cold top of Cauldcleuch Head, waiting for Scotland to kick off against Latvia in the World Cup qualifier. I used the self-timer to take a picture of myself and the view - the Pond hills, White Coomb, the Eildons, Corserine, Merrick and even my local Blackcraig. It had been a long journey to get here, in more than one sense - and as I turned back down the hill I wondered if I would ever get round to bagging Carrifran Gans.
Note: - Two and a half years on, the answer is not yet. Whether this is a subconscious anti-bag statement, or pure laziness, remains to be seen.
Ed. - Known Donaldists have now crept up from the 55 given in The Grahams and the New Donalds to 70, including a few from days of yore plus Peter and Frances Wilson who are based, none-too-handily, in Northern Ireland. More on this, and on Corbetteer and Grahamist updates, anon. Always keen to hear of more, of course.
TAC 46 Index