The Story of the Grahams

Alan Dawson

February 2015

This article was published in The Munro Society newsletter, April 2015.

In the excellent Munro Society Journal No.3, Robin Campbell's article 'What are the Grahams?' discusses the history of the Grahams list. As one would expect from the author of The Munroist's Companion, the article is thorough, well-researched and accurate. Nevertheless there are a few gaps which I thought I should try to fill, as there is clearly interest in the list amongst Munro Society members.

I only met Fiona a few times and we never climbed a hill together, so I could not say I knew her well, but we got on fine. My impression was of someone enthusiastic about the hills but frustrated at not getting out as much as she would have liked. She did sometimes go walking on her own but was not particularly confident about doing so. Her husband had no interest in hills.

I knew her as Fiona Torbet. She told me that when she submitted her list of hills to The Great Outdoors magazine (TGO), the editor at the time (a Mr McNeish, you may have heard of him), said that they could not be called Torbets as that sounded too similar to Corbetts (personally I think it would have been perfect). So her maiden name was used instead.

The first I knew of the Grahams was when I bought the November 1992 edition of TGO. I was a regular reader at the time, and my own book on the Marilyns had been reviewed in TGO a few months previously. The first that Fiona knew of the Marilyns was when I got in touch with her soon after her article was published in TGO.

I admit I was somewhat irritated by the way the Grahams were presented by TGO as a scoop and a first, as they knew about Marilyns already. When I wrote to TGO about this, they said that they would not publish a correction as it would only complicate matters (as corrections do). However, I had no problem with Fiona. We both agreed that it would be unnecessary and unhelpful to have two rival lists, so we discussed how best to combine our creations. This took a bit of discussion but in the end our agreement was to use my list and her name for the list. As I recall there was nothing odd or curious about this, as Robin mischievously implies.

To be fair to Fiona, she did not agree to just accept my list right away. I gave her details of all the eligible hills she had missed and various other differences, and she diligently checked them all against OS maps. We once met by accident at Glasgow University, where I was working at the time, in its well-stocked map library. Once she had verified the information I had given her, there were three main issues for us to resolve:

My main objective was to have a list that was clearly defined, rigorously researched and comprehensive. I didn't much care about its name. I had called the relevant subset of Marilyns the Elsies (short for Lesser Corbetts), which I accepted was a poor choice.

I have never been a persuasive salesman or silver-tongued charmer, so I can only conclude that reaching agreement was not difficult, as I can't now remember much about the process. Fiona was keen to keep the name Grahams, she also wanted the list to be as accurate as possible, and she accepted that my version was more accurate and comprehensive than hers. Perhaps she was just not as pedantic as most men who research and compile lists of hills, or maybe just less experienced at studying maps. She was however good at canvassing local opinion. She persuaded the police on Mull to climb Beinn Talaidh and take a photograph of the summit area, and managed to initiate a meeting of residents in Ardgour to discuss the name of the prominent hill near the Corran ferry. As it happened they couldn't agree amongst themselves, so I stuck with Druim na Sgriodain and Fiona used Meall Dearg Choire nam Muc.

After our meetings and correspondence, Fiona incorporated the numerous changes and produced a revised listing of Grahams that she circulated to several contacts, including me, in 1993. Her brief introduction to this states:

'Revised list of all Scottish hills with a descent of 150 metres all round, removing other criteria, and between 609.6 and 762 metres in height. This list is copyright © Fiona Torbet 1993 and is not to be reproduced without permission.'

This list is still ordered by OS Landranger map number but is otherwise almost identical to the list published in The Relative Hills of Britain in 1992 and in the 1997 edition of Munro's Tables. None of the hills listed by Robin Campbell were included. I have continued to maintain this list since her death, as a subset of the Marilyns and also as a list in its own right that is a fitting commemoration of a woman who had been looking forward to many more years of climbing hills.

A guidebook to the Grahams has been in preparation by the Scottish Mountaineering Club for several years, and is due for publication in Spring 2015. This will incorporate details of surveys of the Grahams that I have carried out in the past two years, including the following results:

Demotions: Ben Aslak (609.0m), Corwharn (609.1m), Ladylea Hill (609.1m).

Changes: Creag na h-Eararuidh (708.3m) replaces Beinn Dearg (706.6m). Meall Dubh (section 15) has been renamed Beinn Bhreac, following research by the SMC for their Grahams guidebook.

Confirmations: Beinn Tharsuinn (692.0m), Carn na Coinnich (673.3m), Corra-bheinn (704.9m), Meall nan Gabhar (744.0m) and Uamh Bheag (665.6m) have all been confirmed as higher than their nearby rival summits.

Apart from Creag na h-Eararuidh there have been no other new Grahams discovered in the past twenty years, though a preliminary survey by GJ Surveys has indicated that Beinn na h-Uamha could well be below 762m, in which case it would be reclassified from Corbett to Graham. The current number of Grahams is therefore 221. To date over 130 people are known to have climbed them all, so the list has certainly attracted a following. I think Fiona would be pleased about that.