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Mountaineers can take in Scotland’s dramatic landscapes and earn bragging rights by summiting the country’s highest peaks. Writer Franka Leher takes us on a tour with a climber who has hit those heights.
Text by: Franka Leher
Country: Scotland

cotland is famous for its stunning landscapes and magnificent peaks. Although its mountains are not as high as others in continental Europe and around the world, Scotland boasts a multitude of beautiful hills and summits that attract mountaineers from near and far. A popular challenge is “Munro bagging”, the ascent of all 282 Munros: the Scottish mountains that are over 3,000 feet (914.4 metres) high.

To find out more about this fascinating sport, we met Steven Fallon from Edinburgh, who has completed (or “compleated”, as it’s traditionally spelled by Munroists) 15 rounds of Munros and even turned his passion into a business leading expeditions into the hills of Scotland.

TeaTime-Mag : For those of us who are yet to start our careers as Munro baggers, could you describe how we have to imagine the ascent of a Munro?

Fallon: It’s completely dependent on the hill. Some hills are just a walk, like Ben Lomond for instance. Or up at Glenshee, you start at 1,500 feet and have only 1,500 feet of ascent to the top of the hills. Other hills, for instance in Knoydart or Fisherfield, are remote peaks and you’re talking about along two days to reach these hills for most people. The longest ascent is probably the one in Fisherfield called A’Mhaighdean, which is Gaelic for “the maiden”. It is going to take most people three days: walk in, camp overnight, and walk back out.

Where do you spend the night on long walks like this?

There are huts we call “bothies”, which are basic shelters to get you out of the weather. It’s just a roof and walls and if you are lucky a couple of windows, but they are windproof and watertight. Unfortunately, they are not necessarily midge-proof. [Midges are small flies.]

Are there any essential requirements that an aspiring Munro bagger has to fulfill? Do you have to have a certain level of fitness, for example, or could you just start without any training?

I think what most people should do is a kind of apprenticeship and start off with some easy hills, not necessarily even Munros. In Edinburgh we have got the Pentland Hills. You could start with them to see how you get on and then progress to something like an easier Munro. There is a website called “10 Easy Munro Routes”, which are what I consider the ones people should start with. After those you can then progress up to more and more difficult and remote ones.

And what kind of equipment do you need?

You will need boots, depending on the time of year and on the weather, waterproofs and a rucksack to carry your stuff and food. You will also need a map and compass and know how to use them, because a lot of the hills don’t have obvious paths on them. The weather in Scotland can change very, very quickly. One minute, it can be glorious sunshine, and then two minutes later, clouds come up and you cannot see the route. If you don’t know how to use a map and compass, you are in trouble. And I would not recommend relying on a GPS either. You should maybe also bring some anti-midge cream in Scotland and some suntan lotion as well. And generally, I would say, a bottle that can carry at least a litre of water. You can refill it on the hills, as the water in Scotland is pretty safe.

You have done some mountaineering in the Pyrenees, Alps and Dolomites as well. How do the Munros compare to those higher mountains?

They are different. The Alps or the Pyrenees are much more dramatic. But there is always a bit of a calling to come back home and do the hills that you are a bit more familiar with.

The Munros are not only less dramatic, as you say, they are also much lower than the Alps or Pyrenees. So where lie the challenges of Munro bagging?

One challenge, I suppose, is that in Scotland we start more or less at sea level, whereas in the Alps you can take a cable car and usually start your walk quite high up. So although the Munros appear quite small, the actual distance in ascent involved is usually quite big. On the walks that we organise, we do about two or three Munros in around eight to eleven hours, which is certainly a long day. Then going out in winter, since we are quite a bit further north, we get a lot of challenging weather conditions which completely transform the mountains: a lot of snow, ice, wind, and hail. And if you want to do all your Munros, you will have to do quite a bit of rock scrambling and some rock climbing with ropes as well. Typically, I would guess, most people need about three to four years to complete a round of Munros at a reasonable rate.

If you wanted to interest someone in Munro bagging, where would you take them first?

I think I would probably take people to a place called Knoydart, which is on the west coast. It is a peninsula, not an island, but you have to take a boat to get there. There is a small, vibrant community in Knoydart, so people have got a pub and a bunk house to stay in. And you have got three mountains. They are not particularly difficult, but the views from the summits are just wonderful, if you get a clear day. The dominant peak in the area is called Larven. It is a massive mountain with quarries and ridges, which is really interesting. So yeah, I would take people to Knoydart for their first experience to get them hooked.

And if you really want to challenge someone where would you take them then?

To Skye, without a doubt. But if we take people onto Skye, we always insist that they have relevant experience. It just wouldn’t work otherwise. You definitely need to have some kind of rock-scrambling experience before we take you onto Skye, which is the most difficult.

You are close to completing your 16th round of Munros, have climbed the subsidiary tops over 3,000 feet and completed a round of Corbetts as well. Could you tell us about your most beautiful hill walking experience in Scotland?

I think one of my personal favourites was not even when Munro bagging. Just a few years ago, I was finishing my Corbetts up the far north-west of Scotland. The Corbetts in general don’t live up to the same as the Munros, with a few exceptions. But I was up a Corbett called Arkle and it just blew me away. I wasn’t expecting anything as stunning and beautiful as it was. On Arkle, there is this pavement of quartzite, which curves beautifully and looks like man built it. But it’s completely natural. And the view in the background was just stunning, so I just sat there in amazement. I think it was, because it was so unexpected.

That sounds beautiful indeed. Thank you, Steven, for taking the time to share your experiences and introducing us to the fascinating world of Munro bagging and hillwalking in Scotland.



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Munro Bagging

Scotland is famous for its stunning landscapes and magnificent peaks. Its mountains are not as high as others in continental Europe and around the world, but Scotland still has many beautiful hills and summits that attract mountaineers from all over.

Scottish mountains that are over 3,000 feet are called Munros. A popular challenge in Scotland is to climb all 282 Munros, this is called Munro bagging.

Some of the hills are fairly easy and are considered just a walk, while others can take you up to three days to conquer. These long walks usually offer shelters called "bothies" that are windproof and watertight to protect you from the weather.

To prepare yourself for climbing all of the Munros you should start off with some easy hills and slowly progress to more difficult and remote ones. Before starting you should also have the proper equipment, such as a good pair of boots, preferably waterproof, and a rucksack to carry your stuff and food. You also need a good map and compass and know how to use them.

It takes most people three to four years to complete a round of Munros, but with good preparation you will be rewarded with some beautiful views.



 

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Munro Bagging – Scotland’s Ultimate Challenge

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