Open Country by Erica Hume Niven

I MET Darran Moss last year as I was heading off Cauldcleuch Head (pictured below). He was walking up the hill as if he was just strolling along the shore.

Here was a man used to being on the high ground. He was neat with no sign of exertion on his face.

As we chatted it transpired that he was on his 850th hill. I wondered about this man’s drive that powered him to spend so many days on his own. Thankfully for Darran his wife has kept up with his high rambles on the English hills.

I caught up with my new hill friend when he had just conquered his 1,000th summit. I know there are people who have completed the Munros more than 10 times. Although this man is interested in hill lists as well, he is not just interested in one or two lists. He wants all the hill lists in Britain under his belt – he is a man on a serious mission, he’s verging on mental, but he’s not. He is unassuming and very pleasant.

His legs – he was wearing shorts when I met him – look as hard as the rocks that they have trodden. Darran was brought up in North Wales in the village of Penmaenmawr which lies near Conwy on the northern edge of the Snowdonia National Park. Spending the first 17 years of his life there, Darran was influenced most by his grandfather.

“My parents had no interest in the outdoors and wouldn’t know their curlews from their buzzards,” he told me. “However, my granddad has a strong love for the hills and nature and was very influential in getting me interested. From as young as I can remember my granddad would take me up the hills of Penmaenmawr pointing out the flowers, birds, old quarry workings, stone circles and fantastic views.”

He continued: “I cannot remember ever being bored of these treks and would enjoy our walks wherever they ended up and whatever the weather, and will always remember the passion and knowledge my granddad has for the hills.”

Many a keen hillwalker has been influenced in this way by an older member of their family. Some are influenced by explorers and mountaineers that have long gone – black and white photos with eyes like coals looking at you from the past, weathered skin.

Darran climbed his first proper mountain (hill over 2,000ft by his definition) when he was only 10 years old. I was only eight when I reached the summit of Goatfell, but that is the only number I can beat him on. His first hill was Tal-y-Fan in the northern Carneddau. Like me Darran stuck to a group of familiar hills for a very long 23 years; concentrated in the Carneddau, Glyder and Snowdown ranges.

In 2005 when Darran met his wif and moved out of his comfort zone of hills in north Wales to the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. As well as joining the erosion brigade who do the three peaks in 24 hours and often never go up a hill again, he started to tackle the Nuttalls – summits over 2,000ft in England and Wales.

When I asked if it is all just a game of numbers Darran said: “The numbers are very important, but more importantly, hills are home to me. I must have been a mountain goat in a previous life. The hills are the only place I truly relax and it’s very important that I get the hill-time balance right for stress and wellbeing levels.

“On the subject of numbers I know ‘bagging’ can divide hillwalkers, but to me it’s a great motivator to explore all the mountainous areas in Britain. Yes, some days can seem like a relay race between summits.”

The day I met Darran he was on his way home. It was the 13th day of hillwalking in the Southern Uplands. He had walked 281km and cycled 37km to reach 93 summits. He walked off the summit with me and Mark and Jayjay, and I imagine that was the slowest he had walked in two weeks.

I know for that afternoon he enjoyed the company after many lonely days on the hill.