WITH the minutes ticking ever closer to the end of another year, I've already made my resolution for the new one: I'm going Back to Basics.
Depending on your demographic, that phrase will evoke memories of either John Major or Christina Aguilera, two people whose only possible crossover is being portrayed as wearing their undergarments on the outside.
I've certainly no ambitions of going down that route with my Y-fronts. Not intentionally, anyway. My Back to Basics is much simpler, a more liberated programme for my mountain days and nights. This 2020 vision is a corrective measure for the restrictions – entirely self-imposed, I must stress – of the last two years.
The whole of 2018 was based around the cycle of the full moons, 13 in total, starting on January 2, finishing December 22. There was no leeway – the walks had to take place on those specific dates. This straightjacket schedule meant all other plans had to play second fiddle, so opportunities were lost.
I started 2019 within touching distance of a fourth Munros finish and a Full House, the completion of the six lists, Munros, Munro Tops, Furths, Corbetts, Grahams and Donalds. There was an early realisation that I would be pushing it to try and finish the lot by the end of September, so I had to sacrifice one of those ambitions.
My natural pessimism provided the logic. I figured that if I was to drop dead in the autumn, it would be better to have done a Full House than another round of Munros. Always look on the bright side of life, eh?
The commitments of those two years made me feel that I had missed out on a lot, although that's more likely a sign of my greediness when it comes to the hills. I certainly seemed to have covered much of the country over the best part of 22 months.
There was probably too much time spent in Galloway and the Southern Uplands, the inevitable result of chasing down Grahams and Donalds, but there were many fine days and pleasant surprises amongst the damp trudges alongside walls and fences in zero visibility.
Apologies then to the deep south, but I prefer to think of 2019 as my year of the islands. There were ten trips, and virtually every one was done in good conditions, a minor miracle in this land of weather eccentricities.
I took advantage of a bizarre short winter heatwave in February to walk for three days in Mull, and was back in September for a Champagne day on my final Graham, Beinn Fhada. There were two excursions to Arran for night walks on Goatfell, raw but beautiful in extreme contrasts, and a few days on Islay tip-toeing through the adders before heading to Jura for a circuit of the Paps.
A base in Strontian allowed me to head over to Rum for a muted day that never really caught fire but which still provided near perfect visibility under multiple layers and shades of grey. And then there was a multi-day venture from Skye to Harris to North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and then back for a spectacular finale on the Cuillin ridge.
At the heart of all this travelling, of course, was the countdown to the big finish, and so there were a lot of favourites that had to remain unvisited. I did do a fabulous Grahams circuit on the peripheries of Knoydart, but the glimpses of distant Ladhar Bheinn only made me yearn for a swift return to this special peninsula.
Late in the year, I managed a few days in Glen Shiel and it felt like dropping in on old friends. So now, with the shackles off, I am looking forward to getting reacquainted with so many fine mountains.
There's plenty to look forward to – a week based at an old hunting lodge between Glencoe and Fort William, plus long weekends in Aviemore, Gairloch, Assynt and Lochaber. And there's a welcome return to the far north where two friends will 'compleat' their Munros on the most northerly 3,000-ft peak, Ben Hope, a mountain I hold dear. There's also plans to revisit Mullardoch, Strathfarrar and Glen Shiel and tackle the nine Fannaichs Munros on one long walk from sunset to sunset.
It's easy to lose sight of the restorative powers of the outdoors during the darkness of December, but just as in any walk of life, we can see the light growing stronger, a new dawn on the horizon.
I wish you all the best for 2020, and hope all your plans come to fruition.