An aspiration for March: summit a different hill every day, travelling on foot, by bike or on public transport, but never by car.
‘Why can’t we just be there?’ My daughter stared impatiently at me, returning my gaze in the car mirror. We were on the M6, somewhere between Edinburgh and Chester. It was a rhetorical question. I nodded, silently agreeing. Why can’t we just be there?
How many hours have I spent getting ‘there’ – and back? It is the great irony of the hillgoer. We seek the brilliance of high places, but often it must be the sandwich filling either side of the crusts of long, laborious road journeys, the antithesis of what we seek in the mountains. Does one outweigh the other? What if there did not need to be an other?
In short, I did it: I visited a different summit every day for 31 days, none of which required the use of a car. I went to each of the summits of Edinburgh’s notional seven hills, all of the Pentland Skyline hills, as far south as West Cairn Hill, as far north as Mons Hill. I touched eight triangulation pillars, cycled, walked and ran 343 miles, went as high as 579 metres on Scald Law, watched the sunrise on Caerketton, the sunset on Harbour Hill. Only once was it thoroughly miserable: a wet, wild cycle home from Threipmuir having stumbled off Black Hill in sodden darkness. What really stays with me though is the frogs, dozens of them massed on the road that hugs the edge of Torduff Reservoir, dozens more croaking in the night, as I came away from Warklaw Hill.
I might, on another occasion, have driven to Threipmuir that awful night – or probably not gone at all. I had run up what is known as the Red Road, before cutting north to Hare Hill, then descended to Green Cleugh and Loganlea, from where I headed straight up through the heather to Gask Hill and then touched the pile of stones that cower on the roof of Black Hill. But Black Hill was never the ‘there’, for I was ‘there’ as soon as I stepped out of my front door. The car remained stationary, but I did not. Every turn of the pedal, every step was ‘there’.
I am a hypocrite, of course. I took part in a Mountain Leader training course in Snowdonia last week – and Llanberis is 301 miles from home. I drove there. I am racing on Skye in June. Likewise Moray in August. There are obviously alternatives – and one of these is not going in the first place. But that does not bear thinking about.
What then was the point of March? To simply do what I set out to do: to celebrate the hills in as pure a way as possible. Isn’t that always the point?