The First Fifty: Munro-Bagging Without a Beard

“You remember your first mountain in much the same way you remember having your first sexual experience except that walking doesn’t make as much mess and you don’t cry for a week if Ben Nevis forgets to phone the next morning.”

For those of you who think that ‘Munro-Bagging’ is some sort of strange gobbledegook, let me explain. A Munro is a mountain over 3,000 feet, of which there are more than a hundred in Scotland. Munro-bagging is not something a desperate student would do in a factory to earn a bit of extra dosh, but the practice of ‘doing’ each Munro and ticking it off on a list until you have walked, climbed or staggered up them all. It’s kind of like train spotting for blokes with huge ruckascks and beards.

But Muriel Gray does not have a beard. She’s the small, lively Scottish tv presenter who loves walking up mountains and keeping up with the lads. This is her book about her experiences of munro-bagging without a beard.

She can sink pints of Guinness with the best of ’em

Being a woman doing a traditionally male activity gives her an excellent perspective. In mountain climbing circles, a woman who’s not there just trudging several metres behind her husband is quite a rare thing. In fact, until fairly recently, mountain walking was something that the husbands went off to do with their mates while the women sat at home or went shopping. Not any more. Muriel Gray is one of the increasing numbers of women who can do five munros before breakfast and come back to the pub to sink pints of Guinness with the best of ’em.

Ever since she wheezed and crawled up her first mountain to impress a boy, she’s had a strange compulsion to repeat the experience. And it was all because, “In those days of misplaced student feminism I was terrified of being seen as a feeble girlie. God knows why. These days I’d sing On the Good Ship Lollipop and speak like Bonnie Langford if I could get one of the lazy bastards with beards to carry my rucksack.”

Through the retelling of hilarious anecdotes interspersed with descriptions of her favourite munro walks, this book will have you in stitches.

Muriel discusses all sorts of things you need to know before venturing out onto a mountain. For one thing, there’s mountain etiquette: never take a different route just to avoid saying hello to a stranger – it’s just plain rude; and never get into a race with someone else (it will end in tears).

The difference between ramblers, scramblers and danglers?

Then there’s the difference between ramblers, scramblers and danglers. Danglers are the rock climbers who have “lots of metal implements swinging from them at all times. This, I must confess, is quite sexy, in the same way that young, handsome joiners with their belt of tools strung low around their hips can make an impressionable adolescent girl want to have shelves erected”.

Being a female outdoors, there’s the unfairness of the toilet arrangements to get accustomed to: “Men, standing nobly upright on two feet as they take their bladder relief, tend to look all around them, focusing on a glorious horizon and fantasizing about being master of all they survey. We, however, are required to crouch in the heather, and so the attention is drawn through necessity to the things sharing that heather with you, in case any of them might take a fancy to your bottom and jump into your pants.”

The bizarre world of ‘outdoor shops’ where all the clothing is made of fleece and “breathes”

There’s more, including the bizarre and mysterious world of ‘outdoor shops’ where all the clothing is made of fleece and “breathes”, the weird obsession with munro-bagging itself, and people who dismiss mountains below 3,000 feet as not worth doing. She even comes up with her own invention of a strap-on thermal beard for the ladies.

In her own words, this is not a guidebook, but “a grateful celebration of something I love.” Her passion for the mountains comes through loud and clear. So if you’re a woman who owns a rucksack and some hiking boots, or even if you simply venture outdoors from time to time, you’ll really enjoy this book. It’s very, very funny.