Desert Island Peaks: Rob Woodall

© Rob Woodall

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 outdoor folk. Peak bagger extraordinaire Rob Woodall takes the island brief literally, picking some wild summits out on Scotland's western fringes, as well as something a little closer to home in vertically-challenged East Anglia.

I like desert peaks, for the way the colourful rock strata are laid bare. And I love islands. At times like this, it's good to be able to draw on special places and memories, and dream of new adventures.

The hills of Jura

I'd happily be marooned on the Isle of Jura, but with a bar, a distillery and a range of accommodation, it might not pass BBC protocols. My first time there was in 1992. We chose a good day for The Paps, whose unmistakable outline I can still recall identifying in my first ever Highlands view, from Ben Lomond in 1981. A sunny 1997 week was bookended by the Bens of Jura Fell Race and the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon. The LAMM included a checkpoint beside a freestanding natural arch on the remote NW coast – an inspired choice by the course planner.

Glengarrisdale bothy, Jura  © mountainstar
Glengarrisdale bothy, Jura
© mountainstar, Mar 2008

A Marilyn bagging trip in 2002 taught me to follow deer tracks through the island's otherwise heartbreaking tussocks, penetrating the "extremely un-get-atable" northern part of the island, as George Orwell described Barnhill where he wrote 1984. The high point of that rough wild area is the remote, complex 485m Dubh Bheinn, one of the best hills on the island, although the Paps are very good.

Scarba and Ben Garrisdale from Beinn Bhreac  © Rob Woodall
Scarba and Ben Garrisdale from Beinn Bhreac
© Rob Woodall

I was back there in 2007 for some HuMPs and trig pillars; a highlight was a traverse between Beinn Bhreac and Ben Garrisdale, with the Isle of Scarba always in view across a lochan studded landscape. With 48 Jura Tumps left to bag, there's plenty more remote wild grandeur (and tussock bashing) to be had yet.

Boreray, St Kilda

Boreray, the easternmost of the St Kilda archipelago, would be a less comfortable place to be a castaway. The St Kildans maintained three bothies there, for use during their shepherding and gannet-harvesting visits, but they may not have met MBA standards.

Stac an Armin from Boreray north ridge  © Rob Woodall
Stac an Armin from Boreray north ridge
© Rob Woodall

My first visit was in 2009; we climbed the steep grassy east face and teetered along the heady north ridge to its 384m summit, marvelling at the birds-eye views of the great Stacs Armin and Lee (it would be another five years of weather-watching before we'd summit those). Ranged across the western skyline are Hirta (Kilda's only regularly accessible island) flanked by its neighbours Dun and tricky Soay. We were on Boreray again in 2014 (while discovering the Stacs don't work in November). We dream of a revisit – a stretch target would be Boreray's stupendous north summit An t-Sail. Some day I'd love to take the "tourist" route to the summit via the Cleit Village – I've never managed to land on the supposedly easier west side.

Carnedd Dafydd

Carnedd Dafydd in northern Snowdonia is one of my first ever peaks. In our teens a group of us camped on nearby 1064m Carnedd Llewelyn, in summer in the middle of a cloud – I'd never been so cold.

Carnedd Dafydd  © john1963
Carnedd Dafydd
© john1963, Feb 2016

I've been there many times since, bagging Nuttalls, running the Welsh 3000s, reccying and eventually completing the mighty Paddy Buckley Round (and helping friends with theirs); poking around the summit rocks for remains of the trig pillar (last seen alive in 1971). My Mountaineering Club has a hut near Bethesda, and this peak features in the Cottage Skyline - a sizeable horseshoe of Nant Ffrancon peaks. During one cloudy circuit we pulled out our compasses - which were pointing in opposite directions! I forget whose was correct. I've never climbed on Ysgolion Duon, but a few times I've scrambed that dramatic north face via the Grib Lem spur, a classic grade 1 scramble.

Mount Olympos

Olympos is the Greece national high point and by legend, the home of the Greek gods, the creamy limestone ramparts of 2917m Mytikas a worthy seat for top god Zeus himself.

Olympus from Skala  © Rob Woodall
Olympus from Skala
© Rob Woodall

My first ascent was in 2008 with septuagenarian USA peak-bagging legend Bob Packard. We'd taken the train from Athens, and made a 2-day ascent with a hut night. We marvelled at the view of the peak from nearby Skala and then revelled in the steep, exposed but straightforward scramble to the summit. Six years later I was back, on an ultra-bagging trip, as Andrew needed the peak. This time we found a more challenging descent route, albeit failing to tag the barely-lower Stephani on the far side of a deep notch. Another time, perhaps, by one of the many other routes to this wonderful peak.

Castor FBM

Closer to home during Covid-19 lockdown, Castor Fundamental Benchmark is a pleasant hour's round trip on foot from home. Not a summit in any sense (Peterborough isn't known for its hills), but in pre-GPS times this was a key part of the Ordnance Survey's level control network, and stands beside an old green lane, beneath a pair of fine horse chestnut trees. Its neat granite mini-pillar has a metal tag indicating it's 113.40 ft above mean sea level. My route passes my local Royal Observers Corps bunker, a Cold War sentinel which has an OS Rivet benchmark, and trig-baggers will be excited to know that there's also an OSBM Bolt benchmark and a Berntsen trig along the route!

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