The Angry Corrie 69: Nov 2006-Feb 2007

Munro 150: A Modest Proposal

SHIFTING TECTONIC PLATES and ideological splits: first the Scottish Socialist Party, now the Munro Society! Regular readers will be aware that a Munro Society member, Findlay Swinton, opined in TAC68 (p19) that the vast majority of his fellow Munroists were frauds, and that it was time to differentiate these from Genuine Munroists who have led the In Pinn and the other Cuillin trouser-browners. The Munro Society treasurer Fred Ward hit back, and the battle spilled out into the yellow press, almost a whole page being devoted to this non-issue in the 28 August edition of the Daily Mail.

Dearie me, what a sordid way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Hugh Munro. Meanwhile the (real, rather than genuine) Munro Society is inviting us to "pay tribute" to its eponym by climbing a hill (3000ft minimum, of course) and making some sort of a "comment on what Sir Hugh and his Tables have meant to them." Here goes, then...

The Munro effect on the landscape is plain for all to see. Orange peel on the path. Plastic bottles. Rusty cans. Crisp pokes stuck in the cairn. Soggy crusts. Snotty paper hankies. Turds. But worse, the longer-term problem of erosion caused by boots-boots-boots-boots-movin' up an' down again. To be fair to Munro, he wasn't to know that bagging would become so popular or so easy. What was once a lifetime's challenge has now been knocked off a dozen or more times by men who have years of walking left in them. Since Munro's day leisure time has increased, personal transport has become almost universal and the above-mentioned boots have ploughed paths into the hillside. The more popular the Munros become, the easier they get, and vice versa.

Like the atomic bomb, Munrobagging cannot be uninvented; but perhaps now is the time to begin arms (or legs) limitation talks. A substantial number of baggers are folk who enjoy taking on measurable and finite challenges, such as the London Marathon or the West Highland Way: Munro-completion for them is just another such challenge, which ends when their name appears in the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal and they get their Munroist tie (or brooch for the laydeez). Very often such baggers return to golf after their round and scarcely venture on the hill again. They would care little whether there were 284 or 248 or 148 ticks to collect: so reduce the number of Munros, and you reduce overall bagger-impact on the hills.

image from source document

For there are dozens of hills which are visited thousands of times a year only because they appear as black triangles in The Munros. The situation has, incidentally, been exacerbated by the SMC's recent policy of increasing the number of Munros on the bigger hills and ridges (An Teallach and Liathach in 1981; Glen Coe and the rest of Torridon in 1997). In conservation terms, this policy is simply wrong-headed. Think of the Buachaille: until the last revision, the average, non-Tops tick-seeker might be content with climbing Stob Dearg; now, it's a certainty that that same bagger will make the trek along the ridge to Stob na Broige, with obvious consequences for the path and the mountain. The SMC's argument is that it's anomalous that the Mamores ridge should have ten Munros, and Bidean only one. So how about this for a solution: instead of increasing Bidean's Munro total to two, why not reduce the Mamores to just one?

My modest proposal is this: a radical revision of Munro's Tables for the good of the hills.

Final question: how many Reduced Munros? Obviously that's one for those whose knowledge of the hills is greater than mine, and I'm sure the production of the Reduced List would provide almost endless controversy and entertainment. But after a back-of-a-fag-packet calculation, and given that this year is a significant birthday for old Munro, I'd suggest a total of 150 would be about right.

Gordon Smith

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