Published 29th January 2021, 11:27

    ONE minute I was dreaming of running along a mountain skyline, the next I was gripped by an overpowering craving.

    Not for ice cream or cheese or all those Christmas chocolates now long gone. And I'm pretty sure I can rule out pregnancy. No, this was a sudden craving for Corbetts. 

    These lockdown days are playing havoc with the senses. On nights when I've found it hard to sleep, I've turned to planning mountain routes in my mind before finally dropping off with the sheer exhaustion of it all.

    For weeks, this has consisted of plotting every possible way of climbing the handful of Munros remaining in my latest round. I think I have now exhausted every option as well as myself. It was time for a new imaginary challenge.

    That's probably why a friend's image from a few years back of me running along the rocky rooftop of An Ruadh-stac resurfaced in the memory. Suddenly, I wanted to be there again. Then I started thinking about all those wonderful Corbetts I have long promised to revisit. And the natural progression was that I began to try and justify going for the whole round again. After all, there are plenty where I failed to get a view. It took me until the start of the fourth round to claim a clear sight from every Munro summit.

    The problem with cravings is that it's rare to satisfy them. Instead, it just leads to a new obsession, a never-ending chase for something that can't be obtained. When I completed my hills Full House in 2019, I swore that from then on I would be kicking back and concentrating only on the ones I had enjoyed. There were enough Grahams and Donalds I would gladly never see again, and I certainly didn't want to revisit the whole package. 

    The same applied to the Corbetts, although there were more I would like to get to know again. Having had the Arrochar and Tayside as hills on my doorstep at different periods, I feel I can take them or leave them: I would rather concentrate on those that lie further north and north-west. My life would focus on a collection of greatest hits, a sort of Now, That's What I Call Mountains, with all the James Blunt, Steps and Little Mix type of hills left out.

    In this respect, I take my hat off to my friend Anne, who is now charging towards a second Full House. Having spent so much time in the latter stages of my quest traversing slopes that were little more than vertical bogs, I regard her journey as lunacy beyond the pale. But then maybe if I was ten years younger I would be part of that lunacy.

    The realisation that our time in the big mountains is finite seems to press harder every year. Quality, rather than quantity, is the better option. The lack of freedom to roam is also playing a big part. The North-west Highlands and the islands seem as far off as the moon at the minute, and for that reason the appetite to return grows ever stronger. It's the same logic that means the weather is always at its finest when you can't be there.

    Beinn Bhan, Fuar Tholl, Beinn Lair, Ben Aden, Sgurr a' Choire-bheithe, so many great days in perfect conditions, but then these are the ones the memory conjures up. You forget the not so good ones.

    Days like Beinn Resipol, when it hammered down non-stop for the whole night walk and I never managed to dry out or get warm at any point on the three-hour drive back. With little shelter from the wind and continuous rain when I finished the walk, I made the mistake of not getting changed out of my wet gear. Final result: a severe chill and a few days laid up. Or Foinaven, that crumbling grey giant, nine hours in thick mist with heated navigation 'discussions' that almost ended with one of our party being offered a quick way down off the ridge.

    A December week in the far north a couple of years ago was rewarded with a benign dreamscape that probably spoiled us for life; flat calm lochs, pastel skies and clouds lazily drifting between summits. We reckoned we could never be that lucky again. If the desire is to spend more time in the far north, you have to factor in that almost half of your days will be lost to the elements.

    The wish list seems to grow longer with each passing day, but the one advantage I have over the earlier days is that I can now pick and choose my weather. There have been few walks in miserable conditions in this current Munros round.

    So maybe there is a chance of another full Corbetts circuit. And maybe I will get another chance to be that tiny running figure on a rocky skyline.