Highlands-based hillwalker Shona Macpherson recently completed a round of all Scotland's 282 Munros, at an average rate of one per day - in the process raising thousands of pounds for mental health charity Mikeysline. Sarah Douglas joined the party on her final Munro, Beinn Sgritheall.
I'm sitting alone on a bench on the Glenelg peninsula facing Loch Hourn which spills into the Sound of Sleat. The rhythmic sound of the lapping water is calming. A crow is fighting against the wind, flap flap flap go its wings. It gives in to the struggle and now carries effortlessly on the air, it glides over my head. I turn to watch and I notice Beinn Sgritheall is still hidden, shrouded in thick mists. It's been damp here all day – not the most favourable weather for a pal to finish a first round of Munros.
I first met Shona Macpherson at the Highlife gym in Inverness three years ago. I could tell she was a person with great motivation and determination; someone who grabs life, shakes it about and makes stuff happen. I liked her immediately. And so I was pleased to be asked to join her today for her last Munro.
To 'compleat' is a great achievement by any standards, but Shona set herself the challenge of 'hugging' (as she puts it) all two hundred and eighty-two Munros in two hundred and eighty-two days. To make things more difficult her round started in winter and shortly before Scotland went into second lockdown. Undeterred, she managed it, all the while raising awareness – and just short of six grand in sponsorship – for the Highland based charity she works for, Mikeysline. The majority of her mission was accomplished solo and with only a couple of hairy winter moments, but today she had nineteen friends to keep her company.
Wide open spaces, ragged ridges and empty summits are exactly where I want to be regardless of whether all in my world is good or not so good, so to be out in such a large number isn't something I would ordinarily want to do – but a last Munro is different. The usual peace and solitude are instead exchanged for a camaraderie that seems to make time evaporate and bad weather bearable, and the experience of being on the mountains becomes restorative in a different kind of way.
No doubt connecting with nature soothes troubles, but as our party arrived at Beinn Sgritheall's summit, a bedraggled but smiling bunch, I reflected that maybe, in the increasingly exclusive relationship I have with the outdoors, I was letting myself become too disconnected from people and the benefits that brings. Spending time with this welcoming group of hitherto strangers had been soothing in another way. I'd say I've had my share of troubles, disasters and grief but chatting to others as we walked over the mountain's unrelentingly steep mixed slopes in the wind and the rain reminded me we all have stories and burdens to carry through life – from crushed hands, eating disorders and losing parents too young to losing a child. Life can be tough as hell, but it's how we deal with the hardships that matter – and we don't have to face those hardships alone. It's great to walk, but it is also really good to talk.
Only tiny pockets of milky blue punctuate the slate sky. Laden clouds shred over rugged Knoydart mountains and rain falls in fine silky curtains across one hill and the other. It's grown too dark and too chilly to stay outside on my bench by the Loch. I remember the slogan I'd clutched earlier on Beinn Sgritheall's summit, 'Brighter days lie ahead,' and as I clamber into my tent, with one last look up at the sky and the mountains, I know those words are the truth.
Mikeysline was founded in late 2015 after a tragic number of suicides in the Highland region. The charity supports those struggling with mental health issues through a text-based service, drop-in health services in Inverness, Skiath and Tain, and through a new young person's service. They work with Adventurous Audio on the Speaking of Suicide podcast. To make a donation go to Justgiving