WHEN the end is nigh, I suppose it's only natural to have regrets, to wish you had, on occasion, taken different paths.
Don't panic. I'm not about to head into dark places. I'm talking about the Southern Uplands, not Hades, although on some days it could be easy to confuse the two.
The past few weeks have been spent doing a lot of tidying up as the countdown to my Donalds completion draws closer. It's the same with any hills round. There's always a few stragglers, all these odds and ends summits which had to abandoned during big circuits when the weather closed in or which were just lost in moments of confusion.
Most require just a short jaunt, but others prove to be more challenging, involving a rerun over tops you hoped never to see again. A few weeks back, thanks to a friend acting as my personal chauffeur for the day, I managed to do three separate walks within ten hours, short drives in between. Now I had a plan to sweep up the remainder over three days.
I tried to put them in order of awkwardness. First up was Moorbrock Hill, a rolling lump that lies between the Cairnsmore of Carsphairn and Windy Standard circuits. I had ignored it twice before, once through naivety, once because of rain and mist.
I thought I could just nip up and down in a few hours, then drive on and do another ascent that evening. It didn't pan out that way. I was later in reaching the starting the point, the extra two summits proved surprisingly tiring and I unexpectedly hit a wall.
I hadn't slept well and there was a long drive. Then I made a wrong turn (there were two tracks – guess which one I chose?) which meant a harder approach than necessary. Then there was a bit of searching for the three stones on the long ridge which gave a clue to the actual summit.
Worse was to follow. The pull up Keoch Rig was over spongy ground, and it only got thicker during the fall and rise to nearby Dugland. Technically, I had no need to go over there, but this is a top that has recently been resurveyed and is likely to be listed soon. It would be my luck to find this had happened a day before I was due to finish my Full House.
The walk out was weary, my hopes of a post-four hour walk shattered. I had to sit and rest two or three times on the way out, no strength left at all.
It was a strange day all round. I had walked up the Water of Ken and never come across anyone called Ken. Similarly on Dugland: I never met anyone named Doug, or even a dug of any kind for that matter. Spooky or what? It was no surprise that I had to pull into a layby and have forty winks. There would be no second walk.
Any worries that this unexpected malaise would reoccur proved unfounded. I made the short push up to Whitehope Heights from the Devil's Beef Tub at 6am in mist, the water-laden vegetation giving my legs a good soaking, before heading round to Peebles for walk No.2.
Stob Law was the objective, another top left out of a big winter round with a group a couple of years ago due to time restrictions. I had cursed its abandonment that day, so near and no so far, but there was no choice. It was easy walking, however, the mists and light rain from the morning walk having cleared away, and although the timing was similar, there was a world of a difference from the Moorbrock experience.
An overnight stay as the only guest at the excellent Kailzie bunkhouse set me up for the short hop to Yetholm next morning, an improving picture after a night of gales and heavy rain. By the time I had driven the long and winding road and across a ford down to the farm at Cocklawfoot, the sun was out, the clouds were scuttling across at a fair rate and a fresh wind was clearing the air.
The twisting grassy track led me up to the slabbed path of the Pennine Way in just 45 minutes, and then it was simply a case of walking along this pavement to Cairn Hill's west top.
To call this a top highlights the unique madness of mountain lists. It is merely the highest point on the Border. It's not even the highest point on the hill. But that is in England, and the point I had reached was in Scotland, so it is included as a Donald Top.
The wind was too fierce to consider going to The Cheviot so I sneaked across the Border. I don't think anyone noticed. Just as well, as I hadn't brought my passport. I made it back without alerting the Border guards.
Now there's just the one to go, Hudderstone, and at least it's not a retread. It will be nice to finish with a fresh face.