Ann Bowker - Helm Crag. Photo: Lionel Bidwell.

Ann Bowker (1936 – 2021) – the Doyenne of Marilyn Bagging

Ann Bowker, one of the earliest Marilyn Baggers, passed away at the end of March. Her long time friend and colleague, Lionel Bidwell has sent us this short obituary celebrating her life and achievements.

Ann was born in 1936 in Watford, being joined by her younger brother three years later.

In the mid-1940s, the family took a trip to North Wales where Ann got her first taste of the mountains. They climbed Snowdon, which was talked about over the years. This successful endeavour was the only mountain Ann’s parents ever climbed, while for Ann it was No.1 of what was to become a lifelong obsession.

At school, Ann excelled and went on to earn a place at Newnham College, Cambridge, to study Mathematics. She built up a circle of friends with whom she shared trips to the Lake District, the Alps, and Iceland and also finding time to row for the Cambridge University ladies.

Following her graduation, Ann took a role with “Road Research” the predecessor of today’s Highways Agency and worked on one of the early computer systems using the Pegasus. This would have filled a room with paper tape drives, magnetic tape units and cooling cabinets.

During this time, Ann’s father had become Managing Director of Royal Mail Lines, a global shipping company in the 50s and 60s so the whole family travelled extensively, fuelling Ann’s interest in travel. On one of these trips, Ann’s brother was tragically killed which affected Ann deeply as she never spoke about him.

In 1964, Ann went on a Ramblers holiday to Glencoe in Scotland and, when a young man asked if she would like to explore a more exciting route up Bidean nam Bian. Ann said yes, and that is how she met Rowland. A simple beginning to a lifelong interest in climbing mountains and travel.

Ann and Rowland Bowker

Ann and Rowland married in 1965 and soon afterwards Rowland accepted a job in Ethiopia where they lived for a few years. Martin was born in 1969 and, as he says, this was fortunately in the UK although they lived in Addis Ababa for another couple of years.

In the early 70’s they returned to the UK with a very definite plan to get jobs in education to maximise the opportunity for longer holidays enabling peak-bagging trips, long-distance footpath holidays overseas. They settled outside Nottingham, Ann at Trent Polytechnic, later Nottingham Trent University, and Rowland at Loughborough University. At this time they acquired their first campervan enabling trips most weekends.

In 1975 I (Lionel Bidwell) obtained a job as a lecturer in the Computing department at Trent Polytechnic and shared an office with Ann Bowker. Ann was lecturing in computer languages and data structures at the time. I got used to hearing of Ann’s trips every Monday morning. This included many trips to the Lake District and completing long-distance paths by combining several weekends. After longer breaks, these stories would be of their trips abroad. I particularly recall Ann telling me how they tackled the Pennine Way by using two vehicles and walking towards each other, Martin starting with one parent and then getting the choice of continuing when they met or returning the way he had come. They were already ticking off summits in “The Mountains of England and Wales” by George Bridge.

In 1987 Ann and Rowland bought a house in Portinscale near Keswick in the Lake District, both Rowland and then Ann obtaining attractive early retirement deals; Ann retiring two or three years after Rowland. At this time they joined Keswick Rambling Club and the Lake District volunteers, originally called Wardens and later Voluntary Rangers. She also used her computing knowledge to set up her website “Mad about Mountains” which was very innovative for the early 1990’s.

Ann played an active role with Keswick Rambling Club until recent years. She was Ramble Secretary for 12 years until 2011 and her photography during these walks was well known. She posted these pictures on her website and also pictures from work parties with the Lake District National Park and her personal walks. She was awarded an MBE in 2003 for services to Cumbrian Tourism. She bought a hat from Oxfam in Keswick, saying they would benefit twice when she took it back again. Prince Charles presented her with the award at Buckingham Palace.

“Mad about Mountains” featured a page called “The Lake District – Today’s pictures” which featured her walks each day, including Keswick Rambling Club walks and National Park work parties. It included an archive of previous walks, including a separate section on all the fells in the Wainwright guides including 360-degree panoramas from each fell. There were also sections on Scotland, Wales, and the Isle of Man and overseas.

In 1992 Alan Dawson published his book “The Relative Hills of Britain” in which he described the concept of the Marilyns, a hill that is at least 150m higher than the land around it. Ann obtained an early copy of this book at Inverewe Gardens and from then on their hill-bagging in the UK was transformed. Ann had already completed the Munros and the tops in 1986, becoming Munroist number 452, and the Corbetts in 1992, and climbed extensively in Wales. I remember her saying that she and Rowland had already climbed more than 600 Marilyns gaining them entry into the Hall of Fame. For the next 10 years, they were at the forefront of Marilyn bagging leading the way until 2001 when they were overtaken by Ken Whyte and Rob Woodall. Rowland also completed the Corbetts in 1992 and Ann completed the Grahams in 1999. In 1998, Ann and Rowland climbed their 1500th Marilyn, Meall a’Bhainne.

After retirement Ann and Rowland made around six overseas trips a year, bagging new countries and climbing the highest point in about 50. These included Mount Ararat in Turkey, Qurnat as Sawda in Lebanon, Ponta do Pico in the Azores, Mount Catherine in Egypt, and Mount Fuji in Japan. The Traveller’s Century Club of California lists a generous 317 countries in the world and Ann and Rowland both visited more than 200 of them. They also went on several solar eclipse holidays, combining one of these with a trip to the North Pole.

Ann and Lionel on Helm Crag. Photo: Lionel Bidwell.

Ann and Rowland spent their time, walking, climbing, travelling, and pursuing adventures, never wasting a second. Rowland died in 2019 and his obituary is in Relative Matters, Issue 4.

Ann Bowker died peacefully on 26th March, 2021 at Parkside Nursing Home, Maryport, Cumbria. She leaves a son, Martin.

Lionel Bidwell, May 2021

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