A General Overview
I was sat in the pub at Dores on the Banks of Loch Ness awaiting the return of Barry and Alistair from a visit to far Beinn Fionnlaidh and started talking to an elderly but sprightly man about the Mountain Bothies Association. He then started talking about the ’Marilyns’ being a focus to his mountain wanderings. The Marilyns turned out to be a mind boggling book compiled by Alan Dawson which detailed every single hill in Britain (excluding Ireland) with a 500 foot ascent on all sides.
I sent for the book (and ordered one for Barry and Jonnie) and for a while largely ignored it. Dawson claims there are 1542 of these but also introduced a concept called the Hall of Fame who’s members ‘only’ have to have climbed 600. On the face of it this seems a reasonable target, in reality it is a lifetime challenge. Not all Munros count towards it (roughly 200) and surprisingly few are in my other area of strength the Lake District. Wainwrights account for 41. With some other random hills in Wales and Scotland then I started off with roughly 270. However the challenge made sense in a number of ways. Barry was embarking on the Corbetts but for me this was a little impractical. Regular trips to Scotland were at a premium and I was already committed to adding the Tops to the Munros. The Tops were something I started doing ½ way through the Munros so it was going to take 7 or 8 years to clear them up. 2009 is the target for completion of the Tops and after that I will spend more time on Corbetts (which are of course Marilyns as well). However I do enjoy visiting the Scottish islands as well, many of which contain Marilyns but are genuinely all interesting and in many cases spectacular. Marilyns are countrywide and there are many in England which in some cases gives a purpose to travelling round the country. Living in the Dales is an en excellent start to climbing the English Hills as they contain a good chunk of Marilyns particularly if you travel north. The main chunks of English Marilyns are clustered in and near the Lakes, in and near the Dales and in the south west. Outside this there are smaller clusters and singletons in most areas of the country. Wales also has a high concentration.
The notes on the Marilyns below are really for my own records and to offer a starting point and feel for each hill. I suspect (like me) that many Marilyns will be climbed on the basis of complete ignorance. Aside from the main clusters many will be located with a combination of Dawson’s book and a road map – not an OS map to be seen. Finding a start point and having some idea of the length, terrain of the more outlying hills is useful and when I set off to find them completely unknown. I may well not have started at the best start points but at least they are start points and anyone looking for them has some kind of knowledge of what they are facing
Full List of the Hills
Book: The Relative Hills of Britain. Alan Dawson . The definitive guide to every hill in Britain with a 500 foot drop on all sides. Buy Book
Alan Dawson Website: http://www.rhb.org.uk/index.html This covers the annual Marilyn newsletter. Extraordinary stuff.
My Personal Journey
Bear with me if anyone can face reading the next set of pages. They are my personal notes, unchecked and continually being updated. Basically they describe all the Marilyns I have been up which are not Munros or Wainwrights.
Something to do comes to mind with me and the Corbetts. Barry is well on his way to completion and I am sitting on roughly 35 in 2010 but it is not really inspiring me and I have a feel that the ‘ultimate’ goal will be out of reach. However there are some crackers and these I will detail below. Many of the Corbetts have been on their way toa Munro; Beinn Tarsuinn on the way to Lurg Mhor being unmissable as is Carn na Drochaide on the return to Braemar. Sgurr Gaorsiac is very near Caernahaim and Sgurr an Fhurain is on the long ridge south of Loch Quoich.
The Cobbler at Arrochar has an almost unreachable summit, a genuine rock climb, if only for a 15 feet or so but is essential for an understanding of Scottish hills. At the other end of the country anything in Sutherland is worth climbing, I have done the 3 Corbetts of the Quinag and Foinaven but will do many more. Similarly spectacular are the twin summits of Beinn Dearg Mor and Beinn Dearg Beag in the extremely remote Fisherfield Forest which are almost impossible to complete in a day whilst I had a great day on the 2 Corbetts in Applecross on a family holiday, Ben Ban and Sgurr a Chaorrain. We did Beinn Lair on the first visit to the summit of Slioch on a long 2 day trip in the Fisherfield Forest and myself and Barry have done a few other individual peaks on the return from our regular big trips but none stand out as more than a hike up and down, always in the cloud. Streap and Braigh nan Uamhachan are steep sided Corbetts that I tagged on to the nearby and inferior Munros, camping in the col below Streap.
The main thing that stands out about climbing the Corbetts is that they are individual, it is rare to do more than on at a time (without a great deal of effort). I have been up in Scotland in recent years on business and have usually managed to clock in one or two at a time. The Fara from Dalwhinnie requires little effort because of the high start and recently I have been up Ben Vrackie and Ben Vuirich on my own in great conditions but the one I remember was a day on Ben Ledi. The climb itself was fairly routine, but I was on the hill with a group who were hauling up a young girl in a wheelchair. They were determined to enter the race which happens once a year on Ben Nevis and it was highly impressive how determined they were and how much the girl was enjoying herself.
South of Glasgow the mountains roll rather than climb steeply and are very easy to bag particularly the 3 to the east of the M74. To the west the start is lower but still more reminiscent of English hills rather than Scottish mountains.
The Scottish Islands
I love the Scottish islands, whether travelling with the family or on a more serious walking trip, I find the contrast between sea and mountain offers the best experience in the mountains and the Scottish Islands have the best of these. There is a small selection of spectacular Corbetts on Jura and Rhum, unbeatable ridge walks glorifying under the names of the Paps and the Cuillin. Jura has to be reached via Islay and I have also summited the highest point on the island Beinn Beigier, which is considerably less impressive than the 3 Paps. The Cuillin on Rhum are also challenging to reach, we travelled in May 2010 on to this conservation island where the castle bunk house offers the only place to sleep. It is an experience but the round of the Cuillin are stunning and well worth the efforts. We also added Mullach Mor on the visit. Along with Barry I have completed the other Corbetts on Skye; Glamaig is a boulder field best tackled from the east/seaward side but Garbheinn is much better, showing the graceful lines of its Munro neighbour Blaheinn. The Storr was added a number of years ago when a typically wet day drove us off the Cuillin. It is interesting to note that there are only 3 Marilyns on the main Black Cuillin ridge; Sgurr nan Gillean, the Inn Pin and Sgurr Alasdair.
I have made 2 family trips to the fantastic island chains of the Outer Hebrides and the Orkneys. On both of these visits I was able to clock in a number of dramatically located Marilyns albeit on nearly trackless terrain. The Outer Hebrides are riddled with Marilyns, it is no exaggeration to say that I could spend a month on Lewis alone trying to complete them all, in fact I did none on Lewis. Clisham on Harris is a Corbett which is easy from the road but the ones I enjoyed were the lower hills on the smaller islands. From the roadside the beautiful island of Barra has a lovely hill Haeval, as does the small Marilyn on the tiny island of Vatersay, it goes without saying that the views are unsurpassed regardless of height. We were travelling north through the islands and I clocked 4 more during the visit; Ben Scrian on Eriskay – Helen was happy just making a brew – Marrival on North Uist with Lucy on my back and then an early morning walk from the beaches of Harris which included 2 more Heilasbhal Mor and An Coileach. There are many more classics to do, I will be back.
The Orkneys are different, I am not convinced I will return but not because it is not scenically superb but because I think we did the most important things. There are no better beaches than on the isle of Sanday, particularly Kata Sands, and a trip along the coastline to the Old Man of Hoy is unforgettable although the Marilyns themselves seem not quite as spectacular as those in the Hebrides. The two largest are on Hoy (Ward Hill and Cuilags) which I did from a parking spot between; sadly I had to leave Bracken in the heather ½ way up Ward Hill, she could not make it and age was catching up with her. The other 3 were on Mainland and totally unmemorable, the one I missed was Mid Hill.
The Lancashire Marilyns
The Forest of Bowland is rarely visited, even after 10 years on its doorstep I have only visited it three or four times outside of climbing the hills. In the past I had avoided it and just had the impression it was simply boring. In fact it is good, peaceful and there is plenty to do. Maybe it is a slightly older man’s area but it should not be ignored. Cyclists would love it (it is empty with plenty of small lanes and roads) and for walkers there is much to explore with a particularly good high moorland ridge connecting the 2 main feels. Farmland and sheep predominate in the lowlands and there is some forestry starting to appear. It is though an area worth a visit.
The most well known fell is Pendle Hill, the witch’s hill. I whipped up the hill on the short steep side but actually it is the long ridge to the west which offers the best walking – try ascending from the very small ski tow and striding off to the summit. Ward’s Stone and White Hill are to the north of the area and connected by a long flat ridge. Rough heather predominates on the summits but they are worthy Marilyns due to the real feeling of freedom and isolation – you will not see anyone on these two. Fair Snape Fell is the other larger hill in the area. I climbed it in ever deteriorating weather (snow) over and back over Parlick. The terrain was good and the summit well situated with views to the west but the most entertaining part was being interviewed by the local warden concerning access rights. Apparently I could walk on one side of the wall with Bracken but not the other (different land owners) and naturally the summit was on the non dog side. Luckily the cloud was down further up the fell. Access on the hills should be free to all and punishments for misbehaviour severe – restrictions are bad and unnecessary, this is our country and freedom to roam should mean just that
Small is not so good in Lancashire but whilst Billinge Hill near Wigan is a slag heap (picked off on the way to the football in 15 minutes from an estate) the others involve a certain amount of effort to complete. They are inaccessible for a start but both Longridge Fell and Easington Fell have the added difficulty of no obvious route up and the enigma of large scale forestry – tracks not going where they should. I climbed Easington Fell from Harrop Fold an attractive farmstead community. The walk hit the ‘ridge’ after wading through knee deep mud and then an element of guess work took me on a circuitous route through the trees and eventually the top. The direct ascent and not the path looks best. Similarly with Longridge Fell I tackled it from the forest strewn north side – I suspect a better route with better views goes up from the south – hey ho. Boulsworth Fell is a good walk. I tackled the fell from xxxxxx near Colne and was impressed with a collection of large boulders on the false summit – good messing about territory. On the route up there was a set of shooting shelters, now disused but very reminiscent of some interesting shelters on the Southern Upland Way
The 3 southerly Lancastrian Marilyns are similar in character ie: large moorland plateaus with vast views across the Great Manchester metropolis. Fortunately on Winter Hill this view was withheld from me by a cloak of cloud. Tackled from a high point Winter Hill has the misfortune to be a ‘mast’ summit and is the worst of the 3. Hail Storm Hill is completely baffling as the entire upland is covered by vast wind turbines so the walk is dominated by the sight and swishing of these monstrosities. A small wooden cross marks the summit but a climb to the top of one of these turbines would get you higher. As a one off hour though, it has its fascinations. Freeholds Top from the road above Bacup completed the Lancastrian hills. A bridleway (take the low path) takes you most of the way to the summit. Do not be distracted by the lump to the west – it certainly looks higher on the walk in but is not when you reach the summit – a bizarre man made pool and O/S pillar are correctly sighted.
I am not sure I spent more than 1 ½ hours on any individual hill here (most are the ¾ to an hour mark) but they have an untamed, moorland appeal. However the working of man is never far away so remote they certainly are not and could never be described as hill walking paradise.
Many of these hills I repeated during 2010 whilst doing Where2walk but clearly they were only the better ones…Longridge Fell is still one of my least favourites though, whilst Easington is much better from the Slaidburn side.
Marilyns in the Dales
The Dales are famous for the 3 Peaks. The summits of these 3 do stand out but generally the Dales are a splendid area to walk. The landscape is very attractive, the limestone outcrops and stone walls litter what otherwise may seem a little bit of a barren, featureless area. This is particularly true of the uplands which are generally featureless grasslands, difficult to navigate on but excellent to stride out on. Rarely in England can you walk for miles on broad rolling plateaus with only the odd stone wall or limestone outcrop to categorise the view and add some definition. The villages are the best in the country for attractiveness and pubs with good food and beer.
I have completed the 3 Peaks challenge but I was with a large party and it took a while. The circuit though is achievable for anyone who is a reasonable outdoor walker – there are no technical difficulties and the track and route are easy to follow. Most start and finish at Horton in Ribblesdale with the stand out elements being the long cross field trek from Pen y Ghent to Whernside, the circuitous walk up Whernside and the steep final ascent on to the Ingleborough plateau. The long route back to Horton from Ingleborough could not be more enjoyable and easy for tired legs.
I was first up Whernside on a cold snowy New Year’s Day from the road near Dent (possibly my favourite village in the Dales). The route was typical Dales – not steep, and following the broad shoulders. The highest point was attained and we hurriedly retired to the pub to warm up. However the classic ascent of Whernside is from Ribble Head in a sweeping circuit of the fell. Starting off from under the viaduct the route flanks the rail line for a mile before turning on to the slopes of the mountain. This is the best and quickest route up the hill – any direct ascent looks fraught with complications and bad terrain to me. I have also tackled Pen y Ghent from both sides – Horton and the road from Stainforth known as Silverdale. The second is in fact my favourite as it is less eroded (a problem on the 3 main peaks. The summit of Pen y Ghent is also the best of the 3 as it is slightly more contained and not so broad and stony. Ingleborough is probably my favourite of the 3 with the long trawl from Ingleton having little to recommend it. A longer route from Clapham past the caves is the best whilst a direct ascent from under Whernside the easiest and quickest.
Away from the big 3 there are a number of similar whaleback ridges that feature Marilyns. Outside the Lakes this is the most concentrated area in England but that does not make them easy. More often than not they involve a steep pull from some delightful Dales village whence you then pop out on to the ridge and probably the first path that you come across. Pick the right direction and you will find the summit. Great Whernside and Buckden Pike should be combined as a high road separates them and the drop is less than 1000 foot. However I did them separately which was fine as tey are still good hills, Great Whernside from Kettlewell and Buckden Pike up the valley from Buckden itself – already in my mind I am struggling to separate them. The valley of Littondale is the Dales at its very best – pick your spot to climb on to Birks Fell, I chose Halton Gill and missed the summit by a distance. However these 3 encombass the very best of the Dales: remote rolling hills, limestone outcrops and isolated farms and small villages. Further south Sharpe Haw was a bit of a boggy, winter struggle through some clawing bracken whilst Thorpe Fell Top was a relatively entertaining circuit from the north – avoid the forestry and it is an excellent vantage point all the way up.Ilkley Moor is busy, a myriad of paths through the moor combine to eventually lead to the summit ridge. Here a more major track leads across the ridge with big views over the industrial landscape of west Yorkshire…lovely.
North of Whernside is a further concentration of Marilyns separated by the deep enclave of Wensleydale, linking the market towns of Sedbergh, Hawes and eventually Leyburn. Calf Top is easily but steeply climbed from the lovely valley which runs in to Gawthorp whilst Great Coum is best climbed on the side road leading south of Dent. From the high point a good track leads past the quarries and after a steep pull the summit is easily attained. Follow the ridge round to Crag Hill which is a good vantage point. I did take the easiest options on Great Knowberry Fell (the weather was terrible) and Dodd Fell. Dodd Fell was an entertaining walk as I arrived in the middle of a very official mountain bike race with markers, police and St John’s ambulance. I did feel very out of place as it was also trackless if you made a beeline for the summit, which I did. I had looked at Aye Gill Pike without much enthusiasm but did find a sneaky route to the west which led me easily on to the whale back summit ridge.
Do not attempt Baugh Fell from the Sedbergh side. I tried to be clever but probably doubled my time following some non existent paths through unfriendly farms and houses before I got anywhere near the hill. Not a good day but I was in one of those moods where you do not take the easiest track, you think you should be doing more than ticking. Without an OS map, working from a road map this is bad practice. In contrast the Calf and Yarlside offer an excellent walk from the Cross Keys pub. This was a pub my dad always used to stop at on the return journey from dropping Barry off at Sedbergh. My memories were that it was always cold and always dark. I also tackled these 2 fells in mid winter but the weather was good and the walking easy (aside from the steep path next to the famous……falls.). This is a different walk with 2 proper peaks as opposed to the predictable whalebacks which dominate most of the summits. An enjoyable day. I climbed Wild Boar Fell from the west. The highlight of this mountain is the excellent limestone outcrops half way up and a lovely small lochan under the summit. Aside from this it is a whaleback! However I have recently repeated it from the Mallerstang in the east, much better.
Kisdon Fell is unusual in the fact that it stands alone with deep river valleys to each side couples with 3 of the prettiest villages at each corner, Thwaite, Muker and Keld. Oddly enough there is no track over the top; it lies 200 yards to the south so a little cross country is needed. Lovely Seat is a half hour up and down from the pass opposite Great Shunner Fell which is an hour – easily done together.
During 2010 I have repeated many of the Marilyns in the Dales and almost to a hill found them more enjoyable this time round.
In to the Pennines
At some stage the Dales become merged in to the Pennines. The hills become less attractive and generally look like extended areas of Moorland. Many of the Peaks are criss crossed with long distance footpaths and to be fair they often make the best routes to (or near) the summits.
Cross Hill is the largest mountain in England outside the Lake District. The classic circuit is from the little hamlet of xxxxx. The track circuits to the north over an even gradient before rising to meet the Pennine Way. The track is horribly eroded at this point and even in the summer it is difficult to avoid the mud and peat hags. I carried on for a while past the summit before taking a direct descent down to the start point. Tussocky but there is worse in Scotland.
A number of years passed after climbing Cross Hill before I decided to tackle more of the Northern Pennine Hills. In the 80s on a New Year holiday in Hawes I failed miserably to find the summit of Great Shunner Fell due to snow, poor visibility and no preparation. However an evening stroll from the high point of the pass between Hawes and Muker soon arrived at the summit. A tip for this walk is to follow the lines of the fence which switch backs its way to the summit – do not take it straight as there are some of the worst moraines in the northern fells to be found. The summit again is crossed by the Pennine Way. It is the Coast to Coast I followed for a while as I aimed for Nine Standard Riggs. The weather was good and though the route to the summit again passes some peat hags it is an enjoyable walk and the Standing stones certainly add to what is, in all other respects, a very typical Pennine hill. My route started on the high point of the B6270 out of Kirkby Stephen. To the east and north of Swaledale lies Rogan’s Seat, which can be reached by a main bridleway but I made a desperate crossing from the top of Gunnerside Gill – a remote and unimpressive spot.
A hideous stressful walk happened as I attempted Cold Fell on the way to a football match. Time was short, the weather not great and the direct ascent from Forest Head a big mistake. Muddy cold and pissed off summed up Cold Fell for me – I am sure some love it!
As the summer started to draw to a close in 2009 I rapidly upped the strike rate. Although my main concentration was over in Cumbria I knocked off another couple in the Pennines/Northern Dales. Hoove is close to the end of the north Pennines plateau with Tesside as a not too far away backdrop. I started from the high point on the Bxxx and tracked cross country for a mile or so before encountering the summit. This is a genuinely rarely visited summit, do not expect paths, there are none. Further north Burnhope Seat had a story to tell, well it did for me. I left the B6277 a little further up from the alleged ski lift in a t shirt cloud and the potential for rain. Naturally I assumed the top would be easy to find (ignoring the cloud) but Burnhope Seat is a real plateau of bog extending a few kilometres either way. I hacked around in increasing drizzle (I had no map or compass either) until I stumbled across the OS pillar for which there is absolutely no grounding for it being the highest point – could be anywhere. I hit the road about a mile off my start point and it was all one of those salutary lessons of the hills!
The Lakes revisited…and revisited
The Lake District started me off. Holidays were always there and from a young age I was hauled up hills, protesting no doubt. However it was simply what you did. When I was about 12 my dad’s knees gave out and JP, me and the 2 Norwegian Buhunds (Solvig and Flinka) headed off on our own. I completed a round of the Wainwrights when I was just 25. In 1989 I strangely completed them on Rossett Fell which included an unpleasant haul up Rossett Gill – a very odd choice indeed but finishing in the Old Dungeon Ghyll may have swung it!
For a fuller description of the Lake District fells and the Marilyns within them I have described them under the Wainwright section of the site
I was well on my way to a 2nd round of Wainwrights when the Marilyns entered my life. Therefore I was (temporarily at least) distracted with a more immediate aim being those hills that circle the Lakes or Wainwright for what ever reason had neglected to list. The M6 started me off, for convenience if not for anything else. Grayrigg Forest is a decent hill with a Lakes feel to it. Start from the farm and simply head up, eventually breaking on to a ridge of sorts. Lambrigg Fell is a completely pointless lump made famous by the 7 obvious wind turbines that dominate the landscape near the first turn for Kendal off the M6. Walking under turbines is a little disconcerting but really this is a 20 minute return from the gate.
Wainwright rather bizarrely neglected to include Swinside in his list. Next to the popular road under Catbells there is a wide forestry pack winding its way up – follow it for a while but you will lose interest and strike straight up the wood clad hillside. The summit hardly has a view due to the surrounding trees and you will be left with a sense of confusion about the hill in many ways. Near Cockermouth is Watch Fell. When I was young I played a lot of golf at Cockermouth Golf Club which was rural and rugged to say the least (but enjoyable). Watch Fell is the next line of hills north and is an awful place. My route followed a horrendous line through thick gorse and heather on a wet dreich day. When you eventually break out at what appears to be the highest point (marked as such on the O/S map anyway) there is a field with a few sheep. You will be tempted to venture in to the woods to check if you can find a cairn – don’t, the land is lower and there is no cairn. To the east of Coniston Water is Top o Selside, the highest point of a long wide ridge of land separating the lake with Windermere. The starting point is critical, pick the wrong parking spot, as I did, the climb for 400foot is a battle with woodland and gradient. Above this the land rises pleasantly to the summit and an excellent view point. Try coming at it from the south. Further East and on the east of Windermere is Gummer’s How, a hill Wainwright obviously enjoys but dismisses it as one that if you fail you should give up and retire to your pipe and slippers! It is in his Outlying fells book of which I appear to have the only copy. It is actually a lovely little hill with good views and captures in minature all that is good and unique about the Lake District peaks – particularly in autumn when the bracken goes golden. However its delights pale in to insignificance when you hit the ridge of nearby Whitbarrow. Once you hit the long ridge the whole place is fantastic, it reminded me in many ways of walking in southern Europe with little olive trees dotted around a slightly bare but unspoilt landscape. Spend time up here, it is definitely one of my favourites and a real surprise. Black Combe, although very different is also a great walk. I climbed Black Combe on a beautiful evening in late summer and the path up was excellent. The views over the sea and in to the Coniston Hills were fascinating as both were so unusual for the Lakes (sea and the West side of the Coniston group) but I remember the walk as well as I listened to 1 ½ hour phone in from beginning to end on the hill in the time of Newcastle crisis. Somehow it encapsulated my two great interests in one moment in time and summed them up well – the disasters of the football team matched by the joy of the hills!
In 2010 I embarked on Where2walk and visited Gummer’s How and Top o Selside again (from the most southerly car park spot) but added the almost impossible to locate summit of Claiffe Heights deep in the forests and the more impressive Lowick High Common which has a commanding position over the estuary but is now covered in wind turbines.
Marilyns of the South
There is a tempting trio of Marilyns near Minehead so we passed that way on the return from a trip to visit some friends further along the coast. We drove to within 5 minutes of Selworthy Beacon but then
then I abandoned the family for a 2 hour drive to the next 2. Dunkery Beacon is the highest point for many miles around and the summit befits this with a splendid cairn and views but sadly Periton Hill does not. A tree covered whale back which does not appear to have a cairn but I am as confident as I can be I visited the highest point.
South of London Leith Hill is a 20 minute pull through the trees from the road, at least the road I was on, but I was then surprised to be confronted by an 18th century Gothic Tower amongst the heath. The highest hill in the area has some very good views from London to the Channel. Crowborough and the M25 Marilyn of Botley Hill are basically a drive and a few steps from the road. North of London there are few Marilyns. From memory Cleeve Hill near Cheltenham is an attractive place to wander whereas Bardon Hill near Leicester is a hill walked from a council estate up a quarry with views of the M1. Walton Hill near Birmingham is a nothing hill in the woods whereas Haddington Hill near Aylesbury is in a much more attractive area but sadly the road passes by the cairn so a different approach is needed to enjoy the area.
Further west is an area that I would like to know better, that around the hills of Shropshire, Herefordshire and the Wye Valley. The long Mind is a long whaleback which along with the Stiperstones is ingrained in my memory as the area on which my favourite books from my childhood are based; Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club