Monday, 30 November 2015

The History of Welsh Hill Lists

The History of Welsh Hill Lists – Part 12

The Early Years

1954 – William McKnight Docharty

The evolutionary process of the Welsh hill list was now gaining momentum.  Slowly each author added an extra element, be it a new hill, lowering of the height criterion or perhaps widening one’s scope from listing the hills in Snowdonia to the hills in the whole of Wales.  Our next author widened his scope beyond just Wales and decided upon the whole of Britain and Ireland.  The author’s name is William McKnight Docharty.

On the 31st May 1948 William McKnight Docharty reached the top of Aonach Beag above Glen Nevis, in the process becoming only the thirteenth known Munroist.  Continuing south-east he then visited Stob Coire Bhealaich and claimed the last of Munro’s subsidiary tops, only the eighth person to do so.  During a visit to Wester Ross and Sutherland the previous autumn, and with his completion of the Munros and Tops looming for the following spring, Docharty was faced with a dilemma.  Should he continue visiting the Munros and Tops and use these as his principal objective, or should he turn his sights to new ground and visit hills of a lesser height.

William McKnight Docharty:  Photo published courtesy of SMC Image Archive

Following his Munro completion he traversed the main ridge of Rhum on the 1st June and the next day visited Knoydart with Sgurr na Ciche and Ben Aden his objectives.  These two latter excursions were to make a lasting and profound impression upon him as to the latent possibilities of excursions to hills of a lesser height than 3,000 feet.  During the autumn of the same year he visited the 3,000 foot mountains of Ireland, Wales and England.  By May of 1949 his decision had been made, the second of the alternatives had been chosen and the idea of his lists conceived.  His first list, to Scotland, was finished during the winter of 1950-1951; his lists to England, Ireland and Wales followed over the next twelve months.

During Docharty’s autumn 1948 visit to Wales, the country in the British Isles of which he had least experience; he was beset with bad weather.  Perhaps it was because of the turmoil of rain, high wind and driving mist that haunted him on his three days on the loftier Welsh ridges that no panoramic photographs of the Welsh hills are included in his book.  Nevertheless, Docharty did have the opportunity to pass comment on “Tryfan, perhaps the most graceful of all mountains throughout these islands.”  He goes on to say “I look forward to the day when I may see all the mountains of Snowdonia, but especially Tryfan, standing free and untrammeled below high skies.”  Docharty again visited Wales in October 1953, Cnicht, Arennig Fawr and the Brecon Beacons were all explored.  He enthuses about the views, especially so from the ridge of Arennig Fawr “I treasure in mind my exquisite early morning vignette of Snowdon, over seventeen miles distant, rising beyond some light diagonally cast cloud, the clear fresh silhouette being the only visible feature on the horizon, the remainder of which was dark, obscure, and ominous.”  Clearly William McKnight Docharty was a great lover of the hills.  His three privately published volumes; the first entitled ‘A Selection of some 900 British and Irish Mountain Tops’ is a testament to that love. 

Front cover to the 1954 book produced by William McKnight Docharty and which was privately published

Five hundred copies of this book were printed at the Darien Press Ltd, Edinburgh and privately published in December 1954.  The book comprises 124 pages, ending with nine magnificent black and white fold-out panoramic photographs ranging in length from 16 ¾ inches to 27 inches.  It is enclosed in a light coloured dust jacket with the title embossed in gold on a green hard-backed cover.  Each book’s allotted number is stamped on the inside back cover, many if not all are assigned to various organizations, for instance, book No. 151 is assigned to ‘The Royal Scottish Geographical Society (Glasgow Centre) with the compliments of W M Docharty.’  Following a one page dedication is a seven page autobiographical forward.  Two pages of contents lead on to page eighteen’s ‘Grand Summary of Mountain Tops Listed Herein.’  Docharty lays out his criterion on the following two pages.  After an explanatory page the lists proper start on page twenty two.

The Welsh lists are represented between pages 80 – 87.  The lists comprise ‘List A’ and ‘List B’.  They are thorough and complicated.  List A concentrates on the Carnedds, Glyders and Snowdon ranges whilst List B concentrates on mountain ranges between the heights of 2,500 feet and 3,000 feet.  The hills in both lists are divided into ‘Independent Mountains’ and their ‘Tops’, List A includes some additional heights marked on the maps which, when Docharty visited, did not appear to have sufficient individuality to qualify as tops, List B includes some other Tops of interest under 2,500 feet and some Independent Mountains of interest under 2,500 feet.  Docharty’s criterion for an Independent Mountain is that it had to have a minimum of 500 feet of ascent on all sides at or above the designated height.  This though was relaxed in List A when he states “The 3,000 feet Mountains are listed as such by virtue of their commanding position on their ridges and are not necessarily bound by the 500-foot rule”.  This criterion though was strictly applied to Independent Mountain status in List B.  The criterion for a Top is an eminence marked with one 50 foot contour on the one-inch Ordnance Survey Map at or above the designated height.

‘List A’ is to the 3,000 feet mountain groups; The Carnedds, Glyders and Snowdon.  Listed are nine Independent Mountains of 3,000 feet and over, five Tops of 3,000 feet and over, twelve Tops of 2,500 feet and under 3,000 feet.  Also listed are two points of 3,000 feet and over and two points of 2,500 feet and under 3,000 feet that are additional heights marked on the maps.

‘List B’ is to the 2,500 feet and over but under 3,000 feet mountain groups.  These are; The Carnedds, Snowdon, Moel Siabod, Moel Hebog, Merioneth, Rhinogs and Llawllech, Cader Idris, Berwyn, Fforest Fawr and Black Mountains.  Listed are fourteen Independent Mountains of 2,500 feet and over but under 3,000 feet, nineteen Tops of 2,500 feet and over but under 3,000 feet, four Tops of mountains under 2,500 feet and lastly seven Independent Mountains under 2,500 feet.

The Lists of Welsh Mountains and Tops used a detailed but complex classification

The outcome of this is a detailed but complex classification of mountains which result in a strange mix of Corbett’s Scottish mountain criterion, Munro’s mountains and Tops and Moss’s 50 feet contour ring definition.

For the purposes of this article we have to concentrate on the Welsh content; Docharty attempts a new Welsh re-ascent value of 500 foot for his Independent Mountain status and lists 70 mountains and their tops, of which all had appeared in previous hill lists.

In all, he lists 933 Mountains and their Tops.  Nobody had ever attempted such a momentous classification of the British and Irish mountains.  This was just a start.  It would be another eight years before Docharty’s next publication.  In the meantime William McKnight Docharty set out with the intention to update his 1954 publication and this time set his sights on a detailed compilation of mountains in Britain and Ireland between 2,000 feet – 2,499 feet in height.  Nothing like this had ever been attempted before.  Until we get to grips with Docharty’s next book we have an update and two new publications to deal with.

Next instalment due on the 30th January 2016

For the Preface please click {here}

For Part 1 please click {here}

For Part 2 please click {here}

For Part 3 please click {here}

For Part 4 please click {here}

For Part 5 please click {here}

For Part 6 please click {here}

For Part 7 please click {here}

For Part 8 please click {here}

For Part 9 please click {here}

For Part 10 please click {here}

For Part 11 please click {here}

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