Desert Island Peaks: Anne Butler

© Anne Butler

If you were marooned alone, with only a few hills for company, which would you choose? For a bit of lockdown fun we've posed this question to some well known hill folk. Here Anne Butler, President of the Munro Society, fills us in on her personal favourites. And - whisper it - one's not even a Munro! With apologies to Radio 4.


When we think of a desert island, most people would imagine an idyllic combination of sea, sand, sun, palm trees, hammocks and exotic flora and fauna. Quite frankly I can't think of anything worse. After spending endless sunny days ambling through the surf with the warm water lapping at my toes my mind would keep wandering back to the hills of Scotland; a place where I have always been at my happiest, my go to place when I need solitude, or a challenge, to recharge or reconnect with nature. A place where chocolate doesn't melt.

The hill where it all started - Ben Lomond

As I walk along the shore the sun beats down and my toes dig into the warm sand, my mind drifts back to Scotland and to  Ben Lomond where it all began. Little did I know that this innocent hill, one of the most straightforward Munros, would change the direction my life was to take.

Ben Lomond - not a bad first Munro  © Dan Bailey
Ben Lomond - not a bad first Munro
© Dan Bailey

So how hard could one simple hill walk be? The answer is very. It was September, it was a Saturday and there were a lot of equally ill prepared people on the hill so we had plenty of company.

There were many more hills to follow...  © Anne Butler
There were many more hills to follow...
© Anne Butler

We were well used to walking on Dartmoor, but Dartmoor undulates, there are lots of little ups and downs whereas Ben Lomond has almost 1km of sustained up followed by 1km of sustained down. The guidebooks tell you where to park, how to find the path and tempt you to the top with the promise of sweeping vistas and views to take your breath away. But what they don't mention is that almost 1km of up is bloody hard work!

We were overtaken by many members of the Goretex clan who cheerfully informed us 'it's not far now', I am still not sure how I managed to refrain from punching them. About half way up we walked into damp, drizzly cloud and I assured myself that it would clear when we go to the top, it rarely does but I still keep up this pretence, even to this day.

So that was it, we reached the trig point, we couldn't see a thing but it felt good and despite the tiredness, I felt energised, a spark deep within had been ignited and I knew there would be many more hills to follow.

A special place in my heart - Beinn Alligin

Yet another day on my desert island. I can't believe that some people actually pay for this; the sandy beaches, blue skies and the relentless heat. Life on the island isn't all it's cracked up to be, every day is the same and my thoughts turn to the changing seasons in the Highlands. The subtle changes of colour as the hills come alive in the spring followed by the lush greens of summer and I remember that day on  Beinn Alligin during the autumn of 2012. I have been lucky to have climbed Beinn Alligin several times, all in good weather, but this day will be forever embedded in my mind and also in my heart.

Revelling in the silence on Beinn Alligin  © Anne Butler
Revelling in the silence on Beinn Alligin
© Anne Butler

Molly (the Collie) and I arrived early and had the hill to ourselves, or so we thought. After a few minutes I realised we were in the midst of one of the greatest battles since the Highland Clearances – the Rut. In every direction stags were roaring at each other and as we climbed higher their calls were echoing around us in the corrie below. Once we were onto the ridge the sounds of roaring were carried up towards us from both sides of the hill.

When we go to the summit of Sgurr Mor it suddenly went quiet. Not just quiet, there was total silence. Maybe the deer were having a break for lunch? Molly and I sat taking in the view, there wasn't a sound, no wind, no birds, no burns, nothing. It was just us; we just sat and took it all in, a feeling of complete contentment that I had never previously experienced. And then it started, the stags were gearing up for round two. The roaring was all around again and we had to drag ourselves away to continue our walk.

Whenever I feel life is getting on top of me, I think back to that day and those precious moments at the summit. Beinn Alligin will always have a special place in my heart.

I would never get bored of climbing Ladhar Bheinn

Even though it isn't an island, the Knoydart peninsula certainly feels like one. It is remote, surrounded by sea and takes a lot of effort to get to.

Ladhar Bheinn - worth the mega effort of the approach!  © Anne Butler
Ladhar Bheinn - worth the mega effort of the approach!
© Anne Butler

 Ladhar Bheinn is the highest peak in Knoydart, one of the finest Munros and one that can be climbed by so many different routes it is a hill I would never get bored of climbing.

Inverie is the heart of Knoydart and as soon as you step off the ferry from Mallaig you immediately feel more relaxed, there is no rush to do anything and all the hills are on your doorstep.

Ladhar Bheinn is hidden from view from Inverie and involves quite a trek just to get onto the ridge but once you are up you are on one of the most spectacular rollercoaster ridges imaginable. On our first visit we just kept stopping and looking and on subsequent visits the circuit gave an equally rewarding day out. Once you reach the track it is a long walk back to Inverie with the promise of a pint in UK's most overrated pub constant motivator.

Barrisdale Bay and the Druim a' Choire Odhair ridge added another approach route, this time far superior to the route from Inverie with a chance to explore deep into Coire Dhorrcail on the way. I have to admit I haven't completed a full circuit of the corrie from Barrisdale. This is viewed as the finest route to the summit but maybe not one to undertake with a Border Collie in tow!

So, after seven visits to Ladhar Bheinn I am still keen to go back for more, I still have a route to explore and I look forward to settling myself back into the Knoydart pace of life again.

Hopefully on my desert island I will find a long lost copy of OS Sheet 33 so I can relive those climbs and plan again for that missing route.

Old Faithful - Meall a' Bhuachaille

There is a small hill on my island that I can climb whenever I feel I need a hill fix, it's tiny and if it was in Scotland it wouldn't get a look in amongst the giants of the Highlands. Quite similar in that respect to  Meall a' Bhuachaille, my old faithful, being overshadowed by the Munros of the northern Cairngorms. Whenever I drive up the A9 it is there, a welcoming sentinel, its pyramidal shape reminding me that I am back home.

Meall a' Bhuachaille doesn't always feel as small as it looks  © Anne Butler
Meall a' Bhuachaille doesn't always feel as small as it looks
© Anne Butler

I can see Meall a' Bhuachaille from my bedroom window. I've only ever planned to climb it twice, every other time (and there have been many) has been a spur of the moment thing. The walk in is pretty special and sometimes I have got as far as Ryvoan bothy, the weather has closed in so I have just turned round and headed back, knowing that Meall a' Bhuachaille will be waiting for another day. It's a hill that feels like home, reaching its summit and looking down on Aviemore feels comforting and welcoming, like visiting an old friend or climbing into freshly laundered bedsheets.

It'll be there whenever I need it, full of memories and walks with friends and dogs no longer with us.

As soon as I am rescued from this accursed desert island I will be back and I know Meall a' Bhuachaille will still be there waiting for me.


UKH Articles and Gear Reviews by Anne Butler



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