Late in August Ben Fleetwood of Kendal completed a round of Scotland's 283 Munros. His first was Beinn na Lap, at the tender age of six years and a day; he finished on the ever-popular last Munro choice of Mull's Ben More aged just 10 years and 3 months. Though there is no official record of underage Munroists and it's just about conceivable that some hitherto-unknown nipper did the lot at the age of five, it seems more than likely that Ben is the youngest person yet to finish a round.
Ben climbed most of the peaks on school holidays, many with his mum and all with his dad John Fleetwood, also a keen and accomplished hillgoer with an impressive record of long distance fell runs (see his blog). Ben's favourites have included the inaccessible pinnacle, Sgurr nan Gillean and Sgurr na Ciche.
'He loved going up the In Pinn, but wasn't so keen on coming down!' dad John tells us. 'He's also enjoyed a superb day on Creag Meagaidh in the winter with beatutiful long crystals of snow, and he enjoyed Ben Nevis on new years day 2010 which was a horrible day of blowing spindrift and strong winds, but it made the tourist path more interesting. We went straight up the Red Burn on hard neve and the top was a whiteout.'
Ben's longest single days would have been respectable trips for most adult hillwalkers: the nine Munros of the Mamores; the seven from Ciste Dhubh to the Five Sisters, 21 miles on the remote Loch Monar peaks (see this UKH article); 23 miles around the biggies of the eastern Cairngorms. His dad's long distance abilities have clearly rubbed off on Ben.
UKH user Dave Hewitt, outdoors correspondent of the Caledonian Mercury and a leading authority on all things Munro-related, speaks glowingly of Ben's accomplishment:
'Any Munro round is an impressive achievement, and to get round them all at such a young age is remarkable. Ben appears to have very much enjoyed it, which is the main thing - and there haven't been any mishaps, which would be even more of a worry for a child than for an adult.'
'It doesn't seem likely that there will be a succession of parents-with-kids trying to nudge the "record" lower every year or so, as has been the case with Wainwright rounds, given that doing the Munros is a much more substantial prospect' Dave says.
'From what's known (and it's impossible ever to be sure about Munro-related records given that so many people don't put their name on the list), the previous youngest round was by Lynn Batty. She was aged almost 11-and-three-quarters when completing in 1995, and it's quite possible that in another 16 years' time Ben Fleetwood will still be the youngest Munroist. There are, though, effectively two types of youngest Munroist: the absolute youngest, which Ben now appears to be, and the youngest without the constant presence of a parent or guardian. Andy Nisbet might well still hold that [second] title, having completed aged 18 years one month in 1972.'
'With regard to Ben Fleetwood, it's worth noting that his father John - a tremendously strong and competent hillgoer - completed two Munro rounds of his own in the week before overseeing Ben's own finish. John finished a round on Ben Klibreck the previous Monday, then ran up again and was thus in a position to complete a second round - in the climbed-whenever rather than the start-again sense - on Ben Wyvis two days later. Impressive stuff.'
It's pretty unusual for a member of the Wii generation to be that keen on hillwalking, so what first got Ben into it?
'We live in the Lakes so its natural to go on the hills' says dad John. 'We did the Wainwrights together first [indeed Ben was the youngest ever to complete these 214 Lakeland tops, aged only 6!]. Its been a good thing for us to do together - a real bonding thing between us, especially the backpacking.'
'If your kids need encouragement then be positive, tell stories, sing songs, go wild camping and bothying, and start them early in age. But don't start with tussocky grassy lumps!' John advises. 'Also be honest with them - don't say we're almost there when you're not. They will respect you for this and come to rely on your actual estimates. Be enthusiastic - your enthusiasm will be infectious. Plan well - children need to be looked after, so think how you are going to avoid them being unhappy. And set goals - a list like the Munros can act as a spur. Just like adult males, little boys [not to mention gils] like to have a focus.'
What's next? The pair say no more peak bagging for a while, but Ben has expressed an interest in one-day challenges.
'Maybe the Tranter round in a few years (18 Munros around Glen Nevis with 20,000 feet of ascent), and I've said I'll do the Ultratrail Mont Blanc again if he does it too' says John. 'Also we've been to the Alps a couple of times and he'd like to go again to do some peaks and hut to hut tours, and maybe Norway too. And he wants to go back to Skye, climb some winter gullies and the like. We won't be short of things to do.'