CONGRATULATIONS to Munroist Alan Haworth who reached the summit of Meall Coire na Saobhaidhe on July 20, 2023, to 'compleat' the Munro Tops.
The timing was impeccable: it was 100 years to the day since the Reverend Ronald Burn touched the cairns on Beinn a' Chroin's summits to become the first person to record a full round of all the Munros and attendant Tops.
But it also marked a remarkable double coup for Alan, as he had finished his Munros on Ben More (Mull) on September 28, 2001, the centenary of the first recorded round by the Reverend A.E. Robertson in 1901.
It's one of the great ironies that Sir Hugh Munro never managed to complete the list of Scotland's 3,000-ft plus mountains that he first presented in 1891 and which have carried his name ever since. That honour went to Robertson ten years later on Meall Dearg in Glen Coe.
Munro had identified 283 mountains and 255 separate tops, a total of 538 summits. But he acknowledged that his initial list contained many anomalies and he was working on a revision at the time of his death in 1919.
Robertson followed Munro's first list to the letter so it is thought unlikely he climbed the Inaccessible Pinnacle – although he did years later – as Munro had mistakenly registered the lower peak of Sgurr Dearg as the summit. There is also some doubt as to whether he reached the top of Ben Wyvis – in one diary entry he told how he turned back in wild conditions and it is not clear if he went back another day.
It would be 22 years before the next Munros 'compleation' but by that time Burn was working from the revised figures. The number of Munros had dropped to 276 but the Tops had risen by 12 for a grand total of 543. And this time the In Pin was included, with Sgurr Dearg correctly re-classified as a Top.
It was a privilege to join Alan and his party of friends and fellow Munro Society members as they set off towards Lochnagar from the Gelder Shiel bothy for this celebration, not only of his achievement but also that of Burn's.
The original idea to sync his Munros finish with Robertson's centenary only came to light as Alan was closing in on his final peaks and realised the date wasn't too far away. Once he had 'compleated', he turned his attention to the Tops and the prospect of finishing on the same date as Burn did 100 years earlier. He still had around 50 to do, but he now had 22 years in which to do them.
His penultimate Top was Stob an t-Sluichd on Beinn a' Bhuird in 2015, with a night spent either side in the Secret Howff. Now, eight years later, here we were heading up for the final summit of his long haul.
It was hard going over rough, mostly pathless terrain through deep heather and boulders. Age and health issues take their toll on everyone at some point, and Alan has been hard hit by the effects of Lyme Disease, contracted a couple of years ago from an infected tick bite. He is keen to warn others of the dangers.
“I always assumed it happened to someone else. Now I know differently. Lyme Disease isn't necessarily a minor and passing affliction. Don't think antibiotics will cure any infection. The best thing is to avoid being bitten and infected.”
Future mountain plans will depend on a fuller recovery, but he's not drawing a line under his days on the hill just yet.
“I have three deleted Munro Tops to climb to complete a full round of those, but they are all very remote and I am certainly not strong enough to tackle any of them at the moment. I also have 92 Corbetts under my belt, so I might go looking for the easiest eight not yet climbed and get my tally to 100. I have no wish to climb them all.”
The early sunshine had dissipated as we reached the summit ridge, the grey and the rain now sweeping in as promised. Still, the array of bright waterproofs added some welcome colour to the now traditional guard of honour as Alan walked through our line of raised walking poles to plant a kiss on his final cairn of 508, 282 Munros and 226 Tops. We toasted his success with a rain-soaked glass of bubbly then retreated to the Gelder Shiel for shelter and further celebration.
But the last word should rightly belong to the man who sparked this reason to celebrate with his remarkable achievement – the trailblazing Ronald Burn.
“On 20th July with the two tops of Beinn a' Chroin, I completed all the hills over 3,000 feet ie. all the mountains and tops contained in both editions of Munro's tables, 558 in all (including those omitted from revised tables). I believe I am the first and only one to have done everything.”