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Hazel Strachan on the legacy of Sir Hugh Munro

Written by Fiona

March 15 2019

On March 19, 2019, it will be 100 years since the death of Sir High Munro. So many people have his creative thinking – and the resultant list of Scottish mountains with a summit of more than 3000ft (914m) – to thank for their Munro bagging hobby.

There are almost 3000 people in my Munroaming group on Facebook.

One of the most extraordinary Munro baggers in recent times is Hazel Strachan. The 50-year-old has “compleated” 10 rounds and is well on her way to her 11th round.

I asked Hazel, of Bathgate, West Lothian, to tell me about her Munro bagging and what she thinks of Hugh Munro.

What and when was your first Munro?

Ben Vorlich on Loch Earn during my first year as a pupil at Currie High School in either 1980 or 1981.

Hazel’s sixth Munro completion in 2014.

What made you focus on the Munros?

I was enthralled by the photos of the book, The Big Walks, edited by Ken Wilson and Richard Gilbert, Diadem Books, 1989.

The most spectacular mountains in the book were Munros. I was truly inspired and I decided that at some point in my life my ambition was to do a round of Munros.

Hazel loves ot walk the Munros in winter. This is a photo she on a winter bivvy in the Fannaichs between Sgurr Mor and Beinn Liath Mor Klibreck in March 2018.

What do you love about the Munros?

The wildness of the highest ground, the sheer variety of stunning landscapes that are Munros, the hard won days in winter, the beautiful sunrises and sunsets viewed from high ground, the long climbs and the big days wandering over summits.

All this – and more!

Hazel’s solo bivvy on Buachaille Etive Beag in October 2016.
Hazel abseils off the In Pinn on Skye in 2014. Credit: John Bacchetti
A memorial plaque to Sir Hugh Munro. Credit: David Purchase

What do you think about Hugh Munro?

He must have been a hardy guy. Some of his wanderings in pre-car days would put a lot of us to shame. This would mean not being able to do the Munros by driving to many of them and climbing them from the car.

The hills of Scotland would have been quite a different and felt like an extremely remote place in 1891 when his list was published.

I love reading accounts of his winter wanderings. There were some big days and trips walked in mid-winter.

I admire the commitment and passion he expressed when compiling his list.

What would you like to say to him if you could meet him?

“Thank you him for your list.”

It is a list that got me visiting so many parts of Scotland, which I wouldn’t have otherwise visited.

I would also ask him if he ever expected nearly 6500 people to have climbed all the hills on his list 100 years after his death?

Hazel is supported by her husband Ian, who drives their motorhome on many of her Munro trips.
Hazel in 2017.

Have Munro baggers changed?

The development of the motorcar in the early 1900s and improved roads over the next few decades opened up Scotland. Even Munro saw a possibility in the motorcar.

Munro is reported as saying: “Without doubt the motor car offers possibilities, and brings within the scope of a day or two’s expedition regions which formerly, even with the help of a bicycle, would have taken thrice as long.” (The Munro Phenomenon by Andrew Dempster, published by Mainstream Publishing, 1995, P19)

The social changes in the 1930s encouraged more diverse groups into the hills.

In the last few years there have been more runners and I’m starting to see more women out, but, alas, solo women are a rare sight.

Ian had dropped Hazel off below Buachaille Etive Beag in October 2016, where she planned to bivvy below the summit of Stob Dubh for the night before heading onto Buachaille Etive Mor.

What do you think to the changes in the list over the years? 

Sir Hugh’s interests lay in recording and establishing the heights of mountains as well as noting topographical details.

At the time of his death in 1919 Sir Hugh was revising the original list, which was published in 1891.

I may grumble sometimes about another change to the list [after re-measuring some mountains have been promoted or demoted to Munro status] but any resurveyed heights of the Munros are done in the spirit of Sir Hugh’s intentions.

Hazel’s eighth compleation in July 2016 on Ben Wyvis.

Where are you in your 11th round?

I’m somewhere past 120 Munros. I’m not an avid counter. I view Munros as a journey and not a ticking exercise.

I hate when people say “another one ticked”. Go out and enjoy being in the hills and what they give you.

What drives you on? 

The wonderful experiences that I get from climbing the Munros. I love bivvying, wild camping, walking into an area on a winter’s evening under huge starry skies.

I try to make each trip as memorable an experience as possible.

Each round surpasses the previous round of Munros, with even more memorable moments. One round would never be enough for what my spirit wanted to experience.

Why do you encourage women to walk solo in the mountains?

I enjoy walking most of my Munros on my own. I think that women are more capable than we think.

Going solo is so empowering. Sometimes walking solo may be taking a step back at first to feel comfortable, but the confidence and joy that walking solo brings is simply amazing.

Some people will ask why you do not walk other summits?

I’ve walked all the Donalds three times, I’m in triple figures with Corbetts and I’ve climbed all the 3000ft summits in England and Wales as well. 

I’ve lead rock climbs at E1. I’ve cycled to the north of Scotland many times to climb hills from my front door. I’ve cycled around Iceland and I have spent a summer in Alaska wandering around. I returned to Alaska last summer to visit the Arrigetch Peaks and to take on a river trip.

I’m anything but narrow in my outlook.

Yet, at the end of the day, the Munros are still my favourite hills.

Do you have a favourite Munro?

My favourite Munro is Ladhar Bheinn, in Knoydart. However, winter is my favourite season and it has a bigger hold on me rather than a specific mountain, impressive as it is.

Winter is hard going at times but the rewards are amazing. The dawn and dusk on snow are amazing and the whiteness, stillness and silence make for a really good day.

Hazel with a group of friends on Ben Challlum, her ninth compleation day.

Where have you compleated?

  • “Compleated” is the archaic terms used for someone who completes a round of Munros.

I’ve compleated twice on Ben Wyvis (the 4th and 8th rounds) because I love this mountain.

I’ve partied twice in Glenshee on Glas Maol (5th round) and Cairn an Tuirc (10th round) and the next party will be on Glas Maol.

I’ve also compleated on Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor), Ben Hope, Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill (An Teallach), Cairngorm, Geal Charn (at Drumochter) and Ben Challum.

The final Munro tends to be easy and includes a short ascent because it’s more about bringing friends together.

Read about when I walked with Hazel on the compleation of her ninth round.

When is the next compleation?

Late 2019, depending on how work, life and the weather dictate the year.

I am looking forward to having a party up on Glas Maol again.

Join Munro centenary summit bid

Check out my blog about an innovative arts project to mark the centenary of Munro’s death. You can join in by bagging a Munro.

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