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I cannot claim the finest of Marilyn bagging years. Indeed, it was into May before I could make any significant advance on my previous total. Alas, my father's final illness concentrated my mind on much weightier matters during the early months, when hillwalking seemed an utterly frivolous diversion from the grim realities of human mortality. And when my mother was called for major surgery in June, the hills had once more to take a back seat to filial devotions.
A week-long jaunt in early August (after the heatwave had broken) saw a long-awaited milestone attained. It was an unreal (and wholly anti-climactic) experience to slap the cairn of Slat Bheinn in Knoydart and realise that I had no more virgin summits within the scope of SMC publications. The weather did not grace the day with sunshine and I was probably fortunate to enjoy a two-minute view before the mist descended on my muted celebration. I had been unable to plan a grand finale given the year's earlier tribulations, so the moment was sadly solitary. I shared my success with a few folk in Barrisdale bothy that evening, but none of the happy non-obsessives quite appreciated the reasons for my doubtless insufferable self-satisfaction. My few walks in the spring had been restricted to the Southern Uplands, but they enabled an unexpected and fitting coda to the earlier completions. Having gained my last Munro Top on one weekend, followed by final Corbetts and Grahams midweek, I strolled up Beninner in the Carsphairn hills on the next Saturday to complete my second round of the Donalds. Only the patronising 'Furths' had escaped my attention during a rather special week.
A visit to the Western Isles in September granted me good weather and lifted my annual total to a more respectable level. After that though, the twin-faceted wall of great distance and lack of remaining leave enforced a halt to progress. Yet a new world has opened, in the form of Graham and Corbett Tops and more. Shifting focus, I find that I have new challenges on my doorstep.
Completions have a downside, particularly for a novelty addict such as me. Murdos, Corbetts and Grahams are no more, remaining Marilyns are far distant, and even local Corbett and Graham Tops represent only a temporary postponement of the impending encounter with the wall. Yeamans and Donald Deweys fail to inspire, nor do I possess the lateral thinking ability to come up with my own personal list. Serial repeating simply doesn't offer the necessary fix. As 2006 progressed, I realised that I needed to turn my attention to a new challenge.
I cannot claim to have found one as yet; however, one possibility has begun to intrigue me. A few years back I borrowed a library book called The Waterfalls of Scotland, by Louis Stott, sadly now out of print. It took until early this year for regular scouring of second-hand bookshops to succeed in securing my own copy. And quite suddenly, a wealth of unsuspected local attractions was made evident. There is a definition problem, of course. Scotland contains a myriad of cascades, water-slides and cataracts, and the tipping point between a stretch of rapids and an incipient fall is necessarily subjective. Stott makes no attempt to offer a strict demarcation, nor would he claim to have identified all of the worthwhile torrents.
Instead, he provides a region-by-region guide to those falls which he deems worthy of inclusion (not so different to Munro's methodology really). What he also does is open a magical door to some truly curious and impressive places.
Stott lists over 800 venues, several encompassing a series of linked falls. My own 'bag' is well short of 100, so the scope for improvement is enormous. And I can make considerable progress in my own backyard, which hosts a surprising number of jolly cascades and forbidding features. Some are well known - the Falls of Clyde, Campsie Glen - but many others are either local secrets or utterly obscure. I wonder how many Glaswegians have heard of Baldernock Linn, Ishneich or the Spout of Ballagan? All of them are worth seeking out, but give the impression that few folk make the effort.
Baldernock Linn is a distinctly odd feature; a four-metre fall with an old limestone mine carving a narrow slot in the rock behind it, close to a public road yet wholly unsuspected and uncelebrated. As an aside, a walk over Craigmaddie Muir above will take you to the now forgotten Auld Wives Lifts, a natural rock 'dolmen', liberally covered in high-class Victorian graffiti. Ishneich in the Kilpatrick Hills requires a stroll up a forest track and then some engagement with rather rougher terrain, to gain a grandstand view of an elegant mare's tail. The Spout of Ballagan lies in a nature reserve, but on my visit only a crumbling information board hinted at its status; after a tussle with encroaching vegetation to reach its base beneath some impressive strata, it was hard to believe that anyone at all had visited in the recent past.
In the spring, I ventured up Glen Fyne, intent on reaching the Graham Top of Maol Breac. The route took me up the dank, claustrophobic ravine leading to the Eagle's Fall, the floor of the defile a slimy, slithery obstacle course. Exit from the depths was an adventure in itself. That few people pass this way was obvious - yet what an unearthly, eerie underworld this was, quite unique in the southern Highlands. Similar feelings were evoked in viewing the rather better known Black Rock Gorge near Evanton and at Crichope Linn in Dumfries and Galloway. Such places as these are the serendipitous bonus of waterfall visits, where the drama is wholly in the setting.
If gloomy and awesome chasms are not your thing, there is beauty and grandeur to be found in contrast. Not far from Moffat's famous Grey Mare's Tail lies the secretive and exquisite Dob's Linn, where a pencil-thin silver torrent feeds an appealing pool. And just outside Strathaven you'll find the enchanting fall of Spectacle E'e in a hidden dell, the curious name relating to a tale of the mill burning down due to a spectacle lens on the thatched roof. Finally, the Loup of Fintry following a deluge is both awesome in its power and captivating in its surroundings, yet how easily one can drive past on the road and never suspect its existence only a short stroll distant.
I've barely scratched the surface of course. I look forward to using Stott's book as a key to many, many more fascinating locations. Perhaps that wall may recede a little after all.
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