Peakbagging in the Lakes

This week I’ve been updating my hills database as it’s a couple of years since I last did this. This has kicked off a whole flurry of activity.  If you’re not one for hill lists and statistics then look away now, but although this may seem a bit anal, there is a real purpose to maintaining these lists and charts.

By having a complete list of the Lake District fells, and some way of making judgements as to which are worth doing and which aren’t, I can target my precious trips accordingly.  My nearest Wainwright (Grey Crag) is over 240 miles from home, and so we’re talking 1-3 trips a year tops, what with all of the other calls upon my holiday time.  As I travel by public transport (only 3 of the 129 Wainwrights I’ve done so far have involved a car, and I could have easily got to them by bus), and as I’ve done most of the fells near to the bus routes, I’ve reached the stage where I have to be quite creative in getting to the remoter fells.  I can’t do this without something visual that lets me see the whole picture of an area, and so I’ve created a wall chart that shows all of the hills on my list, along with other useful information such as hostels/campsites, towns/villages with accommodation, bus routes and railways.  Of course I could just stick an OS map on my wall, but my chart only shows what I need it to show.  But anyway, back to the main topic…

First, the database itself. I’ve been working off version 9 of the Database of British Hills (DOBH) and although I’ve checked reasonably regularly for changes in Nuttalls on John and Ann’s own site, I was sure that there were loads of other updates I was missing. I’ve got by ok for a couple of years as my peakbagging is primarily based on the Nuttalls (which I’ve been keeping up to date with) and the Wainwrights and Trail 100 (which never change). But having recently found a downloadable version of the Birketts (hills over 1000ft in the Lakes), I felt that my already large list of 419 hills was still lacking – especially as there are 541 Birketts.

Having had a good look at the Birketts list I got, I found it was a bit sloppily done and so I have killed two birds with one stone as version 11 of the DOBH now includes them, as well as the Trail 100.

So now I’ve refreshed my database but this has left me with a Lakes list of 643 hills.

Secondly, I realised that my home-made wall chart with all 419 hills on would need to be updated. But as many of the new additions to my list turn out to be subsidiary summits of existing members, the scale of my existing chart is looking a bit small. So now I’ve started building a replacement, but as the original took dozens of hours work to transcribe contours, roads, watercourses etc. from my collection of maps, I’ve been experimenting with using printouts from Anquet – specifically the GroundRanger maps which I’ve discovered when printed out at a scale of 1:62500 give enough detail on the lakes, rivers, roads, railways and towns/villages to be useful without them being too in yer face. Having now put the Far Eastern fells onto this map base, it’s looking good and this morning I’ve decided to carry on and cover the whole of the Lakes.

Thirdly, in order to do this, I’ve amended my symbols and colours so that I can see at a glance everything I want to about a summit. So now I’ve got different shapes for Nuttalls (triangles), other (non-Nuttall) 2000ers (squares) and everything else below 2000ft (circles). Then colours are used for the various groupings – black for Wainwrights, green for Wainwright Outlying, purple for the rest of the Birketts, and anything left over in brown. Then I’ve highlighted the Trail 100s (26 of them) with an extra red circle so that they stand out.

Now this means that I will be able to look at the chart, see a black triangle, for instance, and know instantly that it’s a Wainwright that’s also a Nuttall, which clearly makes it more valuable than a purple circle (a Birkett below 2000ft that isn’t a Wainwright or Outlying fell).

Fourthly, whenever I take such a detailed look at my lists, it’s always interesting to spot the anomolies. For example….

1. One Outlying Fell (Walna Scar) is actually high enough to make it onto the Nuttalls list. Given that it is part of the ridge that extends from Dow Crag down to White Maiden and Caw, it is puzzling why Wainwright chose to stop short of Walna Scar, especially as it is quite close to the other Wainwrights.

2. A further Outlying Fell (Black Combe) has the distinction of being one of the Trail 100 – or in other words one of the best 26 hills in the Lake District. It’s a fine hill which is also only 10m short of qualifying as a mountain. Yet it’s just an Outlying Fell (aka afterthought). This fell in particular helps show why Wainwright’s list is arbitrary – at least in terms of where he drew the boundaries of the areas for his books. Especially so when you compare it with Castle Crag which is right in the middle, but doesn’t even reach 1000ft and is one of only a handful of Wainwrights that isn’t classified under any other system (but having said this, Castle Crag is one of my favourites).

3. There are plenty of fells which are separate enough to qualify as Nuttalls, or even as Hewitts, yet are not recognised as such by Wainwright. For example Helvellyn Lower Man or Black Sails.

4. Fells which are Wainwrights but which in reality don’t seem separate enough include Sergeant Man, Bakestall, Mungrisdale Common.

All of which has led me to the conclusion that I can’t rely on one list which is how I’ve ended up with 643 hills. But then I need to find a way to differentiate between them and work out what to do and what I don’t care about. But should I do it on the basis of height, prominence, or some sort of quality criteria ? And it would be useful to have a system that would work for the Welsh and Scottish mountains too.

The answer to this of course, is to try to come up with some sort of scoring system, and I’ve devised one where every fell has a score between 1 and 10, with about half the points awarded for height, and the rest awarded as bonuses for meeting prominence or quality criteria. So the scoring system I’ve ended up with is:

[table id=10 /]

So, the higher and more prominent a hills is, the higher up my list it gets. This system also means that lower hills which are good quality get a boost. So this helps iron out some of the anomalies, and to overcome the inherent subjectivity in Wainwright’s original selection. For example…

Black Combe scores 6 which puts it up there with the main group of Wainwrights that are also Nuttalls.
Anything that gets a 3 (e.g. Walna Scar, White Maiden) also gets raised slightly above the main body of fillers that score 1 and 2. This ensures that those outlying fells that have something additional to commend them (e.g. being a Marilyn, or being above 2000ft) don’t get lost in the crowd.

By giving a bit more emphasis to height, I’m also trying to insure myself against changes to the Nuttalls list so that I don’t miss out something that later makes it onto the list.

The one big loser in this scheme is Castle Crag which is so low that it only scores 2. But as my primary objective is completing the Wainwrights (and as I’ve already done this one anyway) it doesn’t get missed. But for this I might have been tempted to introduce my own subjective quality criteria. The scoring system has allowed me to focus mainly on those fells that get 3 or more points which adds a manageable 117 additional fells to the list of 214 Wainwrights, with the 1 and 2 point fells being bonuses that I’ll pick up if I happen to be in the area, rather than as targets in their own right.

The other benefit of this is that it enables me to look beyond the day when I complete the Wainwrights, and still feel that there are worthwhile fells to do. It also should help me string out the Wainwright quest for a bit longer, and avoid those annoying odd man out summits through not being aware of them.

Having reviewed my scores, the system doesn’t affect the really big boys – the big glory fells still come at the top because they are high, prominent and good quality. Equally the fells that are low and indistinct fall to the bottom of the list. The scoring really helps sort out the big group of stuff in the middle and iron out anomalies of height, prominence and Wainwright’s original selection decisions.

And while I’m on the subject of the original Wainwright selection decisions, we have to remember that he was working from two main things – a different style of OS map to what we use today that would have made the fells stand out more/less; and the naked eye. With modern surveying techniques, the lists that came later have found all of those fells that Wainwright quite possibly would have included if he’d been trying to be more objective and quantifiable. But overall he did a good job – it’s really just his decision about where to end the Southern Fells that I personally find contentious.

And I also mustn’t forget that AW’s decisions half a century ago mean that this is one of the reasons why I love Black Combe as much as I do, because one of the best fells in the Lakes doesn’t get much traffic, which is how I like it.

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