You’ve heard of the Munros, the Corbetts, the Wainwrights – but you probably haven’t heard of the Top 500 Summits
In the September 2017 issue of The Great Outdoors, Chris Townsend reviews The Top 500 Summits: A Lifetime of Hillwalking by Barry K. Smith. The book is all about a new hill list: one including only the 500 highest British summits with a drop of at least 500 feet on all sides.
We got in touch with the author to find out more about this new list – which throws up some interesting and unexpected results, avoiding some popular Munros but including all the Corbetts.
TGO: Why is the Top 500 Summits different from other hill lists?
Barry K Smith: The Top 500 Summits are the highest 500 summits in Britain and Ireland with a 500-foot drop on all sides. As far as I am aware there is no other list of the higher mountains of Britain and Ireland using consistent criteria. The ‘Furth’ covers all the 3,000-foot mountains of Britain and Ireland but the criteria (drop) does not seem consistent with the Munros and the 3,000-foot bar is arguably too high. A large number of the best mountains in Britain and Ireland are between 2,500 feet and 3,000 feet.
Also there are a number of great mountains that do not qualify for any of the ‘iconic’ lists (Munros, Corbetts, or Furths). These would include the likes of Great Gable, Cadair Idris, Slieve Donard, and indeed any mountain between 2,500 and 3,000 feet in England, Wales or Ireland.
When I was climbing the Top 500 Summits I found that the spread and diversity of the summits is very wide. The most northerly summit is the Corbett Beinn Spionnaidh in Scotland; the most westerly Brandon mountain in Ireland; the most easterly Mickle Fell in England; and the most southerly Waun Rydd in the Brecon Beacons. All very different and long distances apart.
There was also a huge difference between the number of people climbing the various summits. Hundreds of thousands climb Snowdon each year, whilst on Beinn Bhreac, a remote Corbett in the Grampians, it would be very rare to see another walker.
Did you start your journey with this list in mind?
It has been a long journey! My walking started in the Lake District, but in the mid 1980s I decided that I should try to climb the Munros. I was working full time so climbing the Munros was a slow process and I averaged just over ten per year.
It was only after I finished the Munros in 2004 that I decided to climb all the mountains in Britain and Ireland over 2,500 feet. This meant climbing the Corbetts, as they all have a 500-foot drop, as well as many mountains in England, Wales and Ireland. I set about climbing the mountains and working out which qualified for the Top 500 at the same time. The list kept changing as more information on the drops between mountains became available, but it was good fun trying to put it together. Knockanaffrin in Ireland was only confirmed as summit number 500 a few months before publication!
Do you hope others will take up the challenge of completing the Top 500 Summits?
Absolutely. It is of course a very time-consuming project to climb them all. It has taken me 50 years, a lifetime, to complete them. However, they could be completed much quicker than that, perhaps in less than one year by somebody devoting themselves full time to the task.
I have looked at the database of British and Irish hills and, by applying the height and drop criteria, I found that eight people are recorded as having completed the top 500 summits but I am sure many more will have climbed all 500 but not recorded it. I would be grateful for anyone who has climbed all 500 to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or my brother at email@example.com as we would like to keep a list of ‘completers’.
What was your most memorable moment?
There were many good and not-so-good times, particularly on the remote Munros and Corbetts. I would pick out our crossing of the Fisherfield Forest from Kinlochewe to Dundonnell in June 1991 as the most memorable two days of walking of my life. Seven Munros, one Corbett and a night sleeping outside Carnmore Bothy. We came off Beinn Tarsuinn, a superb Munro, with the snow starting to fall and it was June! Feeling exhausted I insisted we stopped for lunch at which point Jonathan, my brother, produced a warm grey liquid which he described as tea. It was a great crossing though and we even managed to reach the fish and chip shop at Ullapool before it closed.
There were many other great moments of course. I have recollections of a summer evening on Brandon Peak with the sun going down in the west, a January afternoon on Cadair Idris when it was so warm that everyone was in shirt sleeves, and finishing a three day Bob Graham round descending from Fairfield to Dunmail Raise again in beautiful evening sunshine.
Many thanks to Barry for this interesting interview. The Top 500 Summits: A Lifetime of Hillwalking is published by Where2Walk publishing (£20).