Michael Dewey and his wife Gillian

Michael Dewey and his wife Gillian

In November 2022, Michael Dewey, compiler of a list of 500m hills, died.

Myrddyn Phillips, a fellow hill-list enthusiast and collaborator of Mr Dewey’s looks back on his work and its influence, along with personal recollections from his widow Gillian.

In 1995 Constable published a book entitled Mountain tables; these consisted of varied hill lists. Although all were of interest, one stood out and this was entitled The 500-Metre Tops of England and Wales. The author of the book and the compiler of this hill list is Michael Dewey and the list is now known affectionately as the Deweys.

A hill list can be a tremendous aid in encouraging people to investigate new places and hills that otherwise are little frequented, and this list is no different. Its use has similarities to the Corbetts in Scotland which can become the main aim of people who complete the higher Munros. Whereas for those who concentrate their hillwalking south of the Scottish border it is the 2,000ft mountains of both England and Wales that are the natural aims for most hillwalkers. And as with the Munros and Corbetts, a person who completes these 2,000fters can then digress to the next lower heighted category of hill; these are the Deweys.

The Deweys mix metric and imperial height in their criteria to bookend up to the 2000ft height band and take in all hills in England, Isle of Man and Wales that are 500m and above and below 2000ft (609.6m) in height that have 30m minimum drop.

When the list was first published it comprised 373 hills with 164 in England, five in the Isle of Man and 204 in Wales. The Deweys have undergone extensive revision since first publication with more than 90 reclassifications to the list.

The majority of changes to this list took place in the years 2000 and 2001, with over 70 of the additions and deletions taking place during a 20-month period. This was led by diligent map study and on-site basic line surveying , and was instigated by three main people: David Purchase, Myrddyn Phillips and Rob Woodall, who all worked closely together swapping information and co-ordinating this with Michael Dewey who instigated all necessary alterations. In more recent years the reclassifications have been due to independent surveyors and LIDAR [light detection and ranging] analysis.

The current total for the list is 426 hills, with this split in to its component parts as: 241 in Wales, 180 in England and five in the Isle of Man, with the last’s total unchanged since first publication in 1995.

The Deweys take in a wealth of upland landscape from the Cheviot hills bordering Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales from Eryri [Snowdonia] in the North to Mynydd Preseli and the hills south of Bannau Brycheiniog all the way down to Exmoor and Dartmoor in south-west England. The end result is a list of hills that offers great opportunity for investigation.

Sadly Michael Dewey died on 5 November 2022. He had been ill for a number of years but his death was still a shock.

I had considered him a friend for many years. Our friendship was based through correspondence and communication. We only met once as I had propositioned Michael for a YouTube interview and this was conducted close to Kendal in the southern Lake District where he and his wife Gilliam had retired to.

Our friendship developed from communication indirectly relating to the listing of The 500-Metre Tops of England and Wales, as I had compiled the equivalent list for the Irish hills. I sent Michael a copy and he responded saying that he had done likewise and suggesting that we co-author the list.

Blea Moor in the Yorkshire Dales, one of the Deweys listed. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Blea Moor in the Yorkshire Dales, one of the Deweys listed. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

This started a line of communication through letter and more recently email and then telephone. This communication carried on for more than 20 years. Our co-authored Irish lists, The 500-Metre Tops of Ireland and the Irish Dodds, which was extracted from it, will remain just that, co-authored and will retain Michael’s name. Both lists are available on the Haroldstreet website.

The 500-Metre Tops of Ireland list was the first I had co-authored. The working relationship Michael and I built up on this list taught me many things, all of them positive. Co-authorship lends itself to co-operation and compromise. Each can be beneficial, both to the finished product, in this instance a hill list, but also to the people involved. In this instance I can only speak for myself and working as a co-author with Michael taught me the benefits of discussion and acceptance.

During all of the years we communicated there was never a disagreement and our partnership worked extremely well. For that I will forever be thankful to Michael. He always came across as a welcoming and thoroughly decent person. He will be sadly missed. I’ll now hand you over to Gillian; his wife to say a few words.

Gillian Dewey:

Michael and I were married for 47 happy years. We were a team and he always liked me to take part in anything he undertook and I contributed to his projects and interests. During our walks I always carried the sandwiches and drinks. I therefore never got left behind or lost on the hills for too long!

After Michael retired from GCHQ Cheltenham we moved to Cumbria. He joined the Westmorland Geological Society and he was a leading light in the Millennium Project geologically surveying the Lindale and Witherslack area. The work resulted in the British Geological Survey publishing Sheet SD4B8SW.

Michael for some years was Secretary of Cumbria GeoConservation. He added new sites found on walks that needed recording and protection. He digitised the records of the organisation and produced leaflets introducing people to the geology of Cumbria.

Fungi and lichens interested him with finds photographed, researched and catalogued. One of his lichen photographs was displayed at Kew Gardens. He gave talks on a wide range of subjects in the locality and took groups out on field trips.

Michael produced his lists including the 500 metre tops for his own use with no thought of publishing. I mentioned the mountain tables to a colleague at work who then asked to see the lists. The colleague was impressed and contacted a publisher. The rest is history.

I have decided that Michael would have liked The 500-Metre Tops of England and Wales to be continued and updated by Myrddyn Phillips. They had co-authored the 500m Irish list and were in regular correspondence about that list. The 500-Metre Tops of England and Wales list will in future be co-authored but retaining Michael’s name as compiler and originator and therefore still known as the Deweys.

Myrddyn Phillips, left, met Michael Dewey in Cumbria

Myrddyn Phillips, left, met Michael Dewey in Cumbria

Myrddyn Phillips:

The listing of the Deweys is one of the most important lists to the English and Welsh hills and it is still followed by many people, with its completers documented by the Long Distance Walkers’ Association in their Annual Hill Walkers Register.

I’m humbled that Gillian wants me to carry this list on as co-author and I accept this offer graciously. As Gillian has mentioned, Michael will of course remain as compiler and originator; he’s just got a co-author to now look after the list. Hopefully the list will still be known affectionately as the Deweys, which I think is a good testament to what Michael created and a legacy to remember Michael by.

Lastly, I have the utmost respect for what Michael created and also for Gillian’s wishes. I hope I do the list justice.

Some articles the site thinks might be related:

  1. Carey Davies takes up hillwalking post at British Mountaineering Council