MARHOFN 58.03 - MAY 2001

Island Hoping

Mullach Mor, Holy Island (20C)

Jon Metcalf: We were met by a member of the community on landing, who told us a bit about the place and asked that we didn't disturb a retreat happening at the far end of the island, otherwise it was unrestricted access. We were welcomed to the community building for a cup of tea while waiting for the boat back to Arran. Went over the hill (surprisingly narrow at the top) and down to the far end of the island. There were large fissures near the path down to the south lighthouse, which were cordoned off with plastic tape. Came back round the west coast path, which was naturally beautiful, and adorned from time to time with buddhist paintings on rocks and carvings in the caves. This superficial 3-4 hour visit left enough time for another hill on the main island in the afternoon. I'd heard that visitors aren't particularly welcome, but this wasn't my experience at all.

Andrew Templeton: I'd long fancied completing a circuit of the four Arran Corbetts, and despite all four seasons in the course of ten hours, I stayed the course. Great late afternoon views from Beinn Tarsuinn down Glen Iorsa to Kintyre, Jura, and a smudge on the horizon that may have been the Antrim coast. The Arran trip gave the best new Marilyn of the year: a dash over to Holy Island. That ferryman at Lamlash is on a nice wee earner, he makes Calmac look cheap. The dash up to Mullach Mor was achieved in 45 minutes, a brisk walk, never quite a run. Reason for the haste was the first ferry over being at 10am and the break in the hourly service between 12 and 2. So for the 13:50 Calmac ferry to Ardrossan, there's a two-hour window to get up, down and back to Lamlash. There were no restrictions on access (August 2000). You get met off the boat and a member of the community explains where the footpaths are. However, there was no attempt to prevent access to the hill, and once on the good path up there are signs and a stile helpfully placed.

Shetland (22)

James Gordon: Ten days in Shetland in August were the undoubted high point of the year by every measurement except mere metres, with mostly Mediterranean weather and a view from every hill (wandering Foula cliff tops in T-shirt and shorts). Best summits are the two Noups (Foula and Noss) although Ronas Hill also has a strongly individual character, like a chunk of Cairngorm plateau with stunning sea views all round. At a purely practical level, August seems to be the best time for anyone wanting to bag all the Shetland Marilyns - Noss is only open and accessible from late May to the end of August, while Vord Hill on Fetlar is 'closed' until the end of July, being in a statutory bird sanctuary.

Bardsey Island (30A)

Peter Collins: I hope to complete the Welsh list this year, though I have tried three times previously to get to Bardsey Island (once even buying a ticket) before the trips were cancelled due to the boat 'not being able to launch from the island'. Perhaps a Marilyn meeting could be arranged for this elusive hill - a boat-load of 20 people would surely entice them to launch.

Cruachan Charna (18C), scene of the Hall of Fame 1999 meeting

Brighstone Down (42)

Charles Knowles: The only Marilyn I have done self-propelled from (as near as dammit) sea level and back to sea level. Cycled off the car deck of the Isle of Wight ferry (just above the plimsoll line) and on tarmac roads, the Tennyson Trail and forest tracks right up to the triangulation column. On the return I cycled across to Freshwater but had to abandon the bike to climb SubMarilyn Tennyson Down on foot, then cycled back to the ferry.

Beinn Mhor at the southern tip of Islay (20C)

St Kilda (25)

Alan Dawson: I have never been to St Kilda and so can not comment from personal experience. However, several people have asked about it, so there is clearly growing interest and a need for some useful information, albeit second-hand. I have spoken to four people who have been there and who between them have climbed all the St Kilda Marilyns. What follows is my own interpretation of the current situation:

  • Access and permission are huge issues, and it is not easy to summarise them without talking about the roles and responsibilities of NTS and SNH and the inherent tension between them. The net result is that it is difficult to get official permission for access to any of the Marilyns other than Conachair on Hirta.
  • Both stacs are huge breeding colonies for gannets and other species, and access to them in the main breeding season is likely to be impossible. Even if permission were granted at other times, the weather is likely to make safe landing impracticable.
  • Landing on any of the islands or stacs other than Hirta is difficult and dangerous. In climbing terms, Dun is perhaps a diff, Boreray v diff, Soay severe, and the stacs extreme, but the weather can make nonsense of any landing plans. A settled spell of calm weather is a necessity.
  • Even after landing, reaching the top of Boreray and Soay is not at all easy. The climbing is not technical, but the grass is extremely steep and the exposure considerable. Confidence and a good head for heights are needed.
  • Climbing on the stacs is far from easy but not impossible. Even Stac Lee may be no more than a diff, though it looks appalling. Much of it is a scramble up exceedingly narrow, steep, exposed ledges, with one poorly-protected roped climb. Stac an Armin is a little easier. However, technical difficulty on both is overshadowed by the problems of landing, tremendous exposure and intimidation of seabirds.
  • St Kilda is a fantastic place and well worth visiting even if you only get to land on Hirta.

In summary, a trip to any of the islands other than Hirta and Dun should be treated as a major expedition. Anyone who is interested in going is advised to find out more beforehand, as the access situation in particular is liable to change. Stuart Benn has made a number of visits in a professional capacity, and is willing to offer informal advice to individuals on matters such as travel to and between the islands, access, landings and routes. He can be contacted by email to stuart.benn@rspb.org.uk