If it’s a list you’re after, it’s probably a good idea to find out exactly what a list is. An inspection of the Oxford English Dictionary revealed, not to my surprise, that the entry under “list” was itself a list and ran to several columns. As expected there was the prosaic “A catalogue or roll of connected objects” but the one that caught my eye was the somewhat old fashioned “pleasure, joy, delight, one’s desire or wish”. So that was it then – a combination of catalogue and good cheer. My list should be a challenge that would give me not only a sense of satisfaction on completion, but also a feeling of “pleasure” and “delight” during its execution. That’s it. Job done.
But it turned out not to be as simple as that. Since the beginning of time man has composed lists of whatever took his fancy and mountains were no exception. It all started with Sir Hugh Munro who catalogued all the Tops in Scotland over 3000 feet and, ever since, others have taken up the challenge. There were the Corbetts, Donalds and Grahams in Scotland before the rest of the UK pitched in with the Nuttalls, Wainwrights and the somewhat incongruous sounding Bridges and Marshes. Each with his or her own definition of what is or, just as importantly, is not to be counted as a mountain.
Eventually, out of this pot-pourri of opinion grew the an apparently definitive answer. Alan Dawson came up with a simple solution. He decided that whereas most people measured the worth of a mountain by its height above sea level, his summits would have to be considerably higher than their neighbouring ground to be worth a place in his list. First, he chose for the necessary all round drop the old favourite - 500feet – or as the world had gone metric a rounded-off 150 metres. He then had to decide on a cut-off point - at what height above sea level could a bump pass itself off as a hill? 3000 feet and exclude Foinaven and Great Gable? 2500 feet and consign Suilven to oblivion? 2000 feet and lose the County Tops of Cheshire and Cornwall? In the end he gave up the unequal struggle and listed all points with a drop of 500 feet (150m) on all sides, regardless of height above sea level.
Once decided, Dawson published The Relative Hills of Britain which listed 1542 summits (christened Marilyns) spread over 42 Regions. Perhaps from this mine of information I could dig out a suitable nugget that could form the basis of my list.
But I also had to decide what I wanted from such a list. Clearly it was not the hope of the fame and the glory but I knew it must have some unique quality, something that bound together an apparently random series of lumps into a whole of its own. The answer came in the form of a picture of a rather serious looking man with a long beard. He was standing in the middle of a city, dictating to his wife a series of figures which she dutifully wrote down. The man was Caleb George Cash FRSGS, a well know Scottish mountaineer. The city was Edinburgh and the figures were the measurements he had taken from the summit of Arthur’s Seat. With these firmly established he was able to draw up an accurate list of all the hills that were visible within the quadrant stretching from Ben Lomond to Lochnagar. Once completed he sent his findings to the editor of the Cairngorm Club Journal, who, in 1899, duly published what has come to be called Caleb’s List.
Perhaps I want something like that - a visual journey, a reminder of things past and expectation of things to come. So, if am to make some final list, it must, above all, be a journey, a journey that once more lets me slip through the mists of gashed crags on black brown moorland, accompanied by the plaintive cry of the curlew and the admonitory croak of the grouse. A journey that allows me to pass through my hill-going past, nodding to acquaintances, embracing old friends.