Why You Should Start Munro Bagging

Group of walkers on a hill

Anyone know what the collective noun for a group of Munro baggers is?

Have you ever heard of the term ‘Munro bagging’? I’d hazard a guess and say probably not, unless you frequent the Scottish mountains or enjoy spending time in the pub with geeky hikers. But if you like a challenge, love exploring wild places and aren’t afraid of the infamous Scottish midge, then Munro bagging may be for you.

Here’s your guide to Scotland’s ultimate ticklist.

What Is Munro Bagging?

Let’s start with the basics, shall we? A Munro is a Scottish mountain over 3,000ft (that’s 914m in new money). There are 282 of them, at the last count. (This does occasionally change, depending on if someone has built a particularly big cairn, or a mountain has sunk.*) They’re named after Sir Hugh Munro, who first listed the summits in his ‘Munros Tables’ in 1891.

When you touch the top of the hallowed summit cairn of a Munro, you can say you’ve ‘bagged’ it. A Munro bagger is someone who has, or is trying to, ‘bag’ all the Munros. The species can usually be identified by their insistence to reach the top of the mountain despite the full force of Scottish rain, wind or snow. (Possibly all three – this is Scotland after all.) Once you’ve successfully completed all 282 Munros, you gain the official title of ‘Munroist’, or ‘compleatist’ (yes, that is spelt correctly, thank you very much, Grammarly).

*More accurate surveying methods have led to the demotion of a few Munros, notably poor Sgùrr nan Ceannaichean, which was taken off the list in 2009 for being just one metre too short.

Where Are the Munros?

If you hadn’t already guessed, they’re in Scotland. More specifically, in the northern part of Scotland. All 282 Munros lie (stand?) north of the Central Belt (that’s the bit with Glasgow and Edinburgh). There’s a nice map of all the Munros here. And for those who like to have some handy facts at their fingertips, here are the cardinal Munros:

  • Northernmost Munro: Ben Hope, which stands alone in the Flow Country of Sutherland
  • Easternmost Munro: Mount Keen, in the far east of the Cairngorms National Park
  • Southernmost Munro: Ben Lomond, many people’s first Munro, stands sentinel over the bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond
  • Westernmost Munro: Sgurr na Banachdich, part of the Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye

How to Bag Munros

Well, first you have to get a list of them! Steve Fallon has a handy spreadsheet that you can download from his website, or if you like sticking things on your wall, Harvey May Services do a chart of all the Munros and Corbetts. (I recommend plastering this on your toilet wall as a constant reminder of how many you have left to do.)

Then, it’s just a case of lacing up your boots and heading out into the hills. With appropriate maps, equipment and loyal companions of course. A tip from the wise: if you’re planning on this being a life-term venture, then you may want to look at the order in which you climb the Munros and not leave the longest walk-ins til last.

Speaking of final Munros, tradition has it that you invite all your Munro companions to join you for the walk up your final Munro. On the top of which, you celebrate with champagne, strawberries and chocolate brownies. (I can recommend this recipe as being tried and tested.) So, unless you really want your friends and family to suffer, I’d save a nice easy Munro to the end.

Why bother?

An excellent question. But humans have always loved a good ticklist. I bet even caveman came home to cavewoman and proudly scratched another line on their cave wall to tick off a new beastie he’d managed to kill with his bare hands.

Plus it gives Munro baggers (and their long-suffering families) plenty of excuses for holidays in Scotland. Not that you need an excuse to go to Scotland. (In my humble opinion, one of the most beautiful places on this planet.) But it’s always nice to have a reason to justify another long drive up north to your work colleagues who have just hopped off the plane from Majorca.

But perhaps the main reason is the encouragement to explore some of Scotland’s wildest and remote mountains. Mountains that, if they weren’t over the magic height of 3,000ft, your eyes would skim over on the map. Mountains which, in all likelihood, you’ll complete in solitude, perhaps with the odd mountain bird or deer for company. And on those (admittedly rare) days when the sky is clear, the views from the Scottish mountaintops are some of the most beautiful in the world.

But what if I’ve DONE all the Munros?

I hear your pain. You’ve reached the end of a hard-won race. (In the case of my Dad, a fifty-year project.) And as you gaze into the future, all you see is a vision of lazy days on sun-kissed beaches, a nice cold beer in hand. . .

But where there is a will, there’s always another challenge to be had. If you’re not totally sick of Scotland by now (and why would you be?) get your hands on a list of the Corbetts (that’s Scottish mountains between 2,500 and 3,000ft). There are 222 of them, though you’ve probably got a bit of a head start as you’ll have been up a fair few as part of your Munro marathon. And for the really keen, once you’ve ticked off the Corbetts, you can move on to the Grahams. If that’s not enough then there’s also the Donalds. Phew.

If you want to be really pedantic, you could also tick off the Munro Tops. These are mountains over 3,000ft that in another life would have been a Munro, but due to their overbearing brothers and sisters did not make the list. (Don’t you hate bigger siblings?) I feel quite sorry for these subsidiary summits — so close and yet so far. Perhaps we should start a fan club for the Munro tops. IS ANYONE WITH ME?

Then there are Murdos. These are summits over 3,000ft with at least a 30m (98ft) drop on all sides. (Why not make it 100ft for consistency of measurement? I DON’T KNOW.) So all Munros are Murdos, a Munro Top may or may not be a Murdo, and all Murdos are either Munros or Munro Tops. Are you confused yet? Good, because I am. Anyway, I’m a bit dubious about the Murdos and suspect they were just made up by a forlorn compleatist as an excuse to spend more time in the Scottish hills.

Some interesting facts about Munros

  • The Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye is the most technically difficult of the Munros, requiring the bagger to complete a rock climb to touch the top and an abseil to descend.
  • Various peaks vie for the title of ‘most remote’, but A’ Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor come out top of most lists. For most people ticking these peaks will require staying in a bothy or wild camping overnight.
  • The Revd A E Robertson was the first person to complete all the Munros in 1901. However, there is some dispute over his claim, as it’s not certain he reached the summit of Ben Wyvis and he definitely didn’t climb the Inaccessible Pinnacle. If the Rev isn’t allowed to take the number one spot, then he relinquishes it to another man of the church, the Revd Ronald Burn, who completed his round in 1923.
  • Hamish Brown completed the first continuous round of the Munros in 1974 which involved 1,639 miles of walking (and 150 miles on a bike).
  • The speed record for the Munros is held by Stephen Pike who set the record of 39 days and 9 hours in 2010, cycling and kayaking between peaks.
  • Perhaps equally impressive is the youngest Munroist, Daniel Smith, who finished his round at the tender age of nine. If you’re wanting your little ones to challenge his reign, you’d better get them training early!
  • Finally, if you love walking in torrential rain, howling gales and blizzards, you may be interested in the winter records. Martin Moran was the first to complete all the Munros in one winter season in 1983/5 and Steve Perry completed the first (and only?) continuous winter round entirely on foot (and ferry).

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me there’s a distinct lack of women on that list! Delving a bit deeper into the archives of Google, it appears the first woman to complete a continuous round was Kathy Murgatroyd in 1982. Kate Weyman and Lorraine McCall are also noted as having completed continuous rounds, in 113 days and 141 days respectively, but it looks like there’s potential for some fit ladies out there to make their mark on the Munro history books. Now there’s a thought. . .

Are You Ready to Take Up the Munro Challenge?

So there you have it, everything you ever wanted to know about Munro bagging and probably a fair bit more besides. Have I convinced you to take up the challenge yet? Yes? Great stuff. All together now, Sláinte!

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