Munro record-holder Steven Fallon on the legacy of Sir Hugh Munro
Steven Fallon holds the record for finishing the most rounds of Munros. He has “completed” 15 rounds over 20 years. As Scotland celebrates the centenary of the death of the great Scottish mountaineer Sir Hugh Munro, I asked Steven for his thoughts on Munros and Hugh Munro.
Sir Hugh Munro, who died on March 19, 1919, is credited with the now famous list of Munros, the Scottish mountains with a summit of more than 3000ft (914m).
Q&A with Munro record-breaker Steven Fallon
Why did you start walking the Munros?
As a child, I remember hiking a few big mountains in Scotland. The view from the summit of Ben More (Crianlarich) when I was around 10 remains with me today.
However, it was only when I received a copy of The Munros, the Scottish Mountaineering Club’s guide book, that I realised there were so many wonderful mountains to explore.
A copy of The High Mountains of Britain and Ireland, by Irvine Butterfield, got me well and truly Munro-bagging hooked. The routes in this guidebook are longer, more challenging and take in more summits, including deleted Munro summits that were in Sir Hugh’s original list. Sadly, it’s no longer in print.
When did you compleat your Munro rounds?
My first “compleation” was 1992 on Fionn Bheinn. Then 1994 was my second compleation and I finished a round a year for many years thereafter.
I couldn’t have told you the date or the summit of my most recent compleation. I had to check back my records and I discovered it was in 2012 on Meall Ghaordaidh.
I would always plan to leave a different Munro summit for each compleation.
When did you start running the Munros?
I’ve been sort of running them since going for my second round. I made a note of my times and I wanted to keep fit.
In the mid noughties, I joined Carnethy Hill Running Club and that certainly changed my perspective. It introduced me to a different approach and probably got me running faster.
I didn’t know there were so many hill races out there, including several that take in a Munro or nine!
When out running on the Munro peaks, I often get dissed by hill walkers. I get the feeling there’s a bit of snobbery from the hill-walking community towards hill runners, perhaps their view is that hill runners don’t take time to enjoy the scenery and the experience.
In my opinion, the Munro list is to be enjoyed however you want to.
What drives you on to do multiple Munro rounds?
I’m not really driven to bag just Munros. I just need to be outside, preferably in mountain or hilly terrain and ideally running, mountain biking or skiing. I’m looking forward to the warmer weather when I can lose the winter kit and travel lighter.
What do you love about the Munros?
I think that what Sir Hugh’s list has done for tourism in Scotland is pretty amazing. He’s opened our eyes to the magnificent scenery that our little country has to offer and there’s now an industry that has been built up around the Munros, which supports the employment of many people in the Highlands.
I count myself as one of the lucky people who has benefited from the Munros. I started my own little business guiding people up the mountains of Scotland, focusing particularly, but not exclusively, on Munros.
We’re now a small team of freelancers that have a passion for the outdoors and we get wonderful people from all over the world coming along to our events. – It’s a joy to go hiking with them.
I think we also need to thank a few other people for their help and passion in getting his list out there, particularly the Scottish Mountaineering Club as keepers of the list and for publishing the first good guidebook to cover routes to all the summits.
In addition, there has been Cameron McNeish (with Colin Baxter) for his guidebook, which was a more personal view than the SMC book, and Muriel Grey for her TV series “The Munro Show” in the early 1990s. Without these people the Munro list would probably never have received the attention it now gets.
Who else do you walk with on the Munros?
Often I will be guiding, so I’m out with groups of folk keen to bag Munros. These people come from far and wide and are passionate about the outdoors, Munros and Sir Hugh, so there’s lots to share and enjoy.
When solo, I do like running over the tops, but it’s great to get out with my partner who became a Munroist in 2003.
What would you like to ask Hugh Munro if he was around today?
Given how hardy Sir Hugh was, I do wonder what he’d think of our lightweight fleeces, Gore-Tex shells, GPS devices and other gizmos. I bet he probably thinks we’re a bunch of softies and “compleating” his list was much harder in his day.
One thing I’ve often wondered about Sir Hugh was when he was on Sgurr Dearg in the Black Cuillin, sitting there, compiling his list and looking at the blade of rock called the Inaccessible Pinnacle, what made him decide the In Pinn was not the summit of Sgurr Dearg?
Have you noticed changes in the type of people who hike Munros?
When I started heading out on the Munros, there were only around 600 Munroists (people who had compleated) and the typical bagger then was a rugged beardy type guy with bobbly hat, breeches, thick woolly socks and big clompy boots. There were very few women.
You only need to look at photos in older editions of guidebooks to back this up.
Fortunately, that’s no longer the case and it’s great to see that Hugh’s list has had the effect of attracting people from all walks of life and all corners of the globe.
What do you think to the changes in the list over the years?
Back in 1992, when I first compleated, there were 277 Munros. There had been several changes over the years since Sir Hugh’s list was first published in 1891 and were more to come.
(The Munros are mountains with a summit of more than 3000ft or 914.4m.)
In the early 1990s, Foinaven was briefly given Munro status (although not officially) when the OS published its summit Ganu Mor with a spot height of 915m. It was quickly revised and given a spot height of 913m and since then it has been re-measured at 911m.
Examining the topography of the land, the list got a major revision in 1997 with several Munros added and poor Sgurr an Iubhair in the Mamores was demoted.
Subsequent changes have been due to re-measurement with two Munros being removed from the list.
Some anorak-types say that if the list is revised with new Munro summits, you should go and bag them. I think, however, that bagging all the Munros is a personal challenge and you should go with what you feel is right.
You could say that since Sir Hugh never laid down a definitive rule as to what defined a Munro summit, then perhaps his original list should stand.
Do you have a favourite Munro or Munro hike?
There’s so many Munros to choose from, but my personal shortlist would include Ladhar Bheinn in Knoydart, Ben More on Mull, Bidean nam Bian in Glencoe, An Teallach, Blaven on Skye and all of the Munros in Torridon.
However in recent years I’ve been exploring the North Face of Ben Nevis and seeing a different side to this huge mountain. Most people head up The Ben via the tourist track, only really getting a glimpse of the magnificence of the mountain on the final 200m of distance on the approach to the summit – and that’s only if the summit is clear, which it often isn’t.
Once hikers start Munro bagging, Carn Mor Dearg will need to be visited, which most likely will lead to the sublime Carn Mor Dearg arete being traversed and scrambled along. This gives a jaw-dropping, up-close view of the North Face.
I’m no climber – I’m most happy scrambling– but now having gone up the North Face via Ledge Route a couple of times – an exposed, if easy, Grade 1 scramble – and Tower Ridge – the classic route up The Ben– this has given me a real appreciation of this huge mountain. It’s awesome!
Note: Compleat is the archaic use of complete when referring to Munros.
Find out more about Steven Fallon Mountain Adventures.