The Marilyns

This is the most popular Relative List in Britain and currently contains 1557 hills, all with a prominence of 150m or more. Many of the earlier hill lists used prominence as a factor in choosing which hills were eligible but all these were limited, generally by a lower height – 2500ft for Corbetts, 2000ft for Nuttalls, etc.

The Marilyns were the first list to take in the whole of Britain from sea level upwards and represent a huge challenge for a bagger. By their very nature, they are spread throughout the nation and require huge amounts of time and effort to complete them – which very few have done to date.

Alan Dawson’s book, ‘The Relative Hills of Britain’ was published in 1992 and has sold over 3000 copies – many of which are probably gathering dust on bookshelves once people realised the magnitude of the task. However, almost 400 Baggers have been registered in the Marilyn Hall of Fame for climbing 600 or more and around 150 have reached the Upper Hall with 1000 Marilyns.

Like most major Hill Lists, the Marilyns present a few severe problems to the bagger who wishes to complete them. Once one has climbed The Inaccessible Pinnacle to complete the Munros, The Cobbler to complete the Corbetts and Stac Pollaidh to complete the Grahams, you will eventually come up against the St Kilda ‘Wall’.

The archipelago is situated 40 miles out in the Atlantic from the Outer Hebrides and is very difficult to access. Sea conditions need to be good just to reach the main island of Hirta and accessing the other three islands – Dun, Soay and Boreray – requires a jump into the unknown from a small boat.

Stac Lee and Stac an Armin – the St Kilda ‘Wall’
Photo by Michael Earnshaw

Finally, you reach the sea stacks – 150m plus of rock, rearing out of a choppy ocean. To make things even more difficult, access is only allowed once the resident gannets have left for the winter – so October is the earliest you can attempt the climbs.

The first Marilyn completer, Rob Woodall, had to wait over ten years after finishing his last mainland Marilyn before gaining the summit of Stac Lee, a Severe rock climb covered in gannet guano to add to the seaborne acrobatics required to even reach the bottom of the climb. Eddie Dealtry completed on the same day, and another group succeeded in 2015 including Jenny Hatfield the first female completer. As far as is known, there have been no ascents since, and as of 2019, ten people have climbed all the Marilyns.

Of course, there are hundreds of relatively easy Marilyns around the country and some people have managed 24 in 24 hours to demonstrate what can be done. You can certainly reach the Upper Hall without venturing on anything particularly difficult.

However, by and large, baggers come to the Marilyns from a background of climbing the Munros in Scotland or the Nuttalls in England and Wales so tend to be very experienced, not to mention quite old, by the time they reach that elusive 1000.

Up to date details of the Marilyns can be found on the Hill Bagging website or Haroldstreet GPS Heighting Surveys are regularly carried out by enthusiasts and there are quite often changes to the List.