• Graham

There is no doubt that there is a certain type of person who likes making lists or rather making lists that can, satisfactorily, be ticked off. And the fact that thousands of these individuals have already ticked, or are in the process of ticking, all the tops that Munro listed in his Table and probably at least ten times as many have summoned up sufficient energy to scour the land for an addition to their collection of Corbetts, Grahams, Wainwrights, Nuttalls and Marilyns (not to mention Humps, Lumps and Bumps) is proof in itself of a particular predilection for the registry of mountain tops.

The problem with these lists is they are often extremely long and can consume a good deal of time not to mention a significant amount of money. Therefore, during the course of the marathon you might consider the benefits of the short sprint to sustain the spirit and satisfy the need for the completionist’s fix. One possibility is to list, ascend and then tick off the County tops of the United Kingdom or any part thereof. Unlike those loftier peaks lying under the governance of the Scottish Mountaineering Council, there is little doubt as to the whereabouts of such County Tops. They are listed with their appropriate grid reference in Chapter Six of Alan Dawson’s The Relative Hills of Britain. There they all lie and all that remains is for you to choose the combination that suits you.

You could split up the Union and concentrate on one or more of its constituent parts – the Celtic Fringe for example. The combined County Tops of Scotland (12) and Wales (8) for the most part fall into the category of what most people would call mountains, or at least recognisable hills, and ticking them off usually involves a decent day’s walk. If, however, you were to choose the counties of England you would be faced with a rather different kettle of kurtosis* and somewhat less of a challenge. The Trig Point that marks the high point of Lincolnshire is a little lower than the hedge that forms the boundary of a ploughed field you’ve just ploughed through and the summits of Lancashire and Staffordshire can be reached by walking downhill. Generally speaking (with due deference the West Country) the further south you venture the worse it gets. The pinnacle of the West Midlands can be approached by bus and the heights of Nottinghamshire can only be scaled after a fight with a very aggressive holly tree. As for the likes of Norfolk, you are considerably more likely to be swept away by an avalanche of skateboarders than you are of the white stuff.

Those trying to save the reputation of the subnorthern counties might point to the Worcestershire Beacon or The Black Mountain of Herefordshire as hills of worth, but unfortunately the former has been swallowed by the Local Government Act of 1972 and is now tacked onto its neighbour and, as for the latter, the hitherings and ditherings of the Boundary Commissioners must have created such an inferiority complex it requires a chronometer, sextant and Six inch map to accurately discern the ripple that is Point 703 on the ridge between Hay Bluff and Red Daren.

One way to make your list more fit for purpose would be to ignore those unfortunate County Tops that are neither sufficiently high nor sufficiently distinct to merit inclusion in Dawson’s list of Relative Hills. At a stroke it would remove those points of eminence which, like Nebuchadnezzar, crawl on their bellies in the long grass and allow the discerning ticker to ignore the likes of Currock Hill (Tyne & Wear) currently somewhere under a manure heap, Great Chishill (Cambridgeshire) - not to be confused with the two foot higher Chrishall Common (Essex) - and a layby somewhere near Pavis Wood that holds the secret of the zenith of Hertfordshire. Such a scheme would reduce the list to more reasonable proportions yet still give the opportunity to sample the vales and ales of hitherto unknown parts of the country.

A more radical alternative would be to ignore the gerrymandering of the 1972 Act altogether and visit the counties and their tops in their original and, some would say, proper form. This would, at a stroke, get rid of anomalous metropolitan areas like Avon and Merseyside and return the Ridings of Yorkshire (along with Mickle Fell) to their and its right and meet place. Apart from the resurrection of Worcestershire Beacon and its (ac)claimed view of fifteen counties, the great prize would be the reappearance of Cumberland and Westmorland which would not only add Helvellyn to your list but also quite properly return The Old Man of Coniston to the Duchy of Lancaster. And if nothing else, you may consider as you scale the mighty heights of Rutland and Huntingdon you are offering visible support to any campaign to restore these particular shires to their historic position on the map of Great Britain.

*kurtosis “measure of the peakedness or undulating nature of the land.” (Alan Dawson)


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