Marhofn 269.15 - May 2013

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Obituary - Edwin Darnley Clements

Dave Hewitt

Clem, to those who knew him, died on 23 October 2012 after a varied and well-spent life that included an early round of the Munros and a quietly significant role in the development of several hill lists.

Clem was born on 15 March 1923, and until the age of 25 his home was Farnborough, Kent, before he spent seven years in Emsworth, Hampshire followed by a quarter-century in the Sussex village of Pevensey ('nearer to Czechoslovakia than Cape Wrath'). He retired to Guildford - after 27 years in the meridian and astronomy departments of the Royal Greenwich Observatory at Herstmonceux Castle - towards the end of 1982.

His outdoor adventuring got off to a slow start. 'I'd never even seen a hill before I was 161/2,' he wrote, 'but can still remember the thrill as the train passed the base of the Breidden hills in Shropshire on the way to Aberdovey - we were there on holiday when the war broke out'. He was inspired by Frank Smythe's The Kangchenjunga Adventure, 'the first book I ever read cover to cover, long before I'd ever seen a hill, let alone a mountain. The spark was there.'

Clem's first Munro was Glas Maol (followed by Creag Leacach) on the last day of May 1947. That Highland holiday also included 'an unforgettable night' on the Braeriach plateau, and the following May he climbed 40 Munros in three weeks including a traverse along the Grey Corries to the Ben, a visit to Torridon and an In Pinn ascent. 'But the [Munro] bug hadn't yet bitten,' he noted - that would need to await a further surge of activity in the 1950s.

The round - surely harder and probably more fun than the two-a-penny modern versions - ended on Ladhar Bheinn on 24 May 1969, 'with no celebrations as no one else was around, as was the case on the vast majority of the Munros in those days'.

Various of Clem's hill trips involved the use of a bicycle, not just for the final approach but for the whole journey. In 1949, he cycled from the south coast to Braemar, and the machine - not your fat-tyred mountain bike with umpteen gears - was occasionally taken on to the tops themselves: to Foel Grach in 1956, Glas Maol again in 1957, Kippure in 1970, and Cross Fell as late as 1987. 'One snag,' he recalled of the Glas Maol revisit, 'was it took about half an hour to find the bike on the plateau after leaving it to do Broad Cairn and some other tops.'

He was generally a solitary soul on the hill, alone for all bar 54 Munros during the round. He also ticked off English and Welsh 2000ers (finishing on Great Whernside and Tal y Fan respectively), and a post-Munros start was made on the Corbetts. Another sustained interest put paid to this, however: in the early 1970s he became the national badger recorder for the Mammal Society.

Clem and I never met, as he did not venture north in his later years, while a couple of plans to visit Guildford fell afoul of work commitments and distance. We once chatted on the phone, but otherwise it was a friendship based entirely on correspondence - old-fashioned pen-pallery, I suppose. The first letters were swapped in 1995, and there were upwards of 90 from Clem over the subsequent years.

Apart from an intense to-and-fro during production of his excellent Irish booklet in 1997, letters tended to be exchanged every few months. Hills, heights, lists and maps featured highly, of course, but there was also much discussion of other mutual interests. Cricket, both modern and ancient: 'Remembered the 451 second-wicket stand Bradman/Ponsford, Oval 1934, listened to all of that on the radio.' And chess - Clem played for Hampshire in his younger days, then joined the Guildford club after retirement before encountering an age-old problem: 'I couldn't get to sleep after playing'.

A third 'c', cats, also cropped up in the correspondence, with occasional apologies for either Martha, or her brother Snoopy (who lived next door), having left paw prints on Clem's writing paper. His letters were a delight - and always handwritten, never word processed or emailed. 'I've steered clear of [computers], 'he wrote in 2005, 'too old to try is my excuse'. Not that he needed such devices, with a brain so orderly. The card indexing system, which logged grid references and changes to hill and col heights, appeared less error-prone than many digital equivalents. Plenty of other researchers came to appreciate Clem's diligent behind-the-scenes efforts during this period.

He was a great logger of his own perambulations, even into old age. By the time we started corresponding there were no more Munro days, but in 1999 he wrote 'I'm sure I could still manage some again if they weren't so far away.' He still walked up his 'local pimple', St Martha's Hill (he made over 3600 ascents), and kept tabs on every leg-stretching stroll.

'My year's total has recently passed 300 miles', he wrote in 2010, 'worst ever total by a factor of two-point-something' - a very Clem observation, that. The most endearing of all such comments came in June 1997, however: 'Just realised a few days ago that I'd walked 0.1% of the way to the sun since keeping a record in 1942.'

For all that Clem's letters were a joy to read, his life was not without sadness. His wife Sybil died before our correspondence began (typically, Clem noted that her initials were SMC), while his daughter Mary, who had Down's Syndrome and needed care, died in 2007. 'An incredible memory, very keen on wildlife, 'Clem wrote of her.

Gradually, age and infirmity overtook Clem himself. Christmas 2005 brought the first mention of a balance problem, 'can't turn head quickly, awkward crossing two-way roads'. Early in 2009 his legs 'decided they'd go on strike', and he needed help to return home from a pre-breakfast walk. By Christmas 2011, he was writing that 'Martha outstrides me by an ever-increasing amount. Can't go walking any more. OK apart from that.'

But he never seemed gloomy, and never wrote anything that could be classified as self pity. His was a life of happy memories, interesting adventures ('I couldn't bear to waste any of my holidays sitting indoors.') and a tremendous generosity of spirit. I miss both the letters and Clem himself greatly. A re-reading of his correspondence brought mention of an ascent of my own local hill, Ben Cleuch, on 22 July 1953. I will endeavour to go there on the same date this summer, exactly 60 years on, by way of fond recollection of a lovely man.

An example of Clem's 'pen-pallery' letters:

In November 1992, Clem wrote his first letter, of many, to Alan Dawson:

Dear Mr Dawson,

Congratulations on your book The Relative Hills of Britain, which I obtained last summer. As you say, Bridge's book was put out of date by the OS re-survey and metrication. I was immediately impressed by the obvious high standard of accuracy and clear layout of your book. In contrast to the 1981 edition of Munro's Tables, where I spotted about half a dozen errors within as many minutes of first opening the book. It was several days before I even spotted a spelling error in yours. Marilyn no 1495 should be spelt BRIGHSTONE DOWN, with only one 't'; on the other hand, seeing Grasmoor with one 's' had me reaching for OS 90 - for almost fifty years I had always spelt it incorrectly with two 's's.

Two or three years ago Eric Yeaman, who you mention on page 9, asked me if I could have a go at listing the English and Welsh hills on the system he used for Scotland. I was busy on something else at the time, but another nudge from him a month or two ago started me off. I made a preliminary list, checked that I had included all your Marilyns, to discover that I had missed one, Burrow in Shropshire. Since that preliminary run, I have been working out the 'dips' for all the hills that were not Marilyns. Hence the enclosed list for you, for what it is worth. I expect other people may already have told you about some if not all of these? I hope I have worked out the cols correctly. Anyway, I am fairly confident there are not likely to be any more in England and Wales, though that is probably a rash statement!

I hope this will be of some help.

Yours sincerely

E.D. Clements (Clem)

In a list attached to the letter, Clem made suggestions for new Marilyns, some definite, some possibles and some doubtful or near misses. Among many, his list included Anon, near Llyn Gwernan (SH698162); Aconbury Hill; Swinside; Lovely Seat; Gamallt; Llanfihangel Hill; and Littleton Down.

Brightstone Down (photo: Martin Richardson)

Brightstone Down (photo: Martin Richardson)

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