There sometimes seems to be a received wisdom in the hill walking community that some hills are boring. Such hills should (the received wisdom goes) be saved for a poor weather day; the logic being that you are going to have a dull day anyway, so you might as well make it a really dull one, slogging up and down in mist, rain, or whatever. Even some of the guide books recommend this approach! Of course, there is the other viewpoint, that there is no such thing as a boring hill – just boring people – though I wouldn’t go quite that far!
So what characterises a boring hill? Certain sections of the hill walking community seem to think that anything which isn’t too gnarly and challenging is dull. This puts rounded Cairngorm lumps such as Mount Keen, or the East Drumochter two (Carn na Caim and A’Bhuidheanach Beag) into that category. Along with easy plods like Fionn Bheinn at Achnasheen, or most of the hills at Glenshee. And we’ve had wonderful days out on all of these. Sometimes, a ‘boring’ hill makes for an extremely good day – for a variety of reasons.
Reason number one: sometimes easy is good. Sometimes you want something which you can just stride out on without having to worry about crags, exposure, scrambly bits, vertical bog or any of the other hazards that (e.g.) the west coast of Scotland seems to have in abundance. Something that isn’t going to even remotely induce a broken night’s sleep beforehand or any sort of panic. Landrover tracks? Bring them on. Okay they don’t look great but in the right context can be a godsend. High starts? Yes please!
For instance: Mount Keen, done with a late (12.30) start, after a 7 hour drive the previous day and a 3 hour drive in the morning. Glorious sunshine, easy navigation, excellent views.
Reason number two: Your average ‘boring’ hill in summer could be anything but in winter. Those rounded lumps make ideal territory for ice axe and crampons, or even microspikes depending on conditions underfoot. No hairy ridges off which to plummet to your doom; no scrambling over ice-covered rocks. Just the chance to stride out and enjoy the landscape.
For instance: the East Drumochter two. Those high starts and landrover tracks are a godsend on a short winter’s day, and the rolling tundra of the Eastern Cairngorms becomes nothing so much as an Artic plateau, a winter wonderland in which the nearby A9 fades quickly into insignificance. I also suspect these hills would be anything but ‘boring’ in a whiteout; indeed, they would be dangerous. No such issues for us; one of the best winter days on the hill we’ve had.
Reason number three: Sometimes you need a plan B. Something you can do in an afternoon, or in a morning, en route to somewhere else, or something you can do even if you feel below par.
For instance: Fionn Bheinn. Done on a lovely June day; we were staying in Skye, but didn’t feel up to doing anything in the Cuillin or Glen Shiel. I’d overslept, and wasn’t feeling great. We started up the hill at 1.30 and were off it by 5.30. Glorious views all round to the Fannaichs, Torridon, and so on.
Reason number four: Sometimes you can string a lot of rounded lumps together at once, seriously improving stats.
For instance: Glenshee. We had a wonderful day early on in our hill walking career where we did four of the ‘rounded lumps’ from just south of the ski centre: Carn an Tuirc, Cairn of Claise, Tolmount, Tom Buidhe. Started at 11.30 after a 3 hour drive from Glasgow and about 4 hours sleep at best on the sleeper train. Great views, easy walking, and four ticks in the bag – what more could you ask for?
Reason number five: often the dull hills have excellent views, or a nice walk in – on which you can really focus as you aren’t having to worry about the other stuff.
For instance: An Socach (Braemar). Glenshee again, in April 2011. A lovely walk in, a steep ascent then a lovely easy walk along a bouldery ridge with great views all round.
I think the main reason people think hills are dull is that they follow the received wisdom above of saving them for a poor day. They slog up through cloud on Fionn Bheinn and see nothing except the bog underfoot; they wander around Drumochter in rain and wind and wonder why Sir Hugh deemed those hills worthy of Munro status. But pick your day, and pick your conditions, and so called boring hills can deliver just what you need for a great day out. Let’s raise a glass to ‘boring’ hills!