A new book recounts runner Manny Gorman’s epic non-stop mountain challenge
Manny Gorman is a well-known character in hill running circles. The 45-year-old Kingussie runnerÂ has 25 years of experience in Scotland’s mountains and has pulled off some amazing feats, but he is perhaps best known for completing the first known non-stop and non-motorised round of the Corbetts.
What are the Corbetts?
Like the Munros, the Corbetts are a defined set of Scottish mountains. The original list was compiled in the early 1900s by John Rooke Corbett and includes all mountains between 2,500ft and 3,000ft, with a minimum 500ft drop on all sides.
The list runs to 220 (it was 219 when Manny did his round) and while the mountains are smaller and fewer in number than the Munros (3,000ft or more),Â many walkers will tell you that a round is tougher.
The record for the fastest non-stop and non-motorised round of the Munros (there are 282 of them) is just less than 40 days. Manny’s round of the Corbetts took 70 days. (It actually took Manny 35 years to complete his first Munros round.)
Manny, originally from Kirkintilloch, explains: “The Corbetts are tougher than the Munros and they strike a few chords that Munros don’t. For a start, they are much quieter and far less walked, other than a few honey-pots like the Cobbler, Ben Ledi or Ben Rinnes, and there’s good reason for this.Â Barring one group of five at Tyndrum, Corbetts are very much individual mountains scattered in ones, twos or threes, further apart than their Munro cousins, which are conveniently grouped in nice bunches such as the Cairngorms, Mamores or the massive Glen Shiel and Affric ridges.Â So the Corbetts can be harder to reach and if you have limited time for walking they present more of a logistical and time-consuming challenge.
“Corbetts also require more island travel to beautiful places such as Harris, Rum and Jura. And many Corbetts involve more climbing because they start from sea level or just above.”
Take a look at the Harveys map of the Corbetts and Munros and you’ll see how randomly and widely the former hills appear. The west coast Corbetts, in particular, start from sea level and are only just shy of 3,000ft.
Manny adds: “Thousands of walkers have now completed the Munros and are starting to wake up to the challenge of the lower Corbett mountains but they are finding that the Corbetts are not necessarily much easier to achieve just because of a mere height differential.Â For me, the Corbetts can be summarised as being big, remote and involving a lot of challenges in linking them together. This ticked all my boxes for an epic goal and so I set out to run them in one outing and as fast as I could.”
The non-stop Corbett feat
It was in the summer of 2009 that Manny, a Highlands Council maintenance officer, ran, cycled and sailed a continuous non-motorised route around Scotland’s (then) 219 Corbetts.
He hadn’t planned to run into the record books and saw the round as a holiday. He says: “The idea for the trip was to spend more time with my partner Brenda and I wasn’t even sure if a record existed. I just like big challenges and doing things a bit differently.Â After finishing I did read a few lines in the Angry Corrie fanzine by Dave Hewitt, where someone claimed a Corbetts round of 139 days, but sadly there were no details on un-motorised, continuous rounds.Â But, for me, it was never really about records. It was about fun and the love of being in the mountains and wilderness of our beautiful country.”
The Corbett round statistics
Mannyâ€™s total mileage was 2,408 miles with 543,642ft of ascent. In terms of transport he:
– Sailed between 200 and 250 miles
– Ran 998 miles and 420,673ft of ascent
– Cycled on a road bike for 1,115 miles and 91,324ft of ascent
– Cycled on a mountain bike for 295 miles and 31,645ft of ascent
The logistics were tough. He says: “Most of the Corbetts tend to lack the well trodden footpaths found on the Munros, which made the actual ascents more of a challenge. Added to this I did many of the mountains from a somewhat odd angle, and not on a route as indicated in the superb SMC Corbetts guide.Â Getting between each one was also strenuous. I was supported by Brenda but I still had to get to each mountain under my own steam.”
During the non-stop round, Manny was on his feet for an average of 12 to 14 hours. The number of peaks reached each day varied from one to six. He recalls: “The west coast was probably the biggest in terms of time and distance. There was a two-week spell when I was doing steady days of 20 or more miles and 10,000ft of ascent, plus many miles of biking. On some days I managed 30 miles on foot.”
Mannyâ€™s most memorable days include Torridon when he ran Beinn Dearg, Beinn an Eoin and Baosbheinn in the day, then Ruadh-stac Beag and Meall a’Ghiubhais from Loch Maree in the evening. That amounted to 25 miles and 12,000ft on foot, and 22 miles of biking.
In contrast, but still vividly remembered, was a day of mist and only 20ft visibility. Manny says: “I was running over Beinn Bhan, Sgurr a’Chaorachain, Sgurr Dubh and Sgorr nan Lochan Uaine and I had to focus really hard because of the weather.Â I paced the distances and kept a close track of the contours. Finding a summit was hard but there was such elation when I did so.”
The weather also tested Mannyâ€™s drive to complete the challenge. He says: “So many times I was faced with Scottish four-seasons-in-a-dayÂ weather. I did also have long periods of warm weather, in particular in the Borders, and the islands were thankfully blessed with mostly good weather.Â However, there were six days of hard rain and wind and the worst was Hart Fell and White Coomb, when I was lucky to get off the hill with only hypothermia.”
Disaster also hit when Brenda took a serious fall while delivering Mannyâ€™s mountain bike to a remote location. Manny says: “Brenda shattered her shoulder and ended up being operated on in hospital while I finished my challenge. She had supported me so brilliantly with transport, feeding, washing, logistics, PR, mopping of brows, tea-room, counselling and everything and then she missed the very last day of the trip because of her accident. I was very upset by this but she urged me to finish.”
On 2 July 2009, Manny completed the final three Corbetts, Cranstackie, then Beinn Spionnaidh and Ben Loyal.
He writes: “The only reason I set out on that last day was for Brenda. I hadn’t slept, my head was mince and I wanted to be in Inverness at the hospital with her. But I wasn’t allowed to not finish. A team of friends had come to support me on the final day and it would have been wrong not to finish the round, even in the circumstances.Â After 70 days I finally found myself standing on the top of my last Corbett and Brenda had just started five hours of surgery.”
Brenda recovered well and Manny was finally able to enjoy reflecting on his amazing non-stop Corbetts round. Now, almost five years later, he has published an account of his feat. The book is available fromÂ www.mannygorman.co.uk.Â There is little doubt that his enthralling story will encourage more people to get out and walk the Corbetts.
Manny is also available as a mountain guide and can offer bespoke guided walks for clients anywhere in Scotland.