Mountain Literature Classics: The First Fifty by Muriel Gray

It was J Dow, Munroist number 5, who first pointed out that all four of the so-called 'compleaters' previous to himself had availed themselves of beards, and that these were perhaps to be counted as improper aids. (Or else if it wasn't J Dow it was somebody else.) Hence the subtitle of Muriel Gray's book, she having been up most of the Scottish 3000ers with no more assistance than a smear of lipstick and a splodge-of-vomit fleece designed as ideal camouflage for when passed out on the pavement on a Glasgow Friday night.

The First Fifty  © Ronald Turnbull

But the subtitle might also be taken as a dig at specifically bearded rival Hamish Brown. As well as boasting a beard, Hamish has completed all the Munros at least six times, including the first crossing of all of them in a single walk.

She's an extremely amusing sort of whippersnapper

Meanwhile Muriel miscaptions the western end of Liathach as being Beinn Alligin... So you might have expected Hamish to occupy the 3000-foot tendency in my UKH virtual booklist. A mere 50 Munros? What sort of a whippersnapper is this Ms Gray anyway?

Well, she's the extremely amusing sort of whippersnapper. Nowhere in 'Hamish's Mountain Walk' is Culra Bothy described as "surrounded by a thick green fog emanating from its occupants' underpants". Nowhere does Hamish consider the particular risk, on Ben Vorlich, of meeting Madonna doing a nude shoot for the Pirelli calendar; or the importance of not clashing a pink iceaxe with lime-green gaiters and a purple, yellow and turquoise rucksack.

And she even managed to entrap Hamish Brown himself. Who immediately published 'The Last Fifty' – a big-booted, mightily bearded Munro tome that's a bit less interesting than Muriel Gray's one.

I've had just one encounter with Muriel Gray. It was live on air on Radio Scotland, though in my case talking down a telephone. Gray was putting forward the peculiar view that Munro-baggers like her are boring obsessives who've got it all wrong. Hamish having perhaps learned his lesson, I was there instead to represent the idea that walking up all of the Munros is a pretty worthwhile project and can even be quite fun. But after 10 seconds of that, Radio Scotland really wanted to talk about Muriel's time in the rag trade and a TV show called The Tube. Well if you've been John Peel's stand-in on Radio One, that puts a simple stroll up Schiehallion into some sort of perspective (on Schiehallion, Gray got left behind in the snow, sat down on a stone and burst into tears).

Culra Bothy... no green underpants fog in sight   © Ronald Turnbull
Culra Bothy... no green underpants fog in sight
© Ronald Turnbull

Just like Alastair Borthwick (who I described in this spot back in August) and WH Murray (described in 2016), Gray started her mounting of mountains on the Cobbler. Unlike those two classic writers, she was impelled up it by sex: "I am not going to lose this very handsome boyfriend who wants to do this instead of going to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery for a look at the Rembrandt and a snog."

I see I disrespected Hamish Brown in that earlier Alastair Borthwick outing in this slot. And that's unfair, as Hamish is ten times the hillgoer I'll ever be, and not just in number of Munros. So watch out for a forthcoming review of 'Hamish's Mountain Walk'. In the meantime, I'll keep on gifting Muriel Gray to any friend or relative arriving on their fiftieth Munro.

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