One of the world's most common mistakes is to believe that the Netherlands is a flat country. Not only is "flat" just a concept in the minds of mathematicians, but in Holland (the uninterrupted bit of Dutch west coast) the dunes rise to 57 metres while in Limburg province (as much part of Holland as Scotland is part of England) the highest point is said to be 322.20m. Altitude gradations are admittedly subtle - but the Dutch have developed a very sophisticated sense for heights, which is why you'll always find large numbers of them in the Alps, Nepal and Norway. And in the Scottish Highlands.
No records survive of the early days of Dutch Munrobagging. The Dutch Troop of No.10 Interallied Commando must have picked off a few Munros in the course of training at Achnacarry, and my old sergeant-major did a lot of running up and down hills in the Loch Lomond area. But all this was purely in preparation for bagging Nazis.
It was not until the early 1970s that Munrobagging became the explicit purpose of visits to Scotland, when Huub Stollman, a teacher from Horn in Limburg province (a Dutchman, therefore, to whom mountaineering was second nature) started organising spring and autumn bagging weeks in the Highlands with a few friends. On 6 September 1980, on Ben Nevis, he formally established the Dutch Munro Baggers Association, or DMBA.
In 1992, Stollman bagged his 100th Munro. Not a bad score, given that bagging of a weekend is hardly an option when you live across the North Sea. He celebrated at the Struy Inn in the company of dozens of fellow Munrobaggers. Muriel Gray was invited - the fame of the Munro Show was beginning to spread among the Dutch - but she replied that the DMBA would have to wait until its first member bagged the lot. The party was nevertheless a memorable one, and a Dutch flag graced the walls of the inn for many years after.
In that same year Martin Snijders - another Limburger - and his family climbed the southernmost, northernmost and highest Munros without being aware that these mountains were collectibles. Back home, they saw their first Munro Show - and, Zen Buddhist fashion, the Truth was realised in a flash. Martin suddenly remembered a chance meeting with his teacher colleague, and a few hours later he returned from Stollman's place laden with maps, videos and guidebooks.
Year after year has since been spent in what Hamish Brown called the "heavenly hell" of the Highlands. There has of course been plenty of hell - bad kidney trouble on A'Mhaighdean, having the compass freeze in whiteout conditions on the Laggan Beinn a'Chaorainn, and being thrown from boulder to boulder on Beinn a'Ghlo on a breezy winter's day. The In Pinn gave Snijders little trouble, thanks to a first-rate guide, but the midges did. Between bags, the visions of heaven were kept alive by imagining the Grey Corries skyline behind the local bank and windmill. And by hard training.
The long-term result of the apparition of St Muriel Mediatrix was not only a combined Snijders family bag which stood at 569 Munros in early 2004, but also a multiplication of clubs. While the DMBA is now dormant, it has spawned PATRICK (Patrick's Association To Reach Inaccessible Cols and Knolls), DUMBO (Dutch Unexperienced - "inexperienced" does not make a good acronym - Munro Baggers Organisation) and LAMBADA (Limburg Abraham Munro Baggers And wee Drammers Association - in Dutch, "to see Abraham" is to turn 50). In addition to being aged 50 or over and Limburgers, LAMBADA members must be able to hold their drink. The LAMBADA coat of arms shows a male figure erect (sort of), headed and langued gules, issuant from a mountain range, vert, and carrying a rucksack, sable (this can be admired at www.buitensport-schotland.nl/munro/nlmunroism.asp#snijders). It doubles as the coat of arms of DMBA.
Apart from LAMBADA, the clubs have no membership requirements. Foreigners are welcome and, while none have joined, dozens of Scottish fellow-travellers have turned up at bagging events. The clubs are run as dictatorial democracies: members are expected to follow the leader when there is one. A Munro Meter keeps track of the scores. A yearly Munro Day is organised each year after Christmas with tall stories, wild plans and booze as the main programme points. Snijders also publishes the quarterly magazine Beyond the Top. In spite of the English title, the stories are mostly in Dutch and distribution is limited. But some of LAMBADA's Highland odysseys have been described on the Boots Across Scotland website, www.bootsacrossscotland.org.uk, as Snijders was appointed Boots representative for Europe.
Snijders expects to climb his final Munro - Meall Corranaich - on 29 August 2004. He will then be the third Dutchperson to complete the round, after non-DMBAers Johan de Jong (Ben Chonzie, 19/7/95) and Machiel Rosenbrand (Stob a'Choire Mheadhoin, 27/5/00). Native baggers interested in witnessing this historic event should be at the Ben Lawers visitor centre car park (aka the Starship Enterprise landing pad - Ed.) at 10am on Sunday 29 August. Look out for an antique 6ft 1in pole topped by a red bandanna, supported by two shorter Leki poles, burdened with a black rucksack flying Scottish and Dutch flags and accompanied by wife Lucy and son Patrick. Drams - preferably Bowmore - will be gratefully accepted at the summit.
(with thanks to Martin Snijders for information)
TAC 62 Index