SOMETIMES a change is as good as a rest but sometimes it's more beneficial the other way round. At least it has been for me over the last fortnight.
Thunder, lightning, flash floods – not exactly conducive to safe and pleasurable mountain walking. The last few outings haven't been the best and it's fair to say I was beginning to feel a bit scunnered by the whole experience.
The calendar may tell us it's summer, but we're not fooled. July and August are often the ugly sisters of the year, hazy, wet, busy and midge-infested. Roll on autumn and winter. My patience was being sorely tested with walking over saturated ground and through deep, dripping vegetation only to be met by clagged-in ridges and a regular coating of drizzle and gusting winds.
It's not all bad news, though. This short, enforced lay-off has proved to be a blessing in disguise. Maybe it's because this is the first year for a long time that I haven't taken a holiday, but for once, I found myself needing a break from the hills.
The strange thing is, it has felt somewhat like a sunshine holiday. The localised nature of the rain storms have meant there have been long, hot spells when I could lie on a lounger in the garden, cider in hand. And just when it gets too hot, the heavens open, and a natural swimming pool soon forms where once I lay.
It has all been fairly intense recently. Apart from chasing down the remaining summits needed to complete my Full House, there's been the small matter of a new book to deal with. This should all come together in September. Mountains of the Moon is now at the printers and is due out at the start of the month and the treble completion – Grahams, Donalds and Munro Tops – is scheduled for the end of the month.
Weather-wise, it hasn't been a bad year until the last few, frustrating weeks. I have managed to travel far and wide to get down to my final Grahams summit, and during that time I have come to love the little blighters. Sure, I've been able to pick and choose my moments, but these hills have really come into their own during the final countdown.
It's fitting that the final walk will be on Ben Fhada in Mull, as the islands have featured heavily this year. I have been on Mull, Arran, Islay, Jura, Rum, Harris, North and South Uist and Skye, and most of the time the weather has played ball.
I also managed long days on the hills of Knoydart, Mullardoch and along the Mallaig road without getting wet. The promised fine conditions for a two-day expedition through Glen Pean never materialised but the glen was somehow all the more beautiful for having water pouring from every orifice, a verdant Shangri-La, fifty shades of green.
It was inevitable that the last lap would start to wear me down as I became another victim of tunnel vision, when you find yourself ignoring greater mountains to wander round a series of rounded bumps just to put an end to it all. I told myself I would never do this again, and yet here I am doing it again. Never mind, it will soon be over. I'm back refreshed and recharged and ready to go again. The chances of a few sunshine days over the next week or two should whittle the list down and then it's back on to the good stuff.
There's the promise of a friend's Munro finish on Slioch, and a traverse of Liathach and, in particular, the outlying Munro Top, Meall Dearg. That's followed by another trip to Arran and then an outing to Glen Coe – my first since January – where it's fair to say I will be spoiled for choice. That sets up a weekend on Mull with friends for the final Graham – hopefully as part of the circuit taking in A' Chioch and Ben More as well – and then the grand finale on our highest peak, Ben Nevis.
I have deliberately ignored the Ben's south-west top for years, seeing it as the perfect place to complete a Full House. It's not the easiest cairn to reach so it's doubtful if many will accompany me for that one, but that's probably for the best. If all goes to plan, we will keep the celebration until we continue on to the main summit. If not, it will be drinks in Fort Bill.
The good thing about a such an intense spell of weather is that good times can't be far away. It is going to get better, isn't it?