An Teallach - from the cover of The 1033 High Hills of Britain by Alan Dawson

The 1033 High Hills of Britain by Alan Dawson

Book review by Eric Young

Pedantic Press £20

This is a masterclass in hill listing from the most prolific and creative hill lister of our generation. It represents a bold revolution in our thinking about what constitutes our ‘High Hills’.

It might have been entitled “And now for something completely different”. Yet it pays homage to Hugh Munro's vision and the 1921 revision of a century ago and builds on that legacy. It takes the premise that a hill requires height and prominence (or “dip” as Munro would have it) and reinterprets how these might be defined. It utilises the advantage of accurate heighting available from modern surveying; self-taught and self-administered by the author. It is pedantic precision expertly applied. Dawson views our topography with a keen eye to sensibly explore where mapping may be wanting. And he dismantles current boundary thinking (sections) and reconstructs them in an innovative way. A bit like how he deals with summit cairns.

It is a book of layers. At its most obvious it sets out to accurately define our ‘High Hills’. This is at the heart of the book. It takes a height definition that suits the hills rather than rounded man-made measures. The author justifies minimum heights of 838m for mainland Britain and 770m for its islands. He skews the prominence requirement in a surprising way that I’ll not spoil.

It then lays the 1033 of them into natural clusters using natural features, not unlike Donald’s 1935 approach to the Lowland hills of Scotland. It leaves the hill bagger scurrying for their maps to identify the undone ones. I guarantee you an undone challenge. Just pronouncing Suidheachan Fhinn or Faradh Nighean Fhearchair can be a test. And where on earth is Fionn-tom Mor?

It intersperses the listings and satellite earth images with stories from the authors own repertoire relating adventures and experiences on the hills in question. He invites you to join him as he explores our remoter corners. He draws on interesting material from hillwalkers some of whom are no longer on the hills with us. The book is liberally illustrated with hill photographs, mostly from the authors own extensive field research and collection. It is not a guidebook. In line with the author's own philosophy he leaves you free to determine your own exploits.

But it is more than a listing with stories. It tells of the authors’ life journey, his strive for perfection and love of the hilly outdoors. In it he expresses his life philosophy, engages in self debate and offers his opinion on the things that matter to him, and the emotions he experiences.

He seeks an answer to the question his new list raises. What shall we call them?  1033’s? What about AD’s (Altitude and Drop)? Here he offers some sound advice to the younger bagger. Don’t start with half of Munro’s manipulated list, the so-called “Munros”. Why not do all of them and the 1033 besides. That’s the Munros And Dawsons making you a MAD bagger! The first of whom, and rightly so, is Dawson himself. Hill listers who survey the hills for their lists are often the first to do so as with Corbett and Donald.

Thrown in for good measure are a series of essays on related hillwalking topics. These themes range from cairns, bridges, surveying and pronunciation to scrambling, bagging and an answer to the question “why?”

My only reservation is that I did find the unfamiliar earth satellite imagery difficult to visualise at first. Perhaps the double-barrelled subsection titles will grow on me with usage.

Overall this is a well-written labour of love; the culmination of a life’s work. I commend it to hill lovers old and new. A worthy addition to your library. It won’t gather dust.

Eric Young.


RHSoc Member contribution

This article was contributed by an RHSoc Member or invited contributor.

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1 comment

  • Thank you Eric. Having been tasked with reviewing the book for the Munro Society (my review has been submitted) I enjoyed reading your thoughts, so admirably expressed. I just wish I could emulate your ability to articulate the essential elements of the book. Your review adds to the volume of enjoyable and interesting articles which you’ve submitted to Relative Matters in recent years. Bravo !

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