Bagging Series

Completing the Welsh Highlands - Uchafion Cymru

Covering 630 hills, from 500m lumps right up to the summit of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) itself, the Welsh Highlands - Uchafion Cymru is a hill list on a grand scale. Myrddyn Phillips co-authors the list, and is also the first to complete it, a process that took nearly 20 years. What's the attraction of a bagging task this epic? Allow Myrddyn to explain...

For many years I hill walked with proverbial blinkers on, concentrating in the main on the Welsh 2000-footers. These hills were repeated many times, and even though I sought out new ground via different ridges and valleys, the need for variety eventually won out. The lower hills beckoned.

Winter on Foel Meirch  © Myrddyn Phillips
Winter on Foel Meirch
© Myrddyn Phillips

ticking off hills in a list can take you to places that you otherwise might never visit

These lower hills are based in the 500m height band. Whereas the higher 2000-footers are split between the Hewitts (P30 hills) and Nuttalls (P15 hills), the 500m banding concentrated on the Deweys (P30 hills); a list that I now co-author.

When repeating the Welsh Nuttalls I took up the challenge of finding new qualifying hills by using a basic levelling staff to measure drop, resulting in a number of hills entering this list through this rather esoteric aspect of hill walking. My interest in surveying and finding new qualifying hills now transferred to the Deweys, resulting in more Welsh hills entering this list. When I completed the Welsh Deweys my interest in surveying was extended to the 500m tops with 15m minimum drop.


This enabled me to venture on to new ground and investigate different hills. It also gave me opportunity to compile a new listing of Welsh hills; one that would fulfil that investigative instinct as well as fulfilling the surveying aspect of my hill walking which had become ever more important for me.

Now co-authored with Aled Williams, the resulting list is named Welsh Highlands – Uchafion Cymru.

The hills range from forested summits in the Elenydd such as Gnol Ddu...  © Myrddyn Phillips
The hills range from forested summits in the Elenydd such as Gnol Ddu...
© Myrddyn Phillips

The List

Wales is blessed with many hills and a widely varied landscape, giving plenty of scope for people who enjoy getting away from the masses. The Welsh Highlands – Uchafion Cymru list fulfils this urge, giving plenty of hills to investigate in some of the most wild and remote areas of Wales.

The criteria for this list are all Welsh hills at and above 500m in height, that have 15m minimum drop. Accompanying the main list is a sub category of hills, these are the Welsh Highland Subs and take in all Welsh hills 500m and above in height that have 10m and more and below 15m of drop. The end result is a comprehensive listing to the Welsh highlands. The list is now co-authored with Aled Williams and as of writing this article there are 630 hills that qualify for the main list from the 500.5m summit of Moel Bowydd to the 1084.8m summit of Yr Wyddfa, with the accompanying sub list taking in 250 hills. the mighty Yr Wyddfa  © Myrddyn Phillips the mighty Yr Wyddfa
© Myrddyn Phillips

Why do it?

Many of my friends hill walk, but only a few are hill baggers. The latter are people who purposely visit hills to fulfil a greater challenge of completing a hill list. A mantra of sorts is often given by hill baggers to legitimise their obsessional quality; this simply states that ticking off hills in a list can take you to places that you otherwise might never visit.

I reached my final summit with a smile on my face. I had done it; a long journey now completed. I celebrated with a mince pie and a giant green balloon

This is one reason why a hill list can benefit a hillwalker. However, hill lists themselves have greatly benefited over recent times with the advent of independent surveyors wandering the hills with GNSS receivers and level and staffs in hand determining drop and absolute height of hills. Numerical and positional data have also benefited from the advent of the LIDAR (Light Detection & Ranging) technique.  Both of these have revolutionised hill listing with a plethora of reclassifications involving a multitude of lists, including the Munros, Majors, Corbetts, Grahams, Marilyns, Humps, Nuttalls, Hewitts, Deweys, Y Pedwarau and many more besides including the Welsh Highlands – Uchafion Cymru. Simply put, there is no objective listing to British hills that has not benefited from the use of independent surveyors and LIDAR analysis.

The Hills

Using a 15m minimum drop criterion gives the prospect of listing many more hills, which increases diversity in the list. This drop value also works well for Wales, and especially so for the higher tier of the Welsh highlands.

Esgair Pentanau - not many people come this way, and a list is the perfect pretext to visit  © Myrddyn Phillips
Esgair Pentanau - not many people come this way, and a list is the perfect pretext to visit
© Myrddyn Phillips

There are many hills of lower prominence in this list that stand out; some like Foel Meirch (SH 658 637) in the Carneddau give excellent views up to their higher adjacent hills. A great example is Gallt y Wenallt (SH 642 532) in the Yr Wyddfa massif, which stands at the end of the famous horseshoe walk giving plunging views down in to Nant Gwynant. Some hills are even man-made such as Chwarel Graig Ddu (SH 725 455) in the Moelwynion; a remnant of quarrying activity that has left a hill that qualifies both on height and drop.

However, out of all the individual hills that qualify there is a hill group that for me stands out amongst its peers; this is the land I know as the Elenydd. This area takes in the central part of Wales, much of it relatively remote. Few fences enclose this land, giving it an unrelenting openness. The hills of the Elenydd are not dramatic in sculptured aspect, but they have a beauty all to themselves and one that benefits from the criteria used in this list as those small prominence hills are seemingly dotted all over this landscape.

The Elenydd also hosts the large expanse of the Tywi forest, an infestation of conifer plantation that takes in swathes of land that must at one time have been beautiful open hillside. Many qualifying hills are situated in conifer plantation; some are horrendous to visit with a literal tree bash to get to their elusive summits, whilst others such as Gnol Ddu (SN 823 599) can be sublime to visit in favourable conditions.

Uchafion Cymru includes all the greats, such as Arenig Fawr  © Myrddyn Phillips
Uchafion Cymru includes all the greats, such as Arenig Fawr
© Myrddyn Phillips

Including the listing of P10 Subs also gives a wealth of small prominence hills to climb. These can be combined with their higher prominence neighbours and give different perspectives to the hills. Few of the sub hills can compare with Esgair Pentanau (SN 846 703), which is positioned in the wilds of the Elenydd overlooking the mountain lake of Llyn Cerrigllwydion Isaf and topped with a large boulder requiring a bit of scrambling to gain its highest point.


It took 19½ years from the day I purposely visited my first Welsh 500m P15 hill to the day that I completed. I suppose you could say I made steady progress. Steady or not, other stuff such as life occasionally gets in the way of the more serious business of hill bagging. By October 2010 I only had ten qualifying hills to visit. Due to those pesky independent surveyors and LIDAR analysis the hills to visit kept increasing over the intervening years with a mass of new ones found. It required a concerted effort to finish the remaining hills in this list.

Moel y Llyn in the Pumlumon hills  © Myrddyn Phillips
Moel y Llyn in the Pumlumon hills
© Myrddyn Phillips


Toward the start of 2023 I decided to concentrate on the few remaining hills I had left. Many of these were situated in the Tywi forest and these would require good weather and open forest tracks. Others were newly discovered through the use of LIDAR. My third to last hill is one such example. This is situated between Moel Hebog and Moel yr Ogof in Eryri in north-west Wales and its summit consists of a small rocky ridge that was decidedly greasy when I visited, and with a wind blowing across the tops I managed to fall down its rocky southern side and remember the shock of seeing rock whizzing past my eyes. Thankfully I ground to a halt with only impressive bruising and the shock of what had just happened as reminders. I was also thankful I did not fall on the northern side as this had a sheer drop down on to rock which would no doubt have been seriously problematic.

During this year my companion on all of these walks has been Aled Williams, the co-author of this list. As well as discovering many of the new qualifying hills Aled has encouraged me towards completion.

When initially compiling this list I remember looking at the Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer map and specifically the three mile long easterly ridge leading to the summit of Esgair Garthen (SN 825 642), and thinking that this hill would be a good one to finish on. And so it proved.

630 summits in the bag! Myrddyn on his final peak, Esgair Garthen  © Aled Williams
630 summits in the bag! Myrddyn on his final peak, Esgair Garthen
© Aled Williams

Esgair Garthen was kept till last and it proved a perfect day on the hill. When visiting the remaining hills during the year it became evident that if pursuing a completion during this year the last hill would probably be in November. Late autumn can of course give some stunning days on the hill; however it can also give unrelenting days of drizzled mist where grey predominates. Thankfully the 25th proved perfect.  We were walking by 7.30am and 7.45am respectively; Aled up the stream valley of the Afon Arban wanting to visit two sub hills before meeting me on the summit of Esgair Garthen. This enabled me to set my own pace up that long three mile broad ridge that many years ago I looked at on the map.

It was decidedly chilly when I set off with the sun rising only when initial height was gained, appearing as a burst of light over mist that hugged near hillsides and meandererd over the waters of the Claerwen Reservoir. Like so many of the Elenydd hills Esgair Garthen consists of grassland. This can be tough to walk through if no path is evident; thankfully a quad bike track eased passage and took me all the way to the summit. At this time of the morning the grassland was frosted and any bog frozen. The conditions were perfect, with no breath of breeze and tranquility only disturbed by an occasional sheep. The frosted scene was emphasised by blue sky above. I reached the summit at 10.15am with a smile on my face. I had done it; a long journey now completed. Aled joined me 45 minutes later having visited the two sub hills. I celebrated with a mince pie and a giant green balloon.

Many friends have joined me on these hills over the intervening years since initial compilation to the summit celebration atop Esgair Garthen, leaving memories aplenty of good times shared and good hills visited. For that I am thankful.

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