Two years ago, back in October 2018 I wrote a blog about completing the English Marilyns. You can find it here. By way of reminder, Marilyns are hills and mountains in the British Isles that have a prominence of at least 150m. There are 1557 of them in Britain of which 175 are in England.
To climb them all is quite an undertaking. Although there are plenty of easy ones, their number do include a number of remote peaks in Scotland together with some technical ones, not least the sea stacks of the St Kilda archipelago. These lie 40 miles to the north west of the Western Isles in the stormy seas of the Atlantic Ocean. So it is quite a logistical undertaking even to reach them.
Yet 10 or so determined (or should I say obsessed) souls have managed to climb them all. There is even a group, The Relative Hills Society, that primarily promotes an interest in climbing British hills that are prominent relative to their surroundings. A link to the group’s website is here.
Prominence based categorisation of mountains and hills is becoming more popular internationally. I blogged about Ultras in December 2018. I followed this up with a further blog on the top 50 most prominent mountains of the World earlier this year here.
Recognising that the pursuit of all of the Marilyns is likely to be a lifetime challenge, the Relative Hills Society has long identified two intermediate stages in the endeavour. These are, respectively, when 600 and 1000 Marilyns have been climbed. 600 gets you into the Hall of Fame; 1000 takes you into the Upper Hall.
Back in August 2018 when I climbed my final English Marilyn, I had climbed around 500 Marilyns. In my October 2018 blog I indicated that I would probably look to get to 600. I would try to re-visit places of old as well as explore places I had not been before.
Well I succeeded in two out of the three objectives. Whilst I have not really re-visited places I had not been to for a while, I have used the opportunity to go to some areas that I did not know. I have also knocked on the door of the Hall of Fame and been granted entry.
The Coronavirus epidemic has not helped. The travel restrictions meant that I was unable to climb any Marilyns between the end of January and mid-July. I made a couple of quick forays into the Southern Uplands of Scotland in January before the restrictions were imposed.
Frustratingly, during the period of UK Covid lockdown, the weather was extremely good. So I was straining at the leash by mid-July when we were released. Of course, by then, the weather had reverted to type with a series of Atlantic fronts interspersed with sunny interludes.
The Southern Uplands of Scotland are my go-to area when I am not able to travel further afield. It is an area I have ignored during most of my trips north. The grandeur of the Highlands was more tempting. But the Southern Uplands do have a charm of their own, even if often despoiled by the industrialisation of the wide open spaces by the many wind “farms” located there.
5 short trips by mid-September saw a few long hill days, including traverses of the Pentland Hills above Edinburgh, around the remote head of Ettrick Glen and all 7 Fife Marilyns in a day. I then stood just 5 short of the entrance to the Hall.
Ironically, given my usual focus on Scotland, we were due a trip to south-west Wales at the end of September to see a couple of friends. That also provided the opportunity to walk in a part of mid-Wales (en route) and the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire. So my 600th Marilyn was Foel Cwmcerwyn, the highest of the Preselis, on a bright and breezy day. I was accompanied by my normal two companions (wife and dog) together with two friends and their dog. Foel Cwmcerwyn is a wonderful viewpoint. The views stretch from the Gower Peninsula, Lundy Island, the north Somerset coast, the south west tip of Pembrokeshire, north up towards Cader Idris and over the remaining Preseli Hills.
That is not the end of the journey though. Just as completing the English Marilyns takes one all over England to places one might not otherwise visit, so it is with the UK Marilyns. But there are still parts of the UK that I have not visited, such as some of the Scottish islands. So if foreign travel remains restricted, then that may be where I will be. After all, there are still over 900 Marilyns that I have not climbed.