JULY. Named after Julius Caesar. The seventh month of the year, considered the second month of summer in the northern hemisphere.
It’s also the month in which I was born, so you’d think I’d be a fan. But when it comes to preferred times for going out on the hill, July comes rock bottom on my list. Yes, even lower than December.
You expect December to be slow. It’s the darkest month, has the shortest days, and there’s all the disruption that the build-up up to the festive period entails. The weather is often nothing to write home about either.
July, on the other hand, arrives with great expectations, yet virtually every year it fizzles and then fails miserably to ignite. My hill tally soars during the first six months of the year then comes to a stunning halt in July.
It’s a month that just sits there idling with the meter running. When August arrives there’s a huge sigh of relief and then we’re off again. Until December, obviously.
I can never quite put my finger exactly on why it’s a such a disaster - there are so many contributing factors.
Some of this is personal, an increase in family commitments and the scheduling of holiday breaks for instance, but when the chance crops up to head for the hills disappointment seems to be the order of the day.
Notice that July is ‘considered’ the second month of summer. More often than not it shows the characteristics of a bad autumn with high winds and monsoon-like downpours. When the sun does shine, it merely presents the distant views as a blur, a poor, hazy substitute to the clarity of the other seasons.
It sells pictures of sunshine and Champagne, strawberries and cream at Wimbledon when those who buy into it find themselves sheltering from torrential downpours and disrupted play, wearing cheap rain ponchos like a second skin and being held hostage while Cliff Richard’s songbook just piles on the misery.
It’s the month of school holidays and the change from quiet roads, car parks and camp sites to traffic jams and seas of tents complete with ghetto blasters polluting the country air, when even our mountains can seem overcrowded. I become struck down by a malaise, mainly, I suspect, through the lack of consistency that the likes of May and June provide.
July is the month of an annual pilgrimage to Buachaille Etive Mor, but again it’s hit or miss and many ascents have been in mist and rain. In 2010 we even had to cancel the walk due to hurricane force winds and driving rain.
Even the forecasts can turn out to be another ambush. A couple of weeks ago, buoyed by the prospect of sunshine and clear skies, I set off to spend a day walking the Ettrick round near Innerleithen. There was sunshine and clear skies, all through the journey south and all the way up the glen. As soon I had changed into my mountain gear and locked the car, the cloud swept in. The next six hours were spent on compass bearings as I made my way round a series of tops in zero visibility and grey dampness. Still, my mistake. Imagine thinking I was going to catch a good day on the Donalds.
Even when the weather does play ball, I seem to stumble. Plans for an early start and a big Cairngorms round were amended when I struggled to shake off the month’s torpor and get out of my bed early enough. In the end, I had a decent day on Carn Bhac and its series of Corbett Tops and former Munro Tops but it should have been so much more.
I have had good days out in July in the past and I’m sure there will be others, but there is still a psychological block sitting there that is proving hard to shift.
Never mind, in a few days August will arrive and all will be well again. So, off you go July, don’t let the door hit your backside on the way out.
Little wonder they were all queuing up to plunge a knife into Julius.