“Meeting the Dull Men of Great Britain – The Mountain Measurer”
10 minute read
It took me almost three years to make it over to Wales to meet Myrddyn Phillips.
And by that I don’t mean that I set off from home and almost three years later I finally arrived (1).
No, what I mean is that the planning of this trip had originally begun back in early 2020, but then this thing appeared called Covid-19 that turned coughing into a social faux pas and forced us all to stay indoors and not breathe on each other (2).
But thankfully after more than two years of silence and with Covid-19 gradually disappearing over the horizon, I got back in touch in Myrddyn, and much to my delight, he was still interested in meeting me.
In early October 2022, I packed my hiking boots, grabbed my walking poles, and then I set off for Wales.
Note – The last article in this series was published back in February 2020 in which I met Nick West, the man who collects beer cans. You can read the article by following this link.
When I arrived in Welshpool on a cool but sunny Sunday morning, I was feeling nervous.
It had been a long time since I’d done anything like this, and following a difficult year that had been further compounded by the lingering effects of multiple lockdowns, I wasn’t feeling on top of my game. In fact, I was nowhere near it.
On the build up to the trip, Myrddyn and I had only been able to communicate by email. He had no mobile phone, and all I’d been given was his home address.
At one time I’d have been buzzing from the prospect of a situation like this, but not today; I was a lone man driving to the home address of somebody I’d only exchanged a handful of emails with.
What was I thinking? (3)
But any nerves and unanswered questions I had were dissolved the second I saw Myrddyn, because as I pulled up in front of his house, he was stood on the doorstep waiting for me with a welcoming smile on his face.
“Hi Elliot, nice to meet you. How was your drive?”
Myrddyn was a tall and stocky man, with long grey hair and a well-kept goatee beard.
“Nice to meet you too.” I responded, shaking hands. “The drive was good thank you. And what a beautiful day it is.”
Myrddyn spoke softly, with a voice that was as friendly as his face. “If you’d like to leave your car here, we can jump in mine and set off.”
And as I happily climbed into his passenger seat, my next chapter with the Dull Men of Great Britain was about to begin.
As Myrddyn navigated the streets of Welshpool, he instantly put me at ease with his charm, complimenting my writing and making reference to the previous Meeting the Dull Men of Great Britain articles.
It became clear that he’d done his homework, making friendly-digs at my tendency towards ironing my socks; (4) and we both talked with a fondness for Leland Carlson, founder of The Dull Men’s Club, whom we’d both met in the past.
Leland had approached Myrddyn with an offer to include his mountain-measuring dullness in the DMC book, and he jumped at the chance.
“I’ve always been of the opinion that if something like that happens, take the opportunity. Go with the flow. Because you never know what may come out of it.”
I began to suspect that the two of us may have a few things in common, even if just in our approaches towards life.
“I’ve always lived for experience. But I notice that the older I get, the more I live for contentment.” He continued.
And this was something that I could definitely relate to.
I’ve always lived my life in such a way that I was willing to throw myself into every random situation that I could, even stupid things. In fact, especially the stupid things.
I’d often face a situation, laugh to myself, admit that it was completely ridiculous, and then I’d say…
Fuck it, what’s the worst that could happen? It will at least give me a story to tell.
But that side of me has definitely mellowed and I’m more calculated with my decisions, not because I’m less adventurous, but perhaps because I realise that time is a priceless commodity. As such, I now choose to invest my time more carefully.
A lot of my previous decisions came from not really knowing myself. They were journeys of self-discovery. But now that I understand myself better and know what makes me tick, I’m able to focus on the things that bring contentment to my world.
“Well, I guess that’s the philosophy of the DMC, right?” I suggested.
Which is something that we both agree upon, because at surface level The Dull Men’s Club sounds, well, really dull. But at the centre of it all is a place of contentment that’s fuelled by passion, allowing these men to find joy in the supposedly mundane things in life.
We begin our walk by heading through Maesgwastad Cemetary before starting an ascent uphill, and our conversation inevitably addresses the effects of the pandemic.
Lockdown had been tough on everybody, but with it also came opportunity, and this was something that Myrddyn embraced. A love of travel had often had him setting his sights much further afield than Wales, but the restrictions of lockdown had forced him to begin exploring places much closer to home.
In many ways, life became much quieter and simpler during those times, and with it came a greater opportunity to achieve the aforementioned inner contentment.
I quietly laughed to myself as I thought about the various DMC members and how in many ways their mental preparation for lockdown began years ago; I mean, being a pro at watching paint dry must have definitely helped Keith Jackson during lockdown, and Steve Wheeler would have had plenty of spare time to count up his milk bottles.
But as Myrddyn continued to tell me his story, the significance of our walk and also the conversation about the pandemic became clear, with his grandad having died during the last pandemic.
“He died in a prisoner of war camp in France, back in 1918. So that would have made it the Spanish Flu.” Myrddyn said.
His grandad had been a gamekeeper to the very estate in which we were now walking, and the hill upon which we were stood atop was where Myrddyn had scattered his own Dad’s ashes.
I was truly grateful for the privilege, and I felt the utmost respect for having been invited into such personal aspects of a practical stranger’s life.
The parallels in our lives continued, with a shared love of travel becoming a topic of discussion.
Myrddyn caught the travel bug when he was young and we talked about the importance of experiencing it first hand, rather than observing it as an armchair-traveller.
“Travelling certainly broadens your horizons. All the smells. All the sounds. The people. The language. All the places you can go. Every day can bring a different experience.” Myrddyn said passionately.
We talked about the many benefits that it brings to your life, and how experiencing other cultures allows you to understand that things aren’t always black-and-white, and that there are many ways to look at the same thing. It allows you to open yourself up to different ideas, opinions, and how things aren’t simply right or wrong, good or bad.
We both had the same outlook about home life too – that home is a base, and a place to keep you centred. Neither of us have moved far from where we were born, despite the fact that we love to get out into the world and to discover what’s out there.
But at the end of it all, home is a place to return to.
And it didn’t take us long until we found ourselves talking about relationships; the effect that they can have upon our lives, and how things don’t always turn out the way we expect them to.
A number of years ago Myrddyn had gotten into a relationship and fell deeply in love with his girlfriend, but when things fell apart and the relationship came to an end, he saw it as an opportunity to begin planning a trip around the world.
Then while planning and saving for the trip, Myrddyn fell in love once again, only this time it was with hill-walking; which was clearly borne from his ever-growing wanderlust. But during this period of his life, Myrddyn’s father became ill and so he put all his time into caring for him.
When his father later passed away, Myrddyn found that he’d created a new plan for his life that would allow him to enjoy the best of both worlds; by travelling and going on treks during the winter months, and then bagging more hills in Britain during the summer months.
His life was now set, only he fell in love once more; this time it was with his late-father’s social worker, and his plans changed again.
Things don’t always go the way we plan them, but that’s often the price that we pay for love. If we choose to let somebody into our world, then we do so on the understanding that our world and our plans may need to change, and that compromise has to be found.
Relationships are uncertain; sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. But the only thing we can be sure of is that unless we take a chance and go all-in, then we’ll never get to know what might have been.
And in life, the last thing you ever want is the regret of not trying.
Myrddyn’s interest in hill-walking had developed out of this love for travel.
He’d always enjoyed summiting mountains, but he soon realised that hill-walking was more instantly accessible as they’re found all around you; which I concluded was certainly true of Welshpool, as I stood in awe of the views I was currently witness to.
I asked how he got into mountain measuring, and he explained that there’d been a guide book published in 1988 by a man named Terry Marsh, and it detailed the 600m summits in Wales.
“There were 222 hills listed in the book and so I thought, maybe I could climb them all in one calendar year.”
Myrddyn began his challenge at the start of 1989, and by the 222nd day he’d ticked them all off; raising £1,000 for charity.
In the very same year another guide book came out by John and Anne Nuttall, about the 2000-foot mountains in England and Wales.
And so, he started on those too.
One day, after he’d summited one of these mountains, he had a chance meeting with another man on the way back down. The gentleman claimed to have found a new hill, and Myrddyn was curious to hear more. It was at this point that the man introduced him to a method of mountain measuring that only required a walking staff and spirit level.
“I thought, that sounded like fun. So, I went home, found an old walking stick of my dad’s and then I began wandering the hills. I think I surveyed over 400 hills using that method.”
Myrddyn talked me through the various methods available and the equipment that can be used for mountain measuring, and I recall hearing words such as Trimble, Leica, trig pillar, and Ordnance Survey base station; although a lot of it went over my head.
I’m not ashamed to admit this, because when I set about writing these features it was always the person that I was interested in, not their specialised area of dullness.
And although I found it genuinely interesting to learn how a mountain is measured, the truth is that I’m way more interested in understanding what led a person to want to measure mountains in the first place, and why it aligns with them so much.
And as Myrddyn showed me how well his backpack can be positioned in order to use it as a makeshift tripod, I was more impressed by how worn the backpack was and I grew curious about all the places it had been, and the adventures it’s survived.
As Myrddyn continued to speak, the human aspect of what he does became clear.
When measuring a mountain, it’s not something that he simply measures from distance. Instead, he climbs to the summit and sets up his equipment, and then he leaves it to record data. With modern equipment this can now be done in a matter of minutes, but when he first started it would have taken several hours.
And during that time, he had to just, wait.
That sounds pretty boring, right? Well, I guess it depends on how you look at it; because Myrddyn was free to spend his time doing whatever it was that he wished; enjoying the views, reading a book, sitting quietly with his thoughts, or sharing a conversation with a friend.
It seems to me that what Myrddyn does has always been about way more than just measuring mountains; it’s about the journey. And when he packs up his equipment and heads back down the mountain, he is able to return home with way more than just a measurement.
Myrddyn brought our time on the hill to a close by proudly pointing out all the local landmarks, including The Raven, which was a local pub that he’d arranged for us to have lunch at.
Each step of my Dull Men journey has offered me a different experience each time; I had a tonne of fun playing crazy golf with Richard and Emily Gottfried, I stepped back into the past with Nick West, and I got sucked into the world of vacuum cleaners by James Brown (5); but there was something different about Myrddyn, and I liked him. I liked him a lot.
Our morning had reminded me of what it’s like to meet people when you travel; because it’s these very interactions that feel different, offering an openness and an honesty that you don’t always find in day-to-day life.
Our conversations were varied and they had depth, and as we sat outside The Raven eating Sunday lunch and sharing our stories, we could just as easily have been enjoying a beer on a beach in South East Asia.
Who knows where Meeting the Dull Men of Great Britain will take me next, but I hope that at some point it will allow me to cross paths with Myrddyn once again.
(1) According to Google Maps it would be possible to walk from mine to Myrddyn’s house in 1 day and 5 hours, or cycle it in just 8 hours, so to take almost three years just wouldn’t make sense. Unless I got lost. Like, really badly lost.
(2) Thanks for buggering up my plans, Covid.
(3) At the time you don’t always stop to think that they may be thinking the same thing. I mean, Myrddyn could’ve very well been asking himself why he’d agreed to invite a total stranger to his home.
(4) Seriously, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. And your feet will thank you for it.
(5) That pun was definitely intended.
The hunt is on to find the next dull man, and so another “Meeting The Dull Men of Great Britain” road-trip adventure will be coming to Lossul.com at the very earliest opportunity. If you’d like to be the first to be notified when it’s published, and if you’d like to be kept up to date with all the latest DMC Adventure news then please sign up to the Lossul.com newsletter mailing list by following this link. You are free to unsubscribe at any time.
Are you a fan of climbing mountains? And are you a fan of measuring them? Do you have a better understanding of mountain-measuring gadgetry than I do? I mean, that wouldn’t be difficult. I even struggled with the pronunciation of the damn things. Do you also like hills? Do you prefer going up, or coming down? And can you tell that I’m struggling with the quality of my question-asking today? Or maybe I’m just acting silly on purpose?
Do you have a message for Myrddyn that you’d like him to read? Do you agree that his beard grooming is truly exceptional? And do you have any other thoughts about what you’ve just read that may have nothing to do with dull activities?
Do you now feel a little differently about the subject of boredom and dullness? Are you going to let your inner dull-person out a little more? And is there anything that you’d like to ask which either myself, Myrddyn, or other readers could help answer? Please feel free to leave your comments below so we can get a conversation started.
And if you know of anybody that you think would enjoy this feature then please do feel free to share it.
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