Thursday, 15 March 2018

Introducing the Britfours

The Britfours – pushing the metric boundary downward

Britain has a great and varied upland landscape and this is complimented by the multitude of lists categorising the hills that make up these beautiful islands.

The categorisation of hills can be a fascinating subject to study as it has developed from the use of minimum height in the early listings to prominence based lists that have evolved in to relative height and all manner of weird and wonderful criterion in between.

The early lists were based on imperial measurement, but since Ordnance Survey maps adopted metric measurement in the late 1970s/early 1980s there are now few listings that succumb to the temptation of feet and inches.  Hill lists and their criteria seem to fit very nicely with metric measurement, whereas feet and inches and the unit 12 seem a little messy by comparison, with counting in tens for height measurement being so much easier that those cumbersome twelves.

Once metric measurement appeared on Ordnance Survey maps hill list compilers scrutinised these new maps checking heights and inventing all manner of new lists.  In the main these took two forms, one of which succumbed to the temptation of metricising imperial measurement and adopting 30m as a drop value which is based on the nearest whole numbered equivalent of 100ft, the same by the way applies to those lovely P15s as this is the nearest whole numbered metric equivalent of 50ft.  However, other adventurous souls became radicalised and went purely metric and concentrated on 50m and 100m for drop, forever abandoning the old ways and forging a furrow that has partly ignited hope and enthusiasm amongst the metric loving masses.  

Carreg y Saeth (452m at SH 643 302) a Pedwar and one of the Britfours situated in Wales

But, if there was any form of a battle (and if there was one it passed us by!) the 30m drop value easily won as it is now standard in many listings of British hills.  These include the Simms, Deweys, Highland Fives, Donald Deweys, Y Pedwarau, The Fours and the Tumps, with all the former being just a sub-set of the latter.

With P30s established in the mind set of many a hill bagger the next step was to look at the minimum height criterion, these two prongs of criteria; minimum height and minimum drop refuse to go away, probably because they are easily understood and they also work very well.  Although they are no longer revolutionary, having been established in 1891 and 1925 respectively, their use over many years has been firmly implanted in the minds of hill baggers.

With the Tumps having established the P30s of Britain it seemed a natural progression for these hills to be split in to their metric component height bands and Alan Dawson led the way when he grouped his listings of Murdos, Corbett Tops, Grahams, Graham Tops and Hewitts into the Simms and lowered the height threshold to 600m.

However, as list compilers have proven over the last 140 odd years, once one step has been applied the next is never far behind and this next step was taken by Jim Bloomer and Alan Dawson collating all British hills at and above 500m and below 600m in height that have 30m minimum drop within a composite list christened ‘The Dodds’.  The concept of this list was first mentioned in May 2010, and the DoBIH have recently classified all qualifying hills under the Dodds banner.  The component parts of the Dodds have existed for a number of years, these are; the Highland Fives, Donald Deweys and Deweys, lists which are well known within the hill bagging community.

The Wrekin (406.9m at SJ 628 081) and Caer Caradoc Hill (459.5m at SO 477 953) two of the Britfours situated in England

It seems that many hill lists are thrown to the ravages of time, and it is this time element coupled with an enthusiastic fan base that eventually establishes them, as although hill list compilers can be revolutionary with the likes of Sir Hugh Munro, John Rooke Corbett, Carr and Lister, William McKnight Docharty, Terry Marsh, Eric Yeaman, Alan Dawson, John Kirk and Alun Peter Fisher just a few names to throw in the proverbial mix, these same hill list compilers are prone to be ahead of the bagging public, with their chosen qualification and listings sometimes taking a number of years before becoming established.

However, with the Simms becoming ever more popular and the concept of the Dodds now known, the question should be asked whether the height band of 500m is the lower extremity for a fledgling Relative Hills Society to ground to a halt at.  Perhaps some in the hill bagging community may think so, but with the P30s of Britain now listed it seems only natural to split these up in 100m height bands for the whole of Britain and list below the 500m minimum height of the Dodds, after all what can be thought of as upland landscape does not stop at this 500m height band, it continues down to at least 400m and probably beyond.  However, the authors of this article have a certain affinity with this 400m height band and the British Fours comprise upland that many would recognise as being good quality mountain, moor and heath.

When Cicerone published The Relative Hills of Britain one of the first things that struck the buying public was how the country suddenly opened up when using a relative height of 150m, there were now hills to visit in most areas of Britain for those inclined to do so.  This is also true of most listings when a minimum height threshold is reduced as by doing so there suddenly appears a multitude of half-forgotten hill ranges where none seemed to exist before.  The British Fours are no different.

When a combined listing of the British 400m P30 hills was first suggested we had a discussion on what name to use and quickly decided that a shortened title of Brit4s would suit the list, this name was then provisionally used and later transformed to Britfours; this being the recommendation of Alan Dawson.  As with the Dodds, the Britfours is a combination of other lists, these are; the Scottish 400m P30 hills listed in the Tumps, the Y Pedwarau and The Fours.

View from the summit of Ben Tianavaig (413m at NG 511 409) one of the Britfours situated in Scotland

To our knowledge it was Clem Clements who first listed the Scottish 400m P30s and it is these data that form the equivalent hills in the Tumps, with the 400m Hills of Wales and the 400m Hills of England being first published on the RHB file database with their listings compiled by Myrddyn Phillips.

All of these component parts to the Britfours have moved on since these lists first materialised around 15 years ago, as Clem’s data is now augmented in to the Tumps which Mark Jackson supervises and the Welsh and English 400m hills have been re-named the Y Pedwarau and The Fours and are now co-authored by Myrddyn Phillips and Aled Williams.

Hill lists can be compared to a good wine and an oft referred to cliché, as they can mature over time, as with the onset of online mapping, LIDAR data and independent surveyors, numerical data within hill lists have never had it so good, and the Britfours have benefited greatly from this.

With most hill lists, time will tell whether their concept is one that will be taken on by the wider hill bagging community, but as most hill lists are rather slow burners even amongst an avid community of rabid baggers, the Britfours and their concept is one to conjure with.

For the time being we are considering the Britfours as a stand-alone list without a sub category of P20 hills, although these sub hills have been listed for the Y Pedwarau and The Fours, they have not been listed for their Scottish equivalent.  If the Britfours gain favour, and if they are ever combined with their Irish cousins we consider that the BIFours would be an appropriate name, with this shortened to the BIFs. 

If the concept of the Britfours is taken on by the Relative Hills Society it pushes those 100m height bands down another notch, with the tantalising prospect of this continuing beyond the 400m height band, it also enforces the nature of metric listings and their component parts.

Myrddyn Phillips and Aled Williams (March 2018)

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