Small but perfectly formed – Marilyns and Malbec!

Hills: various Marilyns
When: all over the place
Why: usually a plan B. Also, why not?

Anyone who participates in Scottish hill walking will know that it is always a good idea to have a plan B. Indeed, we have often had a range of plans ranging from plan A all the way through to plan Z… though plan Z usually involves finding a pub with a nice fire in it and a good selection of beer/ wine/ single malts (strike out drink which does not apply) rather than going anywhere near a hill. I’m not a fan of walking in poor weather, and although I do it from time to time, I don’t really enjoy it.

However, if the weather is not right for the higher hills, or one (or both) of us is feeling ropey, then sometimes there is a lower hill that will provide a day out and a decent leg stretch, or alternatively a quick blast. Stuart and I were staying in Edinburgh for the week in the run up to Easter, and had a programme of museums, bars and restaurants we wanted to bag. Needless to say though a walk of some sort would be squeezed in and for a ‘quick blast’ the Marilyns are often a good bet.

What is a Marilyn anyway? It’s basically a verbal joke on Munros, or at least I think it is. It’s also a hill of any height with a drop and re-ascent of 150m to the nearest higher hill. Ok not quite any height as clearly the thing has to be higher than 150m in order to qualify. There are over 1500 of them in the UK, and only a couple of people have ever finished the lot… this is partly because two of them are fiendishly difficult St Kilda sea stacks which require not only rock climbing ability but incredibly clement weather, whereas others are dull lumps in the South-East of England. Ironically, I live near two of these and have not climbed them – annoyingly I nearly have, though, having walked very close to the summit of both when doing sections of the North Downs Way and not realised they were on a list. Oh well! However, this is sort of made up for by the fact that I climbed my first ever hills on any sort of list at a tender age, having done a couple of Pembrokeshire Marilyns when a child, on family holidays with my parents. Indeed on multiple occasions: my parents had a list of favourite walks which would be repeated on many occasions, and I probably went up those two hills ten times minimum, no doubt grumbling all the time, since as a child I had a distinct dislike of anything which involved walking uphill.

Our first proper encounter with the lower variety of Marilyn came in January 2011. We were travelling North on a promising weather forecast. However Stuart had been off sick with flu for most of the week and it was clear that a Munro was not going to be an option. A plan B was called for and a 500m bump on Rannoch Moor identified as the target. Of course Rannoch Moor gives you a 300m head start and we were at the top of our target hill, Meall Mor, in about half an hour from the car. The views were absolutely stunning, and it was a great demonstration of the fact that you can get wonderful views from lower hills. The fact it was a glorious day obviously helped, but even so. Indeed we’ve seen some cracking views from other lower hills since.

Rannoch Moor from Meall Mor

Druim na h’Earba

Ardsheal Hill


Anyway, back to our Edinburgh holiday. We had arrived the previous day and the forecast was okay but not great. I decided to jump a bus from Princes Street to the Pentlands – we’ve been to Edinburgh a few times but not done any walking there, which was starting to seem a bit daft. The bus dropped me off at the foot of Allermuir hill and I was en route on a good – if occasionally muddy – path heading straight up, and feeling colossally unfit as well as mildly hung over (which didn’t help). It’s a pretty steep grunt to start off with, and there is quite a bit of up and down before reaching the top.. not helped by the fact that the weather closed in. By the time I reached the summit I was being hit by horizontal snow and hail, and could see enough to see that there was some great walking in the Pentlands to be had.. on a better day. I abandoned any idea of extending the walk in favour of a quick descent down a slightly different route, doubling back to the ski centre, and back to the bus stop just in time to avoid a wait, just as well as I was soaked! An area to return to I think, though on a better day! Later in the week I popped up Arthur’s Seat, one of very few hills I have been up more than once, but a bit of a must when in the capital.

A week later, another Marilyn, a very different day. This time the hill was a plan B; with glorious sunshine forecast (and amazingly actually present) the original plan had been a Munro. However, neither of us was feeling too good, Stuart had had a nasty cough and I was feeling very tired. Neither of us was feeling much better by the time we got to the start point of our ‘plan A’ hill and seeing how much snow was still left didn’t help – carrying all the winter gear is bad enough when feeling fully fit but not fun at all if below par and contemplating a more or less sea-level start and 1000m of ascent. We decided instead to drive off to Dunkeld and go up Birnam Hill which had the added bonus of Shakespearean connections.

Again, there was a good path and it would have been pretty much impossible to get lost. Stuart was still coughing badly and decided he would go and read the paper in the pub with a cold beer and given the glorious day I can’t say I blamed him. I agreed to meet him later on and peched up the steep path. At least I think it was steep, or it could just have been me being run down. Inevitably there is a FFS to contend with and it seemed to be taking me far longer than it should to do a relatively short walk – I’m also not a fan of walking through forest as you can never see how far you still have to go! Finally, the summit emerged through the trees – a rocky knoll on which a large cairn sits. And the views? Actually, they were excellent, and repaid the effort of the ascent. The air was crystal clear and the views to the snow clad Cairngorms in particular were very fine. I chilled out on the top for a bit, taking in the scene, then poddled off back downhill to where Stuart was waiting.

It wasn’t until I updated my hill logger the following day that I realised I’d actually now done 100 Marilyns. My hill logger app on my phone separates them by area and I hadn’t thought to add up the Scottish, English and Welsh ones. I’d picked up quite a few in the process of bagging Munros and (to a lesser extent) Wainwrights, largely without realising. Cue a celebratory drink, of course!

So am I bagging Marilyns? Nah. I can’t see me entering the Marilyn Hall of Fame (600). But as a plan B, or just on a day when you don’t fancy a big walk, the small but perfectly formed hills have a lot going for them. Try one or two sometime!


5 thoughts on “Small but perfectly formed – Marilyns and Malbec!

  1. Arthur’s Seat is great for clearing a hangover as Andrew will testify (if you ignore his commentary on whether it’s ok to throw up on a national monument… He didnt!). We are thinking of taking a couple of short walking breaks and doing a few low hills, mainly as neither of us have map reading experience yet. As your pictures show they have some lovely views plus not too far from the essential drinking hole. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve probably accidentally done loads of Marilyns but it’s one list I could never be bothered with – I think someone must have made them up for a joke really and then they just took off.

    You certainly made the most of your trip though. I love the Pentlands but I’ve never been up Arthurs Seat, despite doing my Open University summer school at Edinburgh’s Heriot Watt Uni a few years back.


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