26 November 2020 by Phoebe Smith
Can’t tell your Grahams from your Donalds? Muddling your Munros and your Marilyns? If you’re perplexed by the excessive classifications of Britain’s peaks and hills then walk this way to become an instant expert…
Above: Beinn an Oir, Isle of Jura
Perhaps the most famous of all peak-bagging lists – owing to it being the first to be created – Munros are mountains in Scotland measuring over 3,000ft (914m). They were compiled by their namesake, Sir Hugo Munro, in 1891. In reference to prominence of those peaks included, he made no hard and fast rules, but said there should be ‘substantial separation’ between each one and any other mountain. As such companion lists have spawned comprising: ‘Munro Tops’ (subsidiary summits that deserve a mention but aren’t separate mountains); ‘Real Munros’ (those on the list with a prominence over 490ft / 150m); Metric Munros (those with a height over 1000m and prominence over either 200 or 100m – depending on who you ask) and Murdos (those fitting the traditional height criteria but also having a prominence of 98ft/30m). The list is managed by the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC) and as such is prone to updates as technology to ascertain mountain heights gets more accurate every year causing some peaks to be demoted or promoted accordingly. Currently there are 282 Munros to climb and when you do you become a ‘Compleater’ (note the archaic spelling is still used).
Right: Schiehallion, Perth and Kinross
Compiled by Bristol-based climber John Rooke Corbett (aka the first Englishman to climb all the Munros) in 1930, Corbetts are mountains exclusively found in Scotland, that measure between 2,500-3,000ft (762-914m). But the classification doesn’t end there. To be a Corbett a peak must also have a prominence – that is a drop on all sides – of at least 500ft (152m). He decided to make the list after compleating the Munros and when he passed away in 1949 his sister gave the list to the SMC who decided to publish and maintain it in his honour. If you climb all 222 you become a Corbetteer.
Unlike most hill lists, the Marilyns know no borders between Britain’s countries and feature all mountains in Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and even the Republic of Ireland with a prominence over 490ft (150m) regardless of their overall height. The upshot is that this list is very long with 2,011 hills total. Created by hillwalker and author Alan Dawson, and listed in his 1992 book The Relative Hills of Britain he opted to give them their name after Marilyn Munroe – as a humorous nod to the much more famous list of Munros in Scotland.
Above: Cadair Berwyn, Denbigshire
Another brainchild of serial hill lister Alan Dawson (who also compiled the Marilyns), Grahams are Scottish peaks between 2,000 and 2,499ft (610-762m) that have an all-round drop, or prominence, of at least 490ft (150m). The original name for them was Lesser Corbetts, that’s LCs or – more affectionately – Elsies for short, but they were renamed as Grahams after the death of Fiona Torbet (nee Graham) who wrote a similar list to Dawson at the same time and decided to combine them with his list so not to confuse walkers. To date there are 219 of them and if you summit them all you are a Grahamist.
Paying heed and a little attention to the often-forgotten smaller peaks of the Scottish Lowlands are the Donalds, which recognise those hills south of the Highlands over 2,000ft (610m). Originally compiled in 1935 by Percy Donald – a keen walker and member of the SMC – he had a fairly random criteria for selection when it came to prominence worked out by a fairly complex formula, leading to there being Donald Tops as a separate category. However, listmaster Alan Dawson took on the task of simplifying things in 1995 and introduced a definition of ‘New Donalds’ where all had to have a prominence of 98ft (30m). As such there are 140 old Donalds or 118 new ones, giving you two potential lists to complete for the price of one…
Above: Beinn na h-Eaglaise, Torridon
Deciding to focus on England and Wales rather than hill-bag heavy Scotland were John and Anne Nuttall, who in 1989 compiled a list of 444 peaks that purposely ignored those mountains north of the border. In their book – The Mountains of England and Wales, they chose to classify a Nuttall as a hill over 2,000ft (610m) with a prominence of at least 49ft (15m). Like other lists this one is also updated in line with the recent remeasuring of hills by Ordnance Survey, meaning there are now 446 to climb (257 in England and 189 in Wales).
Above: Yes Tor, Dartmoor
Comprising 214 fells in the Lake District, Wainwrights are all peaks that featured in the eponymous guidebook writer and illustrator’s series of seven ‘Pictorial Guides’ that came out between 1955 and 1965 and went on to sell over two million copies (and counting). Though all but one of them is over 1,000ft (305m) it wasn’t Alfred Wainwright’s intention to classify these high points on how tall they were, and he never includes specific rules for why he chose the fells he featured. Instead he merely describes his favoured walks up these Cumbrian hills. Never did he consider that completing the Wainwrights would become such a popular pastime and even lead to the Long Distance Walker’s Association (LDWA) to hold a register of walkers who have successfully ‘bagged’ them all.
Right: Castle Crag, Lake District
Similar to the Wainwrights, the list of 541 Birketts are also based on a guidebook. Complete Lakeland Fells was penned in 1994 by author Bill Birkett and lists all the peaks within the boundary of the Lake District National Park that are over 1,000ft (305m). As such many of the Wainwrights are also Birketts (209 in fact) but there are a great many more besides. They too have spawned some steadfast so-called Birkett Baggers who are keen to tick them all off their ‘to walk’ list.
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