Martin Moran used to read maps, not books, at bedtime when he was just five years old, and spent most of his pocket money on these prized charts as he was growing up in the 1960s.
He was passionate about venturing into the great outdoors with his mountaineering equipment, and his wife, Joy, was accustomed to following him on these expeditions.
Yet even she was surprised when, in 1983, he asked her at their Sheffield home: “How would you feel about handing in your notice, selling the house, putting our furniture in storage, hiring a camper van and heading for Scotland to climb all the Munros?”
It was the beginning of a wondrous adventure for the couple, and Martin subsequently made history when he became the first person to scale no fewer than 277 Munros in a single winter, as the prelude to relocating to the Highlands and establishing a successful business.
He was infatuated with the transcendent beauty he encountered on so many gruelling journeys and trysts with nature in its most visceral forms.
And, as the decades passed, Joy grew accustomed to accepting that she was part of an eternal triangle.
As she has written in a new book: “It is not always easy to share your partner with another love. In my case, I was up against the mountains and there are many of them, all over the world. I let him go, time and time again, but he always returned exhilarated, yet humbled.”
Or at least, he did so until the spring of 2019, when he was killed, alongside seven others, in an avalanche while they were in the Himalayas on a pioneering expedition.
The 64-year-old was part of a group who were caught up in an avalanche on the Nanda Devi mountain, which devastated their efforts to scale the 21,250ft peak. There was no contact after May 26, and despite a rapid response from search teams, it wasn’t until the end of June that the bodies began to be recovered.
It was a grievous tragedy – or at least it might seem so to outsiders – but Joy and her son, Alex, have only positive recollections of how he left behind a treasure trove of “rich and wonderful memories” from going boldly into new challenges with a keen-as-mustard relish.
And, after the couple moved to the Highlands, Martin became an active member of Torridon Mountain Rescue team, who issued a poignant tribute to their colleague on the first anniversary of the disaster earlier this summer.
However, his loss has not diminished his family’s passion for the high life and encouraging others to embrace the thrill of the Munros.
And they are now actively working to build on his exploits by creating a foundation in his name which will assist underprivileged youngsters to follow in his footsteps.
There was a surreal start to Martin and Joy’s enduring relationship with Scotland and each other more than three decades ago, which has gained the admiration and respect of such talismanic mountaineering figures as Sir Chris Bonington.
Even as they completed their preparations, the duo had no house or job and precious little money. With hindsight, Joy admitted it seemed “absolute madness”, but on December 21 1983, they headed off to the north of Scotland in their camper – “the six by two-and-half-metre box that would be our home for the next 83 days.”
She added: “Climbing the Munros is a wonderful way to escape. Every one presents something different. On some, you are cradled by other mountains so close you might think that you could skip to the next, only to find a 300m drop in between.
“On others, you stand isolated and alone, looking on an endless landscape that takes your breath away. To this day, the Munro effect is still within me. Every hill or mountain I cast my eyes on, I have a strong urge to climb.
“Each day’s nutrition was of paramount importance. Protein energy drinks and powders were not available in that era. We were both vegetarians, but it was a challenge on the two-burner gas stove.
“We did have a small oven, so there was plenty of home baking when we listened to the shipping forecast together every night.
“‘Hebrides Bailey, south westerly veering north westerly gale, eight or severe gale nine, decreasing six, wintery showers, mainly good’ – it was such an iconic, poetic, soothing presentation style and Martin had total confidence in it.”
The Munros in Winter
The new edition of The Munros in Winter offers an abundance of compelling descriptions of the diverse experiences and sights which Martin enjoyed on his marathon trek.
He admitted that there were some initial sceptics when the expedition was announced – although Joy handled the PR and media work with typical aplomb – and the pages crackle with breath-taking images, genuinely descriptive reminiscences and self-deprecating humour.
And what shines through is their mutual wonder at a kaleidoscope of vistas, regardless of the climactic conditions or risks which confronted them.
As he recalled: “Our enterprise had been labelled a ‘sponsored circus’ by one editor. A Mr Jamieson wrote in from Balloch, rather acerbically suggesting that I should be nominated for the Motor Caravanner of the Year award.
“However, the book dispelled such notions and gave me a platform of credibility in the mountaineering world. But I knew that to wallow in cosy acceptance would be an abject and miserable surrender from the true values of the mountains.
“Dreams and then action are all that really count.”
Martin Moran’s life was a testament to perseverance and seeking new pathways. He became a highly-regarded guide and tackled the 4,000m peaks of the Alps in a continuous journey of 52 days with his colleague Simon Jenkins in 1993.
As his knowledge increased, he expanded his horizons and was in charge of trips to the Indian Himalaya every year from 1992, while the new millennium was the catalyst for the mountains and ice falls of Norway opening his eyes to another wonder of the world.
But, wherever he travelled, he never forgot the frisson of that maiden foray which was the catalyst for him and his wife to settle in Lochcarron: a picturesque piece of heaven.
Martin said: “Whatever the exquisite delights of Garhwal Himalaya or the stern grandeur of Norway’s fjord lands, I conclude that the Scottish Highlands are unsurpassed in their mix of upland solitude, maritime drama and winter splendour.
“Joy knew this all along. She has always loved her life in Lochcarron and has endured the worst of the weather without a complaint. Sitting in our garden in the evening, looking out over the sun-dappled moors towards Ben Dronaig, there seems nowhere better to pass a life.
“But now I am forgetting the midge!”
Top of the world
Alex Moran, 33, wasn’t born until after his father had made history on the Munros.
But he can recall trips in his pushchair to various hills, peaks and bens and there hasn’t been a time in his life when he hasn’t shared his parents’ passion for the high spots.
He told me: “Dad was somebody who cherished his time on the mountains and I don’t have bad memories about anything that happened.
“The book he wrote about the Munros offered a nice window into his world and I feel grateful that he had the vision and the inspiration to make his dreams a reality.
“He knew that there is no such thing as a climb or trek, either in Scotland, Europe or Asia, which is 100% safe, because once you go up there into these places in winter, you are not in full control and there is always an element of risk.
“Dad was well aware of that, he was an extremely careful mountaineer, and somebody who was looking after other people for most of his life, but you can only be ready for so much.
“I’ve seen that for myself, but it hasn’t dissuaded me from being a mountaineer. On the contrary, I have the sense that my dad died doing something he loved and we should all realise life is fragile.”
Alex has followed in his father’s footsteps and clearly relishes embarking on arduous journeys high in Himalayan terrain, with its feeling of being at the top of the world.
He described one particularly memorable, if frightening, close shave with nature’s majesty.
As he said: “We were in the Indian Himalaya on what turned into a very difficult trip. It snowed two metres (6ft 6in) in the space of just 48 hours and we had to knuckle down in challenging conditions and make the best of the situation.
“Well, the next morning, we woke up, and right in front of us, there was this enormous glacier and it was completely breath-taking. We all just stood there in awe.
“These sort of experiences have made me realise how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things, but they have also helped me appreciate how wonderful it is to be alive.
“Dad would always tell us the same thing. There are so many hills and mountains to climb and that is one of the reasons why we are launching the foundation.”
The world has changed in so many ways since Martin and Joy embarked on their momentous odyssey in 1985.
At that stage, nobody carried mobile phones in their rucksacks, or had access to iPads at base for the latest news or weather forecasts.
As Joy explained: “I had a handwritten itinerary for each day with Martin’s estimated time of return. He would leave in the morning, more often than not in the dark and, much later, I would see his head torch flashing across the hillside as he descended or hear a thud on the camper van door when he arrived.
“Unwavering trust, mutual telepathy, and the understanding that getting off these mountains can take more time than anticipated were necessities.”
The Martin Moran Foundation
Both Joy and Alex have urged people to enhance their physical and mental health by creating their own adventures on Scotland’s myriad high places.
They may have lost their beloved husband and father, but this is a love story for the ages.
As Joy said: “I am left with such rich and wonderful memories of this time in our lives and I can only encourage you to make your own journeys into the mountains.”
Alex has clearly been motivated by being involved in the new foundation’s establishment.
As he told me: “It has been set up in loving memory of Dad, and although this has been a very strange year, we will be looking to help people who have not had the chance to get out on to Scotland’s mountains. It offers so many benefits for people of every age.
“He dedicated his life to sharing his passion for the mountains through his guiding career and his writing.
“The foundation will endeavour to continue his legacy in giving more people, from all walks of life, the opportunity to experience the great outdoors.
“And I am already organising a challenge next summer to raise its profile.”
Further information about the foundation can be found at www.moran-mountain.co.uk/martinmoranfoundation.
The updated edition of The Munros in Winter is published by Sandstone Press this month.