My Mountains - Ed Byrne

© Ed Byrne

Irish actor and comedian Ed Byrne describes himself as a latecomer to hill walking. He says: "I didn't really get started until my 30s; that was when I decided I would become a Munro bagger". Ed's tally of Munros is currently 112, although work and family life, with two young sons and wife Claire in Essex, make it hard for him to get away to Scotland as often as he might like, he tells Fiona Russell. But his hill trips don't always go smoothly...

Ed, 47, says: "I am always trying to squeeze in a Munro but it can be a bit fraught because of that. I'll be driving to the Highlands in search of a new summit and then I get stuck behind a caravan and I'm shouting at the driver to hurry up and then I finally get on to the walk and I am on a on a ridge feeling stressed about time and I know I should be enjoying the tranquility of the moment but then I miss a turning or come down the wrong route and it feels a bit dangerous.

Ed started Munro bagging in his 30s, and has notched up over 110 so far  © Ed Byrne
Ed started Munro bagging in his 30s, and has notched up over 110 so far
© Ed Byrne

"I am getting batter at enjoying the mountains but they can be a bit marred by stress and unfortunate events."

The funnyman continues at pace. "I remember a two-day walk that I had seen in a magazine and I really fancied it. I had my OS map, a copy of the magazine route and all my kit. I was getting ready at the start of the walk and I had left the door of the car open and it was raining. The map ended up being drenched.

"I then discovered I'd packed Claire's boots and so I had to set off in trail shoes, which weren't ideal. I reached the point where I planned to camp, only to discover my headtorch had been on while in my rucksack and the batteries were drained. My new jetboil still had the shop's security tag on for some reason and that made it almost impossible to use the gadget. It was just one of the trips when everything went wrong.

"People always ask you, don't they, what was your most difficult or tricky experience in the mountains? It's the same as the question I always get asked about stand-up comedy: 'Have you ever been on stage and something has gone wrong and what do you do if you are being heckled?'

"I don't know why people always ask about the hard stuff!"

Ed is keen to pass on his enjoyment of walking to his sons and the family recently walked to the summit of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales.

His latest tour, Ed Byrne: If I'm Honest, sees the comedian visiting towns and cities across the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia and Iceland in 2020. See for dates and tickets. During the tour, he will return to Glasgow, the city where he began his stand-up career while studying at Strathclyde University.

Over more than two decades, Ed has enjoyed huge critical and popular success in the UK and Ireland. He has performed hit tours, sold out many runs at the Edinburgh Fringe, had a two-week run in the West End and appeared on radio, television, the stage and the big screen.

Like comedy, Ed enjoys the variety of walking in the hills. He says: "You never know how it will go on the day and things can go wrong. But it can also be perfect, like a show that goes really well and a day on a Munro with beautiful conditions. My favourite weather is cloud rather than blue skies, but the sort of rolling clouds that part every so often to reveal dramatic views."

More often seen on the hills in a fleece or Gore-Tex jacket  © Idil Sukan
More often seen on the hills in a fleece or Gore-Tex jacket
© Idil Sukan

What is your first memory of walking in the hills?

It was Mweelrea, a mountain of 814m height on a horseshoe-shaped massif that includes the peaks of Ben Lugmore and Ben Bury, and which is located between Killary Harbour and Doo Lough, in Mayo, Ireland. I was about 12 or 13 and on a school trip. We were lucky at my school in Dublin to have an adventure centre and a hill walking club. This was very unusual. The teacher who ran the centre took a group of pupils to Mweelrea. I remember being very tired when I reached the top.

When did you realise you would be a keen life-long walker?

I did a bit of hill walking in my teenage years but it wasn't until I was about 30 or so that I really started walking. I was driving through the Peak District in England with Claire – she's from that area – and I looked around at the mountains and thought that was where I'd like to be.

Then I had a memory of watching the Munro Show by Muriel Gray, all those years ago when I was at college in Glasgow, and I suddenly thought I would like to do some Munros. That was the start of the list ticking. I have my Munros ticked off on a hill list app and I do hope to finish them one day.

Do you prefer coast, hills, moorland or mountain ridges?

The ridges are my favourite. It's nice to have done the hard work walking up to the ridge and then, once you're up, enjoying walking up high. Crib Goch in Snowdonia is a favourite ridge walk.

Are you a fair weather or any weather walker?

Any weather. I am happy just to get on with it. I remember being out with the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team onc time, for a story I was writing, and I asked one of them what was the biggest error that walkers made. I was told that it was people who were determined to get out on their chosen mountain whatever the weather. They are the most likely to ignore a dangerous forecast and they can more easily get into trouble. So, I will go out in any weather as long as it is not dangerous.

Camp cuisine - home made dehydrated meals beat fancy packet stuff, says Ed  © Ed Byrne
Camp cuisine - home made dehydrated meals beat fancy packet stuff, says Ed
© Ed Byrne

What are your three all-time favourite hill or mountain walks, and why?

The Haute route, from Chamonix to Zermatt. It's a 10-day hike and the views were spectacular.

The Fjallraven Classic, a four-day trek in Swedish Lapland. It really was quite breathtaking scenery.

Scotland. I like a nice horseshoe, where you can see most of the walk laid out before you. Cruachan is a favourite. A horseshoe and two Munros.

Is the night time a good time to go walking?

I have done a bit of night walking and it can be great. One time, while I was at the Edinburgh Fringe, I set off to walk An Caisteal near Crianlarich at about 2am. Dawn arrived as I was making the ascent and there was a cloud inversion. It was beautiful.

Another time, walking at night was a necessity, when I did Mont Blanc. I have tried to summit Mont Blanc twice and been successful once.

The time I failed was because I didn't cope well with the altitude and had to turn back due to nausea. I was successful another time though.

Have you ever been lucky to avoid/escape a difficult situation in the mountains?

Yes, that was on Mont Blanc actually. I was with a small group, including two comedian friends, one from America and another from Canada. We did not have a guide and we made it to the summit okay but on the descent the wind picked up. The wind was so strong it was pulling our packs from our backs and loosening the straps. One of the friends ran out of water and another was hallucinating that there was a mountain hut nearby. It was a hairy situation.

It was the sort of moment where you think you might die and you are writing a letter in your head to your wife to say sorry for all things you have done wrong.

Then, when we did make it to the mountain hut, there was the usual apathetic French guy telling us: "You are too late. We are not serving hot food anymore." Your near-disaster is hardly even worth mentioning to the people in the hut because it will likely be dismissed as a nothing. I am sure many people know what I am talking about!

He's a map, compass, phone and GPS man - the belt and braces approach to navigation
© Ed Byrne

Your perfect walking partner?

I like walking with people, especially if they are chatty. I don't like them to have a phone that rings all the time though. I have trouble finding people to walk with to be honest because they are rarely available when my work allows me to go.

I am happy to walk on my own most of the time but I do prefer a friend when I will be camping. I get fed up with my own thoughts and so I like to have some company then. But I don't like big groups.

Boots, trail shoes, Wellies or barefoot?

Boots. I have a variety but I most like leather walking boots.

How do you navigate - GPS gadget, map and compass, phone or a mix...?

I have a belt-and-braces approach. I'll have a phone with an app, a GPS gadget and a map and compass.

What three items are always in your rucksack?

Mobile phone and my new Kestrel Pocket Weather Meter. I saw a guide with one of these and knew I wanted one. I always have a spare buff or two. I really like my buffs.

What goes in your pack as a guilty secret?!

Hmmm, I am not sure if I would call it a secret item but I do like some whisky. I have a Stanley hip flask – it's really nice – and I'll add some kind of cask strength whisky. Something like a 60% strength because then you get a good amount of alcohol for the weight of carrying it!

Your favourite walking food/s?

I have a food dehydrator at home and I make my own beef jerky, which is great for hill walking. If I am camping I might take dehydrated home-made bolognese. It tastes so much better than the shop bought camping foods.

If you could only pick one area of Britain to walk in, where would it be?

Scotland, somewhere. Probably the Cairngorms. You can get properly lost there.

What is your ultimate walking heaven?

One day I'd like to go to the Himalaya. Somewhere like Mera Peak, one of the highest places you can trek to. I'd like to be able to see Everest and all the huge mountains.

Will you be walking until you are 103?

I sincerely doubt I will make it to 103 but if I can't walk when I am older I would like to be able to cycle or paddle so I can still enjoy being outdoors. I will walk for as long as I can though.

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