Munro Society Presentation
1 History, why the top 500 summits
2 Layout of the book
3 Challenges when writing the book
4 Readings, (Gable and Pillar) plus (Fannichs)
5 What next?
I was born in Newcastle in November 1955 (after Newcastle United’s last FA Cup win) so my recollections of any hill walking only begin in the 1960s.
My parents used to go on regular holidays to the Lake District, particularly after my Grandmother moved there in 1965. I loved climbing the hills. My Grandmother lived at Millbeck so my favourite hills were Skiddaw or Carl Side as I could go off up these on my own. In 1960 Skiddaw Low Man had been my first mountain at the age of 4. At age 7 my cousin Mark and I were taken over Scafell Pike and Scafell via Lords Rake, on Lords Rake I remember wondering whether all mountains were as tough as this. I think it put my cousin off mountains because he turned to sailing, later crossing the Atlantic twice. Until recently I thought that climbing Scafell Pike at the age of seven was an achievement, then I heard that a nine year old had completed all the Munros.
We made a few trips to Scotland in the 1970s but never thought of climbing the Munros. Our walking was focused on Ben Nevis, the Cuillin Ridge and the hills around Ullapool. Our first attempt on Sgurr nan Gillean on the Cuillin ridge was pitiful. The cloud level was 1,500 feet. Donald and I reached the ridge south of Bruach na Frithe, from where it would have taken about three hours difficult ridge walking to reach Sgurr nan Gillean. Wisely we retreated. The following day we failed again on Sgurr nan Gillean so little progress had been made! To cut a long list of failures short, I climbed very few Munros in the 1970s. However, we did find our way up Ben Nevis via its North Face.
In 1981 I came across two books ‘Hamish’s Mountain Walk’ and Richard Gilberts book ‘Memorable Munros’. As a result of frequent reading and lending to friends, Hamish’s book is now falling apart (footnote, Hamish kindly sent me a new signed book after the Munro Society meeting). But it inspired me to start climbing the Munros. For 20 years this was my goal and after a few years I was joined by my younger brothers, Alistair and Jonathan. I was able to get to Scotland for one long weekend, maybe stretching to five days and maybe a couple of shorter periods so I set ten Munros per year as the target. In 1989 we hired a guide and climbed the Inaccessible Pinnacle, a fabulous day with the sun shining on the Cuillin ridge.
In the 1990s we climbed numerous Munros and enjoyed some great walks. Perhaps the best was the Fisherfield Crossing in 1992. We set off from Kinlochewe and climbed Slioch first in warm sunshine. With Jonathan complaining because it was not a Munro, we ascended Beinn Lair and then dropped down to Carnmore Bothy, which was locked. Judged by comments on the internet I think this bothy is now kept open. However, it was a pleasant June evening so we slept outside.
The following morning we were away by 6am to tackle the ‘Fisherfield big six’(as it was known in those days). This was our longest day on the mountains as it took over 14 hours from Carnmore to Dundonnell. These are great Munros. For me Beinn Tarsuinn stood out, a superb ridge at the summit, if it was in the lake district or Snowdonia, there would be many thousands climbing it. Sgurr Ban was very stony so slow going but we finally reached the track back to Dundonnell from Shenevall.
The following year we were back, this time for a long weekend in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart. We stayed in Kinbreak Bothy . It was a long day over Garbh Chioch Mhor and Sgurr na Ciche in constant rain. At the top of Sgurr na Ciche, JP said he was going to wait for a break in the clouds to see the view. I believe he is still there!
I completed the Munros in 2004 and like many others started to think what next? The Corbetts are the obvious choice. However, I was now living in Loughborough, the flat lands as my brother calls it, so I wanted to climb some mountains closer to home. The nearest 3,000 foot mountain to where I live is Tryfan, still a three hour drive away.
Additionally I had long since wanted to put together a comprehensive list of all the mountains over 2,500 feet in Britain and Ireland. Even when I was ten I used to wonder how the height of Scafell Pike fits into the great list of all mountains in Britain. I would think, well maybe it is about number 20; it is actually number 137.
I started to put together the list of all the mountains over 2,500 feet with a 500 foot drop. All the Corbetts qualify then I started looking at maps to delete Munros with less than a 500 foot drop. A year later my brother found Alan Dawson’s book, the Relative Hills of Britain and later I got hold of Mark Jackson’s book More Relative Hills. These books enabled me to refine and correct the list
The Top 500 summits with a 500 foot drop left considerable climbing to do and I only got stuck into it when I retired from work at the beginning of 2012. I increased the target from ten Corbetts per year to about 35. To achieve this I stared to use a mountain bike, the picture shows the bike having found a few friends on Stob an Aonaich Mhoir, or the peak of the big crest, overlooking Loch Ericht. As it happened I probably enjoyed climbing the Corbetts more than the Munros, perhaps because it was less rushed, perhaps the weather seemed better because they were lower. However, the Munros remain the ultimate British mountain challenge.
I was also climbing the higher mountains of Wales and Ireland. I remember one fabulous January day on Cadair Idris, there were people sunbathing at the summit.
The Irish mountains on the list were a special treat. I spent one Easter based in Tralee climbing various 2,500 foot hills in unbroken sunshine. It was a fabulous time. Coming off Beenoskee I drove away from the car park and found the gate on the road locked, it was locked at six pm apparently and it was now seven pm. The old man on the tractor said, ‘and that will be 50 Euros son’, I looked at him askance, then he said, tell you what as you are English (and therefore obviously stupid, my words not his) I will let you out for free!
Layout of the Book
Deciding what I was going to write about was easy, coming up with the layout of the book was more difficult. Mountain books usually divide between
1 Climbing accounts, examples include Himalayan books and some British walking books, Hamish’s Mountain walk and Martin Moran, the Munros in Winter spring readily to mind and
2 Guide books. The best known British guide books are Wainwrights lake district guides and the Scottish Mountaineering Club guides to the Munros, Corbetts and most recently Grahams and Donalds. Cicerone publish numerous guides for walks all over the world.
Somewhere in between lie the books which outline a number of walks ie 50 best hill walks of Britain. By far the best of these in my view were the Ken Wilson/Richard Gilbert books including the Big Walks which set a new standard in mountain photography.
I should also mention Alan Dawson’s Relative Hills of Britain which is essentially a list of all mountains with a 150 metre drop. This has proved very popular with me and my friends offering new reasons to disappear up a hill in parts of the country that their spouses thought were safe from this sort of activity!
I dismissed the guide book idea as this would have required me to climb all 500 mountains five or six times and make detailed notes, in any case there are already guides to all 500 mountains in the book. The personal story did not work as my efforts in the hills were very disjointed, interrupted by work, family, living in the wrong place etc. My preferred option was something similar to the ‘the Big Walks’ except there would be 200 walks in this book and some would be fairly short. Jonathan and I debated the number of walks, the reality is that completing the top 500 took me well over 200 walks so I have combined a number of half day walks to keep the book at a manageable size
The photographs also try to follow some of the story but of course if I had just used old photos it would not have worked as the weather was often poor. Thus the book includes many recent photographs and high quality pictures taken by friends. In the true tradition of a walking book I have included the route taken to reach the summit. I have preferred to call it my route not the route because on a number of the walks there will be better routes. I have also included timings, distances, places of interest, possible places to stay/drink.
Having been an accountant all my life I had no experience of writing a book and minimal computer skills. What happened to the good old days when it was simply a matter of putting pen to paper! Jonathan, who runs a website called where2walk, sent me a google docs page and told me to work on that and he would do the maps. There were other challenges particularly optimising the quality of the pictures. There were a number of areas I had only visited in bad weather so they had to be revisited.
Friends sent me photographs and their recollections of days on the mountains and I included some of these. Finally a book designer helped to compensate for my lack of computer skills and put the book together in a format acceptable to the printers, CPI books. Cordee, who are based close to me, agreed to distribute the book and have been excellent.
The book seeks to outline, through the personal views, some of the great days we spent on the mountains and I quote from a couple of these. Firstly, Jo Bradwell, a friend who joined me on a few of the longer walks, comments on our three day circuit of the Bob Graham round;
‘ The great Whaleback of Pillar shone ahead while Kirk Fell and Great Gable were silhouetted against the morning sun. Three big peaks in a row and we were already low on water. As we followed the ridge past Black Crag then to Pillar, Ennerdale was beautifully mapped out below, its blue water and deep green surrounding woods so sharp they could almost be touched. A perfectly clear sky and blue to blue horizon were the very best the lake district could offer and barely a soul to be seen’
I also quote from Jonathan Pyman’s day on the Fannichs. JP, as we called him, was one of the four of us to climb all the Munros. The other two were my brothers, Alistair and Jonathan.
‘Rucksack, bag, tent onto my back, off into the hills again. Took the bus to Aultguish Inn on a balmy summer day. Due west to the Fannichs was the aim, first to Loch Gorm, not good underfoot, a trudge through ex forestry ditches and peat hags. I kept to the higher ground with only skylarks for company and was glad to reach the steeper slopes. Sweaty business but the summit of An Coileachan (Culachan) was a great viewpoint of rolling hillsides and lochs
Fast going up Meall Gorm and a steep pull to Sgurr Mor landed me at the highest point of the trip. Mars bar consumed and round the horseshoe taking in the three western munros. Plenty of snow in Geala’s north east corries but the clouds were now building overhead. Coming off Sgurr nan Each I was wary of the fast approaching front so took off south to the lochside to camp. I found a dilapidated barn, cooked my rice and settled satisfactorily as the rain pounded what was left of the roof. It had been a good day, 20km from the start and six munros ticked.
People ask me ‘what next’ and there are a number of possibilities
1 The lowest mountain in the list of the Top 500 Summits is Knockaniffrin at 2,477ft. However, a mountain is defines as any hill with a height more than 2,000 feet. There are around 900 summits in Britain and Ireland over 2,000ft. Why not climb them all?
2 A book on overseas mountains that can be climbed by the average mortal appealed to me. My youngest son managed to reach the summit of Aconcagua in December. He said I could maybe manage one day but certainly not the whole three weeks!
3 Or how about a book on Scottish island summits, sometimes known as the Haskell-Smiths……….
10 April 2018