Heaven 17 and the Strange Case of the Missing Birketts

I’ve never heard of Birketts before now. What random set of rules are there for Birketts, Mark?

The Birketts are listed in the book ‘Complete Lakeland Fells’ by Bill Birkett. Not to be confused with Marilyns, Nutalls, Hewitts or Wainwrights alternative hill lists covering the same or a greater area. The ‘random rules’ are indeed arbitrary, or at least unclear:

In deciding just what to classify as a top I have applied various criteria both to the 1:25000 OS maps and to the actual physical form on the ground.

So secret criteria then. One overt criteria is that the fells must be over 1000 feet high. Another is that they must lie within the national park. So Benson Knot above Kendal, and further east Lambrigg Fell, Docker Fell and Roan Edge are all out. These four are only just over a thousand feet and the last three are all hard by the M6, but to my mind at least, it’s logical to include all as Lakeland Fells and they can be strung together to make a very pleasant walk.

I seem to have somehow managed to bag 17 Birketts so far this year, and I’m not really supposed to be bagging Birketts. Funny little blighters aren’t they? – some real gems and some where the only question can be “why?”


I would like to bag 17 all year. Mike lives a charmed life.

After this exchange in comments on a previous post, and a sudden rush of blood to the head, I decided to take the latter as personal challenge and resolve to climb at least 17 Birketts this year. I was thinking that since I had already ticked off 3 on Sunday, this was a manageable total to aim for. Repenting at leisure, I realised that in January I had actually walked over another 5 Birketts, namely Tarn Crag, Sergeant Man, High Raise, Calf Crag and Gibson Knot. What’s more if we hadn’t skirted around the top of Codale Head, dropped off the ridge just short of High White Stones and left Helm Crag for another day due to failing light we would have had 8 that day. So with 8 down and only 9 to go perhaps 17 is not much of a challenge after all. Never mind – I shall stick with it, 17 is a satisfyingly arbitrary total to aim for, and as I have said elsewhere, I like targets which I’m confident I can meet or maybe exceed.

There are 541 canonical Birketts in total. If we allow my suggestions of the 4 above we could extend the list to 545. The problem with that would probably be deciding where the borders of Lakeland are, particularly in the east, if the National park boundaries are not used. So 541 then. Except that looking at the section of the book that deals with the Birketts around the Kentmere valley I found some other omissions. The description of the route over Brunt Knott above Staveley begins:

Unfortunately Potter Fell and its three tops, including that of Ulgraves, have had to be excluded from this walk because of access problems.

They are also excluded from the alphabetical and height order lists in the appendices. But because of the right to roam legislation, two of those three tops now fall within access land. Ulgraves still lies just outside. So – any Birketts completists reading: pull on your boots, there’s two more to bag (or three depending on your attitude to a little harmless trespass).

So 544, excluding tops beyond the National Park (I notice that there are several more potential tops between the A6 and the M6 which are excluded, above the Lune Gorge, around the ‘other’ Borrowdale if you know it). At a rate of 17 a year that’s exactly 32 years. (There’s clearly some kind of magic at work here, can it be just coincidence that 544 is a multiple of 17?). Of course, I have climbed a lot of them before, but it seems somehow ethical to make a clean start and blog them all. Hang on though – I’ve already blogged two last year – Scafell and Slight Side. 10 down and 534 to go. It’s a doddle this armchair bagging.


The uncredited quotes come from Bill Birkett’s book, Ken at Where The Fatdog Walks, Mike at northern pies, and Martin at Summit and Valley.

Heaven 17 and the Strange Case of the Missing Birketts

12 thoughts on “Heaven 17 and the Strange Case of the Missing Birketts

  1. My 17 were – Around the Dodds – 7 (not counting any I’d already bagged)
    Black Combe walk – 3
    Around Devoke Water – 7

    Failed to bag 2 on the Eel Crag walk… But I’ll be back!

    I think you’ll achieve your quest easily. You need a higher target!

  2. fatdogwalks says:

    Thanks for that Mark. Now I’m going to have to look at the 3 trips I’ve done to the Lakes to check if I’ve accidentally started on another tick list!

  3. beatingthebounds says:

    I’m not a Wainwright fan, but I have to admit that the books are beautifully designed. Birkett’s book is a bit of a curiosity – a coffee table format, but most of the text is route descriptions. In this straightened times both lists can easily be found on t’internet.

    Well yes, that seems likely at the present rate – but note that I only managed 2 last year – so 17 is a major improvement. If I do manage more than 17 that will be a great bonus.

    It’s pretty much guaranteed that the walks will be really enjoyable, given half a chance it’s what I would do almost every day.

    If you’ve been to the Lakes, you’ve climbed a Birkett – in some cases probably by accident, or without noticing. BUT – don’t despair, it’s not like Munro bagging, you don’t have to seek out South Kintail or Ben Lawers to bag loads in a day – every pimple on every ridge with a couple of it’s own contours and a name is a Birkett. They are equal opportunity ‘mountains’.

  4. beatingthebounds says:

    Ouch – I remember that phrase from my school reports!

    It was a frivolous target, chosen for its arbitrariness, reflecting my not particularly committed attitude to peak bagging and the fact that with a young family and gainful employment I don’t get out on the hill as often as I would like to!

    I also have several other projects on the go – bagging Andy Goldsworthy sheep folds and Lakeland Tarns – from the Nuttall’s other books (to my mind more interesting then their 2000 foot hill list because more unique.)

    I’m afraid to say that all of these projects will probably go the same way as my plan to fly a kite from the summit of every Munro – which seemed like an amusing idea for half an hour once. (Although I did actually fly a pocket kite from a few hills – I recommend it).

    Perhaps I should restrict myself to 17 ticks each year – that would make me think very carefully about each walk. Yep – you heard it here first – the Campaign for Slow Peak Bagging. Savour the hills – make your ticklists last.

    Must try harder!

  5. fatdogwalks says:

    17 ticks a year has a totally different meaning to me as it matches the number of the nasty wee beasties I remove from the Fatdog each walking season. Mind you the expensive stuff I squirted onto her last year was pretty effective.

    I see you have the same approach to bagging as me – multiple targets which will never in a million years be achieved.

    The kite flying idea sounded interesting though given the nature of a few of the Munros I’ve been on, and the windspeed, I think it might produce a more interesting experience than you bargained for. May I recommend the Fatdog anchorage system for such operations.

  6. beatingthebounds says:

    Only the dog collects ticks? We have both sheep and deer in the area and ticks, and unfortunately, lymme’s disease are common.

    Yes – multiple targets, never to be attained – that’s my approach.

    The kite flying is magnificent, but often very tricky. It began many years ago on a New Year bothying trip, flying a Christmas present from my brother on the slopes of Sgorr Ruadh. That was a two line stunt job, but on the few occasions I have done it since it has been with a ‘poleless’ pocket kite. Highly unpredictable, but great fun. (And lots of fun for very few grams for the gear freaks.)

  7. beatingthebounds says:

    It’s kind of you to ask Ron – all is well.
    As to the silence at this end – it’s been a case of nothing to report, and then when there has been something to say, no time in which to say it.

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