• Graham

Although it took the best part of a hundred years, Parliament eventually got round to passing legislation that allowed members of the general public to reclaim its traditional right of access to uncultivated land. Prior to that they had had to rely on the likes of the National Trust to acquire land for the general use or on the goodwill of the landowner to reach the summit of their choice. In any other circumstance the would-be hill climber was technically a trespasser and forced to face the danger of high velocity rifles or worse. Even Munro, in search of his eponymous summits, often felt compelled to set out before dawn to avoid detection.

But just when you thought it was safe to roam where you please, Covid 19 struck and changed all the rules. As the only way to stop the spread of the virus was to stop the spread of humanity, the locked-down hill bagger was reduce to multiple ascents of his or her staircase to simulate the seasonal attempt on Dunkery Beacon, Scafell Pike or, for the most ambitious, the summit of yet another Himalayan giant. Fortunate indeed the residents of the high-rise apartment block.

Eventually the Government got bored with science. As a result the English, presumably on the basis of ‘last in, first out’, were allowed once more to pollute the highways and byways in search of outdoor recreation. The Governments of the devolved nations of Scotland and Wales, however, decided such a course of action was premature. This conflict of opinion presented no problem if your idea of outdoor exercise was building sandcastles on candyfloss infested beaches, but for the serious summiteer the Celtic restrictions were a serious blow. Even the most cursory glance at a relief map of the United Kingdom would show that the high land of the country was not uniformly spread and that the majority of hills worth climbing lay well within the restricted zones. Dawson’s list of separate hills shows a total of around 750 hills over 2000ft of which only 50 are to be found in England and 50% of those are situated in the Lake District. Not surprisingly, the Motorway Police, not to mention some Cumbrian farmers, were not impressed by the headlong rush up the M6.

So, in order to spread the load, it is probably time for a reappraisal of ancient English claims of the Welsh and Scottish Borders. If Offa’s Dyke is taken to be the true dividing line between the English and their neighbours, a number of Marilyns immediately come into play. A journey from the Clwydian Range in the north to the Black Mountains in the south would put at least a couple of dozen summits within easy reach and it is unlikely that the authorities will be patrolling the likes of Hergest Ridge to check whether or not you have ‘accidentally’ strayed into the Principality.

The Scottish Borders could prove even more fertile ground. Ever since the time of Hadrian, rulers of both England and Scotland had washed their hands of what was seen as a no-go area. The rule of law was upheld by a number of March Wardens who, in the case of wrongdoing, were empowered to form a posse and raise a hue and cry to scour the neighbourhood for stolen livestock and the like. This was known as the ‘Hot Trod’ which, for six whole days, was legally allowed to roam the district at will, regardless of national or other boundaries. A modern version of ‘The Trod’ would be particularly productive encompassing as it could a good number of Marilyns and even the odd Graham or two.

A final word of caution for those, innocent of the ways of the North, who might decide to venture beyond Watford Gap in search of mountainous related exercise. Do not be tempted to take a trip up the A1, for they will find there is little high ground, moral or otherwise, at such venues as Barnard Castle or the City of Durham.

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