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updated 18 Dec 2018

My Top Ten

By Joe Duffin

From  BFMC Journal 3,  Sept 1988


It would be a terrible shame to put our hills into some sort of order of merit Ė just look at the damage the Tables have made -  but I often find myself describing a hill as being in the ĎTop Tení. My only excuse is that I am trying to get the message across that the hill is well worth doing. If it also conveys the  - wrong Ė impression that old Joe has been about a bit, then thatís all to the good.

Nobody ever asks me for advice but that has never stopped me giving it, so here goes.

Ben Nevis: You canít leave it out just because of the way we have spoiled it. The Ben is all things to all men, but to me the approach along the Carn Mor Dearg Arete is just about right. The top itself, despite the litter and folk having heart attacks, has got a nice feel to it  which is difficult to analyse. A big lump of a hill that you can never take for granted.

The Cobbler: The light-weight champion of Scotland; and it could beat some of the bigger lads right up to cruiser-weight. The Cobbler is essentially a climberís hill which walkers are allowed to do if they donít mind a bit of exposure at the top. Hoist yourself onto that top boulder and you are hooked on quality for the rest of your life.

Another thing. This hill is a historic site, because this is where the hard-up Glasgow lads came during the Hungry Thirties. Folk like Jock Nimlin bust a gut just to get there for a day or so. They changed the face of Scottish climbing and they started on the Cobbler.

Sgurr nan Gillean: You can probably pick your whole top ten from the Cuillins, but whereís the fun in that, so Sgurr nan Gillean is in to represent the magic ridge. It is a great hill in its own right, even if you go up the so-called Tourist Route, and the western ridge is narrow enough to make you wish you had stayed at home. The only other route up, the Pinnacle Ridge, is out of bounds for me, but it looks great from a distance. The hill must have appeared on more calendars than any other mountain in Scotland.

An Teallach:  If you are talking about good lookers An Teallach is the mountain equivalent of Greta Garbo (one more B and she would have been an anagram for Ďgreat gabbroí. Makes you think!). Iíve heard of folk who have climbed the Munro bit of the hill Ė which is not anything special Ė and then gone back down again. Madness. The rest of the mountain is one of the most exciting pieces of ridge walking on the mainland. Donít make the same mistake as Dougie Reid and I, and make it too exciting by carrying all your bothy gear, and tent, along the ridge to Sheneval.

Beinn Dearg Mhor:  If you get to Sheneval the star of the show will be this hill. (More like Doris Day than Greta Garbo). Looking at this hill is part of the experience of spending time at Sheneval, which is a good bothy on the edge of a superb area. Beinn Dearg Mhor not only looks good but it giv4es the most interesting walk in the area. It is well worth doing Ė even if it is not a Munro.

Liathach: Liathach is not a pretty sight, but once you clap eyes on it youíve got to climb it. From the road itís built like a fortress but on the north flank itís got a couple of marvellous corries with crumbling ridges skirting them. Itís a steep, complex, testing hill which never lets you relax Ė except at the west end.

Sgurr na Ciche: So long as there are areas like Knoydart there will be hope for the likes of you and I. There are a lot of fine hills there Ė although they are only part of the attraction of the place Ė and Sgurr na Ciche only gets into the TT as the best of a very good bunch. Itís got a great shape and lies at the end of a very enjoyable ridge. It is one of those hills where you get that very satisfying feeling of being a long way away from work.

Cruachan: Cruachan is in at the expense of The Saddle (Nothing from Kintail? Shame!), because it is better value for money for the walker. It is a mini range of hills which makes a great day if you are lucky enough to get round the whole lot. If the weather is good and you get a view, that is a double bonus, because it is a fine place to get a better appreciation of that part of Argyll. The hydro scheme  does not spoil the hill for me. I like to see the land being used and although the hill would look better without the dam, the electricity pay-off makes the sacrifice worthwhile.

Bidean: Another piece of cheating here. Itís taking the whole jing-bang of corries, caves, tops, which Sir Hugh decreed to be one mountain when he sanctified Bidean nam Bian. He must have been in a bad mood that day, but if he said itís one mountain Ė itís one mountain. Letís take a look at some of the things you get for your money: a Munro, five tops, at least one Corbett, the Three Sisters, Ossianís Cave, Diamond and Church Door Butresses, plus more routes than you can shake a stick at, Lost Valley Ė to mention but a few. You could go back to Bidean for the rest of your days and would still find something new. For me it is the most interesting hill I have ever been on. [Since this was first published, Stob Choire Sgreamach has been elevated to Munro status]

Cioch na h-Oighe: Arran is a place apart, and holds memories for me of holidays with our kids and stravaiging about in my first pair of walking boots. The best hill in Arran is Cir Mhor, but Iíve never been up it Ė yet Ė so step up wee Cioch to represent the Arran hills. It is only 2168 feet high but a right proud pap flanked by a spectacular coire called the Devilís Punch Bowl.

Hereís how I remember it. Good scrambling on the way to the top, a great view when I got there, a narrow ridge leading toward Goat Fell, and at the end of the day, my tea waiting for me at High Corrie. Heaven.

This selection makes it obvious that there are a whole lot of worthwhile places Duffin has never visited. Absolutely true. Iíve still to see some of the best places Ė and that thought is a great comfort.