Tuesday, January 31, 2012

In Defence of Munro Bagging..


Blue= climbed. Red= Not yet climbed!

Munro-bagging, (defined as the attempt to stand upon each 3000ft+ summit in Scotland, having climbed from the public road without mechanical assistance) is a fairly pointless and silly exercise. On the other hand, reduced to its most basic level, every sport is pointless - unless you define the point of existence as kicking a sack of air between some pieces of wood, of course. Munro-bagging has always had its detractors, of whom there seem to be two main types:

The first are non-hill walkers who mock the very thought that any pleasure could be gained by dragging ones weary and reluctant limbs up some tiresome Geal Charn or Meall Bhuide, while wading through relentless heather and peat hags in driving wind and pouring rain. These people would rather sit at home and watch The X-factor, thus giving me opportunities aplenty to return their incredulity about the nature of pleasure; while simultaneously disbarring themselves from participation in meaningful cultural dialogue. These people need detain us no longer!

The second group for whom Munro-baggers are an object of scorn are the self-appointed hillwalking elite, the mountain-puritans, the 'real-men' of the wild. For this group, the very thought of selecting a peak, and scaling it in order to place a tick in a book is an act of sacrilege - which demonstrates a failure to appreciate the true grandeur of wild-places, and reduces appreciating them on their own terms to a puerile game. This group however will find that their view of the countryside will be steadily eroded by the restriction of vision that occurs as their heads are shoved further and further up their own bottoms. Sadly, such has always been the fate of the self-important, and pompous. They may wear their pomposity with beards and goretex, rather than posh-accents and tweeds, but they are unmistakably one of a kind.

I began Munro-bagging quite by accident. When I moved to Scotland to go to University, I had already done a lot of walking in England and Wales, across the chalklands of the South, the broad uplands of The Peak district, and the rocky ridges of Snowdonia. I hoped to do some walking in Scotland and so one of my first purchases on arrival was a local OS map. The Scottish map confused me however. In England and Wales, the maps are covered in thin dotted red-lines which show public footpaths and bridleways. These formed the basis for any walk as everything else was pretty much private property and illegal to stand on! So when I looked at a Scottish OS map for the first time, I had no idea where to walk because of the total absence of red-dotted lines across the countryside. Not understanding the way in which the right to roam in wild-places in Scots law made such lines redundant, I felt very hesitant about taking to uplands without designated rights of way. I simply didn't know where to walk! One of the first presents I was bought was Cameron McNeish's little Munro almanac. It listed a series of hill-walking routes, where to park and directions for  walks. I tried a few - somewhere in the East Grampians, and had such wonderful days out, that before long I was merrily ticking off these routes. The map above demonstrates that over the last few years I have done a fair amount of pointless Munro-bagging!

The trouble with the Mountain-snobs who despise Munro-bagging is that they assume that the addition of the 'game' of ticking the book detracts from a deep and genuine appreciation of wild places. I suspect that the opposite may in fact be the case. The Munro-book entices the walker up from the cities to places accessible as Ben Lomond or Schiehallion, where the glory of The Highlands begins and is first glimpsed. But the book doesn't leave them there, it lures them on to The Cairngorms, Kintail, Torridon, Knoydart, Sutherland - giving a taste of all corners of the country and all kinds of wild places. I don't know any Munro baggers who haven't started off like this who don't also delight in other hills, like the magnificent sub-Munro-height peaks of Assynt. Likewise, I am sure that the ranks of organisations like The John Muir Trust, or the SSPB are packed full of people who fell in love with Scottish landscape and wildlife because they first went to the hills with a copy of Munro's tables in their hands.

Now, obviously refusing to climb a tremendous mountain because it is only 2999 feet high is daft, mad and indefensibly moronic. But, so is the assumption by the mountain-elite that such attitudes are common amongst Munro-baggers. I count myself as a Munro-bagger, but yet I have spent days on lower-hills, photographing them and their wildlife, walking along coastal paths, on long-paths, and up to waterfalls. I have walked with pensioners, and carried babies on my back through the hills. A Munro 'bagged' might add an extra dimension and challenge to a day out, but it is by no means restrictive. I certainly wouldn't miss out on a three hour walk near home, just because there wasn't time to drive to an unconquered Munro! And I suspect that my attitudes are more common amongst baggers, than the elitists would care to admit!

So here's my Munro map. I am two-thirds of the way through. There are several that I have climbed several times - and will probably climb many more times. Last year was a poor year for bagging, a mere 8 new summits, despite the many hours I spent walking. I am hoping that 2012 will be a more bagging-successful year and I have a 'wish-list' of walks I would love to complete. The economy, the price of petrol, the weather, family activities, and the availability of hill-friends will all play a part in determining my success or failure in this ambition. Maybe see you in the hills somewhere...

1 comment:

David Jeffery said...

Reading your post reminded me of poor old Arthur Miller, who got it all backwards and ended up debagging a Monroe...